Are Polite People More Violent and Destructive?

Kenneth Worthy in Psychology Today:

I’ve long thought that it’s the troublemakers and malcontents who will lead the way to a more sustainable, healthier planet, and now there’s some evidence to support this idea.

In a previous post I discussed Stanley Milgram’s famous obedience experiments and what they say about the conditions that lead people to make destructive, harmful choices. It turns out they’re the same conditions that most of us experience in everyday life when it comes to making choices more or less damaging to the environment—and they prompt us to take the more destructive path.

Now a new study using a variation of Milgram’s experiments shows that people with more agreeable,conscientious personalities are more likely to make harmful choices.1 In these new obedience experiments, people with more social graces were the ones who complied with the experimenter’s wishes and delivered electric shocks they believed could harm an innocent person. By contrast, people with more contrarian, less agreeable personalities were more likely to refuse to hurt other people when told to do so.

(One reason that the experimenters wanted to see the effects of agreeableness and conscientiousness is that some observers attributed those traits to Adolph Eichmann, main henchman of the German holocaust against the Jews and others the Nazis deemed inferior.)

The experimenters dug deeper to find out what other personality traits and political characteristics might help identify the people who would choose the more benign, caring path when put under social pressure to conform with harmful behavior. It turns out that people holding left-wingpolitical views were less willing to comply with demands to inflict suffering. A third group was also more likely to go against the grain and refuse destructive orders—women who had previously participated in rebellious political activism such as strikes or occupying a factory.

More here.