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Circumstances Determine Human Behavior More Than Character or Personality

This is a very controversial issue in the world of psychology, and I’m going to tell you that right up front. There are psychologists who believe it is personality that determines a person’s behavior more than anything else, and there are psychologists who believe it is circumstances that influence behavior more than anything else – more than character and/or personality.

If a choice must be made, circumstances get my vote, and here is why. The Stanley Milgram Experiment (among others) showed that what are considered normal, ordinary, stable, dependable, decent people, who were not known to be violent or radical in their behaviors, could and did under certain conditions do unspeakable things.

Situation Psychology

Looking into what makes people behave the way they do.
Looking into what makes people behave the way they do. | Source

The Stanley Milgram Experiment Tests Obedience To Authority

The Milgram Experiment was created and carried out in order to determine if German people were more inclined to be obedient to authority than most people in the world. During the World War II Nuremburg War Crimes Trials many of the accused gave the reason for their unthinkable behavior as obedience to authority. They said they were just following orders. Stanley Milgram, a Yale University psychologist and professor, set out to determine just how much influence authority really played in the behavior of people in general.

Milgram’s Experiment initially resulted in 65% of participants from all walks of life, complying with the orders of authority figures. The experiment was repeated hundreds of times after that with a result of 62-67% of research subjects complying with the orders of authority figures.

The authority figures requested that the research subjects do a terrible thing – administer electric shocks to people they did not know and who had never harmed them in any way. On average, 65% of the research subjects from all walks of life complied, mostly without protest or question.

To get a good background in what this Experiment was about and how it was conducted, if you are not already informed about it, click here. It will just take you a few minutes to read a summary of that experiment, and then you will better understand what I am talking about.

The Milgram Experiment Tested People From All Walks Of Life

It is because the research participants who administered the shocks were from all walks of life, with many different characters and personalities, that I side with the psychologists who believe circumstances more than character or personality influence a person’s behavior. The Milgram Experiment is only one of many different experiments that have been conducted and that have achieved the same results every time on this subject of how authority affects human behavior.

Milgram did repeat his experiment several times making small changes to the way he conducted the experiment. For example, he changed the location of the authority figure and that did make a difference to many of the participants administering the shocks.

However, it was the location of the authority figure that changed, not the participant’s personality or character that changed. By changing the circumstances of the situation and keeping the participants the same, Milgram proved that circumstances rather than personal traits make the difference in a person’s behavior. What Milgram proved was that changing the circumstances changed the outcome. In other words, the circumstances determined the change, personality and/or character of the participant did not.

Example

Here is an example that may help you to better understand what I am trying to say.

John usually goes straight home from work. One night he decides to stop in to a neighborhood bar where several of his coworkers like to relax after work. There is a very attractive woman he has never seen before in the bar on the night he stops in. The woman flirts with John and after a few drinks, he flirts back. Eventually John and the woman have a conversation and she lets him know she is attracted to him. John is married, but he finds this woman very tempting. He doesn’t tell her he is married because he enjoys the attention she is giving him and fears she might change her mind about him if she knew he was married.

Normally John would be a model husband, but this night he is away from his wife and family and has had a few drinks that lower his inhibitions, like alcohol usually does with most people. He likes the attention this strange woman is giving him and it brings back memories of before he was married. The woman in the bar makes him feel attractive and desirable in a way his wife does not. After a few drinks and a couple of hours later, John goes home alone to his family, but he was sorely tempted to accept the woman’s invitation to stop by her apartment for a night cap.

Basically, John behaved out of character because he was under the influence of alcohol and he was in a different atmosphere than usual. What if he had been away from home in another city and state at a convention? What if the woman he met at the convention was from a different state hundreds of miles from where John lives? Might John have given in because he felt more confident he would not be found out? Might he have stayed in the bar longer and drank more, thus causing the alcohol to lower his inhibitions even more?

Hopefully you can see how as each of these factors of the circumstances change, so might John’s behavior, but his personality and character remain the same. These same circumstances might very well apply to a woman who is married and away from her family for a few hours and drinking alcohol, or at a convention many miles from home.

The point I am making is that often people behave the way they do more because of the circumstances they find themselves in, external factors, than because of their personality type or their character.

But We Choose Our Circumstances, Right?

Some psychologists will say, but people choose their circumstances and they choose particular circumstances because of their personality. To some degree that is true. John chose to stop at the bar on the way home and should have known there might be an attractive woman there that he had never met before. John definitely should have known that when he drinks alcohol his inhibitions are lowered.

Even so, I think we have all found ourselves in circumstances not of our choosing from time to time. Circumstances totally unexpected and not necessarily appreciated. How often do we find ourselves doing things we would not have imagined we would do when that happens? Even under normal circumstances, how often do we find ourselves going along with a friend or a group of friends in certain behaviors that normally we would never engage in?

Let me remind you that there are always exceptions. On average, 65% of the participants in the Milgram experiment complied with orders that under normal conditions they very probably never would have gone through with. 65% is not 100%. It is a very high percentage, but there were still 35% who behaved differently. Maybe you are one of the exceptions -- or maybe if you were to participate in a similar experiment to Milgram’s, you would surprise yourself by being in the majority.

Hypothetical Situations For You To Think About

Think about the following situations:

1. You are left alone in a fairly large store where you know there are no security cameras. The only clerk in the store went to the backroom to take a phone call and forgot to close the cash register where you can see there is a stack of twenty-dollar bills among other denominations of bills. There are several other customers in the store, but none of them are near where you are. No one would see you take a handful of the money and leave, and you could walk out of the store and someone else there might be suspected of the theft instead of you. There’s a good chance you would get away with it. Would you reach over and take some money and leave?

2. You are a thousand miles from home doing some research in the register of deeds office of the county where your hometown is located. You have been away from your hometown for 10 years. It just happens that a former classmate works in the register of deeds office and she is more attractive than she was when you were both back in high school. You had a crush on her back then. She is still unmarried, hotter than ever, and signaling you that she finds you attractive too. What would you do?

3. You leave the register of deeds office alone and decide to get a room for the night in the only motel in town, since it is already late afternoon. Later, when you are about to turn in for the night, there is a knock on your door. When you answer it is your former classmate from the register of deeds office and she has brought you copies of documents you made while at her office and then you forgot to take them with you. In fact, you had only just realized you had forgotten them and would have to pick them up the next day when unexpectedly she knocked on your door. What will happen next?

4. You are in the office of the head of human resources at the company where you work. That person has stepped out of the office and the file cabinet where all employee records are kept has been left unlocked. You know you have at least 10 minutes before the head of human resources will return. Will you snoop in your own, or someone else’s file, to see what is in there?

5. You are having lunch with your best friend when she excuses herself to go to the restroom. After she leaves you see her cell phone lying on the table next to her plate. Knowing your friend, she will be away for at least 10 or 15 minutes. Will you snoop in her cell phone to see whose numbers she has or if she has saved any messages? What if you were in this same situation with your boyfriend or husband? Would you snoop then?

Everyone Finds Themselves In Unexpected Circumstances Sometimes

Everyone gets into unusual circumstances from time to time. What usually determines your behavior at such a time? It is not necessary to share your thoughts with anyone else, but be honest with yourself. What would you do in circumstances like the ones described here?

Some people will do what most of us would consider to be the right thing when confronting these situations. However, some people will take advantage of the situation to do what most of us would consider the wrong thing.

How often do we hear about parents or spouses who are literally shocked because they discover their child or their husband or wife has done something totally out of character and completely unexpected?

Everyone wants to make sure other people take responsibility for their behaviors, and ultimately a person does make their own decision to do something or not to do it. Yet Milgram’s Experiment shows over and over again, that sometimes people act out of character. Milgram’s Experiment shows that the reason people most often act out of character is because of circumstances they find themselves in.

When people feel coerced by someone they believe is more powerful (an authority figure is just one example), when people think they might get away with something, sometimes even when they want badly to fit in or to be liked, and perhaps there are other reasons, people will act out of character and do things that under normal circumstances they would not do.

What has been described as mob mentality is another example of people acting out of character. What are normally decent law-abiding responsible people sometimes get caught up in a group think situation and participate in unspeakable behaviors and actions because of the circumstances they find themselves in.

How often have you heard of children going along with a friend, or group of friends, who did something that surely they knew was unacceptable? Maybe the children were at a party where drugs were being circulated and that situation will persuade them to go along with what everyone else is doing. They do not want to be the only person at the party who is not going along with what most other partygoers are doing. They do not want to draw attention to themselves by saying no.

The Importance Of Fitting In

The Solomon Asch Experiments, which will be the focus of one of my future hubs, show that most people want to fit in more than they want to do the right thing, even if doing the wrong thing will hurt them. I will share those experiments with you in another hub, but they also point to circumstances having more influence on behavior than personality or character.

Many people disagree that circumstances play such a big roll in human behavior, but most of them will readily admit it is because they are afraid people will not be held accountable if it becomes widely accepted that it was the circumstances rather than the individual’s decision and judgment that caused the problem. Sort of like people not wanting to accept that sometimes people really are insane when they commit certain crimes, and they really were not responsible for what they did because their brain was not functioning normally. I will discuss this in a future hub also.

Think about this. If you are a chocolate lover and there was a decadent delicious brownie, renowned for its superior quality from an exclusive restaurant, just one brownie of that sort, sitting in your pantry, would you eat it? Let’s say you brought it home from a luncheon at that exclusive restaurant with friends ostensibly for your roommate who loves chocolate, but she is at work and does not know you have a brownie for her. You plan to surprise her with it when she gets home. She will never know if you eat the brownie . . .

unless one of the friends you had lunch with tells her and asks her if she enjoyed it. It’s those little details that people often overlook that get them into trouble.

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Comments 63 comments

Au fait profile image

Au fait 15 months ago from North Texas Author

JKSouthard, it isn't only your grandmother's situation that I'm thinking of and how difficult it must have been for her, but her having to live with the fact that she tried to abort your uncle and he was born brain damaged as a result. Watching him struggle everyday and knowing her actions as his mother were the reason he struggled, I think, would be very hard.

I am sad for your uncle as well, having to go through life as he did. Just my opinion, but I think life is hard enough without any physical or mental afflictions.

I understand that your grandmother was desperate and like many, many people in a desperate situation she tried to do something to improve the situation for herself and her other children. That didn't go well, and in the end actually makie life harder because she had to care for a handicapped child.

Safe, legal abortion should be available to everyone and the decision to use it should be at the soul discretion of the person most affected by whatever happens, and that is the woman carrying the fetus. Your grandmother could have died using the method she did to try and abort her pregnancy herself. I have heard of women who did die as a result of similar actions. How would her death have helped her children/family? It wouldn't have. All the more reason to keep abortion legal so that these desperate situations do not develop.

It sounds like things turned out fairly well over time and I'm glad of that. Nevertheless, there had to be many moments that were heartbreaking for your grandmother.

You might find my article of interest: Poverty Kills More People Every Year Than Either Of the Top Killers -- Heart Disease or Cancer.


jksouthard 15 months ago from USA

Au fait, re: my grandmother story. She didn't dwell on her situation. She was too busy. Her husband passed away when her last child, my dad, was 2 yrs old. She packed up her brood into her wagon with one mule and took two years to move to a homestead further west.

She passed when I was 15. After her funeral at her home her kids and grand kids were having a time distributing grandmother's cute hankies she always carried in her right hand when she was out in public. Her next door neighbor came over and got into the mix. Then she asked what was the significance of the hankies for the family? We told her, when she was a toddler living in a log cabin in northern KY, she fell into the fireplace and burned her hand terribly. Her burned hand resembled a withered hook and she hid it under her hankies. The neighbor was shocked beyond belief....she had lived next door for 30 years and never knew.

Don't feel sorry for grandmother. Her children and grandchildren gave her lots of love'n ....you see, her birthday was on the first day of April and jokes were played on her all that day and we laughed and laughed and she laughed and laughed as she would run after us.

Back to your study...perhaps one can address poverty with laughter and jokes and music.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 15 months ago from North Texas Author

Peggy W., thank you for commenting on this article and you give a good example. Everyone is affected, usually through no fault of their own, by the circumstances they find themselves in, and from moment to moment Things can change in the blink of an eye and so behavior does the same thing. Sometimes people become desperate and then may do things they never would under ordinary circumstances.

Hope you too are enjoying your long weekend! :)


Au fait profile image

Au fait 15 months ago from North Texas Author

JKSouthard, thank you for sharing your family's experience with poverty. I have written several articles on that subject hoping to educate people so that they will sincerely want to end poverty, but so far not enough people care in order to get the job done.

How awful for your grandmother to have to live with the results of what she tried to do. There is no end to the horror stories of things that happened to women and babies before abortion was legal here in the U.S. No, abortion is not an ideal solution, but better done correctly than botched. Better still if poverty is never the reason for an abortion.

Indeed, people do desperate things because of poverty. Things they would never do if there was no such thing as poverty. Murders, robberies, and more happen because of poverty. No poverty isn't the only reason these things happen, but it does contribute mightily to the number of these events that occur.

I can tell that this story has affected you very deeply. Of course there was nothing you could do. These things happened before you were born. But perhaps you can help convince people to eradicate poverty now. We will never get everyone to cooperate with that goal, but every little bit helps. Every person we can help lift out of poverty is a plus and makes the world a better place for everyone in it.

Thank you again for sharing your story.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 15 months ago from Houston, Texas

Circumstances certainly do play a major rule in how people act. I am thinking of the human tragedy now in terms of lives with people trying to flee ISIS controlled territories. Those who do not drown at sea and reach other shores are still being sorely tried as other countries try and determine just how many of these refugees they can absorb and help financially. Sad stories are rampant now on each evening newscast.

Good article and one that makes one think. Sharing once again. Hope you enjoy your Labor Day holiday.


jksouthard 15 months ago from USA

I have a terrible story to tell. My grandmother was born in 1872. After being married for 12 years, she and granddad had 6 children. They lived in extreme poverty in a log cabin. There was no work so granddad left to work in the northwest timber industry to send money home. After he had left on his second trip, grandmother found herself pregnant again. Now these were god fearing, loving people. Hardworkers. Living in poverty. Grandmother was desperate...there was not enough food, clothing, space...not enough of anything. She felt she had to abort the pregnancy. But how? She used hat pins!! She was unsuccessful. Poverty forces good people to do terrible things to themselves and others.

Fast forward more than a half century, I lived with my brain-damaged, trainable uncle for a time. Grandmother had trained my uncle to care for himself. She did not want anyone to feel obligated to care for him...she did not want any of the other children (she had two more) to be burdened by her mistake. My uncle did OK. He was physically strong, healthy, could care for himself just fine. He worked in the community at odd jobs, often physically demanding. People generally treated him fairly. Only a few very close family members could understand his speech or intent at communicating. He could not read or write or "cipher"....television was a blessing in his later years. And, thinking back on my age 17 live-in experience with him, it was not what one would think. There were no feelings of love in the usual sense, like hugging or stroking or laughing or playing...it was more like two guys put together in a living situation trying to make the best of it.

I am in my 80's now. I only heard this full family story a few years ago from an aunt of mine. GOD, I HATE POVERTY....WHAT IT DOES TO GOOD PEOPLE....and a society that does not address that issue is ....(I can't find the words.)


Au fait profile image

Au fait 20 months ago from North Texas Author

Pstraubie48, Patricia, thank you for commenting on this article, for the votes, the share, and especially the angels. If you read about the experiment included in this text you will see that normally peaceful nonviolent citizens did terrible things that were completely out of character for them because of the circumstances they found themselves in.

Best wishes for a wonderful Easter!


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 20 months ago from sunny Florida

Very very interesting AuFait...

I do tend to believe that behavior is influenced more by circumstances than by other factors. When we were homeless, we did things we never thought we would...nothing illegal or outrageous just not living our lives like we would have had the CIRCUMSTANCES been different.

Hoping all is well in your little corner of the planet.

Angels are on the way to you this evening ps

shared and voted up+++


samowhamo profile image

samowhamo 2 years ago

Hi Au Fait. I just came by to let you know that there has been a change of plans and I am going to be retiring from Hubpages. I just came to say goodbye. I will wait until you have responded before I delete my articles. You have been a good friend Au Fait and I thank you very much for your support.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 2 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you for the update Sam. Hope you are able to get a new computer soon. I'm sort of in that same situation. My computer stops accessing something else everyday. Look forward to your next hub. Take care . .


samowhamo profile image

samowhamo 2 years ago

Hi Au Fait. Sorry I haven't been on in a while there have been a lot of things going on here at home lately. My computer is dead so I have to use someone elses until I get a new one and also I think I may be developing allergies. I was cutting the grass earlier and I started sneezing a lot and my eyes got watery which is odd because I don usually react like that when I cut the grass. I don't know when I will get to writtinga new article yet but I will try when I can.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 2 years ago from North Texas Author

Glad to hear from you Sam (samowhamo)! Seems like a lot of computers are getting tired lately. Mine has become obsolete and if I can't find a way to replace it soon, I won't be on HP even as often as I am now.

Glad all is going well for you otherwise and looking forward to your review of the new Godzilla.


samowhamo profile image

samowhamo 2 years ago

Thank you Au Fait. Sorry I haven't been on hubpages much lately I have been doing a lot of things on facebook. My computer has also been running kind of slow which is why I haven't written a new article lately but I might be starting a new one soon. I recently saw that new Godzilla movie that came out and I have been thinking about writing a review on it as my new article.


diogenes 2 years ago

Did you read this paper? Heavy work I'm afraid: very wordy and in tiny typeface on my download. Bit like understanding relativity; you just think you've grasped it and it slides out of focus again!

Too much for moi and boring!

Rx


Au fait profile image

Au fait 2 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you for stopping by Sam (samowhamo). I'm not an expert on these things either. I'll try to look at that paper this weekend when I have more time. What I will say is that consciousness (just my personal opinion) is a very unique and special thing and I believe it comes from God. I don't believe it can be created by merely mixing some chemicals together or treating them in any special way. I'm not saying Mr. Stewart believes that sort of thing, only that I do not think consciousness lends itself well to the scientific method -- sort of like one's soul. Hard to measure and I think not possible for humans to create. I will get back to this.


samowhamo profile image

samowhamo 2 years ago

Hi Au Fait. I don't know if this is the right place to ask this but I recently came across what I think is a thesis about the future evolution of consciousness written by a guy named John Stewart (not John Stewart from The Daily Show). John Stewart is part of the Evolutionary Activism movement which is some kind of spiritual movement. I read his paper but there are some parts of it that I don't quite understand. The parts that I do get are that he talks about how our evolutionary success is dominated by the Hedonic System or something like that and that we pursue proxies for evolutionary success and that pursuing goals for more direct evolutionary success will improve the future evolution of consciousness or something like that.

When you have time to could you take a look at this paper an tell me what you think because I am not really an expert in these kinds of subjects. You can read it here.

http://pdfcast.org/pdf/the-future-evolution-of-con...


Au fait profile image

Au fait 2 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you for coming by river and mountain and for sharing your thoughts on this subject. True that people often conform to their circle of friends or clicks without thinking if what they're conforming to makes sense or is a good thing. Studies have shown what incredible lengths many people will go to in order to fit in.


river and mountain 2 years ago

Great insight once again. That has been my complaint against the human race in general. Most people are decent individually, not so much in groups. May go back to stone age past. Being ostracized was the worst thing that could happen to one; and the ostracized left few offspring. Non-conformity is a rarity and a blessing.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you for stopping by Shyron, and for voting on and sharing this article.

Studies must be done over and over again dozens if not hundreds of times exactly the same way and reaching the same results before they are given credence in the science community.

I recommend that you Google and read about the Stanley Milgram experiment. Also the Stanford Prison Experiment conceived and conducted by Philip Zimbardo -- currently a rock star in PSYC Social Psychology.

There are always a few exceptions in every situation, and they are just that, exceptions. We can all point to someone who acted differently than the 'norm,' or imagine that we ourselves would not act a certain way in a certain situation, but unless we've been there we don't really know how we might behave. It's all antidotal evidence and in some cases wishful thinking.

The Experiments I listed above and recommend you read about, tested ordinary upstanding citizens that no one would ever imagine could behave as they did, yet circumstances controlled them in some pretty ugly ways. We would all like to believe we would do the right thing under any and all circumstances, but sometimes we surprise our friends and neighbors and especially ourselves.

Of course a few people did do the right thing in the experiments sited, but they were a minority -- fewer than 35% of participants, in most cases. We would all like to think we are in the minority in these situations, but unfortunately, if we were, it wouldn't be a minority would it?

Perhaps after you read about these experiments I site you will have a better understanding of the title of this article as well as how the scientific method works as opposed to why antidotal, and therefore biased evidence, is discounted.

Lots of people look down on psychologists and demean their work (mostly conservatives), yet it is psychological principles and concepts that control our population via big business advertising, television, and government. Most people do not even realize they are being controlled. You can be certain that so many huge entities would not spend their money on Social Psychology concepts if they didn't work.

What are your circumstances that they would make you a female Jessi James or a Clyde's Bonnie? Bonnie was killed was she not? Today Jessi James would be in a high security prison enjoying his free sex membership that is included in all long-term sentences. None of these people were very successful at their attempts to steal rather than earn money and their lives were short. They should have been politicians . . .After murdering several innocent people and 9 policemen, Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed and killed. Their lives were short.

You might consider writing an article on Bonnie & Clyde, and on Jessi James too, just so people will learn what their lives were really like.


Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago

Au fait, I don't believe Psychologist know beans abou circumstances, or else I would be Clyde's Bonnie, or a female Jessi James.

Voted up, UAI and shared.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Diogenes, (Bobby) thank you for thinking of me. Think I heard that song a long time ago . . . hope you're OK, you sound a little confused. Too many grapes? ;) Take care . .


diogenes profile image

diogenes 3 years ago from UK and Mexico

Sorry...most if the comment went missing


diogenes profile image

diogenes 3 years ago from UK and Mexico

Tom Paxtons "The Marvellous Toy." It went "zip" when it moved, and "Pop!" when it stopped, and "Whirr!" when it stood still.

I never knew just what it was, and I guess I never will."


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Moonlake, thank you for reading and commenting on this article! Also for voting on it and sharing it.


moonlake profile image

moonlake 3 years ago from America

I would never take money, snoop in someones phone or look in their medicine cabinet. Children will do things they shouldn't we just have to hope they will grow into adults that know what to do and not follow the group. Interesting hub voted up and shared.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Shyron, for the votes, the pin, and for sharing, and most of all for your tireless loyalty, and friendship.


Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago

I still believe it is not the circumstances, but how a person reacts to circumstances.

Au fait, this is a wonderful hub and should be read by every one who thinks they cannot change their circumstances.

Voted-up, UAI pinned and shared again.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Deborah-Diane, thank you for reading and commenting on this hub. Everyone's thoughts are influenced by the society they live in from the moment they are born. Even the thoughts we imagine are our own original thoughts are influenced by everything we have been exposed to since our birth and so in reality there are few if any original thoughts in existence.


Deborah-Diane profile image

Deborah-Diane 3 years ago from Orange County, California

Fascinating ... and it takes us back to the nature vs. nurture issue. How much of our behavior is determined by the fact that we live in America, for example, rather than Somalia? Would we have different values, a different attitude, for example, towards having our daughters get married at age 14? It is interesting how many of our values and behaviors are based on our situation rather than some intrinsic force!


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Shyron for reading and commenting on this hub.

The hypotheticals I set up were pretty simplistic, mainly to give people an idea of what we deal with everyday, but in fact most issues are a lot more complicated and sometimes no matter how strong our values are, we are put between a rock and a hard place and things get tricky.

What if your grandson was being held at gunpoint and the person holding him told you that if you didn't drive a vehicle he had set up with a bomb the size of the one that blew up the OK Federal building into an elementary school, he would kill your grandson? Who will you sacrifice, your grandson or perhaps dozens of children at the school?

Most of the situations we face everyday are much more subtle than any of the hypotheticals I have suggested and it is the subtle situations that most often cause the problems.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

whonunuwho, thank you for reading and commenting on this hub and for sharing your experience regarding this issue.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

fpherj48, thank you for reading, commenting, and voting on this hub, and for sharing your views and thoughts (based on your expertise no less) on this subject.

As you know, all participants in this study did not comply with the demands made on them, though the vast majority did so every time in the many experiments. (And as you pointed out, fear, the sort that many people can only imagine as was the case living in Nazi Germany, can absolutely make a profound difference in a person's behavior.) Just the same, there are always exceptions. Often one doesn't know how s/he would behave until they find themselves in the actual circumstances.

People who have been trained all their lives to obey authority with no questioning or talking back, as so many children are, will often do just that, even as adults. They're programmed to behave a certain way in certain circumstances and they behave as they were programmed to behave without even thinking about it.

Additional research did come to the conclusion that the reason most people in the experiments followed orders even when it was against their values, was because of the supposed authority of the "doctor" giving them the orders. The further away the authority figure was from the person being tested, the more likely the person being tested was to refuse the orders they were given. Further, when other participants being tested witnessed someone refusing orders from the authority figure, the more often they refused to follow the orders themselves. I think this experiment (with authority figures) was repeated with people in police uniform and other 'uniforms' getting results according to the authority of the uniform.

You might be surprised at how often people, not just young people either, do not have the self confidence to stand up to authority when they think it's wrong. Most people are intimidated by doctors, lawyers, policemen, priests and other clergy, and even business suits, in more cases than you think. I think this is due to conditioning, and in some cases a person's lack of knowledge in certain areas (the Bible or the law), not personality or character.

Appreciate so much your contribution to this hub and this subject!


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you SidKemp for commenting on this hub and for sharing your opinion.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

mperrottet, thank you for reading and commenting on this hub, for voting on it, and especially for your kind compliments and for sharing.

Most people indoctrinate their children to do as the authority figures in their lives (teachers, police, clergy, firemen, Parents) tell them to without question. I think most people continue to obey authority figures even into adulthood, as it was a lesson well learned.

I think the only people who are likely to question authority figures are in most cases, the ones whose parents let them know they could do that in certain circumstances.

Most people behaved the same way -- followed the authority figures orders. Only a few did not, and when people observed others refusing to follow the orders they were more likely to refuse also. Lots of people need support from others even to do what they believe is right.

My article on Conformity (Ashe Experiment) has been published for quite a while and I invite you to check it out . . . ;)


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Tillsontitan for reading, giving deep thought to the issues in this article, and for sharing your thoughts and opinions with everyone -- and for voting on this hub, too!

Most people think nothing could sway them from their good morals. Sometimes people were not swayed in the Milgram experiment and when other people see a single person with the strength to stand up for what is right, sometimes they too find the strength to do the same. We are all examples and roll models to the people around us, friends, family, and even strangers . . .

The one thing most people found difficult to deal with was the brownie! ;)


Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago

No, I would not steal money left unattended, no I would not snop through the file drawer left unattended. That is just a fact.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Mary615 for reading, commenting, voting on and sharing this hub! It's hard for some people to wrap their minds around the concept in this article, but research has shown again and again that no one is immune to the circumstances they find themselves in. Most people do what they feel they must as a result of their circumstances. Very few people act outside those findings, but some do.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Paul Kuehn for reading, commenting, voting on, and sharing/tweeting/pinning this article!

I don't think situation psychology alludes to an eye for an eye because in that case people have time to think through what they are feeling and intending to do about their feelings as well as what to do about something someone else has done or not done that affects them.

In situation psychology people are usually acting in the moment as a result of the circumstances they find themselves in. If they had time to think things through instead of reacting in the moment, I think a lot of people might choose to do something different.


whonunuwho profile image

whonunuwho 3 years ago from United States

I agree, that the circumstances, the perils of life, and the strong influences of society, which are detrimental to growing children, have more influence on personality and mental illness. Environment as opposed to genetics, will show in most cases that one's surroundings have a much greater influence. I have worked with children for many years and some who were emotionally harmed by their environment. I saw first hand these detrimental effects and how they caused the kids to have unusual behavior and thank God through our programs and other similar ones, we have been able to improve and help these kids to become more emotionally stable and able to deal with life better. Thanks for this vital and informative work. whonu


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 3 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Au fait.....My own studies/research is in forensic psychology, particularly behavioral science. Perhaps your excellent hub is of great interest to me? Great job, btw.

Background aside? I must agree with Mary (my dear friend Tillie) and state that no circumstance nor pressure of authority, would cause me to act against my core personality/basic behavior beliefs. Having said this, the possible exception "might" be a life or death situation, which I did not see mentioned here.

Familiar with the studies/experiments, you present here, I would like to suggest something vital. I see that it was vaguely touched upon within the comments.....however, with regard to Milgram=Nazis=war crimes=obeying orders=horrific behavior: The determining factor was pure FEAR, as opposed to respect and/or obedience to authority. In this case, the authorities were sociopaths, using power, threats and the fulfillment of such. This is a complex scenario, to say the least.

As for the behaviors/personality/personal constitution vs. "circumstances" where human sexuality/morality is the study subject?

I'm not touching that one with a ten foot wall covered in degrees!! LOL You are one brave lady.... THAT, is in a category all by itself...and about 100,000 hubs worth of discussion.

Your very interesting hub can't help but encourage your readers to THINK!!! BRAVO, Au fait!......Voted UP ++++


SidKemp profile image

SidKemp 3 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

This is a very interesting and well-presented hub. However, I disagree with its fundamental question and its conclusions: You propose two sources for our decisions: circumstances, and personality. Circumstances are outside us. Personality is is from our past. There is a third option: Freedom to choose. Stephen Covey, inspired by Viktor Frankl, has explored this option and shown that anyone who chooses to can increase his or her own Freedom to Choose and become more and more capable of making ethical and effective choices by making a habit of awareness, healthy conscience, imagination, and independent will.


mperrottet profile image

mperrottet 3 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

I remember being astonished when I learned about that experiment in college. I couldn't believe that the so many of the participants continued to take orders and didn't just walk away. I thought the follow up was interesting, since many of the participants placed the blame on the experimenter. I think in general, however, that there is a big link between personality and what someone would do under these circumstances. I believe that people that are driven by an internal reward system rather than an external reward system are more apt to question authority. This is a great experiment to bring to the attention of your readers, and I look forward to your presentation of the Asch experiment. Great job, voted up, interesting, useful and sharing!


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 3 years ago from New York

I can't imagine anything that would make me break my "personal code of conduct". I know there are temptations but right is right. In the brownie situation, like you, I would've bought more than one brownie to avoid that, situationally I can't eat brownies any more so the point would be moot ;) As for hurting another human being there is nothing that could be done to me that would make me do it, at least not intentionally.

I have to agree with Bob on society's acceptance of the government though. We've all been conditioned to "take it like it is".

You always provide such in-depth subjects and research. Impeccably providing us with the facts and leading us to think and re-think the subject.

Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.


mary615 profile image

mary615 3 years ago from Florida

Oh, this is a lot to think about. You did an outstanding job on this Hub. I will bookmark it so I can return to it. I think circumstances determine our behavior, for sure.

Vote UP, etc. and will share.


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 3 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

Aufait,

This is another awesome hub and well-researched as usual. Based on my personal experiences, I agree that most of the time circumstances determine behavior. Isn't this one way of explaining "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" mentality? Voted up and sharing with followers and on Facebook. Also Pinning and tweeting.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Peggy W, Thank you for reading, commenting, voting on, and especially for sharing this hub! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this subject as well!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

I think that character develops with age and that younger people who are still in the formative stages can be more easily swayed. That is why the Nazi's could have children turning in their parents if they heard them saying things contrary to the Nazi ideas. That being said, this study of situational psychology is an interesting one. Many criminals use it to their advantage. An example might be that of a criminal pretending to be a police officer and knocking on a door. Most people would probably open it because of the "authority figure" presented by the criminal wearing that uniform.

As for me...that brownie would be safe for my roommate. Up and interesting and will share.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you for stopping in Jen, and for leaving a comment! So glad you found this article interesting and that you shared some of your thoughts about it.


Jen 3 years ago

I've heard a little about this before from friends who are psychologists. I've always thought psychology was so interesting. I think people do not like to accept this because they are afraid those who murder or steal won't be held accountable.

Interesting article. I always learn something when I read you.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Ebonny for reading & commenting on this hub! Sounds like you have a great solution to the chocolate issue. Glad you enjoyed this article.


Ebonny profile image

Ebonny 4 years ago from UK

Thanks for a very thought provoking article - sometimes we would do well to expect the unexpected of ourselves, and others.

Now to the chocolate question - On more than one occasion I have bought chocolate bars for other people but they have never received them as I ate them before I got the chance to hand them over (as I write this I feel some shame but I'm laughing too!).

However, nowadays, straight after I have purchased the chocs I send the person a text telling them I have a chocolate treat for them - this saves both guilt and my waistine.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Maralexa: Thank you for reading and commenting, and for such high praise. Thank you also for following!

I try to bring the facts out in most of my hubs and to give people something to think about. There is so much knowledge and information available now that it boggles the mind. I don't begin to know everything nor does anyone, but it's so interesting I think, to learn about things that may on the surface seem unimportant.

I think one of the reasons our world is so messed up is because advertisers and people who will benefit from doing so know how to manipulate people in ways that will benefit themselves but are not so beneficial to our societies and our planet. I think if more people understood how they are being manipulated they would have a better chance of making an educated, objective decision about a lot of things that have a direct affect on their lives and their health.


Maralexa profile image

Maralexa 4 years ago from Vancouver, Canada and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico

Situational ethics, we called it in my school studies. And how arrogantly we swore we would never fall into the trap of bending our rules or sullying our principles! My experience in life (and business) has shown me clearly how difficult it is to live by what one believes.

I agree that many people are blissfully unaware that social psychology is being used against them, including me in many cases; I just don't notice.

When a set of circumstances in my life seemed to conspire against me I had to look very closely to see if I was following the crowd, obeying authority, or trying my best to live my truth. I found out I was obeying authority because I was taught to do so. However, I had a lot of covert hostility boiling beneath the surface and it was that barely hidden hostility that cost me the most.

Thank you so much for such a thought-provoking hub! I have become quite caught up in your articles, now that I have found you.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Diogenes: People always fear challenging authority. The more important that people view the authority figure, the more intimidating that authority figure seems.

The police work for the wealthy. They exist to protect the wealthy and their property.

Social psychology is being used more and more as it gets more perfected over time, to manipulate and control people. It's cheaper than prisons and cops. It is used by governments, huge businesses, and advertisers, among others. It is used by all these entities because it works. Some people pooh-pooh it, when they should be learning about it and understanding it, so they are blissfully unaware (the majority) that it is being used against them.

Really think we are long past needing another Bastille Day!

Thank you for your comments, Bob!


diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico

Hi. I read this article again today and your comments.

Perhaps more people would buck some systems if they weren't so punished for doing so. Take the riots and economic state of Britain (and the US). No one except those so blessed like the idea that the top salaries in the land are 100 times the median wage. But the riots showed what happened when the people objected

People object that 90% of government ministers are Oxbridge educated when their own kids have more chance of getting to the moon, and the front row of parliamentary ministers all make in excess of $200,000 per annum, while they dispute giving state pensioners a raise of $30 per month!

The blatant unfairness of it all calls for insurrection, but the police are ready with the tear gas and water cannons.

Hope you are well, sweetie

Bob x


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Shyron: Thank you for your comments and perspective. But one wouldn't react to particular circumstances the way they do if those circumstances were different, so it's still circumstances that rule more than personality or character. Personality and character doesn't change, but circumstances do and by doing so dictate the reaction.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Healthypursuits: Thank you for your comments. Interesting to see how you would deal with the brownie dilemma. Afraid if it were me, I'd have to buy at least a half dozen of them to make sure there was still one when my roommate got back -- even then she'd better not take too long! ;)


Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 4 years ago

I also voted this article up. For me, I don't think it is circumstance as much as it is how a person reacts to the circumstance.

The Brownie: I would not eat it if I took for someone else.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

meloncauli: Thank you for your comments! As a Psych major, social Psychology is one of my favorites.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Bob, for your comments. I really think most people are afraid to buck whatever system they find themselves caught up in, not so different from conformity.


Healthy Pursuits profile image

Healthy Pursuits 4 years ago from Oregon

I love explorations of the mind and our motivations, and this is a good one. Your questions were thought-provoking. I was OK with all of my answers until you got to the brownie. Then I pondered it. I realized I'd probably take the 10-year old's solution. I'd give her the brownie so I wouldn't get caught, but I'd shave a little off it so I could get another taste! lol


meloncauli profile image

meloncauli 4 years ago from UK

This is an extremely interesting and well written article. Many thanks for sharing this information with us. A big vote up from me.


diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico

There have been several similar experiments to the Milgram done: one was at Yale, I think, about 30 years ago, when a control group pushed buttons which would maim or kill others (etc).

I believe many (or most) peple are weak and their genome allows for much leeway in their behavior.

Can't enlarge on this in comments.

Good and provoking article

Bob

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    Au fait profile image

    C E Clark (Au fait)593 Followers
    139 Articles

    As a psychology major at the University of North Texas, C. E. Clark found, and continues to find psychology endlessly fascinating.



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