Can You Change Your Personality?

All in the Mind podcast.

From Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior by John M. Doris:

Scholars with a background in evolution see evolutionary psychology as the key to understanding how the world works just as theologians regard their discipline as the king of studies. Sociologists see social mores as the magic key. Psychologists talk about the Big 5 personality traits, but sociologists may argue that these traits are shaped, in part, by our interactions with others. For example, when I am successful in life, I am more outgoing, more energetic, more generous, more agreeable, more open, and less neurotic. When I am failing in life, I go in the opposite directions.

* Behavior is – contra the old saw about character and destiny – extraordinarily sensitive to variation in circumstance. Numerous studies have demonstrated that minor situational variations have powerful effects on helping behavior: hurried passersby step over a stricken person in their path, while unhurried passersby stop to help…The experimental record suggests that situational factors are often better predictors of behavior than personal factors, and this impression is reinforced by careful examination of behavior outside the confines of the laboratory. In very many situations it looks as though personality is less than robustly determinative of behavior. To put things crudely, people typically lack character.

* When compared with advances in the natural sciences, psychology has exhibited little uncontroversial progress.

* Character and personality traits are invoked to explain what people do and how they live: Peter didn’t mingle at the party because he’s shy, and Sandra succeeds in her work because she’s diligent. Traits also figure in prediction: Peggy will join in because she’s impulsive, and Brian will forget our meeting because he’s absentminded. So too for those rarefied traits called virtues: James stood his ground because he’s brave, and Katherine will not overindulge because she’s temperate. Such talk would not much surprise Aristotle (1984: no6ai4-23); for him, a virtue is a state of character that makes its possessors behave in ethically appropriate ways.1 I’ll now begin arguing that predictive and explanatory appeals to traits, however familiar, are very often empirically inadequate: They are confounded by the extraordinary situational sensitivity observed in human behavior.

* Recognizing the domain-specificity of practical endeavor helps explain how the upstanding public servant can be a faithless husband; the marital and the political are different practical domains and may engage very different cognitive, motivational, and evaluative structures. We can also understand how there be considerable may integration within a practical domain; a scholar must be both diligent and honest in her research if she is to do commendable work, although this does not entail that she exhibit the same qualities in her teaching.

* Globalist conceptions of personality are predicated on the existence of substantial behavioral consistency, but the requisite consistency has not been empirically demonstrated.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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