38 – Personality and the adoption of innovations

This is an edited extract from Pannell et al. (2006). Thanks to my co-authors, Neil Barr, Roger Wilkinson, Frank Vanclay, Allan Curtis, and Graham Marshall, who wrote more of these words than I did.

Personality may potentially play a major part in the style of decision making used by farmers and other landholders, although because of measurement complexity, it has rarely been studied. One important personality trait is ‘locus of control’. Individuals with a strong belief in their own ability to influence the circumstances of their lives are described as having an ‘internal locus of control’. Persons with this personality trait are likely to experience less stress in decision making. The individual portrayed in John O’Brien’s famous Australian poem “Said Hanrahan” (see below) no doubt had an external locus of control. (“If we don’t get three inches, man, or four to break this drought, We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan, “Before the year is out.”) and may have been more troubled by stress during decision making. The limited research into farmer stress in Australia has shown that financial difficulty alone does not predict stress. Stress is instead a combination of circumstances and the interpretation placed upon those circumstances by the individual.

Economists study ‘risk aversion’ which is perhaps a personality trait. Risk aversion describes an individual’s tendency to take or avoid risks in their decision making. Empirical evidence is that landholders vary widely in their personal degree of risk aversion. More risk-averse farmers may tend to rapidly adopt an innovation that is perceived to reduce risk or to not adopt an innovation that is perceived to increase risk.

Another important personality trait is introversion-extroversion. Shrapnel and Davie (2001) and Shrapnel (2002) examined the personality profile of a sample of Queensland graziers. Of 14 general personality styles expected in the wider community, graziers were found to generally fall into a limited suite of five styles. ‘Our findings indicate that they are indeed a special breed, with characteristic[s] that set them apart from members of an urban community’ (Shrapnel and Davie 2001, p. 177). These characteristics include a tendency to introversion and discomfort within group situations. This work provides an indication of why one-on-one relationships are likely to be preferred by many farmers over group settings. This personality trait will influence the extent and nature of a farmer’s personal networks. Personal networks are an important influence on adoption behaviour and are increasingly important as a medium for the implementation of government and industry programs.

A widely discussed and long-standing concept is categorisation of landholders across a spectrum from innovators to laggards, presented with little change from Rogers (1962, pp. 168-171) to Rogers (2003, pp. 282-285). Landholders do indeed have personal characteristics that influence their adoption decisions fairly consistently. However, the concept of adopter categories implies that innovativeness is a personal characteristic that people apply equally to every adoption decision that they make. This is not so. People who adopt one innovation early are not necessarily early adopters of all innovations. It may be that the innovation in question is particularly attractive in their individual circumstances, whereas the same decision-maker when considering a different innovation that is less attractive to them than to others may behave as a slow adopter or non-adopter.

David Pannell, The University of Western Australia

Said Hanrahan

“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,

In accents most forlorn,

Outside the church, ere Mass began,

One frosty Sunday morn.

The congregation stood about,

Coat-collars to the ears,

And talked of stock, and crops, and drought,

As it had done for years.

“It’s looking crook,” said Daniel Croke;

“Bedad, it’s cruke, me lad,

For never since the banks went broke

Has seasons been so bad.”

“It’s dry, all right,” said young O’Neil,

With which astute remark

He squatted down upon his heel

And chewed a piece of bark.

And so around the chorus ran

“It’s keepin’ dry, no doubt.”

“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,

“Before the year is out.”

“The crops are done; ye’ll have your work

To save one bag of grain;

From here way out to Back-o’-Bourke

They’re singin’ out for rain.

“They’re singin’ out for rain,” he said,

“And all the tanks are dry.”

The congregation scratched its head,

And gazed around the sky.

“There won’t be grass, in any case,

Enough to feed an ass;

There’s not a blade on Casey’s place

As I came down to Mass.”

“If rain don’t come this month,” said Dan,

And cleared his throat to speak —

“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,

“If rain don’t come this week.”

A heavy silence seemed to steal

On all at this remark;

And each man squatted on his heel,

And chewed a piece of bark.

“We want an inch of rain, we do,”

O’Neil observed at last;

But Croke “maintained” we wanted two

To put the danger past.

“If we don’t get three inches, man,

Or four to break this drought,

We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,

“Before the year is out.”

In God’s good time down came the rain;

And all the afternoon

On iron roof and window-pane

It drummed a homely tune.

And through the night it pattered still,

And lightsome, gladsome elves

On dripping spout and window-sill

Kept talking to themselves.

It pelted, pelted all day long,

A-singing at its work,

Till every heart took up the song

Way out to Back-o’-Bourke.

And every creek a banker ran,

And dams filled overtop;

“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,

“If this rain doesn’t stop.”

And stop it did, in God’s good time;

And spring came in to fold

A mantle o’er the hills sublime

Of green and pink and gold.

And days went by on dancing feet,

With harvest-hopes immense,

And laughing eyes beheld the wheat

Nid-nodding o’er the fence.

And, oh, the smiles on every face,

As happy lad and lass

Through grass knee-deep on Casey’s place

Went riding down to Mass.

While round the church in clothes genteel

Discoursed the men of mark,

And each man squatted on his heel,

And chewed his piece of bark.

“There’ll be bush-fires for sure, me man,

There will, without a doubt;

We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,

“Before the year is out.”

John O’Brien

Further reading

Pannell, D.J., Marshall, G.R., Barr, N., Curtis, A., Vanclay, F. and Wilkinson, R. (2006). Understanding and promoting adoption of conservation practices by rural landholders. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 46(11): 1407-1424. Access paper at Journal web site here. Pre-publication version available here (161K).

Shrapnel M, Davie J (2001) The influence of personality in determining farmer responsiveness to risk. Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension 7, 167-178.

Shrapnel M (2002) ‘Bushies and cockies – beyond the myths: The personalities of our outback land managers.’ MSc thesis, University of Queensland, Brisbane.

Rogers EM (1962) ‘Diffusion of Innovations.’ (Free Press: New York)

Rogers EM (2003) ‘Diffusion of innovations.’ 5th ed. (Free Press: New York)