Watch Out for Nice People

Watch Out for Nice People July 10, 2014

Apparent good news for writers and others on the cranky end of the personality scale: “Those who are described as ‘agreeable, conscientious personalities’ are,” according to a study in The Journal of Personality reported on news.mic, “more likely to follow orders and deliver electric shocks that they believe can harm innocent people, while ‘more contrarian, less agreeable personalities’ are more likely to refuse to hurt others.”

. . . People who were normally friendly followed orders because they didn’t want to upset others, while those who were described as unfriendly stuck up for themselves.

“The irony is that a personality disposition normally seen as antisocial — disagreeableness — may actually be linked to ‘pro-social’ behavior,'” writes Psychology Today‘s Kenneth Worthy. “This connection seems to arise from a willingness to sacrifice one’s popularity a bit to act in a moral and just way toward other people, animals or the environment at large. Popularity, in the end, may be more a sign of social graces and perhaps a desire to fit in than any kind of moral superiority.”

Aha! one would like to say, because contrarians like people to agree with them, but several commenters point out the problems with the study. For example:

[T]his study doesn’t actually imply that contrarians resist authority for moral reasons. It just implies contrarians resist authority. Which, well . . . duh! They should have given the subjects orders which didn’t have a moral element if they wanted to be able to give the conclusion they came to (like to keep doing a pointless repetitive task, or do something embarrass [the comment ends here]

But still, there is something to be said for the contrarian personality. When everyone is running one way, you may stand to the side just because you don’t like running with the crowd, but as a result you have more time to decide which way you should be running. This applies to moral panics, for one thing.

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