Contagious Personality Traits: What Behaviors and Attitudes Can We “Catch”?

Fagjun | Published 2017-04-02 01:08

We unconsciously develop personality traits like prudence, impatience, and laziness due to the influence of our peers.

As the old adage goes, “tell me who your friends are, and I'll tell you who you are”. There may be more truth to this saying than we expect. Of course, we're all individuals and though we gravitate towards people who are more like us, we have our own unique personalities. However, we tend to develop certain attitudes and behaviors that mirror those of people around us.

Take the way we consider the cost of risk, delay, and effort. Personality traits like prudence, impatience, and laziness are what guide us on the risks we take and the delays and effort we make towards certain things. Prudence stops us from taking risks. Impatience, meanwhile, leads us to prefer options that don't delay the result we want. Laziness, finally, is what convinces us that some rewards are not worth the effort.

Prudence: What risks are you willing to take?

Researchers have found that the attitudes of others towards risk, delay, and effort can influence our own. If people around us are prudent, impatient, or lazy, we will tend to pick up the same attitudes and behaviors.

Catching Personality Traits

In the experiment, the researchers asked 56 participants to make a series of decisions on risks, delays, and effort. The participants were asked to make these decisions before as well as after discovering the decisions of fictitious participants. These fictitious participants were actually an artificial intelligence program that the researchers calibrated.

The real participants had to choose between two options regarding certain situations. For example, they had too choose between gaining a small payoff in three days, or a higher payoff in three months. After this, the participants had to guess the choices the fictitious participants made in the same situations. The researchers then told the participants what the AI program actually “chose”.

Impatience: How long are you willing to wait to get what you want?

In the last part of the experiment, the participants had to answer the same questions from the first part. The researchers found that the participants began to develop the same attitudes as those they saw the AI program exhibit.

False Consensus and Social Influence

The findings of the experiment showed that participants exhibited both “false consensus” and “social influence” biases. False consensus bias leads us to believe that others have the same attitudes as we do. Social influence bias, meanwhile, leads us to model their own attitudes after those of the people around us. We are mostly unaware of these biases, until maybe someone else points them out to us.

Laziness: What do you get out of bed for?
[Photo by Benjamin Combs]

Why, therefore, are certain personality traits socially contagious? One reason may be an inherent desire to fit into a social group. If we exhibit the same attitudes, we can fit in better. Another reason may be because we're used to learning behavior from others. We take social cues on how to act from others so we don't make a faux pas.

Imitating the attitudes and personality traits of others is often an unconscious decision. If we want to cultivate certain attitudes in ourselves, it may be best to interact more with people who have those same attitudes.

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