August 31, 2007

Role Conflict

author_brad By Bradley Wright

Let me tell you a story about a college student who saved the monkeys and got to hang out with Pamela Anderson.

Justin attends the University of Connecticut. He is also into animal rights. Now, saying that Justin is “into” animal rights is like saying Paris Hilton is “into” clothes or Donald Trump is “into” money (or bad hair). Justin is an animal rights activist. It’s not uncommon to see pictures in newspaper of him leading some protest or another. Heck, he even has animal-rights themed tattoos across his body.


In the last few years, Justin has been protesting the University of Connecticut’s use of monkeys in medical research. Apparently, an on-going medical experiment would buy monkeys, drill holes in their heads, stick metal rods into their eyes, and then start destroying parts of their brains to see what would happen. When he learned about this, Justin started protesting, holding press conferences, and sending letters to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)—the government agency that overseas animal use in experiments. When Justin could document violations of government policy, the USDA would send a warning letter to the medical researcher conducting these experiments. Eventually, the medical researcher gave up, saying that he was “voluntarily” terminating his study, but it’s clear that Justin single-handedly stopped the experiment.


In recognition of Justin’s achievements, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) gave him an award as the national animal-rights activist of the year, and a Hartford Courant story about the ceremony shows Justin smiling, with his arm around noted PETA supporter, actress Pamela Anderson. Maybe they just smiled for a photo-op, maybe they danced the night away—who knows?—but there they are together in the picture.

There’s a problem, though. All this recognition has come at a price for Justin—he says that his grades have suffered. This makes sense. It’s hard to study for a midterm when you’re chained to a laboratory’s fence or to write a paper when you’re writing press releases.

Justin’s dilemma, the trade-off between getting good grades and advancing animal rights, points to the concept of role conflict. As I wrote about in my last blog entry, roles are social positions that hold expectations for what we do. Each one of us holds multiple roles, and sometimes the expectations of our roles are mutually incompatible—they can’t all be met. This often happens to college students. As a student you should study for tomorrow’s midterm but as an employee you have to work tonight. As a son/daughter you should go home for the three-day weekend but as a friend you should go to the concert with your friends. As a boyfriend/girlfriend you should go out for dinner with your partner but as a dorm resident you should go to the floor’s intramural game.

The more roles one serves, the more often this role conflict happens, and it causes various problems. Role conflict can be stressful. Trying to manage the demands of different roles takes energy and time, and it can be overwhelming. People often get sick when they have too many roles to fulfill. For example, it’s a common sight during finals to see students sniffling away with a tissue box next to their bluebook.

Another consequence of role conflict is deviance. The expectations of any given role can be thought of as norms—like the laws of our country—and violating these norms can lead to punishment. If you show up late for work because of class, you can be fired. If you neglect your boyfriend/girlfriend to play intramurals, you might be dumped. If you go home to your parents’ house instead of going out with your friends, they might not invite you next time.

Usually we think of deviance as a part of who a person is. “This person likes to break rules,” “That person is a criminal;” but from the perspective of role theory, deviance is a function of the roles we serve, not of who we are. So, put anyone into incompatible roles, and the resulting role conflict will turn them into deviants of a sort. Take a nun in a convent, give her contradictory role expectations, and you have someone violating norms—a deviant.


This is not to say that people are helpless against role conflict; in fact, we do lots of things to successfully manage role expectations. We make detailed plans for out days and write them down in little books or PDAs—as a way of fitting everything in. We change one role make it fit with another. We read books and take seminars on how to manage our lives.

Still, as Justin found out, role conflict is part of life, and sometimes there is just no way of getting around it… at least not if you are going to hang out with Pamela Anderson.

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The problem of role conflict is probably worse now than it was 50 years ago. Back then, most married women had one role: wife and mother. Most married men were locked into the "provider" role. These days, both men and women have more choices, which is great, but it also leads to a lot more conflict and stress.

Role conflict or strain has much to do with the numbers of roles a person has, and the degree to which they perform these roles. A person may be a PETA supporter and a college student, but if they merely attend class a couple of times a week, and blog occasionally about their ideas pertaining to animal rights, they probably won't experience much role conflict. However, if they are a 4.0 student, and aggressively seek change in animal treatment, chances are that they will suffer in one of these two roles. Put in several more roles that the average person has (family member, friend, customer, etc.) and many roles will conflict each other.

I am a Chinese postgraduate student. I need your advice on reading some theoretical book about role coonflict, because in my thesis I want to make use of this concept. could you offer me a book list on this topic? thanks a lot.

Role conflict seems unavoidable in modern day society with how many roles people now have to take on to thrive. It’s unfortunate to see parents, whose children are lacking necessary stimulation for growth because the parents are never around to care take, being full-time employees. Today, babysitters are paid to take on a parent like role for absent parents who are obligated to other roles like being a working employee or a continuing education student.

You explained role conflict really well. And I think that it is almost impossible not to have multiple roles in today’s society like you had mentioned. As students we have multiple roles from being a student to trying to have a relationship on top of have to take care of little brothers or sisters if we have them. It’s very hard not to have role conflict. I found it interesting that Justin was able to meet Pamela Anderson. I enjoyed your article a lot.

I am a student in a sociology class and your post explained a concept we just learned, role conflict, very well. It does sound very stressful to be stuck in a situation where many different roles in your life are demanding attention, yet sadly, we all get in that situation. I found it very interesting how you described our criminals as being people who could not manage their role conflict well. Clearly role conflict is a problem that we all face in society, and your post explained it well, I enjoyed it.

I often think about the Founding Fathers and the number of roles they had. For example, Benjamin Franklin was not only involved in politics, but also in science. It may be easy to assume that role conflict for these individuals in the early colonies was much more pervasive than it is today, but I feel that on the contrary, it is not. The reason being is because there was less to worry about and waste time in back then. For example, people did not have the internet. They did not have email and television and radio. They could really make more use of their time and waste less time with things of triviality. Nowadays, we are so preoccupied with distractions like facebook, twitter, television, etc, that the management of our roles becomes more stressful.

I always knew the more roles you played, the more conflict you endured, however, I never thought of deviance as a function of the roles we serve, but clearly see that now with your insight. Roles have changed decreasing out deviance as we enjoy the new roles, and have the ability to change roles as we please.

I believe that role conflict has gotten out of control in today's society. People, in general, are expected to do so many things. We are expected to do our job right, have time to socialize, take care of our living quarters, probably have a hobby of some sort, etc. There is simply not enough time in the day to accomplish all of these things. Sure, poeple say that all you have to do is prioritize. UNfortunately, this is very difficult. I believe that it is extremely hard for high school and college students. IN high school you are expected to maintain a high GPA, participate in sports, be in clubs: in which you are expected to run for an office eventually, do chores at home, and still have time to be social outside of the groups you are in. It is almost too much. I believe that this is why young people are becoming more and more prone to breakdowns. It is a side effect to role conflict and there is no cure except simplicity.

I agree. Many people struggle when it comes to role conflict. We have all of these social positions that sometimes it becomes difficult to meet all of our roles’ expectations. For instance, I am a student, daughter, friend, and teammate in soccer. Do I spend my weekend studying for a test? Go to the movies with my family? Hang out at a friend’s house? Or go to the team dinner? These decisions can become stressful. However, Role conflict is simply a part of life. Luckily, it can be managed. One way to manage time is to keep a detailed planner of the day so you know what time you’re fitting everyone in.

As aduluts we all know there is a cause and effect to everthing we do. Sometime the out come is not what we would like it to be but i'm sure where there is a lose there is a gain. This guy may gave gotten bad grades yet, he help people and animals out. Justin can easyliy go back to school. In the end it was for a good cause and he did not lose out in anyway. Helped Animals chilled with a hot babe and got sometime off school. hehehe

I feel that role conflict is a greater problem now because lifes demands have changed. An example of this I can relate to is single parents who often play many roles each day. Really, I do not know if it is possible for an intact family to avoid role issues. I am sure role conflict is alomst everwhere and it puts stress on relationships.

I think that role conflict is a interesting subject to speak on because has elevated so much over the years.Today women play more important roles then fifty years ago.Last but not least,role play has changed due to the demand.

Role conflict, well fifty years ago men and women were far different. as opposed to now. Men and women almost all play the same roles. Where as it means to be the provider and the caretaker. My personal belief is that there is no perticular role for anyone. Everyone should have the equal chance to be what they have to be or desire.

I agree with the blog. There are several conflict issues that have now surface in my life due to being a full-time student. I don't have time to cook four course meals for my family. I only get about six hours of sleep a night. I am beginning to hear complaints from my children. I'm fighting fatique at work.

Justin's Role Conflict is a good example with a person who has volunteer or just signed up for a bunch of different activities. Justin should of spread out his activites at appropriate times. I've had a couple of times where I was helping out with an athletic event and had homework to finish for the next day.

"The highest form of wisdom is kindness."
The Talmud
I do find myself in that spot many of times but i have keep in mind that if i do the right thing not just for the right now and keep whats true to me not whats true to the circumstance,keep a opne mind for what will happen maybe this conflict can be taken down to size divide and conquer.....

Role Conflict is hard to deal with sometimes. I am a person that will make time for everyone even if my grades have to suffer sometimes. To me, my family and friends are very important. I need to be there for all of them. Sometimes I don't have time to talk with one of them because I am with another one and I often feel bad about it. Also, I want to do everything like go to my friends house then out to eat when I know I have to study.It is hard to balance school and a social life. I pick a social life almost everytime.Sometimes your different schedules don't work out. I don't have alot of "roles" yet since I am not a parent or work right now. I know it gets harder the more you have on your plate.

Justin had to chose between standing up for what he belived in or taking care of his school work, he chose to stand and make a difference. I have had plenty of role conflicts for example, I was on the track team and I had an imprortant meet coming up but my mom was coming home from work (she is in the army) she was only going to be home for a few days then leave. I chose to go to my track meet I love my mom but this was really important to me. I came in first place and qulified for Europeans. I feel I made the rigt choice.

Justin, like a lot of us, just has a lot of things on his plate, so to speak. While tending to one role, he was neglecting another. I had a case of role conflict when I first started college. I was working two jobs and trying to make time to study and get my assignments done on time. Eventually, I got so overwhelmed, I had to sit down and make out a schedule for everything. Days I would be able to work, and days that I wouldnt. I gave myself breathing room and it has really helped me managed all of my roles.

Justin wanted to do something good for the monkeys because of this his grades suffered. Kind of the saying no good deed goes unpunished. I find this happens to way too many people and have been a victim myself from time to time.

Justin just had too much going on at once, just like alot of us do! I have been struggling alot myself with role conflict recently. My duties as a wife have been conflicting with my duties as a best friend. and my school and work schedule have been clashing, and it is so very true that is becomes very stressful! i finally jsut had to sit down and make out a schedule. i havent tried it yet, but i am anxious to see how it works

There is nothing wrong with wanting to help animals and everything, but when it conflicts with bettering yourself and advancing your education, then there sould be a place where you draw the line. I would have put my letters and protests on hold until summer or another break from school at some point in time. When he finishes school, then he should persue his dreams of being an animal rights activist. He may even want to change his major so that when he finishes school he can make money doing the things he loves. Social conflict can be resolved.

Justin did have a lot on his plate. We all have that problem at some point in our lives. Right now I am trying to balance working, going to school, family, and starting a band. My family and music have been important roles in my life and I am not willing to give them up but I do know that my education is what is going to make me money one day. It is hard trying to manage all of this but I will get through it and live a happy life!

Justin was able to stand up and make a stand. Its a good example of role conflict. Today more than ever, role conflict is a part of everyday life. Because of the way society as a whole is changing, more and more things are interlacing.

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