Personality and Behaviors by Situation

How we feel, behave, and think can vastly differ from other people in society. And we experience this every single day, even when we are not interacting with them directly. Being highly evolved mammals, we do share a set of personality traits, but other than that, one person is entirely different from the other. Understanding our personalities can be a great exercise towards bettering our lives, but understanding others' can be even more rewarding. Unlocking the psychological mysteries that shape our personalities is not only a fascinating endeavor but also helps us create an understanding and empathetic society. In this article, we attempt to lift the veil slightly and set you on a path of further studies and ponder. We will also focus here on intrinsic personality characteristics. Our behaviors are entwined with so many external factors and variables that it is often challenging to separate one factor from the other. Therefore the study of psychological characteristics can be challenging and rewarding at the same time.

Psychology of Personality

According to psychologists, 'Personality' refers to a set of psychological characteristics or traits that defines how we interact with the world around us. All of us have a distinct yet effective and stable way of responding to external situations and stimuli. While none of us behave the same way all the time, if we observe our behaviors and responses over a long period, specific patterns seem to emerge.

Stable and socially well-adjusted people can change or model their personalities according to the demands of a situation. We exhibit different personas depending on the situation. For instance, our social persona might be different from our work personal. And we will probably exhibit different behaviors when we're stressed.

Despite differences in how we perceive and respond to things, we have certain tendencies in terms of how we view certain events or actions, what motivates us, how to handle different emotions, and how we behave under certain situations. Some of these tendencies are common and shared between virtually all human beings across the globe. But to get a complete picture of your personality, it is paramount to understand those that are part of the basic human nature.

Apart from the common traits, many other characteristics differentiate us. Whether you are a morning or an evening person, your choice when it comes attending a party or staying at home, and whether you are quiet or talkative all contributes to the kind of person you are and how you lead your life. Despite those differences seeming to be inconsequential, their influence creates many significant differences in the lives of individuals, which is why psychologists study the differences in peoples' thoughts, values, preferences, behaviors, actions, and emotions.

To understand someone's behavior, it is critical to understand their psychological traits along with the demand of their situation. Regardless of the situation, our complex set of psychological characteristics always accompany us. These include our belief, traits, thoughts, preferences, values, emotions, and motivations, prime us to respond in specific ways.

Based on the situation, your psychological traits trigger responses; however, your actual behavior will depend upon your level of emotional intelligence. You will act based on the social situation, your role in that situation, other people present, their relationships with you and each other, whether your actions are appropriate or not, in the context of the situation. All this information is factored in before ascertaining whether you will be welcomed or shunned.

Personality psychology focuses on the inner psychological characteristics and mechanisms. Social psychology focuses on the social context and demands behind a behavior. More than the number of variable factors is the fact that most of these are ever-changing. Hence our personalities often take us to new experiences where certain social stimuli prompt a response that we have never encountered before.

Psychology as a Science

Psychology does not snugly fit the conventional notion of scientific disciplines such as chemistry, physics, and biology. One of the primary reasons behind this is the sheer volume of factors psychological researchers must deal with in each study. The science of psychology must deal with the ambiguity of several factors being in play at any given moment. And even when separated, many of them are difficult to measure accurately and study. Unlike chemical compounds that always have the same molecular structures or physical events where the same laws of physics work every time, when psychologists deal with a person, they are working with a complex set of personality traits modeled by years of internal and external influences that cannot be isolated, understood or measured fully.

But that does not immediately diminish psychology as a science. Psychological studies are based on scientific principles where subjects are carefully and systematically studied to arrive at science-based conclusions. Via these studies, we have understood a great deal about human personality mechanisms and the psychological processes that take place inside a human brain. It is now possible to predict how a person would behave under certain predesigned situations. But error rates are significantly higher than other disciplines due to people being vastly different from one another and their thought processes and personalities changing constantly.

Due to these factors, psychological science is fundamentally probabilistic, much like weather forecasting. Meteorologists try to understand a dynamic, ever-changing system that interacts with each other and try to come up with a model to predict the near future events. Via decades of studies and advances, it is more accurate than ever before but still with significant errors.

Influenced by Proportions of Variables

There is an ongoing debate as to the amount of influence each personality factor has on our behaviors. Some psychological researchers claim that the social context or pressure is the primary influence, and others suggest that individual personality traits are at the helm. But the current consensus is that it depends on the situation. For example, imagine a fine dining restaurant. There are social pressures of behaving in a certain way in a restaurant. Hence everyone behaves similarly. On the other hand, on a beach, you see all sorts of people doing different things and interacting differently because the social pressure is less. 

How a person responds to a social demand is also a personality trait. Some people are more flexible in adhering to the current social context, while others mostly rely on their personality characteristics to behave in a specific situation.

To identify which factor is more critical in determining our responses, scientists use statistical analysis. In studies called the variability of proportions, scientists take emotion and calculate its variability to determine whether the personality traits or social demands was the cause of that emotion. When we take an emotion like anger, we see some people who seldom get angry and others get angry regularly. This gives us a variability that ranges, let's say from 0 to 100%. Studies have observed that the proportion of variability for emotions such as anger is close to equal for internal and external influencers. This means our behaviors are equally influenced by external social situations and inner personality.

Situational and Personality Factors Work in Conjunction

Situation and personality are more complex. In most cases, one factor can't exist without the other also influencing the outcome. Several studies have observed that people respond differently to the same situational factors eliciting completely different issues. Which means that both situational and personality factors are at play at any given time.

A pertinent study was concerned with teenage delinquency. Two significant factors behind juvenile delinquency are assumed to be growing up in a poor crime-ridden social environment and adolescent impulsiveness. Impulsive teenagers are more prone to commit crimes and kids who grow up in poor neighborhoods littered with criminals. But the study observed that impulsiveness did not factor much in delinquency when it came to more desirable neighborhoods. A more impoverished neighborhood contributed more to delinquency but only in impulsive kids. This is a classic example of personal and social factors working in conjunction because the social stimuli of living in a poor neighborhood affected only the kids with a particular personality trait. Non-impulsive kids did not respond similarly even under similar social pressure. Given the difficulty of isolating one factor from the other scientists must study and consider both influences to paint a clearer picture.

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