Transactional Analysis Theory: Strokes and the Stroke Economy

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  • 0:01 Transactions
  • 1:09 Strokes
  • 3:23 Stroke Economy
  • 4:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

How do we measure the outcomes of our interactions? This lesson will explore the role of strokes in transactional analysis theory and explain the concept of the stroke economy.


Imagine you begin your day with the alarm ringing at 6:00am. You hit the snooze button. When you finally get up, it's almost 6:30, and you're running late. You tell yourself you are a bad person for sleeping in. You're feeling down on yourself as you get on the bus to work. A person sitting next to you tells you how nice you look today, and this lifts your spirits a bit. When you arrive at work your boss is waiting for you to discuss a presentation you have coming up. Because you were in a rush this morning, you forgot to grab some things you were working on at home for your presentation. Imagine how this might affect inner dialog with yourself or the interactions you have with your boss.

Each of the events that took place in our example was a personal interaction of some type. In transactional analysis theory, these interactions are called transactions, which is the fundamental unit of social interaction. Each transaction is a basic unit that can be studied, measured, and classified. This lesson will discuss how we will measure these transactions.


So, how do we measure the outcomes of these transactions in Eric Berne's theory of transactional analysis? In order to do this, Berne defined the fundamental unit of social action. He called this unit a stroke.

So, if a transaction is any social interaction, a stroke is each social action considered individually. Berne believed that we seek after strokes as recognition for our transactions. A stroke occurs when one person recognizes another person either verbally or non-verbally. Strokes also occur in our self- dialog, though this is not as easily observed.

There are two types of strokes that we can receive:

  • Positive


  • Negative

As transactions occur, we tally up these strokes. It's almost like keeping score. Let's think back to the example at the beginning of the lesson to illustrate this idea.

Remember how you woke up late? The first transaction we noted was telling yourself that you're a bad person for sleeping in. This would be a negative stroke. The next transaction we noted was a person on the bus telling you that you look nice. This would be a positive stroke.

Your boss is waiting to talk to you when you get to work. Let's imagine he was frowning at you when you walked in. This would be a negative stroke. You forgot to grab some materials for your presentation. You can't believe you were that irresponsible. This would also be a negative stroke.

You continue to add up positive and negative strokes throughout the day. At the end of the day, you'd use this tally to decide how you feel about yourself. If you have more strokes in the negative column, you would probably have a pretty negative self image. If you have more strokes in the positive column, you would probably feel pretty good about yourself.

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