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Human Behaviour Essays

‘Human behaviour and performance are the result of multiple influences. ‘ Examine and assess this assertion, drawing on examples from Chapter 1,6 and 7 of Discovering Psychology. Internal and External Influences on Human Behaviour and Performance Research has examined the influence of a wide range of factors on human behaviour and performance. These may be linked to theoretical and technological developments (for example, the influence of behaviourism and conditioning, or brain imaging techniques in examining the structure and function of mental processes).
These factors can also be split into those which are internal and external. Internal factors are more stable and linked to a person’s biological (or even genetic) make-up or core personality. External are those which act upon the person: for example, upbringing, social context and culture, and influence of peers. To explore the current brief, three broad types of influence will be discussed (personality, friendship and culture, and biology) and considered in terms of how they impact behaviour and performance. Personality can generally be characterised as a potential internal factor for influencing behaviour and performance.
Personality theories describe a set of traits and characteristics that are stable and enduring over time. Personality plays an important role in social psychology in terms of how people understand the behaviour of others, and the role of personality is generally overestimated in determining causes of behaviour and underestimating external causes. Ross (1977) defined this as the fundamental attribution error. In personality research, attitudes are important variables to measure and are considered to reflect underlying personality types.
Motivated by the events of the Second World War, a specific application of personality theory by Adorno et al. (1950) examined one personality type in depth. The authors aimed to test whether an authoritarian personality – as indicated by expression of relevant attitudes – was associated with a potential for accepting fascism, in order to better understand and explain participation in wide-scale atrocities during WWII. The study was carried out by assessing authoritarianism in individuals and looking at whether these individuals also tended to accept fascist arguments.
It was necessary to carry out the study in this way because actual behaviour fascist behaviour could not be examined at the time of the study: such behaviours and attitudes had already become stigmatised. Instead the potential for fascism scale (called the F-scale) was used as an indicator that the individual may engage in such behaviour. Adorno et al. ’s study gained acceptance in showing how personality can affect behaviour: indeed authoritarianism has become an important variable in other areas of theory (notably the psychology of voting and political decision-making) and is also used in lay language.
However, the design of Adorno et al. ’s study illustrates some drawbacks and limitations of personality research. Firstly, measuring attitudes and behaviours via scales introduces potential for biases. For example, acquiescence response bias may cause a respondent to agree blindly with the presented arguments in the scales. Methods (such as reverse coding and blinding procedures) can circumvent these issues, but Adorno et al. ’s study appeared to be suspect to response biases. Furthermore, Rokeach (1960) provided an alternative explanation of authoritarianism.
Rather than a unique attribute, Rokeach suggested that authoritarianism might be an expression of a distinct cognitive style, wherein some individuals may show less ability or willingness to evaluate the sources of information. This explanation is distinct from Adorno et al. ’s because it suggests how behaviour may arise from general cognitive processes rather than set aspects of personality. Altemeyer (1981) later revised authoritarianism into three distinct scales of submission, aggression and conventionalism. Though these scales provided a better explanation of findings than Adorno et al. s broader definition, Altemeyer’s account uses social learning to explain why people adopt certain patterns of behaviour, by showing how they learn certain important attitudes during childhood. Behaviour then may also be shaped by external factors. Interactions with others are important external factors. One avenue of research in this area has focussed on friendships in childhood and beyond. Bukowski et al. (1996) argued that setting out a single definition of friendship was problematic, because different populations and cultures treat friendships in different ways.
Hartup (1996) suggested that was impractical to class people into ‘friends’ and ‘non-friends’ because there are different, complex types of friendships, with some more intimate and close than others. How might friendships influence behaviour? Friendships may have positive and negative impacts on a person’s actions, from participation in activities or risk behaviours, to academic achievement and learning. Erwin (1998) proposed that peer groups and friendships could in fact support the values instilled by parents, rather than prompting individuals to reject them. MacLeod et al. 2008) looked at a single risky behaviour, and considered whether peer influence was a passive process (the individual copying the actions of others) or a more interactive one (the individual selecting their peers and the uptake of behaviour more dynamic). MacLeod et al. ’s qualitative study used telephone interviews to investigate the influence of friends and peers on the uptake of smoking among adolescents. 14 pairs of identical twins were interviewed, and the results showed a number of mechanisms by which peers had influenced interviewees’ behaviour. One was social mobility, while another was group acceptance.
These results indicated that the active model of peer influence provided a better explanation than the passive one. Participants did not simply take up smoking because they were in the presence of other smokers; their behaviour related to social goals and status. The impact of friendships may also depend on culture. Gonzalez et al. (2004) suggested that characteristics of the person’s culture may influence whether friendships emphasised personal goals and achievements or concern for others, and investigated these issues by examining friendships in Cuba (characterised as collectivist) and Canada (characterised as individualist).
Of the approximately 300 adolescents studied in both countries, participants did appear to value aspects of friendships in line with their culture: for example, those in Cuba emphasised character admiration and reciprocal help, while those in Canada considered shared social interaction and common interests more closely. There were also many similarities between the two groups of participants however, meaning that the extent to which culture influences behaviour in this case is difficult to assess or quantify. French et al. 2008) also showed evidence that classifying cultures into two broad categories did not always reflect subtle and/or complex differences between populations, suggesting that cultures also differed on measures of criteria such as intimate disclosure and exclusivity. Personality, peer and cultural influences on behaviour have been considered so far, though there is less evidence that these factors also influence performance. The biology and structure of the brain may influence both behaviour and performance however.
Though both personality and biology are internal factors, biological influences present a different challenge to examining personality factors. Firstly, the two types have very different methods: while personality factors are generally investigated via scales designed to assess internal attitudes, the study of the brain is conducted via assessment of performance and function in people with and without brain injury. The normal function of the brain is demonstrated by cases where function is impaired.
These cases often arise due to physical damage, stroke or dementia. Even in ancient Greece, there was awareness of the relationship between the physical functioning of the brain, with changes in function (manifesting in ‘madness’ or epilepsy) located as disorders of the brain. The idea of localised function within the brain was also foreshadowed by phrenology (as set out by Franz Joseph Gall), which, though misguided, suggested that certain aspects of personality might be enabled by specific parts of the brain.
Gall’s observation that damage in specific parts of the brain leads to distinctive performance-related changes (as described by Schiller, 1979) was important however, reflecting the now-accepted idea that disruption to certain brain areas can lead to specific impairments of function. For example, performance impairments may occur in memory, language, attention, or a combination of these. Language disorders provide evidence for localised function, due to cases where damage has been associated with specific language impairments.
Patients with Broca’s aphasia (associated with impaired speech production) and Wernicke’s aphasia (associated with reduced ability to comprehend speech) showed modality-specific difficulties with other cognitive abilities relatively intact. Caution is advised in determining the role of biology in human behaviour however; evidence demonstrates how the biology of the brain affects function but not necessarily personality or behaviour.
Although performance-related tasks may be affected by impairments of memory or attention, it is less clear how the biology of the brain influence affects how people act on a day-to-day basis. Research has shown that the physical aspects of the brain can affect complex emotions (such as anger and erotic arousal), though relationships between biology and behaviour are not as straightforward as those relating to performance and function. Three types of influence on human behaviour or performance have been examined here, and the examples given only represent a tiny portion of possible influences.
They do however show that these influences may be primarily internal or external, and that they do not act alone: personality influences most likely have a social learning component, peer influences are affected by culture, and biological influences may present a complex relationship between performance/ability and behaviour. Word count 1497 References Adorno, T. W. , Frenkel-Brunswik, E. , Levinson, D. J. and Sanford, R. N. (1950) The Authoritarian Personality, New York, NY, Harper. Altemeyer, B. 1981) Right-wing Authoritarianism, Winnipeg, University of Manitoba Press. Bukowski, W. M. , Newcomb, A. F. and Hartup, W. W. (1996) ‘Friendship and its significance in childhood and adolescence: introduction and comment’ in Bukowski, W. M. , Newcomb, A. F. and Hartup, W. W. (eds) The Company They Keep. Friendship in Childhood and Adolescence, New York, NY, Cambridge University Press. Erwin, P. (1998) Friendship in Childhood and Adolescence, Psychology Focus Series, London, Routledge. French, D. C. , Bae, A. , Pidada, S. and Lee, O. 2006) ‘Friendships of Indonesian, South Korean and US college students’, Personal Relationships, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 69–81. Gonzalez, Y. S. , Moreno, D. S. and Schneider, B. H. (2004) ‘Friendship expectations of early adolescents in Cuba and Canada’, Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology,vol. 35, no. 4,pp. 436–45. Hartup, W. W. (1996) ‘The company they keep: friendships and their developmental significance’, Child Development, vol. 67, no. 1, pp. 1–13. McLeod, K. , White, V. , Mullins, R. , Davey, C. , Wakefield, M. and Hill, D. (2008) ‘How do friends influence smoking uptake?
Findings from qualitative interviews with identical twins’, The Journal of Genetic Psychology, vol. 169, no. 2, pp. 117–31. Rokeach, M. (1960) The Open and Closed Mind, New York, NY, Basic Books. Ross, L. (1977) ‘The intuitive psychologist and his shortcomings: distortions in the attribution process’ in Berkowitz, L. (ed. ) Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 10, New York, NY, Academic Press. Schiller, F. (1979) Paul Broca: Founder of French Anthropology, Explorer of the Brain, Berkeley, CA, University of California Press.

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