I often joke on my radio program that I am on a campaign to stamp out “nice.” I have always been of the mindset that “nice” is Satan’s plagiarism of charity and kindness. Where charity and kindness seek the good of the other, stand up for what is true, and are intentional, mindful virtues, nice merely goes along to get along. It has no aim. It has no intention. It has no principles. It merely follows the path of least resistance on a perpetual quest to be liked.
People sometimes give me a hard time about this, suggesting I am being more than a bit curmudgeonly about the whole thing. Turns out, I was even more correct than I thought. (This, of course, happens so often that you’d think I’d be bored of it, but no. It never gets old 😉 New research shows that nice people are more like to electrocute you.
In 1961, curious about a person’s willingness to obey an authority figure, social psychologist Stanley Milgram began trials on his now-famous experiment. In it, he tested how far a subject would go electrically shocking a stranger (actually an actor faking the pain) simply because they were following orders. Some subjects, Milgram found, would follow directives until the person was dead.
The news: A new Milgram-like experiment published this month in the Journal of Personality has taken this idea to the next step by trying to understand which kinds of people are more or less willing to obey these kinds of orders. What researchers discovered was surprising: Those who are described as “agreeable, conscientious personalities” are more likely to follow orders and deliver electric shocks that they believe can harm innocent people, while “more contrarian, less agreeable personalities” are more likely to refuse to hurt others.
The methodology and findings: For an eight-month period, the researchers interviewed the study participants to gauge their social personality, as well as their personal history and political leanings. When they matched this data to the participants’ behavior during the experiment, a distinct pattern emerged: People who were normally friendly followed orders because they didn’t want to upset others, while those who were described as unfriendly stuck up for themselves.
Give me curmudgeons any day. They might be grumpy, but at least they won’t shock you.