Introduction to Personality PaperThe etymology of the word “personality” points to the Latin persona, which denotes the mask that an actor wears during theatrical performances of Roman and Greek drama (Feist & Feist, 2006). These actors wear their persona as a means to superimpose a false appearance onto their plot character. However, the modern-day definition of personality has little to do with false appearances and everything to do with observable behavior, as describe through traits and characteristics. Traits account for behavioral consistencies in an individual over time; and characteristics explain the unique attributes of an individual, such as temperament, intelligence, and physique. Collectively, the definition of personality entails, “…a pattern of relatively permanent traits and unique characteristics that give both consistency and individuality to a person’s behavior” (Feist & Feist, 2006, p. 4). The full breadth and scope of the psychological understanding of personality is forthcoming in the course of an examination of the theoretical approaches to the study of personality and an assessment of the factors that influence the development of individual traits and characteristics.
Theoretical Approaches to the Study of PersonalityQuantifiable Human Nature
The study of personality in the field of psychology is largely predicated on the assumption of a basic human nature, which finds its articulation through the perspectives, viewpoints, and world-views of individual researchers. The entirety of the subject-matter on human nature in the area of psychology falls within six dualistic dimensions: 1) determinism versus free choice; 2) pessimism versus optimism; 3) causality versus teleology; 4) conscious versus unconscious determinants of behavior; 5) biological versus social influences; 6) uniqueness versus similarities. Free choice entails the belief that behavior is governed by forces that are ultimately within the realm of human control; whereas, determinisms postulates that behavior is directed by influences outside of purely domestic manipulation. Optimism describes a generally positive outlook on human affairs, which includes the conviction that a truly happy, healthy, and functioning human existence is possible; and pessimism occupies the opposite position—that conflict, misery, and strife are terrestrial inevitabilities. The position of causality envisions that current behavior is a function of past experiences; conversely, teleology puts forth the stance that current behavior is mediated principally by the expectancy of future events. The fourth dimension addresses the issue of whether the causes and conflicts of behavior lie at a conscious or unconscious level. The fifth dimension is concerned with the ratio by which personality is shaped by either biological forces or social influences. Lastly, is the question of whether personality should be more a study of individual differences or collective similarities. These are the broad strokes through which the study of personality is defined. However, all of these dimensions rest upon one proposition; namely, that human nature can be generalized and quantified into a set of dualistic sub-categories in the first place.
Non-quantifiable Human Nature
Mills (2009) states plainly that, “…no ‘elemental’ psychologies, no theory of ‘instincts’, no principles of ‘basic human nature’ of which we know, enables us to account for the enormous human variety of types and individuals” (p. 52). Of course this position closely approximates the black-or-white fallacy, in that Mills is approaching the assertion that if we cannot know everything about a basic human nature we can know nothing about human nature whatsoever (Bruder & Moore, 2002). Nevertheless, Mills is cleared from the charge of perpetual skeptic by clarifying that the underlying laws of human nature can only be applied to, “…the quite wide biological limits and potentialities of the human species” (Mills, 2009, p. 52). In sum, the theoretical basis for the study of personality is built upon the foundational dimensions of human nature mentioned above; but tempered by the sobering reality that any quantifiable assertions about human nature must take into account biological limits and potentialities, as well as human variety.
Factors that Influence the Development of Individual Traits and CharacteristicsThere are many factors that affect the development of individual traits and characteristics over a lifetime. These factors might include biological processes, social forces, or intrapersonal conflict—both conscious and unconscious.
Five Factor Theory of Personality Development
There is a general consensus within the social sciences that personality traits can be generalized into five broad domains, commonly referred to as the Five Factor Model (FFM) or Big Five (Nevid & Rathus, 2005). McCrae and Costa were the first to relate FFM to lifetime personality development, which when applied, explains that the transformation of individual traits over time is largely due to biological processes (Lucas & Donnellan, 2009). They hypothesized that personality development and characteristic change can be explained by species-wide intrinsic maturational processes, such as decreased cognitive abilities in old age. This approach to personality development is in line with the empiricist, materialist traditions that brought about the mechanistic explanations of human behavior, such as behaviorism and the conditioning theories. In other words, McCrae and Costa have tried to explain personality development through purely environmental terminology, which at once alleviates the stigma of biased subjectivity and introduces the limitations of dispassionate impartiality.
Social Investment Theory
The nature versus nurture controversy was fueled for decades by the competing scientific findings of monozygotic twin studies on the one hand and behavioral engineering studies on the other hand (Nevid & Rathus, 2005). The social investment theory takes a hard-line nurture position and argues that evolving social roles, and their requisite investment in the development of particular traits to accommodate said roles, can account for personality development. For instance, when an adult becomes a parent (role) new demands are made upon the person’s abilities, thereby necessitating development of personality traits (trait accommodation) not often utilized beforehand. Therefore, social investment theory can account for normative changes in personality, since life changes—such as becoming a parent—tend to occur at the same stage of development for most people.
Freud and Personality Development
As with many discoveries in science, Freud was not the first person to claim that unconscious inconsistencies can be used to explain behavior and dysfunction; still, Freud was the first person to put such an assertion into a framework of ideas and apply those ideas to real-world case studies (Gould & Howson, 2009). Freud believed that personality development can be explicated quite adequately by the tensions (or polarities) that exist between unconscious, immaterial forces. His main point was that attachment and relatedness act in opposition to individuation and self-definition to create real-world dysfunction through the mechanisms of unconscious and preconscious conflict. For Freud personality development is the chore of adequately addressing the struggles that present themselves at different stages of life in order to avoid repression and suppression of subconscious needs and desires.
ConclusionIn conclusion, the full scope of the subject of personality, as it pertains to human psychological development, rests on a groundwork of six dimensions of human nature—as arbitrated by the biological limits and potentialities of human variety—and is the result of many influences, such as biological, social, and unconscious factors. Moreover, it is clear that even though personality is defined by the relatively permanent traits and unique characteristics of an individual, those traits and characteristics are not set in stone and can change with the introduction of new social roles or new biological requirements. In all, it would look as if the development of personality over a lifetime is the product of genetically inherited temperament, acting on social and environmental factors, to the end of reducing unconscious tension, through the materialization of observable behavior.
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