Personality: Reading # 1: Chapter 1
1) Questions to be Addressed in this Chapter
The psychologist must develop a scientific theory. This, in essence, means 3 things:
1) It involves scientific observation. The personality psychologist must develop formal, objective
ways of learning about the psychological makeup of a diversity of people
2) The psychologists theory must be formulated in a very systematic way. The assumptions of
the theory must be articulated, its terminology must be defined clearly and the relations
among the different parts of the theory must be spelled out.
3) The psychologists theory must be testable. The personality psychologist must develop
theoretical ideas that can be evaluated by objective scientific evidence.
2) Why Study Personality?
In the psychology of personality, one learns about the whole, intact person. Personality theorists
address the total person, and try to understand how all the different aspects of an individuals
functioning are intricately related to each other.
The scientific study of personality directly addresses the question of why we are the way we are.
3) Defining Personality
The field of personality addresses 3 issues that sometimes are difficult to reconcile:
1) Human Universals
What is generally true of people?
What are the universal features of human nature and basic operating principles of
2) Individual Differences
How do people differ from one another?
Are there basic categories or dimensions of individual differences?
3) Individual Uniqueness
What makes people unique?
How can one possibly explain the uniqueness of the individual person in a lawful scientific
Personality: those characteristics of the person that account for consistent patterns of feeling,
thinking and behaving.
The scientific exploration of personality involves systematic efforts to discover and explain
regularities in the thoughts, feelings and overt behaviours of people as they lead their daily lives.
4) Personality Theory as an answer to the Questions of What, How and Why
We want a theory to answer the questions of what, why and how.
1) The what refers to the characteristics of the person and how these characteristics are
organized in relation to one another. Ex: is the person anxious, persistent and high in need
for achievement? If so, are they anxious and persistent because they are high in need for
2) The why refers to the reasons for the individuals behaviour. Answers refer to the
motivational aspects of the individualwhy he or she moves at all and why in a specific
direction. Ex: if a child does well in school, is it to please parents, to use talents, to bolster
self-esteem, or to compete with peers?
3) The how refers to the determinants of a persons personality. Ex: how did genetic
influences contribute to the individuals personality?
In answering the questions of what, how and why, there are 4 areas that a personality theory
should cover: 1) Structure: the basic units or building blocks of personality
2) Process: the dynamic aspects of personality, including motives
3) Growth and Development: how we develop into the unique person each of us is 4) Psychopathology and Behaviour Change: how people change and why they
sometimes resist change or are unable to change.
The concept of personality structure refers to stable or enduring aspects of personality that
define the individual and distinguish individuals from one another.
a) Units of Analysis
Different types of structural concepts have been developed by different personality
theorists to conceptualize the enduring qualities of personality. Different theories of
personality feature different kinds of basic variables, or different units of analysis.
One unit of analysis is that of a personality trait. A trait construct refers to the consistency
of an individuals responses to a variety of situations. Trait variables are almost always
thought of as continuous dimensions; people have more or less of a given trait, with most
people being in the middle and some people falling toward either extreme.
The concept of type refers to the clustering of many different traits. The type concept
implies a greater degree of regularity and generality to behaviour. Although people can
have many traits to varying degrees, they are generally described as belonging to a specific
type. The key notion associated with a type construct is that alternative types are seen as
qualitatively distinct categories. That is, people of one versus another type do not simply
have more or less of a given characteristic, but have categorically different characteristics.
Personality can be viewed as a system, that is, as a collection of highly interconnected
parts that work together to produce the phenomenon we call personality functioning.
Some theorists of personality view the structures of personality as being organized
hierarchically. Some structural units are seen as higher in order and therefore as controlling
the function of other units. Two things are related hierarchically if one of them is an
example of the other or serves the purpose of the other.
There can be a hierarchy where lower level goals are simply a way of accomplishing the
higher level aims, or there can be a hierarchy where the lower-level traits are simply a way
of exhibiting the higher-level characteristics.
Process aspects of human behaviour: the dynamic motivational concepts theories use to
account for behaviour.
There are 3 major categories of motivational concepts:
1) Pleasure or hedonic motives
These concepts emphasize the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain.
There are 2 major variants of such theories of motivation:
1) Tension Reduction Models (Push or Pitchfork)
Physiological needs create tensions that the individual seeks to reduce by satisfying
those needs. Ex: hunger or thirst creates tension that can be relieved by eating or
Drive refers to internal states of tension that activate and direct people toward tension
2) Incentive Models (Pull or Carrot)
The emphasis is on end-points, goals or incentives that the person seeks to achieve.
Ex: the person may seek to achieve money, fame, social acceptance or power.
2) Growth or self-actualization motives
Individuals seek to mature psychologically and realize their potential. The development of
the self is paramount, even at the cost of increased tension in simple biological systems.
3) Cognitive motivesThe emphasis is on the persons efforts to understand and predict events in the world. The
person has a need for consistency or a need to know. People may at times prefer an
unpleasant event to a pleasant one if the former makes the world seem more stable and
The observation that organisms often engage in exploratory activities in which they learn
about their environment, even if they are not explicitly rewarded for doing so led White to
conceptualize a process in humans called competence motivation, in which people are
motivated to deal competently or effectively with the environment. As individuals mature,
more of their behaviour appears to be involved with developing skills for the sake of mastery
or for dealing effectively with the environment, and less of their behaviour appears to be
exclusively in the service of tension reduction.
C) Growth and Development
A primary scientific challenge is to understand the main causes of individual differences. The
classic division of possible causes separates nature from nurture.
In recent years, researchers have begun to identify interactions between genetic and
environmental factors. They have recognized that nature and nurture are not separate
influences. Instead, they are influences that interact dynamically.
a) Genetic Determinants
Temperament refers to biologically based emotional and behavioural tendencies that are
evident in early childhood.
Findings suggest that people differ in the functioning of brain systems in the frontal cortex
and limbic system that are involved in fear response, and that these biological differences
contribute to psychological differences in peoples tendencies to experience fearful,
inhibited behaviour. However, it also shows that there is a role for environment in the
development of shy versus non-shy behaviour. There is some evidence that