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Chapter 1

PSYCH356 Chapter Notes - Chapter 1: Personality Psychology, Behavioural Genetics

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Richard Eibach

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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
Personality is organized. In fact, when it is fragmented or disorganized it is a sign of
Personality is a determinant that influences how the individual relates to the social
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
From Grand Theories to Levels of Analysis
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- 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
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
- 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
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