People who are strong-willed with a high will-power often appear trying to prove themselves to others around them. While this might not be the case, having a strong character may not always be such a good thing.
Well-known social psychologist Milgram, in his social experiment in the 1960s, showed that he could make people commit immoral acts, such as inflicting severe pain on innocent others.
Stanley Milgram decided to test this with a series of studies that became one of the most famous research in social psychology. In Milgram’s research actual participant would have a role of a teacher and as such would have his students whose task was to answer questions that are asked correctly. In Milgram’s basic paradigm, the respondent enters the laboratory believing that he / she will soon be involved in the study of memory and learning. After being assigned the role of a teacher, respondents are asked to teach a colleague/student (who is in fact an associate in the experiment) word associations. Every time the respondent (student) provides the wrong answer to the given question, teacher would give them an electric shock. After some time, the assumed level of electric shock reaches a certain point, and a conflict occurs. On the one hand, the student demands to be released, he seems to be in pain, and continuing to the end can pose a risk to his health. On the other hand, the leader of the experiment, if asked, insists that the experiment is not as unhealthy as it seems and that the respondent must continue. Although the assumption was that only 1% of the population would continue to the most intense shock of 450 volts, they were wrong. As many as 62.5% of the teachers, by the requests of the leader of the experiment, continued giving shocks of 450 volts to students to the end. Of course, the shocks were not real and the students were associates of the experiment leader, but the real participants (teachers) did not know that. The conclusion of this experiment in summary is that people (teachers) will be “obedient” (comply with giving electric shocks to students) to please others (experiment leader) and “look good” at their eyes.
Newer tests of the experiment have found that the same “obedience” only works under certain conditions; especially when participants feel that the results are necessary for the good of science or the common good.
According to Milgram, “the essence of obedience lies in the fact that a person perceives himself as an instrument for fulfilling the wishes of another person and therefore no longer sees himself as responsible for his actions. Once this critical change in a person’s point of view has occurred, obedience will follow. “
Why is this story a good example and relevant today?
People who are used to being comfortable and organized, and whose social integration is good, find it harder “not to listen” or to be obedience. These findings join a series of new studies showing that people with high self-control and discipline have a surprisingly “dark side”. This research can help us understand why certain types of people sometimes become toxic, which has important implications for our understanding of unethical behavior in the workplace and beyond.
Traits that cause people to behave immorally can in some situations can be desirable.
In any case, people with high self-control were seen to perform better in school and at work and to adopt a healthier lifestyle; they are less likely to overeat or take drugs, and are more likely to exercise. Their ability to overcome their instincts meant that even people with greater self-control were less likely to act aggressively or violently, and were less likely to have criminal records. For these reasons, it was believed, and it is still believed, that self-control contributes to the strength of one’s “character”; some scholars have even gone a step further by arguing that it is character that contains a kind of “moral muscle” that determines our ability to act ethically.
In mid-2010, Liad Uziel on Israeli university Bar-Ilan began to investigate whether the context of the environment play an important role in determining the result of our self-control? He speculated that this trait is just a useful tool that allows people to achieve any goal – both good and bad. In many situations, our social norms reward people who cooperate with others, so people with high self-control happily cross the line. And if we change those social norms, then people with high self-control might turn out to be less scrupulous in dealing with others.
People with high self-control seem to be more careful when they start an antisocial act and avoid to be caught. David Lane and colleagues at the American University of Western Illinois recently questioned people about certain suspicious behaviors and whether they suffered the consequences of their actions. Certainly, they found that people with high self-control were more likely to avoid punishment for dangerous driving and cheating on tests, compared to people who have weaker self-control. Once again, they seem to carefully judge social norms of acceptable behavior and adhere to them when it is more likely that the offense will affect their reputation.
The effects of self-control depend on people’s sense of moral responsibility. For people who are particularly concerned about the ethical consequences of their actions, increased self-control has little effect on the outcome of their actions.
It is interesting that pleasure – when a person has a desire to please others – is the only personality trait that increases insensitive behavior. These individuals are more likely to attack the victim more (any social research has shown this, Milgram and Marshmellow, etc.), presumably to avoid an embarrassing conflict with a superior. They want to be reliable people and keep their commitment.
People with lower self-control are less likely to adopt healthy lifestyles – but one study found that those with higher self-control are much more selfish.
If everything is like this, we could start appreciating the people around us who are a little less disciplined and more comfortable than others. They may frustrate us with their unreliability, but at least we would be sure of survival if they had to decide our fate.