Syntaxic Level

Experiences that are consensually validated and that can be symbolically communicated take place on a syntaxic level. Consensually validated experiences are those on whose meaning two or more persons agree. Words, for example, are consensually validated because different people more or less agree on their meaning. The most common symbols used by one person to communicate with another are those of language, including words and gestures.

Sullivan hypothesized that the first instance of syntaxic cognition appears whenever a sound or gesture begins to have the same meaning for parents as it does for a child. The syntaxic level of cognition becomes more prevalent as the child begins to develop formal language, but it never completely supplants prototaxic and parataxic cognition. Adult experience takes place on all three levels.

In summary, Sullivan identified two khids of experience—tensions and energy transformations. Tensions, or potentiality for action, include needs and anxiety. Whereas needs are helpful or conjunctive when satisfied anxiety is always disjunctive, interfering with the satisfaction of needs and disrupting interpersonal relations. Energy transformations literally involve the transformation of potential energy into actual energy (behavior) for the purpose of satisfyhig needs or reducing anxiety. Some of these behaviors form consistent patterns of behavior called dynam isms. Sullivan also recognized three levels of cognition—prototaxic, parataxic, and syntaxic. Table 8.1 summarizes Sullivan's concept of personality.

Chapter 8 Sullivan: Interpersonal Theory 223

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