What a Person Says Isn’t Necessarily What He/She Thinks

What a Person Says Isn’t Necessarily What He/She Thinks

Today’s post is based on a study conducted in 1934 by Richard LaPiere. He traveled with a Japanese couple around the US and took note of how people reacted to them. His observations about how the Japanese couple was treated were almost all positive. Six months later, LaPiere sent out a questionnaire to the establishments (hotels) they’d visited and asked if the hotels would accept Japanese people into their establishments. While the couple was traveling, they were turned away only once from a hotel. In contrast to the reality of their experience, responses to the questionnaires were almost all negative. Meaning that those establishments reported on the questionnaire that they would have rejected the Japanese couple and not allowed them to stay.


The study has its flaws, but it brings up a good point. People often say one thing, but when faced with real-life a situation, we act differently. We often say we would be heroic in the face of danger, but when it comes down to it, how would we really react?

Another question arises from this study: How can we tell when what we say will match what we will do? Five aspects can help us know whether what a person says is really what that person will do.

  1. Strength of the attitude. The stronger you feel about a certain situation or person, the more likely you will behave the way you say you will behave.
  1. Stability of the attitude. The more stable the attitude, the more likely you will respond according to the attitude.
  1. Relevance of attitude to the behavior. The more connected the attitude is to the behavior, the more likely the stated action will occur. Just because a person says they believe in God does not mean that they will attend church. However, if you asked them how important is church was to them, you’d likely see a higher correlation between their words and actions.
  1. Salience of the attitude. If something is on your mind that reinforces your attitude, you are more likely to behave accordingly.
  1. Situational pressure. Depending on the situation in which you find yourself, your behavior may align more closely to your attitude or further away from it.

An example of this occurs when Spiderman sees a bus full of people falling from a bridge at precisely the same time his girlfriend is in danger. He is put into a situation that will show his true character. Spiderman’s love for his girlfriend is well known by those who watch the show. His desire to bring justice and save those in need is demonstrated by how he reacts to the death of his uncle and protects others. The climax of what he does when the two attitudes collide is the breaking point.

When we create characters, we need to understand their attitudes and the situations that will make them change those attitudes. In order to create this tension in our stories, we must understand our characters’ breaking points. We build up the tension to that breaking point by showing our characters’ actions before prior to the scene in question, and then we show them facing the ultimate test. This demonstration shows growth in our characters.

Josh HoytJoshua Hoyt is a school psychologist by day, a father of four and a gamer when he’s not spending time with his family, and an author in all the other spare minutes. He is the author of How to Diagnose Your Character: Using Psychology to Create an In-Depth Character and Order of the Rose. Check out his blog where you can follow the exciting adventure of “The Old Man” and his website to be the first to learn about new releases.

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