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Beliefs About People


Explanations > Beliefs > Beliefs About People

Intent | Capability | Intelligence | Rights | Difference | So what?


We have beliefs about many things. These may be 'black and white' polarities. They may also range along a spectrum between the two ends.

A particularly critical area in which we hold beliefs is about other people. What I believe about people will drive how I behave towards them. This applies to myself too, of course.

Intent: concerned for others vs. concerned for self

This is the belief about how basically selfish people are. A balance between these two concerns leads to the Care-Behavior Matrix.

Concern for others

I can believe that people are basically good and kind and have a natural tendency to help others. People who believe this way are likely to be trusting and trustworthy. They may also be naive and open to unprincipled persuasion.

Concern for self

I can believe that we are all basically selfish, and all actions are self-motivated. People who see the world in this Machiavellian way will not trust others and will manipulate the world for their own ends. They may even interpret prosocial, helpful actions as for the purpose of making me feel good.

Capability: natural talent vs. ability to learn

This is the nature vs. nurture debate.

Natural talent

This is also called Trait Theory. It assumes that people are born with particular talents and abilities and that there is no point trying to change these.

This was popular in the early years of psychological theories and then was scotched when the complexity of people, the (particularly Freudian) effects of early development and their ability to learn was considered. More lately, it has return in the guise of Behavioral Genetics.

If people in organizations believe more in natural talent, this increases significantly the importance of recruitment and decrease the importance of training and development.

If I believe that I have some talents and not others, then I am less likely to seek to learn and more likely to try to live based on what I can already do and what I believe I know.

Ability to learn

I can believe that, by and large, we all have similar talent, and that the question of ability is more about learning. All people are seen as 'learning machines' and the focus is more often rather on whether we can learn but our preferred learning style.

If people in organizations believe more in our capability to learn, this increases significantly the importance of training and development and decrease the importance of recruitment.

If I believe that I can develop through learning, I will be more likely to seek higher education and take an approach of 'life-long learning'.

Intelligence: Fixed ability vs. Growth mindset

Similar to nature-nurture capability beliefs, this is often a personal belief: Am I as clever as I am or can I become more intelligent. as with other beliefs, each creates a self-fulfilling prophesy whereby a person grows intellectually or not. (Research, by the way, has shown that around half of your 'intelligence' is inherited and half is about what you do).

Fixed ability

The fixed ability belief is that we have a certain intelligence and ability and are unable to change this.

It has been found that children who are praised as being 'clever' tend to take on less risky challenges as they do not want to lose this 'intelligent' tag.

Growth mindset

In contrast to the fixed viewpoint, a person with the 'growth' mindset believes that if they work hard they will become more and more clever.

Children who are praised as 'working hard' take on more challenging tasks, in contrast with those who were praised for being clever.

Rights: For care or independence

This is the communist vs. capitalist debate.

Rights for care

If I believe in a right for care, then I assume that anyone who is in need can turn to someone else and ask for help, and the other person has a duty of care to assist in whatever way they can.

The question that goes with this is who has the duty of care. Depending on the person and the situation, this may be:

  • Government - social security, health, etc.
  • Employer - employment, benefits
  • Friends - support
  • Family - close support

Governments who believe in the right of care will provide that care through social services, hospitals, and so on, funding this from taxation.

Organizations who believe in a rights of care will be loyal to their employees and will try not to fire them except under exceptional circumstances (and then will wring their hands about it).

People who belief that others have a right of care will actively or reactively give help to them.

No rights for care

If I believe that nobody has a right of care then I will tend towards a more anarchic disposition, believing and acting that it is 'every person for himself or herself'.

Governments that have less concern about care will have low taxation and very limited funded institutions and laws about care.

Organizations who believe they have no duty of care will hire and fire at will and provide the minimum possible benefits and environment to keep the people they need.

Individuals who believe that people have no right of care will ignore the plight of others.

Difference: Self vs. other people

Beliefs about people include beliefs about people in general and people in particular. Although we may believe that people in general are rather nice, we can believe that a particular person is not very nice. That person may be ourselves, too.

I look at you and I look at me. And before either of us has opened our mouths or acted, there is already a gap, which will drive how I behave towards you (and me).

When my beliefs about myself are different from my beliefs about other people, then psychological problems are likely, ranging from low self-esteem to megalomania.

Difference beliefs about people lead to biases of many kinds, such as racial or gender bias.

So what?

Seek to understand how the other person believes and hence perceives other people. And then either play to those beliefs or work to change them.

Note that is is quite common to hold conflicting beliefs. Thus I can believe that all people are selfish, yet believe that I am not selfish. The impact on how I behave as a result of this can be significant (and may be predictably dysfunctional).

See also

Stereotypes, Values, Care-Behavior Matrix, The OK-not OK Matrix, Theories about belief, Attribution Theory, Five Common Human Concerns


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