Back in prehistoric times, our ancestors needed to quickly react to their surroundings. They’d hear a noise, fear that it was a dangerous animal, and prepare to fight or flee.
That’s how they stayed alive.
Fast forward to today, and this trait is still somewhat present despite the absence of everyday danger. This is called reactivity, and we can look at it in terms of both psychological and emotional consequences.
Reactivity Psychology: How Psychology Defines Reactivity
From a psychological standpoint, reactivity occurs when a person changes the way they behave because they know someone is watching them.
And there’s no reason to beat around the bush – we all do this at times. After all, who hasn’t tried to impress an important onlooker?
When we know we’re being observed by others, we may feel inclined to modify our behavior to suit the situation. We may try to be more patient with our children or outperform others at a specific task.
Either way, this form of psychological reactivity shows that a specific value has been placed on external factors – we are reacting to the observers, not the situation itself.
What is the Hawthorne Effect in psychology?
One particular form of reactivity is the Hawthorne Effect, named after the factory in which the initial research took place. It’s the theory that people will put in more effort and produce better results when they are participating in an experiment of some kind.
Simply put, when people receive added attention from researchers, they may become more productive. This is one of the positive side effects of reactivity.
What does it mean to be emotionally reactive?
Emotional reactivity is the inclination to regularly experience powerful emotional arousal and can be strongly liked to self-regulation.
Think of it this way:
On the one hand, you have the emotions you’re experiencing. On the other, you have your thoughts and actions. Emotional reactivity is when there’s no filter between the two.
When someone is emotionally reactive, they are often at the whim of their emotions. They go where their anger or fear takes them, even if it’s in a direction they’ll later regret.
What Is a Reactive Personality?
Now that we’ve explained the two aspects of reactivity, it should be easier to recognize a reactive personality.
It’s someone who allows their current situation to dictate their thoughts and actions.
From an outside perspective, it might seem like these reactive individuals are simply being spontaneous, but reactivity can go too far in both directions – both positive and negative.
So, what is the antidote to a reactive personality? Being more proactive.
You have the freedom to operate the way you want, but you must take responsibility for the choices you make and the actions you take – you do not assign blame to other people for the choices that you make.—Jon Butcher, trainer of Mindvalley’s Lifebook Quest
The alternative to reactivity is to be proactive. It means to take initiative and not let emotions and external factors control you.
Instead of an immediate reaction, create a response that is in line with your core values. It doesn’t mean you have to be emotionless – it means you’re in charge of yourself and your responses.
It also means you don’t shift the blame or responsibility. Someone else may have angered you, but it’s your responsibility to choose the appropriate response.
Learn to take control
Your emotions, external events, and other people will always influence you. But it is up to you to decide whether to simply react to them or come up with a thoughtful response.
The more control you take of your reactions and emotions, the more you can steer your life where you want it to go.