Current Circumplex Research

Research into interpersonal behaviour has not stood still: “Over a period of fifty years the interpersonal circumplex has developed from an intuitive construction to a scientifically validated model with a paradigm status,” (Schacht & Rouckhout, 2005, page 392).

In a recent book, The Handbook of Interpersonal Psychology, the editors state that the interpersonal approach provides a structure for charting both individual differences (style of interaction) and dynamic and transactional aspects of human interaction (Horowitz & Strack, 2011, page xii).

Scholars all over the world largely agree that interpersonal behaviour and styles of interaction can best be charted via the two dimensions of the circumplex, namely Agency and Communion. Moreover, this view converges with that of evolutionary biologists: that is, humans, like all other group-living species, balance between competition (Agency) and collaboration (Communion). This convergence of different scientific domains makes the interpersonal circumplex a highly reliable model.

Various authors and scholars also call the interpersonal circumplex an integrative model; it deploys the knowledge of the major directions from psychology and provides a framework to integrate and systematise these insights (Horowitz, 2004; Pincus & Ansell, 2003; Rouckhout & Schacht, 2008):

  • Biological research: influence from biology and environmental factors
  • Learning theory (conditioning)
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy: cognitions and schemes (if-then relations) play a part, especially with the interpretation of (ambiguous) behaviour
  • Humanistic approach: ‘self’ (individualism and self-actualisation) versus ‘another’
  • Psychodynamic approach: motives
  • Communication theory 
  • Research into perception and first impressions

Over the past decades since Leary’s original work, sophisticated criteria have evolved to define the interpersonal circumplex. These scientific standards ensure the power of the circumplex to measure, map, and predict human interactions (these criteria are discussed in Evidence-Based Interpersonal Circumplex Requirements).

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