Where Does an Agreeable Personality Come From?

Where Does an Agreeable Personality Come From?

This article explains where agreeableness comes from and what it looks like.

Agreeableness is a personality trait, something that each person has to some degree. Agreeableness reflects our ability to and interest in getting along with other people – it is how much we want to work well with others, want to meet common goals, and want to have positive relationships (Costa et al., 1991).

There are several key domains, or facets, to the trait of agreeableness (Costa et al., 1991):

Trust. People high in agreeableness are very trusting of others – they expect that other people are telling the truth and have good intentions. People low in agreeableness are more cynical; they naturally expect other people to be threatening and to be lying.

Straightforwardness. On the other side of the trust equation, people high in agreeableness are also generally straightforward with other people. They are honest and direct in relating to other people. Being low in agreeableness is associated with concealing one’s motives and generally being dishonest.

Altruism. Altruism means showing concern for others and putting their needs first. In agreeableness, this means having a strong orientation toward the social good and being selfless. People high in agreeableness are considerate of others and will often inconvenience themselves a bit to make sure other people are taken care of. Altruism often looks like generosity – think of Scrooge from A Christmas Carol after his overnight transformation into a man of charity.

Compliance. Compliant means going along with requests and deferring to other people. People high in agreeableness are very likely to defer to the needs or expectations of other people, while people low in agreeableness will probably strongly resist any demands that are made of them.

Modesty. People high in agreeableness tend to have more humility. They are not likely to make a conversation about themselves or to have an unrealistically high opinion of themselves. By contrast, people with low agreeableness are more likely to have big egos.

TenderMindedness. People high in agreeableness tend to listen to their feelings and let their feelings influence their behaviors. This may be why they are more likely to have empathy for other people.

Agreeableness is a huge factor in determining how successful we are at forming and maintaining social relationships throughout our lives (Jensen-Campbell et al., 2003). Studies from childhood through adulthood show that people high in agreeableness have an easier time resolving conflicts, coping with relationship challenges, and adjusting to other’s needs (Jensen-Campbell et al., 2003; Wilmot & Ones, 2022). Indeed, levels of agreeableness may be the most important of the primary personality traits in determining the social outcomes in our lives (Jensen-Campbell et al., 2003).

Agreeableness is also negatively associated with strong, angry reactions, meaning people high in agreeableness are less likely to lash out at other people or get into conflicts (Martin et al., 2000). People high in agreeableness rarely are alone, because they are generally pleasant to be around and show interest in others (Wilmot & Ones, 2022). In fact, they often experience more positive emotions and have overall better psychological health than people lower in agreeableness (DeNeve & Cooper, 1998).

“Never seek to please anyone. Seek to evolve thyself.”
― Lailah Gifty Akita

Causes of Agreeableness

What determines how agreeable a person is? Research tells us that some of our agreeableness is heritable, but the biggest cause of our agreeableness is the experiences we have in our lives, and how they shape our attitudes and expectations (Briley & Tucker-Drob, 2014; Vukasovic & Bratko, 2015). Simply put, both our genes and our lived experiences shape our drive to build positive relationships with others (Wilmot & Ones, 2022).

What might this look like in practice? Imagine a child born to two parents whom all their friends agree are “very nice” people. This child might be born with traits that predispose them to being agreeable. Then, they grow up in an environment that features two very agreeable parents. Their parents are warm and caring, almost always showing an interest in the child and often giving the child opportunities to enjoy themselves and grow. The child comes to expect that relating well to others and having meaningful relationships is a pleasant and rewarding activity, so they practice it. Over time, they come to focus on the positives in relationships, don’t get stuck on the negatives, and continue to reinforce their own agreeable nature by having high quality friendships through childhood and adulthood (Bresin & Robinson, 2015).

In Sum

Agreeableness is the personality trait that drives good social connections. It is encouraged that you practice taking agreeable actions, whether or not you see yourself as an agreeable person. You and the people around you are likely to benefit.

References

● Bresin, K., & Robinson, M. D. (2015). You are what you see and choose: agreeableness and situation selection. Journal of Personality, 83(4), 452-463.

● Briley, D. A., & Tucker-Drob, E. M. (2014). Genetic and environmental continuity in personality development: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 140(5), 1303–1331.

● Costa Jr, P. T., McCrae, R. R., & Dye, D. A. (1991). Facet scales for agreeableness and conscientiousness: A revision of the NEO Personality Inventory. Personality and Individual Differences, 12(9), 887-898.

● DeNeve, K. M., & Cooper, C. (1998). The happy personality: a meta-analysis of 137 personality traits and subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 197-229.

● Jensen‐Campbell, L. A., Gleason, K. A., Adams, R., & Malcolm, K. T. (2003). Interpersonal conflict, agreeableness, and personality development. Journal of Personality, 71(6), 1059-1086.

● Martin, R., Watson, D., & Wan, C. K. (2000). A three-factor model of trait anger: Dimensions of affect, behavior, and cognition. Journal of Personality, 68, 869–897.

● Vukasovic, T., & Bratko, D. (2015). Heritability of personality: A meta-analysis of behavior genetic studies. Psychological Bulletin, 141(4), 769–785.

● Wilmot, M. P., & Ones, D. S. (2022). Agreeableness and its consequences: A quantitative review of meta-analytic findings. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 26(3), 242-280