By Gordon Rugg
There are regularities in how people behave. There are numerous ways of categorising these regularities, each with assorted advantages and disadvantages.
The approach to categorisation of these regularities that I’ll discuss in this article is Transactional Analysis (TA), developed by Eric Berne and his colleagues. TA is designed to be easily understood by ordinary people, and it prefers to use everyday terms for the regularities it describes.
I find TA fascinating and tantalising. On the plus side, it contains a lot of powerful insights into human behaviour; it contains a lot of clear, rigorous analysis; it has very practical implications. On the negative side, it doesn’t make use of a lot of well-established methods and concepts from other fields that would give it a lot more power. It’s never really taken off, although it has a strong popular following.
An illustrative example of why it’s fallen short of its potential is the name of Berne’s classic book on the topic, Games People Play. When you read the book, the explanation of the name makes perfect sense, and the deadly seriousness of games becomes very apparent. However, if you don’t read the book, and you only look at the title, then it’s easy to assume that the book and the approach it describes are about trivial passtimes, rather than core features of human behaviour.
In this article, I’ll look at some core concepts of Transactional Analysis, and how they give powerful insights into profoundly serious issues in entertainment, in politics, and in science.
The image below shows games at their most deadly serious; Roman gladiatorial combat, where losing could mean death.
By Unknown author – Livius.org, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3479030