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Chapter 1

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University of Waterloo
Richard Eibach

Chapter 1: Orientation to Personality What is Personality Psychology? Stable, Coherent Individual Differences - Different people respond differently to similar events - One goal is personality psychology is to find and describe those individual differences between people that are psychologically meaningful and stable - Personality refers to qualities of individuals that are relatively stable Predicting and Understanding - Identifying consistent, stable individual differences is an important goal for personality psychologists – and for everyday life – because it makes it possible both to describe people and to try to predict their future behaviour, and so to get to know what we can expect from them - Psychologists try to understand what it is that underlies these differences Defining Personality - Pervin: personality is the complex organization of cognitions, affects, and behaviours that gives direction and pattern (coherence) to the person’s life. Like the body, personality consists of both structures and processes and reflects both nature (genes) and nurture (experience). In addition, personality includes the effects of the past, including memories of the past, as well as constructions of the present and future - Personality thus includes the person’s unique patterns of coping with, and transforming, the psychological environment - To capture the richness of human behaviour, the personality construct has to encompass the following aspects:  Personality shows continuity, stability, and coherence  Personality is expressed in many ways – from overt behaviour through thoughts and feelings  Personality is organized. In fact, when it is fragmented or disorganized it is a sign of disturbance  Personality is a determinant that influences how the individual relates to the social world  Personality is a psychological concept, but it also is assumed to link with the physical, biological characteristics of the person Theory and levels of analysis in Personality Psychology Early “Big Picture” Theory - Hippocrates philosophized about the basic human temperaments, and their associated traits, guided by the biology of his time - Aristotle postulated then brain to be the seat of the rational mind, or the “conscious and intellectual soul that is peculiar to man” – this view has become a foundation of the Western view of human mind - Descartes viewed the mind “decides’ and the body carries out the decision - Freud’s theory made reason secondary and instead made primary the unconscious and its often unacceptable, irrational motives and desires, thereby forever changing the view of human nature From Grand Theories to Levels of Analysis - Broad theories like Freud’s provide an orientation and perspective that stimulates different types of research within the field and different types of real-life applications, such as clinical practice with people experiencing psychological problems - Levels of analysis, addressing different aspects of personality Levels of Analysis: Organization of this book - Six major levels of personality study from a century of work in psychology as a science and profession:  Each part of the text presents the main concepts, methods, and findings associated with that level of analysis, and each focuses attention on distinctive aspects of personality  Each level adds to the appreciation of the richness and complexity of personality  Each level also led to discoveries that have important practical and personal applications that we will examine  In combination, the six levels provide an overview of the many complex and diverse aspects of human personality  The final part of the text shows how the levels interconnect and become integrated to give a more coherent view of the person as a whole  The organization of the text highlights how each level adds to the whole, and suggests their evolving integration The Trait-Dispositional Level - Seeks to identify the types of stable psychological qualities and behavioural dispositions that characterize different individuals and types consistently - What am I like as a person? How am I different from other people “on the whole”? In what general ways are people different from each other? - Traits The Biological Level - Try to specify the role of genetic determinants and of the social environment in shaping who and what we become - To answer: How much of personality reflects nature, and how much nurture – and above all, how do these two sources of influence interact in shaping our characteristics? - To what extent does my personality come from my parents and the genes I inherited from them? To what extent is my personality a reflection of my life experiences? - The level of analysis also addresses the fact that humans are biological beings who evolved in adaptive ways that endowed the specie with biological characteristics, constraints, and possibilities - These influence human nature and the way we fight, mate, socialize, and create - The goal at this level of analysis is to examine how aspects of personality may have evolved in response to the evolutionary pressures and history that shaped our species over time The Psychodynamic – Motivational Level - Probes the motivations, conflicts, and defenses, often without one’s awareness, that can help explain complex consistencies and inconsistencies in personality - Does what I do sometimes puzzle me? How and why? What are the real motives that drive or underlie my behaviour? How can I explain irrational fears and anxieties? - E.g. Roberto and his girlfriend - Much work at this level has been done in psychological therapy situations, beginning with Sigmund Freud - The case of Hans irrational fear of going outdoors because horses might be there - Freud created a theory that used the concept of the unconscious and the child’s unacceptable sexual and aggressive wishes to explain how a fear like that could have developed - An important key here was the discovery that certain impulses are treated by society as taboo and punished, making the child anxious - If the impulses still persist but create painful anxieties, the child may unconsciously redirect them at other objects, for example, by becoming afraid of horses, which remind him of his father who might punish him The Behavioural-Conditioning Level - Work at this level of analysis has asked: How are important behaviour patterns, including emotions and fears, learned? How does what I do and feel depend on my earlier experiences? How can my behaviour and feelings be modified by new learning experiences? - Work also tries to provide accounts of irrational behaviours that perplex the people who are tortured by them, similar to many of the same basic personality phenomena that Freud discovered at the Psychodynamic-Motivational Level - But get there through a different route and reach different conclusions that lead to important revisions in some of the earlier ideas for dealing with such problems - The Behavioural-Conditioning Level analyzes specific patterns of behaviour that characterize individuals and the situations or conditions that seem to regulate their occurrence and strength - It studies the determinants of learning and applies learning principles to modify problematic patterns of behaviour, including emotional reactions like fears - Behavioural analyses focus on a specific, problematic or otherwise important behaviour – such as the stutter of a person suffering from public speaking anxieties, or one’s inability to stay concentrated on studying before exams - Then they analyze the situati
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