Why are people so sensitive to social cues?

People require validation from those around them, hence they are hyper-aware of social cues because they tend to live up to social expectations rather than being their true selves, which is why negative cues play to the need to rebel. 

A social cue can be either be a verbal or non-verbal hint that guides the social interaction, for example, gossiping, smirking, pointing or laughing. There are also social ways to manipulate the behaviour of susceptible people. According to Preston Ni in Psychology Today, there are many positive aspects to being a sensitive person, however, high sensitivity can adversely affect one’s health, happiness, success and can often complicate relationships. He defined high sensitivity as acute physical, mental, and emotional responses to social, environmental or intra-personal stimuli.  

People often worry about what other people are thinking of them and it can often feel like people are judgmental even when there is no strong evidence to that effect. People are also afraid of rejection even in relatively minor situations. A research study conducted by the Social Issues Research Centre shows that gossip accounts for 55% of men’s conversation time and 67% of women, clearly showing that most people are indeed gossiping. 

Sherwin George, a Psychology student said, “We are brought up with a socially constructed reality of authority. When we face criticism, it causes a conflict within ourselves, created by others in the form of cues. We see it as prodigious abjection towards our authority, activating our defensive instincts. Basically, we see it as a sort of psychological battle of intimidation. 

Psychologist, Dr Nicholas Emler said that language evolved to allow people to gossip and develop more complex societies. People are sensitive to negative social cues because they are relatively obedient to society in general 

Mfundo Hlatshwayo, also a psychology student, had the following to say, “Social cues are deeper than what we think they are. I think people fear being gossiped about and there’s obviously a developmental stage where people think everything is about them. Sometimes it’s about how you look at them. 

Generally, people get emotionally and mentally stronger as they grow older and experience more in life. This growth ideally works towards emotional stability and an ability to respond more maturely to feedback in our environments with the ultimate goal of self-confidence and healthy, trusting relationships.  

Image source: crosswalk.com 

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