Monday, November 22, 2010

Nature Vs Nurture Vs Power of Context

Been reading The Tipping Point for a while now, it's my new falling-asleep book but that's not to say I don't find it interesting or that I'm not learning anything from it.

Learning a lot, actually, and of course so much of the knowledge imparted is useful to my chosen career in marketing, but also in life overall. I'm on the 3rd rule of the tipping point: The Power of Context, which says that a person's actions and decisions are affected by the environment s/he is in at the moment: an above average student with honest principle ethics will still cheat on a test if provided the right atmosphere and circumstance to do so; a normally quiet and conservative employee will turn into a hedonistic evil maniac if put in a sudden position of power and allowed to lord it over minions he is provided with.

This gives a step beyond the normal psychological study of Nature versus Nurture. Nature talks about genes and history and in-the-blood traits that define a person into a character. Nurture on the other hand covers environments and routines that become ritualistic and ingrained in daily life; how a man grows into a street rat after living a life in the ghetto. BUT, the power of context defies all this be saying, in as much as it would be easier to box a person into a certain type of cubbyhole, people react differently when put into different kinds of situations.

I remember writing an entry about different hats back in my days of multiply blogging. I was wondering how it seemed so easy for me to switch for being the good daughter diligently watching a ballet concert with my parents to the girl hanging out with good friends in some obscure bar in the middle of the metro all in the same night. Granted I don't radically change into a wild woman turned loose from the clutches of the overbearing mother and father (one being my parents are NOT overbearing and two, I have no concept of what a "wild woman" does anyway) but there are subtle tweaks that naturally play into my personality when I hang out in different places with different people. I thought it was because I have hats that turn me from being one person into another in a snap.

I understand better now, that my hats are influenced by the direct environments I put myself in. For example, the normally happy and animated me immediately goes away when I'm put in a totally awkward situation, like in a room full of people I have absolutely have nothing in common with. The "search for co-loner" hat is automatically put on and I try to find a place in the room; nothing center of attention, nothing with a spotlight, just me, a drink and another soul who probably wasn't fitting in.

Context is powerful because it has the ability to change a normally dormant side of us into one that's immediate and fully functioning. Heck, context turned a silent man like Bernard Goetz into a multiple murderer. Of course nature and nurture still play their major roles in character and personality formation, but oftentimes we forget to look at situations on the here and now. The power of context reminds us that nothing is absolute, nothing is set in stone and nothing is certain. Everything changes at a drop of a hat, and those tiny boxes we like to stereotype others in are blown away.

Still reading and learning from The Tipping Point as I write. Looking forward to reading more of Malcolm Gladwell's genius in Blink!, Outliers, and What The Dog Saw.


  1. notable/possible reads after, or even side-reads:

    nassim nicholas taleb - fooled by randomness (and the black swan)
    oliver sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for A Hat

    are you on goodreads?

  2. hey joms, nope, not on goodreads. dunno if i can keep track of another networking account, might not be able to make full use of it. thanks for the recos, will look these up, plus the one you sent thru YM, the cartographer thingy. :)

    when's the first book club meet-up?


Enough about me. Let's talk about you for a minute. :)