2022-08-06

Personality creates behaviors. Circumstances reveal them.

"You're a different person when you're around your family," my wife commented to me one day on the way home from my parent's house. She went on to explain that I'm actually funny (which hurt a bit, not going to lie), am much more willing to eject a thought or opinion into the conversation than I am with others, and that I just seem more relaxed.

All of that is true. I enjoy spending time with my family and would say I'm more open to ejecting into the conversation, which got me thinking about a long-held debate in psychology, do circumstances determine someone's behavior, or is it their character? This is often referred to as the situation vs. person debate.

You probably won't be acting the same way at a funeral as you would on a Friday night in a bar. If you do, you probably lack some social awareness. But even someone who does act the same in those situations could reason that circumstances don't effect their behavior and they are solely reliant on their person to do so. I often hear from people like this that they're "not going to change who I am," or, "I'm just being 100% me." Which I understand and admire the confidence, but being 100% you can't be used as an excuse to make other people feel uncomfortable. That's just called being a jerk.

For evidence to the circumstance argument, we can look to the Stanford Prison Experiment. If you're unfamiliar, the goal of the experiment was to test how situational variables influenced the behaviors of 1). people with authority and 2). people who were "lesser than." Volunteer college students were split into two groups - one group were the guards and the other were the prisoners. The "jail" was a Stanford basement that contained makeshift cells. The experiment is widely controversial and started a world-wide conversation about ethics and morality when experimenting on human subjects. The experiment was supposed to last two weeks, but ended on the sixth day due to the wild behaviors and psychological abuse directed toward the prisoners from the guards. It's safe to say the situation influenced the guards behavior.

We can also look at the Stanley Milgrim experiment, which was conducted to see how far people would go for an authoritative figure giving them instructions that was clearly inflicting pain on someone, but it too reveals how certain people's behaviors can change given the circumstances.

My hypothesis is that people's behavior can be based on any given range. With flexible and fun on one side and upset and angry on the other. Some people have very wide ranges and some people have very small ranges, but the range is fixed. What moves the current operating range to one side or another is the circumstance. So if they have a wide range of behaviors and are in a fun environment, they are going to be fun and flexible. If they are in a sad situation, the situation gauge will shift toward the other end and they will become sad. So, the situation determine's your behavior but the behaviors that are able to be shown in any given situation are based on personality.

It's a classic "both/and" resolution. What do you think?