Psychological Self-Help

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1398
challenging or defying us. [Note: these irritating personality
characteristics of others may be true, but the characteristics have their
causes. Defiance isn't just a "mean streak," it has a history.] We
frequently neglect to investigate all the reasons, internal and external,
why people do things, such as be late or break rules. Analyzing all the
causes is hard work; thus, most of the time we will accept a quick and
easy explanation of a behavior. Only when the behavior of others
seems strange or upsets us (or we are responding empathically) will
we work very hard to understand it (Hansen, 1980; Hastie, 1984).
Knowing all or most of the causes of others' behavior (to the same
extent we know why planes fly) might allay our emotional reactions
(see method #1 in chapter 15) to them. 
By the way, we tend to be far more generous in our self-
explanations than in our attributions about others. The environment
seems to us to be more the cause of our behavior than our internal
motives, traits, and thoughts. You fall because you are clumsy; I fall
because the floor is slick (Fiske & Taylor, 1984). However, this is not
true when we are successful; we tend to take credit for our successes;
it is our cleverness or drive or charm. Unless we are very self-critical,
external factors--a hard task, bad luck, someone else messed up--are
often blamed for our failures. This is called a self-serving bias (Miller &
Ross, 1975). 
We misunderstand the causes of our behavior in many ways (see
method #8). Examples: as discussed in chapter 4, extrinsic rewards
may conceal from us and reduce the intrinsic satisfaction in an activity.
We may sometimes be surprised to discover our own attitude or
feeling by observing our behavior, e.g. we may feel much more
discomfort than we had expected when interacting with a homosexual.
Just as Daryl Bem (1972) believes we learn about ourselves by noting
what we do, it is also possible that we deceive ourselves in the same
way, e.g. "I have no homosexual tendencies because I have had no
homosexual contacts." Finally, an interesting study by Feather (1985)
demonstrates that our explanations of behavior clearly reflect our
values and attitudes, e.g. conservatives explain unemployment in
terms of laziness while liberals think in terms of sluggish economy. In
short, there are many factors that cause us to overlook or minimize
certain causes of behavior. If we are going to understand behavior,
such as unemployment, we had better study all the causes, including
lack of training, laziness, poverty, discrimination, self-concept,
economic conditions, and many more
Some of our behavior is thought to be caused by factors beyond
our control; thus, we have the plea in court of innocent on the grounds
of insanity. It is an old notion that a person might have an
"uncontrollable impulse," e.g. when finding one's spouse in bed with
someone else. In the 60's and early 70's our society became more
liberal, believing that a person wasn't responsible for what he/she did
under the influence of alcohol or drugs, during a psychotic break, when
brainwashed or under great emotional pressure. More recently we
have become more conservative again, especially in terms of refusing
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