People exhibit a vast behavioral repertoire. How do we explain this wide range of choices?
Our typical presumption is that each person has a complex personality, which explains the variations in our behavior. Yet psychologists group us by a small number of traits into personality groups quite reaily.
Sometimes, we get so caught up in discussions of people’s reasons that we forget the very large role the environment plays in our decision-making.
We might fall back into the easy answer, “You get what you deserve.”
Complexity theory is a growing branch of analysis aimed at explaining system-wide behavior of agents guided by a few rules. The ultimate behavior is often complex or unexpected, yet frequently explainable by the rules driving the individual agents in a vast and highly complex environment.
Three Fundamental Drives, OCEAN, and Environment
We each start with the same basic drives—satiety (the need to satisfy our bodily requirements), sex, and safety. However, our particular experience can range from being wealthy to hand-to-mouth existence, from being healthy to sickly, from feeling cherished to shunned, and so on.
Through repeated, albeit idiosyncratic, experiences we develop our three fundamental drives into some common personality traits. A common personality description has the acronym, OCEAN—Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.
By the end of puberty, each of us is firmly in our place within the Big Five. Yet, after puberty, the environment and our experiences continue to change and challenge us with novel situations, due to which our behaviors can’t always be predicted by the OCEAN traits.
It is the diversity of our environments and our experiences that drives the wide spread of behavior, rather than the innate differences between individuals.
What happens when one ignores environmental complexity? Consider the perspective in “A Successful Poem.”
Fundamental Attribution Error. Natural error of judging oneself differently than others.