ISSUES IN SOCIOMETRY
Written and posted June 29, 2004
Adam Blatner, M.D.
Dear Colleagues, here are some thoughts. I hope you'll email me with
your responses, to firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Sociometry should be recognized as a field of study and an endeavor
that is theoretically separate from psychodrama, although there are a
number of areas of overlap.
(There was a strong dispute on Grouptalk–the psychodrama listserve–back
in the Spring of 1998 on this–partly responding to Peter Kellermann's
suggestion that the two fields be separated. Part of the objection had
to do with different perceptions of what "separation" consists of.
There are a variety of ways of thinking about this, and I'll say right
now that I'm not suggesting that psychodramatists not be taught about
sociometry. Rather, my point is to recognize that each field has
dimensions that don't directly involve certain aspects of the other
field. The political implication is that we try to help folks in other
fields of psychology appreciate the value of exploring the dimension
highlighted by sociometry without demanding that they also learn how to
do classical psychodrama. A little later, if people agree to my doing
so, I'll post that 1998 discussion--at least 8 pages of listserve
messages back and forth--as another webpage linked to this.)
I concede that in practice, to the extent that psychodrama slips into
addressing group dynamics, talking about them, etc.–apart from using
any action methods–sure, it will address dynamics that are
The point is that it is possible to do sociometry, to explore issues of
interpersonal preference, reciprocity, group cohesion, rapport,
feelings associated with liking and being liked, without ever using
action methodologies. Indeed, most of the action methods that are
closest to sociometry, such as action sociograms, can be conducted by
non-psychodramatists with relative ease.
Of course those areas of overlap make it true that a practitioner who
knows about both these fields will be able to function better than one
who doesn't know this, assuming an equal level of competence otherwise.
An analogy in medicine might be the way a surgeon benefits from knowing
about microbiology (regarding sterility and infection) and pharmacology
(regarding anesthetics and antibiotics), yet the three fields also
involve bodies of knowledge that are significant and a good deal of
which stand apart from surgery per se.
That they have roots in the vision of the same person–Moreno--does not
mean that the two fields are completely interdependent. Pasteur's
research into microbiology took him into the new field of immunology,
and while there is a good deal of overlap, again the two fields have
much knowledge and many methods that also may be applied separately.
Many people have used psychodrama for many years with moderate success
while hardly doing anything explicitly sociometric. (Whether they
"thought about the sociometry ofa situation," whatever that means, is a
Of course, to repeat, there are many wonderful ways in which the two
approaches can be used synergistically, so that one can warm up from
sociometric work into psychodramas, or shift from a psychodrama into a
2. Similarly, there should be recognized a moderate separation between
sociometry (i.e., in the sense of measuring or even addressing of the
phenomena associated with tele, interpersonal preference) and role
theory. Here the relationship is closer, admittedly. Using the
aforementioned medical analogies, it might be the relationship of, say,
surgery and anatomy. Much more overlap exists, yet there are still a
fair number of aspects of surgery that require little knowledge of
anatomy, and many aspects of anatomy that are clinically important to
doctors who do no surgery at all.
In the fields of psychodrama, again, like sociometry, one who addresses
roles, perhaps even engages in a systematic role analysis, as is more
common in Australia and New Zealand, may find many advantages in
integrating the two approaches.
The political implications here are important, because it is both
possible and advantageous to psychodrama and the general fields of
therapy, group work (both for personal development and community
building), and for other fields, to learn about both sociometry and
role theory even if they don't learn how to do psychodrama. Some might
perceive a threat to their being viewed as holding a special and unique
expertise in these three areas, and that by maintaining the
inseparability of the three fields, psychodrama, sociometry, and role
theory. Such a view expresses a guild-like proprietary interest in this
body of knowledge, requiring anyone who would learn about any one of
the three to submit to an expensive and lengthy training to learn the
On the other hand, by opening up the field, more people might find any
one of the fields of activity more relevant, and from discovering the
depth and utility of this area, perhaps be more sympathetic and
interested in learning about the other two areas.
More about role theory later.
3. Sociometry addresses only one field of knowledge within a far
broader field of group and interpersonal dynamics. It is an especially
useful field, and one that offers significant value to those working in
other areas. Again the analogy: Immunology has become increasingly
recognized as useful in the practice of medicine, yet there are many
aspects of medical practice that don't involve immunology. The
implication here is that learning everything about sociometry does not
confer expertise in working with group dynamics– there are still many
other dimensions to be studied.
4. Sociometry is a relatively new field, and many of its techniques and
approaches may yet be viewed as crude and immature a century from now.
Again, the call is to an attitude of humility. There is a special need
for writings about its practical applications.
The ample published literature about sociometry in general is not
particularly clinically applicable. Most of it was done by sociologists
who worked from an academic perspective of observation and description,
often using classrooms of children as their major focus. How much such
observations can be extended into practical applications is
questionable. There may be some principles derived, but they're fairly
obvious, anyway, such as the idea that children who are unpopular tend
to have fewer positive social skills.
The point here is to avoid alluding to Moreno who said this or that,
and to avoid thinking that we really know very much about sociometry.
Humility is called for in the spirit of opening to new ideas, inviting
new thoughts, re-thinking the possibilities and variables. Moreno is to
be honored for opening the door, but the field is really so rich that
he could hardly penetrate and systematically develop it, any more than
Louis Pasteur could do for either microbiology or immunology.
5. It might be useful to get a committee of those who have been grading
the responses to the written tests of the American Board of Examiners
over the last twenty years to come up with some consensus papers–it
would make a wonderful book! What are the right answers, and what
are the common pitfalls, the common errors? I envision a number of
books on the different sections of the test–but especially for
sociometry and ethics.
6. Back to seeking to appreciate boundaries and overlaps among the
sub-fields associated with sociometry. One is the idea of doing a
formal measurement for a group regarding its own sets of interpersonal
preferences. (More about this below). Another type of sociometry
involves the group's giving itself feedback about other types of
information deemed relevant. The point here is that this information
may have little to do with interpersonal preferences, except to
figuratively open the door to developing a bit of sociotele (i.e.,
common interest) by making explicit what the subgroupings are. (By the
way, this idea is part of a recognized approach in group work advocated
by Yvonne Agazarian, a well-known teacher. I don't know whether she has
heard of sociometry.) The use of spectrograms and locograms falls
into this category. The use of social atom diagrams and sculptures or
tableaux also may have little direct relation to an investigation of
the reciprocated or non-reciprocated patterns of attraction, repulsion,
and indifference that is closer to the core of sociometry proper, but
still social atom analysis has come to be viewed as being "part" of
7. Group cohesion is to some extent an expression of positive tele, of
people coming to like each other. However, there are also non-telic
factors operating here, related to the perception of common danger or
pressing need, and issues of morale that have been addressed by people
charged with maintaining morale in businesses, the military, leadership
classes of all kinds. Again, sociometry offers value, but should be
viewed as being a useful part of a broader field of study and
8. About sociometry proper, the system proposed by Moreno for the
assessment of telic dynamics in a group: What kind of group would
benefit from this approach? It seems that the warm-up of the group,
getting them interested in the feedback, would itself constitute a
great deal of discussion and negotiation. In part, this has to do with
identifying degrees of interdependence and commitment to the
group–variables I'll be mentioning more later. Another part of the
warming-up is the ensuring that everyone involved feels familiar with
and empowered by a knowledge of (1) ways of improving the
situation–especially their own standing in the group, or the group
cohesion; (2) feel optimistic that some improvement is possible; (3)
feel some significant need for or caring about the prospect of an
improvement in the group's functioning or morale, and (4), probably
some other requirements to boot.
9. I think that helping people in general to become interested in this
dimension, the psychology of rapport, is itself one of the major
contributions and values of sociometry. Just thinking about whom you
like and who likes you, and vice versa, is both uncomfortable and
enlightening, like beginning to think seriously about politics and its
actual complexity. Mature consciousness requires a bit of work and
The main thing I've learned in my over 40 years of contemplating
psychiatry and psychology is that Freud's theory of repression was
right, but far too narrow. Sure, disreputable sexual impulses might be
repressed–especially a century ago when the injunction, "Just don't
think about it" was a fairly common response to problems. Nowadays, you
don't hear that so often, but in fact it's more disguised, and it's not
about sex. My observation is that people tend to avoid thinking about
things that they don't know how to think about, that make them
over-stretch, feel a mixture of shame, ambiguity, and confusion.
The implication here is that exhortation won't work. One needs to
provide tools, and with those tools, demonstrations, explanations, and
patient teaching about how those tools can be profitably used.
Anyone who has undertaken the mastery of computer, cell phone, DVD and
video recorder, and other new technology will be familiar with varying
degrees of technophobia. The same is true for the psychological
and social tools that are what psychodrama, applied role theory, and
sociometry are about.
10. My interest or bias is in bringing these tools to a wider range of
people in our society, and in making them more easily understood. For
this reason, I have re-evaluated the in-group term, "tele," which most
people not immersed in psychodrama find mystifying, off-putting jargon.
In the spirit of opening, demystifying, and inclusion, I have
considered alternatives, and now think that the term "rapport" does
equally well in introducing people to what we're all talking about.
11. For a while I hesitated, because rapport is generally seen as only
positive. But then I recognized that most people in psychodrama tend to
treat the term "tele" as only positive, also–except when they use
modifying terms, such as "negative tele," "mixed tele," "neutral tele,"
"indifferent tele," and so forth. So, heck, why not use the same
modifying words with "rapport," because it seems as if lots of folks
"get it" equally well.
12. Also, we should distinguish between at least three levels of
positive tele: mildly, moderately, and strongly. Different qualities
apply–it's not just a linear advance. One tends to find a discontinuity
insofar as being willing to engage at different levels of intimacy at
certain thresholds: When do you consider a persona a friendly
acquaintance, versus just knowing someone–more face recognition? And
when is that person advanced to the level of friend? What do you do
with friends that you don't do with acquaintances?
Whom do you invite to certain events, who is or is not on your guest
list? Whom do you invite to more intimate events? How does one get into
your inner circle? At what point of acquaintanceship does it become
okay or desirable to have what levels of sexual contact?
(Sex is becoming more casual nowadays among many teenagers, so that
kids aren't even wanting to have "boy-friend" relationships, with a
"going steady" kind of being together a lot or being strictly
monogamous understanding. Such relationships are said by some to be too
"annoying." So sex, which used to be a measure of intimacy and
rapport has shifted as a marker.)
Another quality of strongly positive tele spoken about and occasionally
written about (as in Zerka Moreno's new book (written with Rutzel and
Blomkvist) is the psychic connection that occasionally is noted. This
might be the way a warmed-up protagonist chooses an auxiliary to play a
role that in fact resonates with a situation in the auxiliary's
personal life. Other examples from readers are welcome.
13. Get acquainted with your own preferences about yourself–what do you
want to be chosen for? This involves an interesting warm-up
14. Express those preferences by a thoughtful process of
self-disclosure, choosing words, settings, formats. How will those who
might choose you find you and understand what you have expressed? Have
you been clear? Have you buried your key ideas amidst a confusing
welter of irrelevant information? Have you admitted your strengths
appropriately, without false modesty? On the other hand, might you have
over-estimated certain abilities so that others then have false
expectations of you?
15. Maintain a conscious level of reciprocity. Do not assume that
others will assume that you are favorably disposed towards them. If
you're "too busy" to respond, they may reasonably conclude that you do
not care about them (indifferent tele) or perhaps may even find them
unpleasant (negative tele). This may not be so–you might like them, but
have failed to extend yourself to nurture the relationship. (This is a
maternal transference, a residue from around age 11 or so, when kids
tend to take their parents for granted.)
16. In another file that I'll be linking to, there's a lengthy
Grouptalk discussion in April, 1998 about some of these issues, with
fifteen or twenty people contributing.
17. Another file yet has a similar discussion in, I think, November
1997, about tele. I'll post it on this website, if people feel okay
about doing that.
18. Here's a bit of here and now sociometry: I'm needing some
reassurance. I'd like some of you to respond to me personally,
back-channel or in the grouptalk field, whichever makes you more
comfortable. I'd like several things, in fact, but don't have
particular expectations that you have to fulfill any or several of
A.. Some acknowledgment that the intent of my outreach is
to promote a vigorous level of honest intellectual re-evaluation, in
the spirit of spontaneity, rather than merely clinging to the cultural
conserve. Also, that my intent is to promote a greater degree of
interchange on grouptalk and in the field, and from this, a greater
degree of group cohesion.
B.. I don't require that you agree with me on any or all
points. I do hope you'll not dismiss these ideas by presuming you know
my "underlying motives." Please argue with me in a civil, respectful
fashion, presenting your ideas as if we were on a debate team.
C.. Consider continuing this discussion in a workshop
you'd co-present with me at the forthcoming ASGPP conference, a
discussion session titled "Current Issues in Sociometry." It would be
not only about controversies, but also about new ideas.
D. Gathering together anecdotes and sharing them,
beginning drafts of papers you might write for our journal–these would
be okay, too.
... So this is the outreach. Do you feel interested,
intrigued, any resonance with the implicit motivation here? (I confess
to feeling some anxiety about putting this out.)
19. Some people may feel negative tele towards others in a group who
are more gung-ho, more pushy, seeming to expect more involvement,
dedication, participation, than the first party are prepared to give.
So the variable of degrees of obvious involvement plays a role.
Corollary, others feel negative tele towards those
who obviously are lagging in comparison to one's own sense of
involvement and activity related to a given task. And positive tele is
felt to those who clearly seem to be helping "pull the wagon."
Indeed, one of the best ways of building positive
tele is to find some simple task that needs work, moving chairs,
putting away equipment, helping with the mailing, and taking that
on. One of the best ways of dampening that is to find that you're
the only one in the group who is jumping in–makes you feel like a
sucker. Has this variable been written about?
Please supplement this if you like with other papers on
sociometry on this website: Sociometry
Sociometry Notes 2.
This is enough for now. Please respond to email@example.com