High scorers on the personality trait of agreeableness are eager to please, concerned for others, and compliant to other perspectives. On average, they live happier lives too. A new study suggests a possible reason: when they have the chance, friendly people tend to avoid engaging with negative things.
The researchers, Konrad Bresin and Michael Robinson, began by asking participants to view a series of positive and negative images, spending as much time as they wanted on each one. Most people lingered longer on the nasty images, but participants high in agreeableness showed no such tendency. This effect persisted through two experiments involving around 200 student participants, and also generalised to another setup, where 73 participants had to indicate whether they would prefer to engage in a fun or unpleasant pastime. Examples included: an upbeat happy song or a slow sad one; a documentary profiling a famous entertainer or one on government corruption; or a lecture on how to bake a cake versus one on dissecting a body. Low-agreeableness participants were equally likely to go for a negative experience as a positive one, whereas the high agreeableness ones showed a strong preference for the positive: anthems, nation’s sweethearts and shortbreads.
Although it’s unlikely this finding would generalise to very negative situations, Bresin and Robinson argue that the bulk of real-life experiences tend to fall within more narrow boundaries – slightly nicer or less pleasant situations. And across many of these situations, people differing in agreeableness will fork out on more positive life routes. Previous research has looked at how people of different outlooks may respond to challenging events differently: when life gives you lemons, optimists make lemonade. This research suggests agreeable people are more likely to amble past lemon-groves into the orchard next door.
Bresin K, & Robinson MD (2014). You Are What You See and Choose: Agreeableness and Situation Selection. Journal of personality PMID: 25109246
Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.