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May 07, 2008

Personality Change via Stress

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

During the weeks leading up to Tuesday's presidential primaries in North Carolina and Indiana, there was scattered commentary that Hillary Clinton had been battered by the competition process into being a better grounded, more likable candidate. No links here 'cause I'm writing this in my Chicago hotel room and will need some sleep soon. In any case the true, or even perceived, persona of H.R. Clinton isn't the focus of this post.

But let's begin by assuming that Hillary was indeed changed by her confrontation of reality on the campaign trail. The question is, would such a change be permanent? That is, if she got to be President, would she be the "old" Hillary we know and love from the Clinton White House years or the "new" Hillary that is actually even more lovable.

I think we would have the old Hillary.

That's because short-term stress in most cases isn't strong enough to create large-scale, fairly permanent personality changes. Especially if the subject returns to his comfortable pre-stress environment. Living in the pampered White House environment of servants and yes-men seems to be an excellent means of personality regression. Perhaps some of the campaign-induced changes might stick, but by "some" I mean "almost none."

Here is an example from my past. When I was a frat-rat in college we ran Hell Week initiation rites. On a few occasions we had doubts about some of the pledges who might be initiated. Do we black-ball them or let them become members? One argument for letting them participate in Hell Week was that the experience would "shape them up."

So through Hell Week they went. And for a few weeks or a month thereafter, they had indeed "shaped up." Then they regressed. By the end of the school term they were their own not-so smooth selves.

This is not to say that hardship can have an effect. It can. But it probably needs to be exceedingly severe (short -term) or else a lengthy process. And the previous environment also needs to have been altered enough that regression is harder to do.

Or so I think. What do you think?



posted by Donald at May 7, 2008


It's a good question. I've noticed a few means by which real life changes sometimes occur.
* Surviving near-death experiences. Heart attacks and cancer bouts sometimes shake the crud off a person.
* Having kids sometimes changes people. Sometimes for the better -- they grow up. Sometimes, alas, for the worse: the kids give the new parents an excuse to get prissy and bossy and even more self-centered.
* And I've seen a few instances of what I think of as "personality collapse." Person was, to all appearances, doing OK, even fine, and then one day it all crumbles. It's like something was eating away at the underground structure, invisible to everyone else, and then the building collapses. These people, as far as I can tell, almost never bounce back fully. Instead, they tend to adjust in one way or another to their new living-amidst-the-rubble circumstances.

Interesting topic. But as for Hillary ever changing? Hard to believe that could ever happe, no?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 8, 2008 11:23 AM

Pampered White House environment? I think being POTUS has got to be about the most stressful job on the planet--look at how all the last five or six presidents aged in office. OTOH, those who pursue POTUS-levels of power are more than willing to take the stress . . . which just proves they're all craziernhell. IMHO.


Posted by: Narr on May 8, 2008 1:14 PM

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