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Social interaction is a dynamic, changing sequence of social actions between individuals (or groups) who modify their actions and reactions due to the actions by their interaction partner(s). In other words they are events in which people attach meaning to a situation, interpret what others are meaning, and respond accordingly.

In social science, a social relation reflected in social interaction refers to a relationship between two (i.e. a dyad), three (i.e. a triad) or more individuals (e.g. a social group). Social relations, derived from individual agency, form the basis of the social structure.

Social interactions can be differentiated into:

  • accidental (also known as social contact) - not planned and likely not repeated. For example, asking a stranger for directions or shopkeeper for product availability.
  • repeated - not planned, bound to happen from time to time. For example, accidentally meeting a neighbour from time to time when walking on your street;
  • regular - not planned, but very common, likely to raise questions when missed. Meeting a doorman or a security guard every workday in your workplace, dining every day in the same restaurant, etc.
  • regulated - planned and regulated by customs or law, will definitely raise questions when missed. Interaction in a workplace (coming to work, staff meetings, etc.), family, etc.

In sociological hierarchy, social interaction is more advanced than behavior, action, social behavior, social action and social contact, and is in turn followed by more advanced concept of social relation. In other words, social interactions, which consist of social actions, form the basis for social relations.

So the forms of social relation and interaction in [[[social psychology]],sociology and anthropology may be described as follows: first and most basic are animal-like behaviors, i.e. various physical movements of the body. Then there are actions - movements with a meaning and purpose. Then there are social behaviors, or social actions, which address (directly or indirectly) other people, which solicit a response from another agent. Next are social contacts, a pair of social actions, which form the beginning of social interactions. Social interactions in turn form the basis of social relations. This is represented graphically below:

These divisions are illustrated in the table below:

Physical movement Meaning Directed towards others Await response Unique/rare interaction Interactions Accidental, not planned, but repeated interaction Regular Interactions described by law, custom or tradition A scheme of social interactions
Behavior Yes
Action Yes Yes
Social behavior Yes Yes Yes
Social action Yes Yes Yes Yes
Social contact Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Social interaction Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Repeated interaction Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Regular interaction Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Regulated interaction Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Social relation Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

==Forms of social interaction of interest to psychologists include:

Main article: Developmental aspects of social interaction

See also

References & Bibliography

Key texts


  • Baron, R.A. and Byrne, D. (1984) Social Psychology: Understanding Human Interaction, 4th edn, Boston, Mass-: Allyn & Bacon.
  • Gahagan, J. (1984) Social Interaction and its Management, London: Methuen.
  • Max Weber The Nature of Social Action in Runciman, W.G. 'Weber: Selections in Translation' Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  • Piotr Sztompka, Socjologia, Znak, 2002, ISBN 83-240-0218-9


  • Kendon, A. (1967) Some functions of gaze direction in

social interaction, Acta Psychologica 26: 22-63. Kennedy, A. (1984) The Psychology of Reading, London: Methuen.

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