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Case study: a report on isolation I. Introduction:

Isolation, as defined by most lexicons, is the state of being segregated from something or someone. Commonly, the terms “loneliness” and “solitude” are used in place of isolation. However, there exists a world of difference between the two terms, even though the two are used interchangeably [5]. From the exterior, it seems that both terms are similar, characterized by a state of segregation. However, the connotations of the two terms are different. Loneliness is a negative state, which could have been brought about forcibly. It is a bitter state, where a person is forced to be alone against his wish, whereas solitude has a positive outlook, with an aim to gaining peace of mind. Solitude is characterized by a state of engagement with self, an opportunity to be the best possibly company to one self by engaging by unencumbered rumination [6]. Therefore, the study of isolation affords interesting opportunities to study the human psyche in a very vulnerable state- when it is alone. In the ensuing report, I shall formalize a framework for the study of isolation and its effects on human behaviour and thought processes, and possibly, provide the groundwork for further studies.

II. Conceptual Framework:

I shall use the “working hypothesis” model in my analysis [10]. I shall assume a hypothesis, and, by way of various investigative instruments, shall arrive at a conclusion.

The hypothesis would be accepted provisionally, and shall be suitably modified in light of new data or theories or both.

The reason for choosing the “working hypothesis” framework is due to the fact that the research undertaken is primarily empirical in nature, resorting more to qualitative research methods, and as such it is well suited. It can be constructed as a statement of expectations, either in the absence of alternatives, or the alternatives result in absurd philosophical implications or are otherwise undesirable. Also, it affords the freedom of discovery of other important facts, during the advancement of my own investigation, serving as constructs rather than a hard-coded philosophy.

The framework shall consist of the following components:

1. Hypothesis description- In this study, we have formulated a working hypothesis that says –

“Presence of isolation affects human behaviour, with both negative and positive effects, depending upon the context and the intention of the subject, i.e. isolation can be a constructive experience if the subject so wills it, and destructive if it is imposed on the subject.”

2. Precedents- Literature and other sources depicting the theme of isolation shall be reviewed to provide precedents for my study.

3. Empirical study- I shall use investigative techniques in order to determine the efficacy of this hypothesis. Data collection methods shall be consistent with accepted norms.

4. Outcomes- The data shall be analyzed and interpreted to arrive at a conclusion. The outcomes and the hypothesis can be either in complete agreement, complete disagreement or qualified agreement.

The results of the study would help in determining the various situations which lead to isolation and the extent of influence wielded by such segregation. The circumstances could be voluntary or involuntary. Also, the effect of isolation on a group can be determined when a member decides to segregate himself. There might also be situations wherein the group decides to isolate an individual, and the effect of such a decision on the individual, and on the group dynamics as a whole, is significant. I would attempt to explore various situations and hope to derive some concrete findings from them. In case the causality proposed does not materialize, I hope to derive some significant learnings on the influence of isolation on individual and group behaviour.

III. Review of Literature:

For the purpose of this study, existing literature and precedents on the theme of isolation were researched. Following are excerpts from some of the sources I found pertinent to the discussion:

“All we have in common is the illusion of being together. And beyond the illusion of permitted anodynes there is only the collective desire to destroy isolation (1). -- Impersonal relationships are the no-man's land of isolation. By producing isolation, contemporary social organization signs its own death-sentence (2).” - The Revolution of Everyday Life: Impossible Participation or Power as the Sum of Constraints - By Raoul Vaneigem [2]

“Anne LaBastille (1992) explains that, "Solitude and silence are positive, precious life forces which every human needs and has the birthright to enjoy" (p. 6). Where does this personal desire for isolation come from? It could range from any one of the common pressures of everyday life, stress from work, daily responsibilities, social pressures, weather; basically any kind of stressor that one experiences. Why would getting away or physically removing one's self be an answer to a problem? Where does one go, exactly, to 'get away?' How can this 'getting away' and regulating one's privacy be important in the continued well being of an individual? The answers to these questions may be found through exploring why one chooses isolation as a problem solving tool. There are certain times when one feels the need to isolate oneself from others, whether it be physically or mentally, and just reflect or do something relaxing.” -- Getting Lost: "Isolation is the Answer”-An Essay by K.B. Morgan [1]

“Now, more than ever, we need our solitude. Being alone gives us the power to regulate and adjust our lives. It can teach us fortitude and the ability to satisfy our own needs. A restorer of energy, the stillness of alone experiences provides us with much-needed rest. It brings forth our longing to explore, our curiosity about the unknown, our will to be an individual, our hopes for freedom. Alone time is fuel for life.” -- The Call of Solitude: How spending time alone can enhance intimacy - By Ester Buchholz, published on January 01, 1998 - last reviewed on June 22, 2010 [3]

Apart from these excerpts, there have been numerous studies linking social isolation to impairment of cognition and willpower, alteration of DNA transcription in cells that are immune, and leads to high blood pressure. The subjective sense of social isolation has an evolutionary basis. Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, by Cacioppo, 2008, outlines five distinct pathways by which increased illness and early death can be attributed to social isolation or loneliness. The subjective sense of social isolation has an evolutionary basis. The concept of isolation as a punishment (solitary confinement) has been in vogue for centuries. [4]

In popular media, there have been depictions of isolation, which have varied in treatment, but have nonetheless shown certain aspects of forced seclusion. The movie “Cast Away”, starring Tom Hanks, depicted a protagonist being shipwrecked on an uninhabited island, with no means of escape. It showed the character going through various stages of frustration, ranging from anger to hopelessness to abject misery. Realizing creative license might be at work here, it might be useful to consider it as a case study and try to predict individual behaviour under isolation. [8]

IV. Empirical Study and Generalization:

In order to study the effect of isolation on human behaviour, I have hereby adopted the interview method, wherein an individual is subjected to questions pertaining to the theme of the study, and his/her responses are documented and analyzed. The interview would be carried out on a face-to-face basis and would be subjective in nature. This would afford the interviewer the scope to occasionally digress to gain a deeper understanding of the subject’s personality and perceptions. A conclusion might be reached if causality can be definitively established, or a pronounced correlation between isolation and individual and group-level factors is found.

For the purpose of the interview, several subjects were identified who had experienced isolation and other related themes in their lifetimes. The actual interviews were conducted on subjects who were willing to share their experiences and were candid enough to provide some meaningful insights to the study. The interviews were conducted in an informal fashion, and recorded for future reference, with the permission of the subject.

The thrust of the interview was on identifying the variables which determine states of isolation, as well as the different connotations of it with respect to different situations. The aim was to explore various situations in which isolation might play a vital role, and the conditions which necessitate them. These conditions might be due to external factors, or they might be intrinsically linked to the subject’s own psyche. A natural progression of ideas was evident, as we worked our way up from individual-level variables to group situations, and finally to solutions to hampered group dynamics. In order to provide a certain leeway to the subject, qualitative questions were asked, which were experiential or opinionated, and a scale of 1 to 5 was provided in order to facilitate the grading of the answers and finding the relative weightages assigned to various factors.

Given below is the list of questions put forward to the subject. Please note that this is not exhaustive, as it was a freewheeling discussion and several viewpoints were discussed.

1. Do you like being alone when life gets too overwhelming or stressful?

2. Are you happiest working on your own rather than in a group? Are you a team player or an individualistic person?

3. Comment on the statement: Introverted people are more liable to feel alone.

4. Comment on the statement: Involuntary isolation leads to low morale and self-esteem.

5. Comment on the statement: In times of difficulty, feelings of isolation are magnified.

6. Comment on the statement: Maladjustment in a group leads to a heightened sense of isolation.

7. Comment on the statement: Overall group dynamics is affected when a team member feels isolated.

8. Have you ever felt as if even though you are part of a group, you still feel isolated?

9. If you feel you are isolated from the group, does your motivation to participate in its activities decrease?

10. If you perceive a bad influence in a group, do you seek to segregate him/her? Do you feel guilty later on and it hampers your performance?

11. Comment on the statement: Even when a team member does not "fit" in the group, efforts should be made to include him/her in the fold. Should it happen at the risk of jeopardizing the dynamics of the entire group?

12. Would you attribute isolation to internal or external factors? How much of a bearing would situations have on your sense of isolation?

V. Findings of the study and Generalization:

The interview subjects’ responses were collected and analyzed in order to draw certain conclusions, which could prove or disprove my working hypothesis, i.e. “Presence of isolation affects human behaviour, with both negative and positive effects, depending upon the context and the intention of the subject, i.e. isolation can be a constructive experience if the subject so wills it, and destructive if it is imposed on the subject.”

From the data collected from the interviews, certain key points were observed which have been elucidated below:

1. Respondents felt that solitude was sometimes essential for peace and harmony. In times of turmoil, they expressed a preference to being alone.

2. There were no strong views expressed on the subject of individualism.

3. There was strong disagreement with the view propounding an introvert’s greater tendency to feel isolated. It was mentioned that introverts are generally withdrawn, so they would not feel the loneliness any more than other people. One of the statements made was that “they are wired that way”, indicating their natural tendency to be relatively secluded.

4. Subjects agreed strongly when they were asked if involuntary isolation led to drop in morale and self-esteem. Irrespective of the nature of the individual, if the person is alone against his will, then his core self-evaluation gets degraded. It would be taken as an indication of low worth if, in spite of his efforts, he is still a pariah.

5. In times of difficulty, people confessed to feeling lonelier than others. This is an example of a situation distorting the individual’s perception to augment the effect of a negative emotion.

6. When quizzed about the reasons for isolation on group dynamics, subjects were unanimous in their endorsement of the fact that improper adjustment with the rest of the group was a prime reason for feelings of seclusion. Unless there is a common spirit pervading all members of the team, it is inevitable that certain members would feel left out. However, it was also agreed upon that a completely homogeneous group was a very rare occurrence, and there were always instances of individuals experiencing some degree of isolation.

7. Isolation seems to have a debilitating effect on group dynamics and performance. Individually, the isolated member suffers from a feeling of inadequacy and loneliness, which hampers his performance, as it has been well documented that a happier frame of mind produces better results. From the group perspective, it stands to reason that when members are unhappy, the performance of the group as a whole suffers too.

8. Subjects spoke of a “nagging” sense of isolation, even when they were in a crowd. This could be due to a personal bias against crowds, or the fact that they did not gel well with the rest of the group. Interestingly, certain social customs were highlighted which reinforced this sense of isolation. For example, in a party, when everyone else is indulging in liquor, an individual’s failure or abhorrence to the activity heightened the effect of such negative emotions.

9. Subjects, on being asked if they had ever proactively segregated someone, confessed to having done so to protect the group from negative influences. However, they experienced feelings of guilt for having taken such an action and it adversely reflected in their own performance.

10. Motivation was the greatest casualty if an individual perceives himself as being isolated.

VI. Contribution to OB:

The theme of isolation holds immense significance in the field of organizational behaviour as it is a major determinant in assessing the motivation levels in employees. As demonstrated by the data collected, individual productivity and group productivity can be affected by the perception of isolation. It has varying levels of influence on a person, which correspondingly produce similar degrees of emotion. The existing body of work on organizational behaviour does not sufficiently detail this behaviour. This study has been an attempt to integrate all isolation-related themes into one issue which can then be used as a springboard for further studies.

Further psychoanalytic techniques need to be employed in order to gauge the specific effects of isolation, and their underlying causes. Since this has been an exploratory study [9], it has to be bolstered by further sampling. Also, new lines of thinking could be pursued, wherein the emotions generated by various stages of isolation could be channelized to reach higher levels of motivation and performance.

VII. Conclusion:

It can be seen that the study assigns a higher weightage to external factors than internal factors for the reasons behind isolation. When it is self-imposed or voluntary, it is seen as a respite from commotion to achieve a state of tranquillity. It is therefore necessitated by the environment. Literature propounds the need for solitude to achieve well-being and balance. Isolation has negative connotations, especially when it is imposed. Further, we have observed that incompatibility with the group also fosters a sense of isolation, which adversely affects individual performance, group atmosphere and overall group performance. Hence, by suitably adjusting external factors, isolation, as a negative phenomenon, can be dispensed with, fostering better group dynamics, higher motivation levels among all members and better individual and team productivity.

VIII. Bibliography:

1. http://www.hikingincolorado.org/getlost_essay.html

2. http://library.nothingness.org/articles/SI/en/display/37

3. http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199802/the-call-solitude

4. http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200308/what-is-solitude

5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loneliness

6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solitude

7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isolation

8. http://www.currentfilm.com/dvdreviews2/castawaydvd.html

9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exploratory_research

10. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_hypothesis

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