People exhibit a vast behavioral repertoire. How do we explain this wide range of choices? Should we limit ourselves to differences between people?
Normally, we think of people as being very complicated and each of us different from everybody else.
Our typical presumption is that each person has a complex personality, which explains the variations in our behavior.
Sometimes, we get so caught up in the discussion of personality that we forget the large role the environment plays and fall back to “You get what you deserve.”
Complexity theory is a growing branch of analysis aimed at explaining system-wide behavior, which is often complex or unexpected, in terms of agents driven by a few general rules in a vast and highly complex environment.
Here’s a different way to explain the broad variation in human behavior.
Three Fundamental Drives and Environment
We each start with the same basic drives—safety, satiety (the need to satisfy our bodily requirements), and sex. However, our experiences can range from being wealthy to hand-to-mouth existence, from being healthy to sickly, from feeling cherished to shunned, and so on.
These repeated, albeit idiosyncratic, experiences develop our three fundamental drives into some common behavioral patterns.
The Big Five personality traits are the current favorite breakdown. They are best known by 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 still challenge us with novel situations, due to which our behaviors can’t always be predicted by the general 3S drives or 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 this perspective.