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Personality Psychology

The term ‘personality’ refers to a dynamic and well coordinated set of features of an individual that determines his/her thought processes and behaviors uniquely. Personality psychology is a division of psychology that analyzes personality in terms of thought patterns, basic emotions and other traits that make an individual unique. The study of personality psychology attempts to understand and trace the development of personality. The study of personality psychology has advanced a great deal in today’s world of psychoanalytical and medicinal development.

Personality psychologists try to find patterns based on conceptions of individual personality both on individual and generic level. In fact it still remains to be one of the main obstacles in our clear understanding of personality psychology. The nomothetic (generalizing) and idiographic (individualizing) vertices of psychology present a dilemma for personologists (psychologists of personality) as to which construct is more applicable in a comprehensive study of the subject.

However, by virtue of intense and sincere research methodologies, personologists have been able to come to a point of agreement that both are there in their ubiquitous forms, and both have relevant primacy in the overall study of personality psychology. Here we will discuss different theories and models of personality psychology, with added emphasis on the school of thought established by Cary L. Cooper and Lawrence A. Pervin. In Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, cross-situational uniformity of human behavior has been assessed from a nomothetic perspective.

(Shoda et al. , 1994) Cooper and Pervin compare between the nomothetic and the idiographic vertices, bringing out the psychological points of resemblance in different situations. The social-cognitive theory of personality has been incorporated in the research to find out the interrelation between generic situations and individual behavior. The idea of cognitive unconscious, based on Sigmund Freud’s theory, is discussed at length in the journal. But before starting with the literature review, we must look into different theories of psychology.

Extensive research works have been carried out to define and comprehend human psychology, especially its different constituents. Looking into different theories of psychology, experts have identified some of the fundamental constructs of personality: consistency, multiple expressions and impact behaviors. It is often observed that the personality of an individual remains consistent throughout his/her lifetime. So the consistency factor is one of the basic characteristic features that are taken as the main premise to identify the psychology of personality.

In more general terms, human beings tend to react to a particular situation or set of situations in the same way. On the other hand, the way a person responds to different situations also has an impact his/her resultant course of action. The third construct goes beyond just behavioral patterns, and takes into its periphery several aspects, primarily including emotional responses and arbitrary thought patterns. Various social forms of interactions are classified under this component of personality psychology.

The development of personality is a complex process, incorporating numerous psychological schools of thought. Some of the widely discussed personality theories include Type theories, Trait theories and Psychodynamic theories. The earliest known researches on personality development unearthed that there is a small range of personality ‘types’ which are governed by biological functioning. According to Trait theories, human personality is a collective outcome of genetically influenced internal characteristics or traits.

The Psychodynamic theories encompass two subsidiary theories derived by Sigmund Freud and Erik Erikson. Formulated on Freud’s psychosexual stage theory and Erikson’s stages of psychological development theories, it stresses on the impact of the unconscious on personality. In addition to these three theories, there are two other personality theories that take a different stance when it comes to analyzing the development of personality. Behavioral theories of John Watson and B. F. Skinner suggest that personality is a result of reciprocal action between the individual and the environment.

In this theory, only observable and calculable behaviors are taken into consideration, discarding internal chains of thought and other emotional processes. Humanist theories lay emphasis on the primacy of liberated will and personal experience in the development of personality. It might be noted that psychological conceptions of personality have mainly been established and understood from experimental research works and case study analysis. Since their common significances are yet to be realized thoroughly, programs on personality theories normally review the concepts recommended by eminent authors and experts in relevant fields.

Personality testing is typically assigned to practical examples, and is considered to be an applied methodology distinguished from behavioral theories. The main hindrances in the study of personality psychology and related assessment have been the lack of success in enforcing pertinent principles about the prerequisites that produce, uphold and modify social interaction. There is a theoretical inadequacy in terms of primary research results and test responses found in the clinic or in assessment projects.

To a great extent, this duality between research and implementation has originated from the failure of carrying out fundamental psychological research to deal with social issues that are common to all. (Cooper & Pervin, p. 315) In fact one of the main constructs of personality psychology is concerned with the interrelation between the behavioral traits of an individual with that of the community. Experimental psychological researches have failed to look into interpersonal situations that often regulate social personality. This person-situation controversy in the study of personality psychology has been a longstanding one.

It is imperative for the researchers and analysts to devise effective ways of study so that the resulting principles and techniques can be applied to estimate complex personal patterns, especially of individuals suffering from acute mental disorders. Observable and unobservable areas of personality are extremely crucial in the research and assessment of personality psychology. This branch seeks plausible grounds that would practically support the theoretical understanding of human psychology based on the behavioral traits of one or more individuals.

While this is fairly textual, the unobservable areas require more attention since they are relevant to complex problems. Now, by the term ‘plausible grounds’, it is meant that same results must be produced each time the same components of study and/or practical testing are analyzed. It automatically takes away the possibility of personal assertions being promoted as reliable statements, since personal assertions cannot be cross-checked by other people’s observations. Any scientific argument, if not supported, rejected or modified by reproducible steps, cannot qualify as an objective parameter.

To elaborate furthermore on the personality constructs mentioned earlier, it might be noted that recent studies in the realm of personality psychology have expanded the available conceptions into many subdivisions. Some of the important ones are: needs and motivations (ascendance, security, achievement, abasement, recognition, dependency, security and competence); complexes (Oedipal, inferiority and Icarus); anxieties (social, sexual, neurotic, free-floating and basic); levels (cognitive, psychosexual and aspirational); factors (primary, surface, source and cardinal); habit hierarchies; ego ideal; ego strength and so on.

All these conceptions are taken as collectively to assess the personality of an individual. Any particular construct adds to the analytical and predicative methods of personality psychology and change of behavior. There must not be any confusion over the fact that ‘personality’ and ‘behavior’ do not refer to a single perception. Personality is a generalized term that encompasses a host of behavioral and other factors. On the other hand, behavior is a set of observable events that can be analyzed scientifically.

The unobservable areas of behavior are determinant of the internal traits and organization of an individual. Clues to measure the personality of an individual are present in behavioral signs typifying processes within the person. So experts have given a tremendous amount of importance on the behavioral theories. Trait theories and Psychodynamic theories have gained significant relevance in the study of personality psychology in recent times. Dependence on these two approaches has also led to controversies regarding the utility of specific methods in understanding human personality.

Since no theory can effectively and in a full-proof manner determine the entire persona of an individual, many scholars have stressed on streamlined researches on structure, substantive content and organization of the psyche. Coming to the trait theory and it might be noted that conventional modes of personality psychology research presume an internal organizational-dynamic grouping in which numerous suggested traits of the concerned individual imply superordinate-subordinate relations. Personality ‘levels’ are best understood if we consider this structural pyramid theory.

Dualism in behavior such as ‘deep versus superficial’ and ‘basic versus surface’ can be justified according to this pattern. Hierarchical personality models suggest that some internal factors lie beneath others, thus influencing the behavior of a person. For instance, motives, impulses, drives or needs are measured by other traits of the personality. (Cooper & Pervin, p. 318) This can also be analyzed from an antonymous perspective in that the behavior itself is sometimes the basic operative that results in internal modifications of the personality.

A perfect example of this is how a reaction to a certain event can eventually cause changes in our viewpoints. Expert opinions on Trait theories are often contradictory in terms of its connotations. According to some personality psychologists, a trait needs not be present in a person as a real state or process. The other school of thought argues that traits are nothing but concepts that determine consistent behavioral patterns of an individual in different situations. So if we take the traits as constant, it is implied that those traits present within an individual should last his/her lifetime.

Those who support the former supposition suggest that traits, by lying beneath the surface, regulate the behavior. One of the primary objectives behind the introduction of Traits theory is to find reasons behind an individual’s underlying personality – the one which is deep and not superficial. It is verifiable from the fact that, even though an individual may show different responses and reactions to different situations (as in case of stress-handling, external threats, etc.

), his/her underlying personality remain the same. The ‘real’ person surfaces not in a reactionary scenario, but in matters of consistency. To support this argument, one can quote Gordon Allport: “A trait has more than nominal existence. . . and is dynamic, or at least determinative, in behavior. ” (Cooper & Pervin, p. 319) Personality psychologists who follow the fundamental presuppositions of Trait theories agree that human personality is made up of a number of specific attributes or mental structures.

They also believe that these attributes are more or less common to all of us; they vary a great deal only in extreme psychological aberrations. Hence, traits can serve as an authentic indicator to study and compare behavioral patterns. Since dormant traits are understood from behavior, they may also be checked to study previously observed behavioral consistencies. In the study of personality psychology, one of the commonest of assumptions is related to personality traits that stand for cross-situational consistencies in a person’s behavior.

While human intuitions affirm the existence of cross-situational consistencies, medical researches show that it is literally impossible to predict whether an individual is going to behave consistently under different circumstances or not. Another longstanding debate regarding personality psychology involves the stability factor. On one hand, measuring elements of objectivity in behavior has fallen short of its intended result that would have resolved the issue of stability. On the other hand, actual data collected from various inventories does not go with the assumption that objective behavior reflects a stable mindset.

Taking into account these two contradictory viewpoints, many have philosophically suggested that stability of behavior lies basically in the eye of the beholder. It goes unsaid that majority of single components of behavior are likely to have error of measurement when judged by another person. However, studies have shown that when measures of behavior are employed using multiple event observations, it is possible to derive a reliable conclusion that conform both to self-ratings and ratings by others.

While it is erroneous to predict the stability of an individual on the basis of a single observation, it is dependable to a great extent when observations are made over a range of situations and occasions. Just as the Trait theories show an ostensible discrepancy between human assumption and literature findings, here too the research works do not support the lay belief that most people possess behavioral stability. Needless to mention, there is either lack of research on this issue, or the research process has some kind of flaw.

It is observed time and again that inventories of any type have failed to measure basic traits such as honesty, aggressiveness or sense of responsibility in a consistent manner. Those who vehemently oppose Trait theories assert that “Training the mind means the development of thousands of particular, independent capacities, the formation of countless particular habits, for the working of any mental capacity depends upon the concrete data with which it works. ” (Cooper & Pervin, p. 372) Genetic components responsible for personality development have been researched extensively by implementing twin studies.

It has been assessed that personalities of all the individuals in a particular sample of families match to a great extent in comparison with that of people hailing from different cultural as well as family backgrounds. Again, persons belonging to the same family are exposed to similar environmental factors, which affect their individual personalities. With the help of twin studies and family studies, bulk scale genetic behavioral differences can be traced and compared. Personality of two individuals who are not genetically connected can be compared by adoption studies.

The main idea behind these three types of researches is to look out for a pattern in behavioral genetics. These approaches are potent in terms of segregating genetic and environmental effects that lead to differences in personality and behavior. Behavioral genetic model has a vast scope of practical implementation, especially with regards to measuring intelligence, tendency to addiction, criminal behavior, psychopathology and so on. It is worth mentioning that nearly 40% of personality differences are attributed to genetic factors; the rest can be supported by Trait theories and others.

As raised in the thesis topic and then touched upon in Sigmund Freud’s theory, personality psychology gives tremendous importance on the cognitive unconscious. It concerns the influence of unconscious mental structures and cognitions on a person’s realm of consciousness. The primary areas of research include perceptual-cognitive and motoric skills, subliminal perception, hypnosis and implicit memory. It is both theoretically as well as empirically evidenced that external events can have a bearing on mental functions although they may not be sensed or called forth in a conscious manner.

The root of psychological studies is fixed in the theory of cognitive unconsciousness. It was believed that human mind is capable of recalling past events and memories through introspective behavior, and can induce in the world of the unconscious basic imageries, feelings and sensations. It can be stated in this context that mental life is not confined to conscious experiences only; unconscious interferes in our knowledge of reality and perception of memory. Freud in his famous psychosexual stage theory affirmed that our conscious mental lives are influenced by unconscious ideas, emotions and impulses.

At the same time, human beings also learn to develop defense mechanisms to guard against the extremities of unconscious interference. Watson’s behavioral theory that promoted the notion that personality development is primarily based on our interaction with environment somehow hindered the progress of research on conscious and unconscious. Followers of behavioral theories reasoned that consciousness had nothing to do with behavioral patterns. But as our understanding of personality psychology began to take a matured shape, the radical behavioral theories were forsaken through ‘cognitive revolution’.

Cognitive theories related to personality psychology differ a great deal from biological theories in the sense that the latter focus primarily on brain functions and nervous system while the former encompass a broad spectrum of interdisciplinary branches such as computer science, anthropology, neurobiology, philosophy, linguistics and so on to approach the human mind in its complex totality. Speaking of personality psychology and one cannot deny the overwhelming significance of cognitive unconscious in criminal studies. Modern day criminal investigations involve a world of techniques based on this theory.

(Cooper & Pervin, p. 442) All these different aspects of personality psychology present an assorted opening into the labyrinthine complexities of human mind. However, taking into consideration the scientific precision and its practical implementations, the most impressive and relevant area regarding the thesis topic has to be cognitive unconsciousness. Not only has it corroborated and in some cases, dismissed numerous other assumptions that were held prior to the ‘cognitive revolution’, but also provided crucial leads into gaining a clear insight into the convoluted workings of human mind.

Even though some scientists still hold the opinion that unconscious mental structures and processes do not affect human psychology that significantly, discarding it on the grounds of conscious perception, one cannot deny the impact this branch of psychoanalysis has had on personality psychology. All forms of cognitive psychology share a concentric principle dedicated at the mental structures and actions that connect external stimuli (mainly environmental factors) with complete human responses originating from complex interaction between experience and thought.

Research findings on cognitive psychology continue to bring into focus untrammeled territories of human psyche, and aid in numerous other professional as well as educational fields. References Cooper, Cary, L. , & Pervin, Lawrence, A. (1998). Critical Concepts in Psychology. Madison Avenue: Routledge. Shoda, Y. , Mischel, W. , & Wright, J. C. (1994). Intra-individual stability in the organization and patterning of behavior: Incorporating psychological situations into the idiographic analysis of personality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 674-687.

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