Application of Personality Theories to Explore Differences in Reactions to Authority

Topic: Psychology and Personality
Words: 1136 Pages: 4


Bandura’s Social Cognitive Perspective underlines the importance of learning through observing one’s behavior, the impact of the environment, cognitive processes, and self-efficacy. Thus, learning through observation is at the core of personality development (Bandura, 2002). The humanistic personality perspective, as applied by Rogers, entails the belief in the goodness of people, emphasizing the importance of free will and psychological growth. According to the theorist, the actualizing tendency is the core driving force of human behavior (Mauer & Daukantaite, 2020). The theories have been widely applied to study personality differences and the impact of external forces on their formation.


Studying individual differences when applying theories of personality is essential for understanding how people will react to various external environments. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which entails the imposition of strict social distancing rules, individual differences will play significant roles (Lane et al., 2021). For example, individuals who are opposed to authority are more likely to protest restrictions than those who comply with the social norms and standards. Moreover, extroverted individuals have been shown to do worse in the environment of social isolation, while scores for conscientiousness are associated with higher means for social distancing (Carvalho et al., 2020). Thus, individual differences will inevitably influence the response to the influences of environments.

Comparing and Contrasting Theories

The Humanistic Approach that Rogers developed implies that every person exists within a world full of experiences, which shape the reactions that include external objects and people. However, Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory suggests that there are two critical determinants of behavior, such as perceived self-efficacy and outcome expectations. Rogers’s Humanistic Approach and Bandura’s Social Cognitive Perspective agree to some degree in the belief that the environment affects people, and within such environments, it is possible to determine how behavior will be shaped. Moreover, the two theories agree that the experiences in a social group can have an influence on personal growth and individual experiences.

Even though both theories agree on the idea that a person is constantly changing, there are also differences. Specifically, there is a difference in what each perspective believes that may cause a change in behavior. Rogers’s humanistic perspective suggests that behavior change occurs as a result of an event that causes one to lose motivation and fall lower on the needs hierarchy. In Bandura’s approach, the difference in behavior is related to an event in itself, such as the death of a loved one or the loss of a job.

Application of the Approaches

The application of the approaches in exploring individual differences reaction of authority allows for the understanding of the influences shaping individual perspectives and behavior changes. Significantly, Rogers did not place much value on scientific psychology, such as the use of laboratories for investigating human behaviors. Instead, the methodology applied in the humanistic approach is qualitative. Therefore, practitioners will use diary accounts, open-ended questionnaires, unstructured observations, and unstructured interviews with clients.

The nature of qualitative exploration is helpful in carrying out studies at the individual level to develop an in-depth understanding of the patterns based on which individuals feel and act. To understand the differences in an individual regarding their reaction to authority, a Rogerian practitioner will sit down with their client and encourage them to share experiences and be open to their feelings and perspectives. In a specific context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the practitioner will ask questions about the attitudes to social distancing and their opinions on government-imposed policies, concentrating not on the environmental factors but rather on the responses of the client. Thus, the humanistic approach entails client-centered (person-centered) practice, which enables the orientation of the issues that affect the person directly, drawing from their experiences and perspectives.

When applying Bandura’s approach, the social aspect is vital. According to the theorist, people learn through observation, which is illustrated by the theorist’s most notable experiment with a doll named Bobo (Cherry, 2020). The experiment showed that children learn and reproduce behaviors that they have seen in other people. When they observed an adult acting violently toward the doll, they later imitated aggressive actions that they had previously witnessed (Cherry, 2020). These findings are revealing to the nature of the attitudes that people may have toward particular phenomena. Thus, there is a potential correlation between individuals’ adverse reaction to authority and their previous exposure to oppressive behaviors to which they have been subjected.

Thus, social learning theory can have different real-world applications. Similar to humanistic practices, the social learning approach entails the use of qualitative methods. By interviewing or observing clients, practitioners can understand how either positive or negative attitudes to authority have developed as a result of observational learning. Social learning theory may be used for identifying the patterns of thoughts that are influencing individuals’ emotions and behaviors and formulate interventions to change behavioral patterns.

Critical Evaluation

Drawing from the implications of Social Learning and Humanistic personality theories, it can be suggested that differences in individuals’ reactions to authority depend on previous exposure to commands and the nature of experience with them. According to Alexander (2018), children as young as four years reject authoritarian commands that go beyond the moral and conventional norms, with the patterns growing stronger with age. The authoritarian style of their parents was also associated with lower child support for authority in typical conventional scenarios. Moreover, the views of authority may differ from one case to another. Specifically, when authority is perceived as legitimate, those subjected to it show self-driven feelings to obey (Alexander, 2018). Thus, when applying personality theories to explain individual differences in reaction to authority, the main focus is placed on perceptions and experiences.

Rogers’s approach is beneficial to apply to the issue because it views people as basically good, breaking down their experiences into smaller components that can be studied in isolation. However, it is limited in the lack of awareness of cultural issues, which significantly influences one’s perceptions of authority (Fong et al., 2017). In collectivist cultures, such as China, the figures in power are viewed as sources of authority and are to be obeyed, while in individualistic, democratic processes allow for extensive criticism and opposition to authority. Thus, when COVID-19 restrictions were imposed on China, the population obeyed massively as a sign of high regard for authority.

Bandura’s approach can help reveal individual differences in attitudes toward authority because it looks at environments in which individuals exist. The characteristics of such environments will likely illustrate the underpinnings of individuals’ perceptions of authority, including cultural or personality-related factors. However, the theory does not consider biology as a contributor to behavioral change, with some behaviors and perceptions being possibly not only learned but inherited. Therefore, it is more favorable to view behaviors and attitudes as influenced by the interaction between nature and nurture, and not one or the other in isolation.


Alexander, A. (2018). Young authoritarians? Trends and individual differences in preschoolers’ perceptions of adult authority. Honors Projects, 85. Web.

Bandura, A. (2002). Social Cognitive theory in cultural context. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 51(2), 269-290.

Carvalho, L. de F., Pianowski, G., & Gonçalves, A. P. (2020). Personality differences and COVID-19: are extroversion and conscientiousness personality traits associated with engagement with containment measures?. Trends in Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, 42(2). Web.

Cherry, K. (2020). What the Bobo doll experiment reveals about kids and aggression. Web.

Fong, E. H., Ficklin, S., & Lee, H. Y. (2017). Increasing cultural understanding and diversity in applied behavior analysis. Behavior Analysis: Research and Practice, 17(2), 103-113.

Lane, J., Means, A.R., Bardosh, K., Shapoval, A., Vio, F., Anderson, C…. Mudender, F. (2021). Comparing COVID-19 physical distancing policies: Results from a physical distancing intensity coding framework for Botswana, India, Jamaica, Mozambique, Namibia, Ukraine, and the United States. Global Health 17, 124. Web.

Mauer, M., & Daukantaite, D. (2020). Revisiting the organismic valuing process theory of personal growth: A theoretical review of Rogers and its connection to positive psychology. Frontiers in Psychology. Web.

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