I. Personalities – Theories
The study of Personality in psychology is concerned with human behavior (and particularly the consistency in behavior) across a variety times, situations and circumstances, both at the level of the single unique individual and the level of a group. The explanatory theories and the factors that they consider most important are varied. In this chapter, however, we will focus on only a few of them, the Psychoanalytic, the Behavioristic and the Phenomenological or Humanistic.
These three categories can be summarized this way. In Freudian, psychoanalytic personality theory, the unconscious mind is the source of conflicts and the motivations for our behavior. Because humans' deepest desires at their core are to seek pleasure and avoid pain at any cost, people are basically evil. From the behavioristic theories, human behavior is situational, determined by experience, circumstances and learning and people are neither inherently evil nor good. The phenomenological view is that the conscious mind ultimately is the source and resolution of any conflicts. People have an innate drive to reach their full potential and a need for acceptance, belongingness and love. Therefore, in contrast to the Freudian view Humans are inherently good.
The Psychoanalytic perspective seeks to understand behavior in terms of the interaction between three putative components of the personality. The psychoanalytic perspective was founded by Sigmund Freud who place central importance on psychological conflicts between the components of personality taking place unconsciously.
According to Freud, the mind had three levels of awareness, the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious. The conscious mind is akin to what we've called "working memory"; basically the current contents of your conscious awareness. The preconscious mind consists of items that are not in your consciousness at the moment but can easily be brought to mind; akin to the idea of "long term memory". The unconscious contains elements that by definition cannot be brought into conscious awareness due to active processes which keep these contents out of awareness.
In the Freudian view, human personality consists of three components the id, ego and superego. According to Freud, the id operates on the pleasure principle. In other words, the id wants to feel good all the time and not feel badly, without regard for anything or anyone else; loosely speaking, "if it feels good, do it." The only concern for the id is that its needs get met to its satisfaction. The ego operates on the reality principle. The ego understands that the needs and desires of others also have to be met and dealt with. The role of the ego is to meet the id's needs with the bounds of practicality and the consideration of others. The superego operates on the ideal principle. It is the moral part of us and arises from moral and ethical considerations placed on us by our parents and society; loosely speaking it's our conscience. In a normal person, the ego is constantly working and negotiating to simultaneously satisfy the needs of the id and the superego within the bounds of practicality. The ego and superego have access to the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious. The id is confined to the unconscious.
The conflicts between the id, ego and superego occur in the unconscious mind and are the result of the work in reconciling sexual, aggressive and other morally or socially unacceptable impulses of the id. Because the conflicts exist in the unconscious mind they are inaccessible to the person and to a therapist. However, the conflicts sometimes bubble through to the surface via slips of the tongue, dreams, jokes, anxiety and what Freud termed as Ego Defense Mechanisms. These are used by the ego to reduce the conflict between the id and superego serve a useful protective function, but they usually involve a degree of self-deception and distortion of reality. Ego defense mechanisms are usually learned during early childhood help the ego deal with inner the inner unconscious conflicts between the id and superego. These defenses include denial (barring an anxiety provoking external stimulus from awareness), (barring an anxiety provoking internal stimulus from awareness), (placing unacceptable thoughts or impulses in yourself onto someone else), , (taking out impulses on a safer substitute), (channeling unacceptable impulses in a socially acceptable way), (converting the unacceptable impulse into its opposite), , (supplying a logical or rational excuse for a shortcoming), (returning to a previous more childish stage of development). Of these, only sublimation is viewed as a healthy outlet.
Freud believed that humans went through a series of stages in psychosexual development. Passing through these stages required the id's impulses to be controlled and resolved by the ego. However if the impulses were not satisfactorily resolved then the lingering unconscious conflicts could lead to psychological problems in later life. In the Oral Stage (birth to 18 months) the child is focused on the mouth as a way of seeking pleasure because of its requirement for nursing. If the child's weaning is traumatic, in later life any unresolved conflicts may manifest as a preoccupation with oral activities such as smoking, drinking, eating or bite his or her nails or chew pencils and pens. The Anal Stage (18 months to three years) is a time in which pleasure is based on eliminating and retaining bowel movements and gaining control over them. In terms of conflicts during this stage, the end result can be an obsession with cleanliness, perfection, and control (anal retentive) or they may become messy and disorganized slobs (anal expulsive). During the Phallic Stage (ages three to six) the attention witches to the genitals as boys and girls learn that they are differences between the genders and become aware of the similarities and differences between them and their parents. Freud believed that during this stage boys develop unconscious sexual desires for their mothers and come to see their fathers as rivals for her attention and affection. He also believed that boys develop a fear that their father will punish them for these feelings, such as by castrating them. This group of feelings is known as Oedipus Complex. Similarly girls were supposed to go through a similar attraction with their father and competition with their mother termed the Electra Complex. Girls were also thought to develop penis envy over not having male genitalia. In the end, the conflicts were suppose to resolve by the child identifying with the same-sex parent instead of competing with them and adopt their gender-appropriate sexual identities. Unresolved conflicts would be expected to possible manifest as adult overindulging or avoidance of sexual activity or a weak or confused sexual identity. The next stage is the Latency Stage (age six to puberty). It's during this time that sexual interest is repressed and children interact and play mostly with their same sex peers, until puberty. In the Genital Stage (puberty on) sexual urges are awakened. Through the prior resolution of conflicts learned during the previous stages, Freud said that healthy adolescents are then to direct their sexual urges onto opposite sex peers, with the primary focus of pleasure being the genitals.
Freud has many critics. They focus on several issues, such as his evidence, his techniques, and even the basic definitions of psychoanalysis. For instance, Freud's case study interviews were an unrepresentative sample, consisting of unmarried upper class women from Vienna, Austria with mental disorders. Additionally, he did not write notes during the interview but after some time, sometimes days, had passed. The definitions of psychoanalysis also are untestable. Conflicts occur in the unconscious mind, but since they are barred from awareness it is, by definition, to know with any certainty the variables which may generate or reduce the conflicts since they would also have to operate on the unconscious level.
Behavioristic oriented theories explain the consistent behavior across situations in terms of learned reactions to external stimuli. That cross-situational behavior is seen as guided by learned expectations about the world, especially those about other people. Here we'll focus on three influential theorists.
One prominent cognitively-based behavioristic view was that of Albert Bandura and reciprocal determinism. In Bandura's view there is a three-way interaction between a person, their behavior and their environment. A given person's behavior is both influenced by and is influencing a person's internal factors (their skills, feelings, ideas, genetics) and the environmental situation (other people's skills, feelings, ideas, and behaviors) around them. Each of the three can impact and be impacted by the other. For example, you might hate your job (that's an internal factor of you as a person). You go to work but nobody knows you hate it there. A co-worker you find annoying says something criticizing your performance (that's an environmental situation, an external factor). You argue with the co-worker and loudly say that you don't like them and you hate working there (your behavior). Because of what you said, the consequences of you behavior are that more people criticize your performance (environment) which makes you more angry and dissatisfied (your personal internal factor). And the three way interaction of reciprocal determinism goes on and on.
Julian B. Rotter's locus of control theory refers to an individual's sense regarding the underlying causes of the events in their life; whether the outcomes are controlled by them or by external forces. As such, Rotter distinguished between an internal locus of control and an external locus of control. Rotter's view was that behavior was determines by life's rewards and punishments and that because of them people come to hold beliefs about what guides their behavior and their outcomes. These beliefs, in turn, determine what kind of locus of control people view as determining the events in their life. Generally speaking, an internal locus of control seems to be more psychologically healthy. Those with an internal locus tend to be achievement oriented. However, that is not always the case. Some people with an internal locus of control who do not inter have feelings of competence, effectiveness and opportunities to succeed may become anxious and depressed. And some with an external locus, freed from the burden of responsibility can lead easy-going, relaxed, happy existences. But an internal locus is generally better.
Walter Mischel's view on personality was one of cognitive social learning theory. He focused on the roles of competencies (a wide variety of skilled, adaptive behaviors, including both actions and mental activities), encoding strategies (the perception and interpretation of events via selective attention and personal constructs which can be thought of as useful concepts through which we view events in the world, guide perceptions and behaviors and filter perceptions, memories, and expectations), expectancies (thoughts and ideas concerning and predicting the outcomes of environmental events and personal behaviors), subjective values (the weighted preferences of our desired or expected outcomes), and self-regulatory systems (self-imposed goals and consequences which govern behavior in the absence or in spite of social or situational constraints) in determining behavior. Basically, in any given situation behaviors will be determined by how we each, as an individual, answer the following questions that we put to ourselves: What can I do? How do I see this? What will happen? What is it worth to me? How can I achieve this?
Mischel's views place an emphasis on cognitive reasoning in varying situations to explain what is often termed as the consistency paradox in personality research. Some views of personality development (such as psychoanalytic, but there are others) hold that personality is fairly well fixed and therefore personality traits should generate stable and consistent behavior across situations. While personality traits are stable, behavior is more variable than one would expect. The views of Bandura and Mischel suggest that as situations change, so do behaviors. However, those that place more emphasis on fixed personality traits have tried to answer the consistency paradox with three major responses to the paradox. One is the aggregation solution which holds that the apparent inconsistencies of behavior are due to an incomplete determination of the personality traits because of too few testing measurements taken over too little time. The person-centered solution offers that individual people are consistent and the fault lies in the explanations or conceptions of the traits themselves used to describe personality as being too simplistic or incomplete. The interactional solution says that it's not so much that situation determines behavior and personality. Rather, it's that our personality traits influence and determine the sorts of situations we find ourselves in. Given those situations, as individuals we will all react differently to those situations (reactional interaction), evoke different responses from the elements in our environments (evocative interaction) and choose and construct different further situations to place ourselves in (proactive interaction).
The phenomenological, or humanistic, view of personality emphasizes people's conscious minds and free will determine how they behave. This view was first developed by Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow.
The view of the phenomenological school is that people have two innate needs and drives. One is for positive regard (the need for love, affection, and respect from other people) and the other is for self-actualization (reaching their full potential and have becoming all that they can be). The ideal situation proposed by Rogers is for plenty of unconditional positive regard as children where our caregivers are completely accepting of us. In this event, the child's developing self concept (how they see themselves) will be similar to their ideal self (who they'd like to be or feel they ought to be). The closer the self concept and the real self (who they actually are) is to the ideal self the healthy they are and the more likely that they can possibly reach self-actualization (becoming in fact, the ideal self). The more congruence, the closer the real and ideal selves and the self concept are and the more psychologically healthy the person is, regardless of whether they have achieved self-actualization (which is seen as very rare and difficult to actually reach). If there is a lack of unconditional positive regard, then there is less and less congruence and more of a self-discrepancy, between our self concept and our ideal selves; the greater the self-discrepancy, the greater the risk of psychological and emotional problems.
proposed a hierarchy of needs that must
be fulfilled to eventually reach self-actualization. The basic idea is the lower, more basic needs must be
fulfilled before higher needs can be satisfied. At the top level is self-actualization. As those basic needs are met and we
meet the needs of the higher levels, personal growth forces us upward in the
hierarchy. From lowest to highest the needs are: Physiological
needs (basic needs such as air, food, water, warmth and shelter take
the highest priority and form the base of the hierarchy), Safety needs (includes
physical security as well that of our resources, possessions), Love &
Belonging needs (includes friendship,
intimacy, sex, family or social community group), Esteem needs (need for respect, self-respect and respect of others), Cognitive
needs( need to learn, explore,
discover, create, understand of the surrounding world),
needs (need for beauty or something
aesthetically pleasing to refresh ), and lastly, self actualization. Only after
all the needs of the lower levels have been mastered can a person reach
Aesthetic needs (need for beauty or something aesthetically pleasing to refresh ), and lastly, self actualization. Only after all the needs of the lower levels have been mastered can a person reach self-actualization.
II. Personality – Assessment
We have mentioned the concept of personality traits but not explained them yet. Through empirical psychometric testing over the years a descriptive model of personality traits has emerged which focuses on five dimensions or factors (called the Big Five Traits). These have been labeled:
Openness: includes having wide interests, and being imaginative and insightful.
Conscientiousness: tend to be organized, thorough, and planning.
Extraversion: encompasses such more specific traits as talkative, energetic, and assertive.
Agreeableness: includes traits like sympathetic, kind, and affectionate.
Neuroticism: characterized by traits like tense, moody, and anxious.
Further subtle distinctions of these traits can be made. It's also important to note that the Big Five are considered dimensions (i.e., broad factors) and aren't rated as either being simply present or absent but as a continuum along which people possess more or less of the traits. Also, where there are sub-traits described (like tense and moody), the sub-traits are not necessarily obligatorily linked.
The psychometric approach to measuring personality traits is based on personality tests and questionnaires called personality inventories. There are a great variety of objective tests, some are general global personality measurements, some are specialized for assessing clinical disorders or for specific types of traits or aptitudes. The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is one of the most frequently used personality tests. However, the MMPI was designed to help identify problems in psychiatric patients. The test results are intended to be used to diagnose and guide treatment planning for patients. However, in some cases, the test (or portions of it) has also been used, and inappropriately so, for job screening and other non-clinical uses, which is controversial and in some cases illegal. However, when the MMPI is administered clinically AND considered along with the patient's background information and clinical interviews to put test results into appropriate context, it can be a powerful tool for psychological assessment and treatment. The current version of the MMPI, the MMPI-2 has 14 scales, 10 which measure psychological traits and 4 which measure the validity of the test (to detect attempts at deception and defensive responses, for instance) and the full version, designed or patients 18 and older, consists of 567 questions. There a re also shorter versions as well a version fro adolescents.
In addition to objective tests which are judged against psychometric standards, there are also projective tests, such as the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) and the Rorschach inkblot test in which the subject responds to vague or ambiguous images, presumably projecting hidden emotions, attitudes and conflicts onto their descriptions of the images. The TAT consists of 31 pictures that depict a variety of social and interpersonal situations. The subject is asked to tell a story about each picture to the examiner. Of the 31 pictures, 10 are gender-specific while 21 others can be used with adults of either sex and with children. The Rorschach test consists of 10 inkblots, 5 of which are black and white, 2 are black and red ink on white and 3 are multicolored. The examiner shows the blots in a specific order and asks the subject for each card what they see in the blot. After the subject has seen and responded to all the cards, the examiner then gives them to subject one more time, one at a time, to study and asks the subject to list every possible thing they see in each blot, where it is seen on the card, and what there is about the blot that makes it appear so. The inkblot card can also be rotated. As the subject examines the blots, the examiner observes everything the subject says or does. The examiner also times the patient which then factors into the overall assessment.
Like the objective tests, the projective tests can be misused if used in isolation or their results assessed out of context. However, since they rely on subjective judgments of the subject as well as judgments of the examiner in scoring, their results can be much more variable than those of objective tests like personality inventories. The "chemistry" or interaction between the examiner and subject can skew the results. But because of their varied and flexible subjective nature it is possible for them to provide insights that may not be captured by objective tests.