External Influences and Personality Traits: Shaping Human Behavior - Free Essay Example

Published: 2023-11-05
External Influences and Personality Traits: Shaping Human Behavior - Free Essay Example
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Psychology Personality Human behavior
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1690 words
15 min read


Human behavior arises from the interaction of the person (personality traits) and the situation (social roles and cultural influences) aspects. Subfields of psychology, such as situationism and dispositionism, consider an in-depth discussion of the underlying influences of behavior. Dispositionism considers internal factors as the key influences of behavior. An internal factor comprises an individual's attributes, such as habits, temperament, and personality traits. In contrast, situationism explores the influence of the immediate environment and external factors on human behavior. Whereas social psychologists tend to explore the situationist perspective, personality psychologists are more interested in the dispositionist perspective. In many cultures, the dispositional approach is mainly predominant as it holds that individuals have control over their behavior. However, social psychologists hold that external influence has a greater impact on a person's behavior as situational variables can affect a person's state. Therefore, this paper aims to evaluate the impact of external influence on human behavior.

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Impact of External Influence

Social learning has a substantial influence on human behavior. This form of learning may involve imitation of models. By way of imitation, people can experience behavioral change. In particular, much of children's behavior is acquired by imitation at a tender age, and thus they can exhibit acts of violence if they are exposed to violent environments. Therefore, a lot of human behavior can be traced back to a history of exposure to certain models. As such, the violent child's behavior may likely have arisen and been maintained by the exposure to the hostile environment. In contrast, a history of exposure to non-hostile models would seem to be a reasonable explanation for peaceful behavior in non-violent children. Generally, imitative learning plays a crucial role in behavioral development in humans. It aids in social interactions, communication, and the ability to alter one’s emotions in order to facilitate social functioning (Brace & Byford, 2012). Indeed, humans possess the ability to match their actions with those observed in their surroundings. Imitative learning is based on the intuition that human beings tend to follow conventions rather than independent judgment so as to conform. Whereas imitative learning requires an individual to duplicate the behavior exhibited by the model, observational learning is different as a learner can learn to avoid behavior with unwanted consequences. Therefore, external models influence human behavior as people tend to take cues from others' actions.

Besides learning by imitation, human behavior can also arise and be maintained because of its consequences. This influence on behavior does not involve imitating or observing a particular model. Rather, it focuses on the outcomes that give rise to behavior and the impetus to maintain it. Certain conditions cause behavioral changes, and thus when the consequences change, behavior tends to change as well (Brace & Byford, 2012). Mostly, people encounter situations that necessitate the need to change their behavior. It is common for people to wish to lose bad behavior and adopt good resolutions in order to attain a certain quality of life. In many instances, good intentions to alter behavior get lost along the way as the consequences that accompany the target behavior change. For example, the behavior of smoking is encouraged by certain consequences such as a feel-good factor and relaxation. These consequences may stand in the way as an individual tries to quit smoking. However, health and expense arguments may be compelling factors to encourage an individual to quit smoking. The change in consequences such as health complications as a result of smoking might trigger a person to quit. Moreover, manipulating the consequences of behavior can help to produce the desired change in a person. As such, rewarding the consequence of proper behavior tends to encourage people to abandon unwanted actions. A key example is the penal system, where rewards such as access to education are offered to encourage good behavior and help prisoners abandon crime. To a large extent, human behavior is always a product of consequences and external influence.

The effect of external influence on human behavior has a firm scientific foundation. Since behavior is objective, psychologists can observe and measure it. Early psychologists such as Skinner were pioneers of behaviorism, an approach in psychology that focuses on observable behavior. Skinner suggested that behavior changes can be attributed to their consequences, a condition underlined by the principle of positive reinforcement (Skinner, 1939). Though Skinner's experiment was based on animal behavior, it is possible to draw a parallel with human behavior. According to Skinner, positive reinforcement refers to anything that strengthens a particular behavior. Behavior that is strengthened tends to increase in frequency while one that is not reinforced will decrease in frequency.

In addition to positive reinforcement, another procedure that reinforces behavior is negative reinforcement. In this case, the behavior is strengthened by removing something that is already present. In most situations, the removal of the reinforcement results in a decrease in the frequency of the attained behavior. However, once a new behavior is learned, continuous reinforcement is no longer required to strengthen and maintain it. In such situations, partial reinforcement, in which behavior is reinforced occasionally, produces significant consequences. Whereas reinforcement strengthens the frequency of acquired behavior, punishment lowers the likelihood of unwanted behavior. The psychological principles of reinforcement and punishment underscore the impact of external influence on human behavior.

Aside from influencing behavior, external factors also affect cognitive abilities such as attention and memory. These capabilities are essential in virtually all aspects of daily life. Errors in memory are rarely noticed as it is not often for situations to arise that require a person to recall critical details is a particular order. According to a study conducted by Loftus and Palmer (1974), there seem to be variables that influence the ability to recall incidences. Their research found that a simple practice such as phrasing of questions greatly influenced what was remembered. Furthermore, they suggested that post-event information was another variable that affects memory. People tend to integrate original and past-event information into one memory, which sometimes results in the misinformation effect. Incorrect past-event information may result in errors in memory, leading to recalling things that did not happen. False memory implanted by others can also affect an individual's behavior (Geraerts et al., 2008). Moreover, false memories about certain life experiences can have repercussions for later behavior in humans. The malleability of memory suggests that a person's later behavior may be a consequence of an entire past fictitious event. Generally, our memory's reconstructive nature implies that external influences such as culture, beliefs, knowledge, and expectations may shape recall of past events, which in turn impacts our subsequent actions and behavior.

The Role of Personality

As previously mentioned, human behavior arises from the interaction of internal and external influences. Dispositionism considers personal attributes such as habits, temperament, and personality traits as the key influences of behavior. Psychoanalysts explore the influence of unconscious processes as an essential factor in human behavior. One key unconscious process is personality, which refers to persisting individual characteristics that consistently influence a person's behavior. According to Ross (1977), societies tend to associate an individual's behavior to their personality, even in situations where prevailing circumstances would predispose a person to act in a certain way. This leads to the fundamental attribution error, in which the personality explanation is preferred to situational explanation. As such, personality appears to substantially influence how society views and interpret other people's behavior.

Different psychologists have used different words and approaches to define the term personality. According to Goldberg (1981), personality traits can be categorized into five dimensions: Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability, and Intellect. There is no single cluster of words that aptly describe a person's personality traits. For instance, people who exhibit affectionate behavior can be described as being gentle, generous, and modest. Each of the five dimensions of personality traits can be referred to as a continuum ranging from extreme introversion to extreme extraversion, such as a progression from emotional stability to emotional instability. As such, a person's personality can thus be defined by considering where they rank among the different dimensions. Interestingly, psychologists focus not only on measuring people's personalities but also on how they are formed. In his psychoanalytic theory, Freud posited that personality is developed in childhood through a child's interaction with people around them. Early childhood experiences influence the formation of a person's personality, which later affects the development of behavioral tendencies and dispositions.

Psychologists have sought to explore the role of personality in influencing behavior. Psychologists are also interested in understanding whether violent and destructive ideologies such as the Nazi movement attract only people with certain personalities. For instance, the field of authoritarian personality seeks to understand the kind of persons who are likely to exhibit aggressive behavior. According to Adorno and colleagues (1950), persons with authoritarian personality are susceptible to violent and extremist ideologies and are most likely predisposed to commit acts of aggression. In their study, Adorno et al. (1950) observed that authoritarian personality traits in adulthood could be strongly linked to childhood experiences. Individuals who exhibit authoritarian personalities are most likely to have grown up in stricter family environments with harsher disciplinarian parents who were swift to punish mistakes. Children brought up in such an environment are likely to become hostile and exhibit hostility towards weaker and vulnerable persons later on in life.


In summary, external influence has a greater impact on the behavior of a person as situational variables can affect a person's state. The authoritarian personality appears to be insufficient as a key determinant of behavior in adulthood. Evidently, external factors such as social environment, political context, and cultural norms play a crucial role in the development of adulthood behavior. From the onset, many psychologists opine that an individual's personality is a predisposition, and thus it is likely to be exhibited only in specific political and social-economic conditions. Personality psychologists are more interested in the dispositionist perspective, even though they are aware of the association between personality and context. On the balance of scientific evidence, it appears that external factors, over and beyond personality, are more crucial determinants of human behavior. Numerous studies done on the influence of personality on the development of behavior tend to be more descriptive than explanatory.

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