19 August 2006

Types, and human behaviour

Marketers are not the only ones who wish to know who their customers are and what makes them buy their brands. We all wish to know what type of people we are and why we do the things we do.

This is not something humans have thought up recently, say, with the advent of industrialisation and mass consumption. Nor has it developed from the time Sigmund Freud and his team began their work on psychology. Man’s interest in understanding himself, what moves and drives him to do the things he does, individually and collectively, has been central to the development of philosophy for thousands of years. Not just in the West with great philosophers like Socrates, but also in the East… with countries like India, China and Japan arriving at their own solutions.

Interestingly, this subject of understanding human behaviour has not been confined to the realms of philosophy alone. It has included nature, science, medicine, history, literature, and even cosmology. The result of all the thinking and observing and learning and analysing by these philosophers across the world – as well as in their own domains – has led to some common grounds. The chief among them is finding (or trying to find) a method of classifying human beings into ‘types’ with common traits. A rather astounding inference from this is the fact that humans are basically of four or five types.

With no psychoanalysis or psychometric tests, no consumer behaviour theories or sales data, to back them up, these philosophers had to rely on the only thing they believed was the source of everything they saw and felt as true: Nature. So, they took the basic elements from nature and applied them to human behaviour and, hey presto, they arrived at a theory of human behaviour. The essence of it, simply, was that man behaved according to his ‘type’. And the ‘type’ was determined by matching his personality with the four or five elements from nature.

These elements were [the Hindu name is indicated in brackets] fire (agni), water (jala), air (vayu), earth (bhumi), and aether (akasha). There was some dispute concerning the number of elements (whether four or five) in nature, with some philosophers having dropped aether from the list. But more or less, philosophers from both the West and the East seemed to have arrived at the same conclusion… on their own. These elements and their corresponding human types were what the world was made of; and even today, many philosophers, psychologists, scientists, cosmologists and marketers believe there is a lot of truth in this typology.

If this subject interests you, you will certainly find this webpage [on the Classical (Greek) elements], ‘Elemental: The Four Elements,’ from Tracey Marks interesting reading.

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