What makes you more captivating than a competitor?
Whether you have a partner, own a dog, or both, do you think you’re interesting to them? On the surface this may seem like a mindless question. However, I happened to come across a news article that triggered my own interest because it concerned the subject of why dog owners should work harder to become more interesting to their pet (Herrera, 2012). Although I don’t have a dog, unless a grand-dog counts, I am fascinated by what makes someone or something interesting.
Interest is an emotion. When you are interesting you are a source that activates the emotion in someone else. I am not going to consider whether or not animals actually have emotions such as interest, as opposed to some other instinctual process that makes them appear to be interested or not, but some of the advice in the article concerning dogs is quite applicable to human relationships and interesting to contemplate.
Metaphorically speaking, many people chase other creatures, as do dogs who stray when bored or not otherwise engaged. The news article suggested that if your dog believes being with you is better than anything else out there, he is more likely to come when called. This means you must be interesting, playful, and, according to the article, not “turn them off” by the way you play with them. However, people are far more complex than pets when it comes to relationships, loyalty, coming home, and even being turned on or off. There are numerous factors, aside from being interesting, that keep a partner most interested in you.
Unfortunately, many people who lose a relationship because of a third party will blame themselves as though they are uninteresting and the cause of the abandonment, rather than consider the possibility of some pathology or conflict within the partner. Like dogs who hurt themselves, according to the news article, by creating toys out of inappropriate objects, people also can hurt themselves in seeking novelty and stimulation in affairs or involvement in potentially hazardous engagement with people or substances.
But if you want to become more interesting, what would make you more captivating than a squirrel or any other creature, including a human competitor? Perhaps it would help to know something about the emotion of interest and how it is activated.
Interest is an emotion associated with curiosity, exploration, and information seeking (Fredrickson, 1998; Izard & Ackerman, 2000; Tomkins, 1962). You might associate interest with attention-grabbing or highly pleasant experiences. However, disturbing and unpleasant events also involve the emotion of interest (Turner & Silvia, 2006), such as all the gawking you might witness, along with your own, at an accident scene. However, people generally tend not to seek out disturbing and unpleasant events, with the exception of frightening or violent movies, which instead may be considered a stimulating and interesting art form.
We are hard-wired to be interested or curious, and this serves to develop our intellect and knowledge of the world. Yet humans also seem hard-wired to be interesting and playful with others who are interested in them, and this serves important purposes physiologically, psychologically, and interpersonally. Consider, for example, that very young infants direct their gaze to the human face, and this interest expression is associated with a decelerated heart rate that indicates a calming effect (Langsdorf, Izard, Rayias, & Hembree, 1983). The expression of interest by a baby also incites a caregiver to be more interesting–smiling and making faces while talking to a baby. A decrease in an infant’s heart rate when interest is activated, aside from being associated with a quieting response, promotes cognitive development and creates an optimal condition for receiving information through the senses (Izard, 1977; Silvia, 2001). Extending this to adult interactions, and perhaps even to dogs, we might wonder if the emotion of interest–both being interested and interesting–can profoundly affect one’s physiological and psychological well being.
Some theorists have speculated that interest motivates novelty-seeking and exploration, in contrast to enjoyment which motivates attachment to familiar events, such as having a favorite restaurant or vacation destination (Tomkins, 1962). Although trying something new may end up in disappointment, novelty-seeking builds knowledge and skills (White, 1959). Thus, a long-term partner may offer enjoyment that is based on familiarity. At the same time, pursuing mutual interests can provide a couple with the possibility of shared novelty-seeking. Beyond that, mutually interesting and novel activities link people together and such connections are important to an enduring relationship. Similarly, the animal behavior consultant’s article noted that a relationship with a dog based in play–experiencing shared enjoyment or interest–creates a strong bond that will last a lifetime.
For information regarding my books about emotions: http://www.marylamia.com
This blog is in no way intended as a substitute for medical or psychological counseling. If expert assistance or counseling is needed, the services of a competent professional should be sought.
Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). What good are positive emotions? Review of General Psychology, 2, 300-319.
Herrera, K. (2012, March 10). Are you more interesting that a squirrel?Marin Independent Journal. Retrieved from http://marinij.com.
Izard, C. (1977). Human Emotions. Plenum Press, New York.
Izard, C. E., & Ackerman, B. P. (2000). Motivational, organizational, and regulatory functions of discrete emotions. In M.Lewis & J. M.Haviland-Jones (Eds.), Handbook of emotions (2nd ed., (pp. 253-264). New York: Guilford Press.
Langsdorf, P.; Izard, C.; Rayias, M.; & Hembree, E. (1983). Interest expression, visual fixation, and heart rate changes in 2- to 8-month old infants. Developmental Psychology, 19(3), 375-386.
Silvia, P. (2001). Interest and interests: The psychology of constructive capriciousness. Review of General Psychology, 5(3), 270-290.
Turner, S. & Silvia, P. (2006). Must interesting things be pleasant? A test of competing appraisal structures. Emotion, 6, 670-674.
Tomkins, S. (1962). Affect, imagery, consciousness: Vol. 1, The positive affects. New York: Springer.
White, R. (1959). Motivation reconsidered: The concept of competence.Psychological Review, 66, 297-333.
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Dr. Mary Lamia is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst who works with adults, couples, adolescents, and preteens in her Marin County private practice. She is a professor at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. Extending psychological knowledge to the public has been her endeavor for thirty years. Dr. Lamia’s opinion has been sought in hundreds of television, radio, and print media interviews and discussions, and for nearly a decade she hosted a weekly call-in talk show, KidTalk with Dr. Mary, on Radio Disney stations. Her books include: Emotions! Making Sense of Your Feelings; Understanding Myself: A Kid’s Guide to Intense Emotions and Strong Feelings: and, The White Knight Syndrome: Rescuing Yourself From Your Need to Rescue Others.