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The Big Picture: Chapter Overview

Personality refers to our enduring, distinctive thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, which characterize how we adapt to our world. For example, a study of great American presidents found that they had in common openness to experiences, assertiveness, and extroversion, among other personality characteristics. Four perspectives are discussed in this chapter: psychodynamic, behavioral and social cognitive, humanistic, and trait. What separates these perspectives is how they answer the key questions in personality psychology: (1) is personality innate or learned? (2) is it conscious or unconscious? and (3) is it influenced by internal or external factors?

The psychodynamic view sees personality as primarily unconscious, occurring in stages, and being linked to early experiences. Freud believed that much more of our mind is unconscious than conscious and that the unconscious is the key to understanding personality. According to Freud, personality has three structures: the id, the ego, and the superego. The id houses biological instincts, is completely unconscious, and operates according to the pleasure principle. The ego operates according to the reality principle. The superego is the moral branch of the personality. The conflicting demands of the personality structures produce anxiety. In response to the anxiety, the ego uses defense mechanisms as protective methods to resolve conflicts and reduce the anxiety. Defense mechanisms include repression, which is the most powerful and pervasive defense mechanism. When used in moderation or on a temporary basis, defense mechanisms can be helpful and healthy. Defense mechanisms are unconscious and we are not aware of their use.

Freud argued that we go through five psychosexual stages and at each stage we have a distinct erogenous zone, a part of the body that causes pleasure more than others. Freud maintained that adult problems stem primarily from early childhood experiences and fixations due to unsatisfactory progress through the psychosexual stages. The five psychosexual stages proposed by Freud are oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital stages. We can become fixated at any stage if we experience too much or too little stimulation of our erogenous zones. The main objections to Freud's theory are his overemphasis on sexuality and on the events of the first five years of life. Other objections are that sociocultural factors are more important than Freud believed and that the ego and conscious thought are more important. Karen Horney rejected the notion that "anatomy is destiny." She emphasized the need for security as a prime motivator. Jung, a contemporary of Freud's, emphasized the collective unconscious and archetypes or ideas and images. Alfred Adler believed that we can consciously monitor and direct our lives. The concepts of striving for superiority, inferiority complex, superiority complex, and compensation are important in Adler's individual psychology. Concepts in the psychodynamic perspective that seem to be validated are the importance of early experiences in shaping personality, understanding personality developmentally, and how we mentally transform environmental experiences. The main concepts of psychoanalysis have been difficult to test since they involve inference and interpretation.

Behaviorism asserts that the observable behaviors of a person are in fact the personality and emphasize the importance of the environment in determining behaviors and thus personality. It follows that if the environment changes, the behavior changes, and so does the personality. Social cognitive theorists agree on the importance of the environment but emphasize the role of thinking and the capacity that individuals have to influence their environments. Social cognitive theory focuses on behavior, environment, and person/cognitive factors and how these three factors interact in determining personality; this process is called reciprocal determinism. The behavioral and social cognitive perspectives focus on the control people have over their behaviors and personalities because they can choose their environments. Two psychological factors that illustrate reciprocal determinism are personal control and optimism. Different levels of personal control are illustrated in delayed gratification, self-efficacy, and locus of control. Optimism refers to the tendency to explain bad events as external, unstable, and specific, while pessimism is characterized by a pattern of explaining bad events as internally caused, stable, and global. Optimism (a cognitive factor) has been associated with being more effective and being physically and mentally healthy, while pessimism has been associated with helplessness. One criticism of the behavioral perspective is its view that cognitive factors play no role in behavior, with too much emphasis placed on environmental factors. The behavioral and social cognitive points of view have been criticized for being too concerned with changes caused by the environment and for ignoring the relative stability of personality.

The humanistic perspective stresses the importance of people's capacity for personal growth, freedom to choose their destinies, and for their positive qualities. Rogers' approach suggests that each of us is a victim of conditional positive regard (e.g., we are given love only if we behave according to the standards of others). As a result, our real self is not valued as positively as it should be. Rogers advocated unconditional positive regard to enhance our self-concept. A more positive self-concept can be achieved by showing unconditional positive regard, empathy, and genuineness. When our real self and ideal self are very different, we fail to become fully functioning people. According to Maslow, people strive for self-actualization. Maslow believed that human needs consist of several needs arranged in a hierarchy of motives, with self-actualization as the motivation to develop one's full potential as a human being. Maslow also emphasized that an important component of personality is self-esteem, which is a person's overall evaluation of his or her self-worth or self-image. Self-esteem can be improved through achievement and coping. While the humanistic perspective reminds us of the importance of the whole person, its concepts are difficult to test scientifically.

Trait theories suggest that personality is best understood by studying the organization of traits within the person. Traits are broad dispositions that lead to characteristic responses. Three trait theories discussed in the chapter are Allport's, Eysenck's and the so-called "big five." Allport grouped traits into cardinal traits, central traits, and secondary traits depending upon how influential they were on the individual. Eysenck proposed three dimensions to explain personality: introversion-extraversion, stable-unstable, and psychoticism. Recent analysis has revealed the existence of the big five factors of personality: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (acronym: OCEAN). These big five factors may be able to predict physical and mental health. The trait perspective argues that personality is consistent across situations and time. However, according to situationalism, personality often varies considerably from one context to another. A view of personality called interactionism suggests that both person and situation variables are necessary to understand personality.

There are many popular ways of guessing personality, such as palmistry (reading the palm of the hand), but the assessments tend to be very general and trivial and are usually believed as a result of the Barnum effect (i.e., the descriptions are so general that they could apply to anybody). Psychology is a science and the personality assessments developed by psychologists are intended to be specific and accurate and are usually subjected to extensive validity and reliability analysis. Four types of personality assessment techniques are discussed in this chapter: projective tests, self-report tests, behavioral and cognitive assessment, and assessment in the selection of employees. Projective tests present the individual with an ambiguous stimulus and then ask for a description or story, and the expectation is that the person will project unconscious feelings and thoughts into the ambiguous stimuli, let it be a picture or a story. Two projective tests are the Rorschach Inkblot Test and the Thematic Apperception Test. Rorschach inkblots are controversial because they have low reliability and validity, yet are considered very useful by many clinical psychologists. Self-report tests are used to assess personality by asking individuals whether items describe their personality. Tests that select items that predict a particular criterion are called empirically keyed tests and are not based on face validity and an attempt to control social desirability. A widely used self-report test is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). The MMPI-2 has four validity scales and ten clinical scales. The big five factors can also be assessed using self-report tests. In behavioral assessments, an individual's behavior is observed directly or the individual is asked to report observations of his or her own behaviors. Cognitive assessments are used to determine what thoughts underlie behavior. Psychological tests are also useful in predicting how well a person will perform in the workplace.

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