Whirlwind Tour of Personality Psychology
Elaborate and formalized answer to the question What do we need to know in order to know someone well?
A. Trait Psychology
Enduring, general characteristics
When asked to describe someone else, most people use traits to describe people. To
get to know someone, we have to understand their traits. Trait Psychology is the formalization
of the common-sense approach to people.
Do people really have traits? Do people always have specific traits? Do they portray
them to the same people? To the same degree?
Peoples traits are very modestly correlated amongst many situations (barely 0.3
correlation). This is why we believe that the concept of traits may be an illusion.
Cattel and Eysenck 1940-1960
5 Factor Model/Big Five Model
B. Psychodynamic Personality Psychology
Unconscious wishes and fears
Especially childish wishes and fears and ones that are in conflict with one another.
In order to know someone, you must know their conscious and unconscious wishes
o E.g. This person seems nice, but she really wants to dominate and control
o E.g. It is conscious that we want to do well in school to give us more
opportunities in life. An unconscious motive can be proving to your mother that you are
just as much of a man as your father.
To what extent are people ruled by unconscious, childish wishes? This is the big
story to Freud.
Adler and Jung
o Freuds disciples who evolved his theories on primacy of sex
o Freuds disciples who evolved his theories on the primacy of the unconscious
Neo and Post-Freudians (Sullivan)
Freuds disciples who evolved his theories on the primacy of the nuclear family
(concentrated on culture)
Object relations theorists (Mahler)
Peoples biggest motive was relatedness
C. Social-Cognitive Theory
Pattern of social behavior are learned from the environment
So learn about their habits, their beliefs, and their goals to get to know them.
Behavior is determined by: Beliefs and goals
o Aka: Expectancies and motives
o What you value, what you want?
o What will work, what will get you what you want?
o You do what you have to in order to maximize reinforcement
How important is conceptual and empirical rigor? Should we start from a solid
conceptual basis and then add in complexity? Or should we start with broad intuitively theories
and try to tighten them up as we go along?
Pavlov, Hull, Skinner
Dollard and Miller
o Conditioned habits
Bandura and Mischel
D. Humanistic Psychology
Higher nature- Self actualization
Duality of human nature We can be inhumane and we can be altruistic. The other
three theories failed to address the higher nature, or the positive side of human nature and how
we can use our resources to become all that we can be.
Does it do justice to describe someone in terms of trait, wishes, or goals? If we think
there is more to that person, we are closer to humanistic psychologists who want to portray
people more realistically then just these qualities.
Is there a universal core of goodness in human nature?
Even if we accept this, what does it consist of? Self actualization? Or something
What are the conditions that bring out this higher nature?
Maslow and Rogers 1940-1960
Deci and Ryan
o Self determination theory
Which theorist am I?
How else can I describe a friend besides superficial traits?
Comparing, Contrasting, and Evaluating Theories of Personality
I. Domain(s) of Personality Psychology
A. Personality: Psychological, enduring, general
Psychological: behavior, cognition, motivation This does not include physical characteristics, intelligence,
social/political attitudes, social roles
General: Not specific instances
Description Prediction Explanation Proximal or distal causes (development) 1. Description: Must provide a simple set of concepts for talking about people. It summarizes enduring
patterns and behavior.
Shes very aggressive.
He places a high value on achievement.
He is a perfectionist.
2. Explanation: Identifies the causes of behavior and the processes responsible for producing behavior.
He is afraid of women because his mother laughed at him when he was a child.
She denied her anger because she feels guilty when she gets angry.
He practiced for hours because of his drive for self-actualization.
Will patient X get drunk if given a weekend pass to leave the hospital?
Will student X be successful in career Y?
Will persons X and Y have a happy marriage?
A. Objects of analysis
Idiographic description: Pertaining to one specific individual. E.g. Jane responds to
emotional intimacy with manic bursts of activity.
Nomothetic explanation: Pertaining to a group of people or people in general. E.g.
Failure to persist in difficult tasks is caused by low self-efficacy.
B. Level of analysis
(Degree of Contextualization)
o Why was my girlfriend mean to me?
o Why did my supervisee fail to complete the task?
o Why did this patient fail to take his medication?
o Dependent men are very demanding of their girlfriends. (broad, nomothetic,
o Unconscious anxiety activates defense mechanisms. (broad, nomothetic,
C. Different strokes for different folks
Scientists tend to be interested in nomothetic explanations. They seek generalization in
Most normal people, clinicians, and artists tend to be interested in individuals and in
specific contexts (idiographic) psychodynamic theories
II. What is a Theory?
A. Simplified representation of certain important features of a domain.
Which features are important depends on your purposes (preservation of certain
B. Map Metaphor "The map is not the territory."
A map is a simplification of reality. We want this in this context. We also use
different maps for different purposes. However, we cannot confuse this with reality itself.
A scientific theory is a map of a domain you are interested in. However, we tend to act
like the theory is reality itself not good!
Different theories are interested in different domains.
Some of the differences of the different theories are not differences at all. It
sometimes looks different, but its the same thing in the end.
What makes a good map, sheds some light on what constitutes a good versus a bad
theory of personality. We want useful simplifications and theories; we dont care if they are real and if that
is what personality is all about. If you think about people that way
C. Model Metaphor
A theory is just like a model. Of course an icebreaker is not like a real one, but we
can still learn from them.
D. Components of a theory
1. Technical Vocabulary Set of Constructs/Concepts
Specific meaning in the theory but must not be confused with its meaning in