Psychological Camouflage

I was attending a meeting today where many senior people of the company were also present. This was one that ‘we are expected to attend’ and like every such meeting, this was boring and dragged on and on. Most of them were uninterested, but as it is customary in India, no one expressed it.

Time passed, and slowly one person got up, muttering something to his cellphone (very visibly) and pretending as if he is attending a call, walked out of the room. The reason looked quiet genuine, and a few more received calls and excused themselves to take them. (The cellphones are muted, so there was no way to figure out if there was a call really)

I sat there, curiously watching what’s going on.

I have already written in one of the earlier posts that mind (logical mind) plays a key role in sense perceptions. For e.g though there are so many things around, one must be seeing only a few things. These few things are those stand out from the rest or that has changed from last time, because the mind acknowledges only difference (linear from a previous state or transverse from the surroundings). All the rest is classified as usual stuff that ‘the mind already knows’. This applies to all the physical things.

Most of us are aware of this and this is what makes us dress like the rest around us or behave the way we have been behaving so far. Then we aren’t noticed by others. (the converse is also true, people who love to be noticed try to be different from others)

Trying to be identical to the surroundings is a phenomenon called camouflage, which is used (more predominantly in the insect world) both to escape from a predator and to attack a prey unnoticed.

Human beings dressing up like others etc is also a camouflage; for whatever reason we do not want to look different from the rest. May be this comes from the tribal nature of ancient humans.

But as humans, things need to be more complex.The incident described at the beginning is a totally different dimension to this camouflaging, unique to humans- I will call this ‘psychological camouflage’ (I do not know why this name, but this is what came up in my mind). At the first level, we try to behave like (well almost) people around us and over a period of time we develop what is called the right behavior (note that right behavior is always with reference to a society). Till this point, it seems OK. But what also happens in the process, we develop ‘expectations’ – how someone should behave in a particular situation. This ‘expectation’ is purely a virtual thing, it only exists in the mind (and the mind projected future). Any behavior around that is in accordance with this ‘expectation’ is generally unnoticed. Because the brain says – It confirms to what is expected.

Now if someone acts different to this expectation, it gets noticed. May the brain fires a ‘mismatch’ trigger or something like that. Each one of us are aware and conscious about this and many a times in our lives we pretend to be doing / not doing something to conform to other’s expectation. We psychologically camouflage in the projected expectations of people around us.

 It may be interesting to explore how this works. In the example described above, there is a conflict going on in the mind of the person to begin with. One part of the mind says – get out of this place. And the other part says –No it will look odd. This goes on for a while till the first part wins and you decide to leave. But then you do not want to look different (the ‘expectation’ here is that everyone remains for the entire duration and any act different to this is likely to be noticed by others) and then your cunning mind comes up with this solution – pretend as if you have just received a call and walkout to attend it. This may be not the perfect solution, but the best mind can create. The attempt is to make the act look as natural as possible, so that it goes unnoticed by others. This is attempting to camouflage.

If look around, you will be surprised at the amount of camouflage we all do. We may be looking intently at a presenter simply because that’s what is expected. We might be frantically scribbling notes in a meeting (especially when you have nothing significant to do) so that it looks natural. Watch someone who jumps a queue to join a friend who is far ahead.

 Always point is that we try to camouflage with what the world expects (and the world consists of other people who do exactly the same thing ..!). But most of the situations where we try psychological camouflage are points of cognitive dissonance, which is also the key for Innovation.

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2 thoughts on “Psychological Camouflage

  1. Sajeev Post author

    Hi Manoo,
    This post was written long ago and I had to read it again to recollect what was written!
    Being an individual (with its desires and fears) and being part of a society (with its dos and don’ts) at the same time is challenging and often conflicting. As a result there is a difference between what you are and what you need to be ideally in the society’s point of view. For example, if you are a shy person by nature and you are in an environment that expects you to be every outgoing, it creates a conflict. Generally we do this balancing act very nicely. But there are times these conflicts do emerge.
    Whenever there is a conflict, we use camouflaging to cover up that. What makes us do that is fear -fear of being accused, rejected by the society or hurting others. If you had no fear of what others think of you, you would probably not try to cover it up.
    Ideally in a situation where there is a conflict between ‘what I should be doing’ and ‘what I am expected to be doing’, our preference is to do the first. But the mind processes several other factors before deciding to act. Some of these factors could actually be preventing you from doing what you want.
    For example if you were talking with your kid or wife and you were bored, you could simply get up and walk away. But if you were in a meeting at your office with your boss and you were bored, you may not be able to get up and walk away. Now there is a conflict.
    We use psychological camouflage to refine what we convey in a conflicting situation. If I walked out of a lecture, I might actually be conveying a message to the speaker that I was bored. Instead if I pretend to be taking a call and walked out, it would not give a negative message to the speaker (at least that’s my assumption).
    Hope that helps!
    Sajee

    Reply

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