Psychology isn’t enough

“In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

I have been intrigued by subtleties of human nature for a long time, and thus devoured a quite a few books on psychology. But I now realize that psychology does not give us a complete understanding of human behavior. It only deals with minds of individuals. It ignores our bodies (covered by biology), as well as our behavior in groups, which is covered by anthropology, and somewhat by a reading of history. Key parts of human behavior in groups – rituals, taboos, social learning – are not covered by psychology.

No doubt the field has been hit by a crisis.

Humans spend most of their time with each other. We work with colleagues, play and hang out with friends and relax with family. So it would help to examine how groups behave, how societies behave – if we want to design the right products.

Products don’t exist in a vacuum, and not just with individuals either. They operate in a physical context of infrastructure and an abstract context of social norms. And while principles of psychology help us in determining how the products should be – the implementation details, anthropology and history can help us decide what products need to be made in the first place – a potentially much more valuable enterprise.

Hence, it would be valuable for designers and product managers to study anthropology, history, and if possible, biology.

(To be fair, practices like ethnography have made it from anthropology to design research, I don’t see enough designers and product managers studying it as a discipline – simply because we focus on individuals, and not on groups).

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