Malcolm Gladwell, a writer for the New Yorker and author of 5 New York Times Best Sellers, digs into the nature of personality in the Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference:
“[Character] isn’t what we think it is or, rather, what we want it to be. It isn’t a stable, easily identifiable set of closely related traits, and it only seems that way because of a glitch in the way our brains are organized. Character is more like a bundle of habits and tendencies and interests, loosely bound together and dependent, at certain times, on circumstance and context. The reason most of us seem to have a consistent character is that most of us are really good at controlling our environment.”
First impressions are weighed heavily in our minds, providing the context through which we interpret subsequent behavior. But a single impression belies the context it came from, it excludes any possibility that the person we are judging might be in a situation uncommon to them, they might be in a state of mind most unusual, totally unlike what they normally inhabit.
“All of us, when it comes to personality, naturally think in terms of absolutes: that a person is a certain way or is not a certain way.”
We are hardly stable creatures. Our emotions flare up and drive much of our behavior, not only in biased and irrational ways, but sometimes for the better. We are dynamic collaborations between our inner world and outside environment, and this collaboration can have odd consequences:
“We normally think of the expressions on our face as the reflection of an inner state. I feel happy, so I smile. I feel sad, so I frown. Emotion goes inside-out. Emotional contagion, though, suggest that the opposite is also true. If I can make you smile, I can make you happy. If I can make you frown, I can make you sad. Emotion, in this sense, goes outside-in.”
Gladwell goes on to explore how trends and ideas that slowly gain traction reach a tipping point, at which time popularity explodes. The book is available through Amazon.