A new study in the Journal of Personality seems to think so, concluding that socially-acceptable traits could make you more likely to take part in destructive activities — particularly when you’re told to.
The study included 66 participants between the ages of 26 and 54 who took part in a mock TV game show. Participants were told to give an electric shock to their teammates to penalize them whenever they answered a question wrong, with the strength of the jolt increasing with every wrong answer. Eight months later, the study subjects completed a survey that they assumed was unrelated to their previous experiment. The survey allowed the researchers to analyze personality characteristics like conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, and openness.
The survey found that participants with agreeable and conscientious demeanors were most likely to follow orders — implying they were also more willing to administer the most powerful shocks to their game-show teammate study subjects. Participants holding left-wing political beliefs, especially women who had taken part in strikes or previous demonstrations, were the least likely to apply intense shocks to their teammates.
“Many studies show that agreeableness and conscientiousness are widely related to positive outcomes such as improved mental health, longevity, academic performance, reduced aggression, and pro-social behavior,” offered lead author Laurent Bègue, professor at the University of Grenoble-Alpes. “However, in some specific contexts, they may also have darker sides, in that they can lead to destructive and immoral obedience.”
That means many of the interpersonal characteristics found to be in favor among your family and friends can also be a source for destructive behavior patterns. Considering we run into social situations involving peer pressure all the time that push us to follow what everyone else is doing, having an overly-agreeable personality could give way to some surprisingly destructible outcomes.
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