The Domain of Personality
"Psychology is the science of mental life", in the words of William James (1890, p. 1), the great philosopher and psychologist of the 19th century. All psychologists are concerned with understanding the processes involved in such mental activities as perception, memory, thought, and language. Psychologists also study the biological foundations of mental life in the brain and other bodily structures, the manner in which mental life has emerged over the course of the evolution of species and the development of individual species members, how mental life is affected by societal and cultural processes; and factors; and how our cognitions, emotions, and motives are translated into actions.
order to achieve this understanding of mind and behavior,
most psychologists study people in general, seeking to
establish the laws which governing experience, thought,
and action -- laws which apply to everyone. Other
psychologists, working in a branch called psychopathology
(or, sometimes, abnormal psychology), seek to
understand how the breakdown of normal mental processes in
mental illness, and mental health can be restored. Still
other psychologists are interested in variations in mental
life which are observed within the normal population.
These individual differences, which make each
individual unique, are the domain of personality.
Case Studies in Personality
differences are ubiquitous, and we need only look around
to observe them. However, certain case studies bring the
central issues of personality into broad relief. How do
people differ? In what respects are individuals unique?
What causes these differences to occur? And what are the
possibilities for change? The psychology of personality
attempts to answer these questions, drawing upon
psychologists' developing knowledge of the general
principles underlying human experience, thought, and
Bessie and Jessie
Born in the American frontier West around the turn of the century, these two girls were separated at the age of 2 weeks due to their mother's illness, and although their separation was not entirely complete -- they were together occasionally during their first two years of life, and corresponded with each other from the time they were 18 years of age, had almost no contact during childhood and adolescence, and were raised under quite different circumstances. Bessie's family was highly mobile, and for this reason she completed only four years of formal schooling. Jessie's family remained in place, and she was able to obtain some education even after graduating from high school (unusual for young women at that time). Although they differed widely in terms of formal education, the two women showed highly similar (and very high) IQ scores when tested (Muller, 1925). While they impressed many observers as highly similar in other features of personality as well, this impression was not confirmed by formal testing.
These women comprise the first published case of identical twins reared apart (for a review of the entire literature, see Farber, 1981). Such individuals are of special interest, because they promise to shed light on the nature-nurture issue as it applies to personality. People like Bessie and Jessie are genetically identical, because they developed from a single egg fertilized by a single sperm (for details, see Chapter 2), but they were raised in different environments. In theory, analysis of the similarities and differences between identical twins reared apart will help distinguish between those aspects of personality which are innate and those which are formed through experience.
As a practical matter, of course, such
questions are not so easily resolved. Bessie and Jessie had
equally high IQs, despite vast differences in schooling. But
Bessie received considerable informal education at home, so
it remains a question whether their intellectual
environments were really so different. Their personalities,
as revealed by formal testing, were quite different --
perhaps reflecting the differences in their upbringing. But
there are problems with the conventional assessment of
personality, especially as it was practiced at that time,
and it may be that superficial appearances were not, in this
case, deceiving, and that the two women were in fact very
much alike. Such similarities would suggest that such
aspects of personality as character and temperament are
genetically determined, just as intelligence appears to be.
Then again, if the two women were raised in households that
shared the same values and expectations, their similarities
might be due to these shared characteristics of the
environment. As we will see (Chapter XX), it is not an easy
matter to tease apart the contributions of nature and
John and Robby
A case of another sort is provided by two brothers raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Wideman, 1984). John Edgar Wideman was educated at an Ivy League college, received a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, completed graduate school, won an important award for one of his novels, and is a professor of English at a major American university. His brother Robert, 10 years younger, dropped out of high school, dealt in heroin and engaged in confidence games, killed a fence to whom he was trying to sell a truckload of stolen television sets, and is currently serving a life sentence for murder in a state penitentiary. Many famous American movies --The Public Enemy (19xx) and True Confessions (19xx) -- are made from stories like this, but this one is true.
Few of us are either college professors or
convicted felons, but John and Robby Wideman seem more
representative of the usual case of individual differences.
As non-twin siblings, they have only about 50% of their
genes in common. Perhaps the differences between them
reflect this difference in genetic endowment. At the same
time, the environments in which they were raised differed
radically as well. Both grew up in the same family, of
course, but that is not the whole story. Like his older
siblings, John was schooled in Shadyside, a predominantly
white, upper-class suburb of Pittsburgh. When he went away
to college, as he writes, he was partly escaping from urban
poverty and discrimination into the white world. Robert,
however, spent his high-school years in Homewood, a
predominantly poor, black, ghetto area of the city. He
wanted the wealth and luxury he had seen in Shadyside, but
as the youngest child he also felt oppressed by family
expectations generated by the successes of his older
brothers and sisters. In large part, then, the differences
between John and Robert may be attributed to differences in
their environment, both inside and outside the family.
The Misses Beauchamp
In the early years of this century, the American psychiatrist (and founding editor of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology) Morton Prince (1905) published an account of one of his patients, Miss Beauchamp (pronounced Beecham). This young woman was a college student in good standing, hailed from a good family, and was widely regarded as conscientious, hard-working, and proud. She came to Prince's clinic for treatment of neurasthenia, a clinical syndrome marked by easy fatigability and a lack of physical and mental vigor. As was his custom, Prince treated her with hypnosis, and was surprised to find that when she was hypnotized her characteristic personality features were intensified. On one occasion, however, she appeared to undergo a sudden and dramatic personality change. She became very childlike, fun-loving, and irresponsible, and expressed strong distaste for the intellectual life as well as for her family and social obligations. Later on in treatment, Prince observed yet another shift in personality. This new Miss Beauchamp also seemed to dislike cultural, intellectual, religious, or family affairs. But instead of being childlike, she was irritable and hot-tempered.
Subsequent evaluation indicated that these personality changes were also observed outside hypnosis, and antedated Miss Beauchamp's arrival at Prince's clinic for treatment of neurasthenia. It appeared as if the various Misses Beauchamp appeared to take turns controlling behavior. During vacations from college, Prince corresponded with each of the Misses Beauchamp separately, as they alternated control over her thoughts and actions. Miss Beauchamp was diagnosed as a case of multiple personality disorder, (now called dissociative identity disorder), a rare form of psychopathology. Her case, and that of others observed before and since (reviewed by Bliss, 1986; Sutcliffe & Jones, 1965) raises a new set of issues for personology. Here we have marked differences in personality observed within a single individual. But assuming that they are genuine, they can't be explained in terms of either genetic or environmental differences.
One of the problems with the field of personality is that there is no consensus about just what the term personality means. For some help in defining the domain of the field, it may be useful to turn to the dictionary. The Oxford English Dictionary offers two principal definitions of the word:
- The quality, character, or fact of being a person as distinct from a thing.
- That quality or assemblage of qualities which make a person what he is, as distinct from other people; a distinctive personal or individual character, especially of a marked or noticeable kind.
These two definitions encompass all that is personality psychology today. In part, personality deals with the nature of human existence, and with those qualities that separate humans from the rest of the physical universe. And in part, personality deals with the nature of human individuality -- those ways in which each of us, while members of the same biological species, differ from each other.
Personality includes character, which
involves the evaluation of a person according to his or her
society's ethical code, and with temperament, which
has to do with a person's typical levels of activity and
emotionality. But personality goes beyond character and
temperament. In order to understand more about this field of
scientific inquiry, let us examine the origins of the word
Origins of the Term Personality
In his classic treatise on personality, Gordon Allport (1937) performed an etymological study of the word personality, examining the origins of the term and the various meanings associated with it over the years. The obvious root of all of them is the Latin word persona (per, through;sonare, to sound), which referred to the mask worn by the actors in the theater of ancient Greece and Rome to represent their dramatic roles (in speaking their parts, the actors sound through their masks). The Roman poet Cicero, writing in the 1st century B.C.E., gave four different meanings of the word, in addition to its technical meaning in the theater:
- As one appears to other people, which may be different from what one actually is;
- The social role played in one's life;
- One's distinctive personal qualities, regardless of appearances;
- The specific qualities of distinction or dignity displayed by a person.
In later usage, Allport discovered
approximately 50 distinct meanings of the term, all of them
adumbrated to some degree by the first four of Cicero (the
use of the word "man" to refer to people in general reflects
the accepted convention of Allport's day). Even a cursory
glance over this list indicates that the range of meanings
is very wide indeed.
50 Meanings of the Word "Personality"
Allport (1937, pp. 27-48) listed some 50 different definitions of the word personality.
- External appearance (not the true self).
- The character or role which the player assumes in the drama.
- An individual possessed of distinctive personal qualities
- Prestige and
- The free-born citizen, as distinct from a slave.
- A representative of a group of institution.
- The parson of a church parish.
- Important personages, possessing prestige and dignity.
- Person in the grammatical sense: first (I), second (you), third he, she, it, they).
- The members of
the Holy Trinity of Christian theology: Father, Son, and
Philosophical and Juristic Definitions
- An individual with a rational nature.
- An individual with self-consciousness and memory.
- Substance gifted with understanding.
- A thinking, intelligent being, that has reason and reflection and can consider self as itself.
- Individuality which has become objective to itself.
- The indivisible center of a person.
- The ideal of perfection.
- The person being formed by unattained ideals.
- The supreme value.
- Personality exhibits palpably before our bodily eyes the sublimity of our nature.
- That quality in every man which makes him worthwhile, aside from the uses to which he may be put by his fellows.
- That form of individuality which is rendered possible by the possession of mind and will.
- Selfhood, self-consciousness, self-control, and the power to know.
- A multiform dynamic unity.
- A person is a rational being with rights; if he has duties too, he is a man; if not, he is a god.
- Any individual enjoying legal status.
- The living human being in his entirety.
- An incorporated group of people.
- A united
community which lives a coherent life.
- No human being.
- The bodily self.
- An expression of contempt, as in "That person!".
- Those attributes of an individual which offend good taste.
- The ultimate granule of the human group.
- The subjective
side of culture.
- The integration of all the traits which determine the role and status of the person in society.
- Deceptive masquerade or mimicry.
- A mask of the collective mind that disguises individuality.
- Superficial charm and attractiveness.
stimulus-value, or the responses made by others to the
- The sum-total of all the biological innate dispositions, impulses, tendencies, appetites, and instincts of the individual, and the dispositions and tendencies acquired by experience.
- The entire organization of a human being at any stage of his development.
- An integration of patterns which give a peculiar individual trend to the behavior of the organism.
- Levels or layers of dispositions, usually with a unifying or integrative principle at the top.
- The integration of those systems of habits that represent an individual's characteristic adjustments to his environment.
- The organized system of habits, dispositions, and sentiments that mark off any one member of a group as being different from any other member of the same group.
- Personality refers not to any particular sort of activity, but to the way in which an individual performs those activities.
- What a man
is the dynamic organization within the individual of
those psychophysical systems that determine his unique
adjustments to his environment.
In fact, the list reflects a certain amount of confusion between the words "person" and "personality". Certain of the meanings appear in the context of philosophical and juristic debates concerning how human beings are to be distinguished from flowers, dogs, rocks, and other objects present in the physical universe. Thus, in order to be a person, one must possess qualities such as intelligence, consciousness, memory, ideals, rights, motives, purposes, goals, duties, and free will. These are qualities of personhood that are essential components of human nature. All men and women have them in common.
Lists such as these were important features of debates in the 18th and 19th century concerning the morality of slavery. For example, slavery was frequently justified on the ground that enslaved peoples lacked certain characteristically human qualities, and so forfeited basic human rights. Some entries in the list contain antecedents of the modern legal notion that corporations and communities have legal rights and obligations similar to those accorded human beings. In the 20th century, this argument is reflected in the contemporary debate over abortion and euthanasia. At what point does a fetus become human, and achieve a human right to life that should be protected by the state? It even crops up in debates over the rights of animal subjects in medical and psychological research (Linden, 1986). If monkeys and dolphins possess language and other qualities commonly associated with personhood, do we have the right to treat them as different from ourselves?
With the rise of the social sciences in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Allport (1937) noted a number of new definitions of personality. These have more to do with personality in the strict sense -- those qualities that make one person somehow distinct from another. Within this class of definitions, he further distinguished between biosocial definitions, which emphasized outward appearances, and biophysical definitions, which focused on the "essence" of the individual. This division was anticipated in Cicero's own distinction between a person's external appearance and his or her unique personal qualities. The distinction between biosocial and biophysical views of personality is seen, to some extent, in the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity. In some versions of Christian theology, God is characterized as three "persons" -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- varied in outward appearance but inwardly of the same single essence. In fact, some Christian sects consider it heresy to speak of the three persons of the Holy Trinity as differing in essence as well as appearance. (Some Christian denominations, such as the Unitarians, do not accept the doctrine of the Trinity at all).
In sociology, the person is thought of as a reflection of his or her social context. Therefore, personality is construed in terms of the people's role and status in society, and the effectiveness with which they carry out the duties that correspond to that role and status. Accordingly, sociologists typically define personality biosocially, in terms of one's outward appearance, or the way one is perceived and evaluated by other people.
This view was strenuously opposed by Allport, who argued that personality was concerned with what a person is, rather than with what a person appears to be. He noted that our judgments of other people could be in error. But when our evaluations of people changed, it would be curious to say that their personalities changed as well. Allport considered it essential, from a psychological (as opposed to a sociological) point of view, to get beyond the masks and roles imposed by society, and discover the essence of the individual -- what that person really is, regardless of how he or she is perceived, or how he or she tries to present him- or herself.
Allport distinguished among five types of biophysical definitions of personality:
- Omnibus definitions, which describe a person's personality by listing all of his or her various characteristics;
- Integrative and configurational definitions, which attempt to organize these characteristics into some coherent pattern;
- Hierarchical definitions, which attempt to sort the characteristics into superordinate and subordinate categories;
- Adjustment definitions, which relate the characteristics of personality to survival functions;
- Distinctiveness definitions, which focus on those characteristics that make one person different from all other people.
Allport rejected omnibus definitions as useless grocery lists of characteristics. The job of the psychologist, in his view, is to separate the important characteristics from the trivial ones, and to show how the central features of an individual's personality relate to each other and shape the way in which he or she lives his or her life. Thus, Allport defined personality as:
the dynamic organization within the individual of those psychophysical systems that determine his unique adjustments to his environment (1937, p. 48).
A Working Definition of Personality
Following Allport and Michel (1986), we offer the following definition of "personality":
Personality is concerned with the distinctive patterns of experience, thought, and action that characterize the individual's unique construction of his or her life situation.
By experience, thought, and action we mean to include what people perceive and feel and remember, what they make of it all, and what they do about it.
By patterns, we insist, along with Allport, that it is not enough simply to enumerate the various characteristics of people. Rather, the gerontologist must try to discover how these characteristics are organized into a coherent system.
Our definition includes explicit reference to the person's life situation because we are convinced (and hope to convince the reader) that people cannot be understood in isolation, without any reference to the outside world -- especially the social world -- in which they live. Personality develops, and emerges, as the individual interacts with other people. Therefore we think it is a mistake to try to isolate men and women from their social environment, analyzing them as if they lived in a vacuum. In much the same way, it seems wrong to isolate people from their own past experiences, and the history of the society and culture in which they live their lives.
Finally, by emphasizing construction we affirm that people do not merely adjust reactively to external events over which they have no control. Rather, as we shall argue, people have the ability to act intelligently, through word and deed, to control, change, and create their life circumstances.
First and foremost, personology must be a general psychology. Here knowledge of biological, physiological, cognitive, developmental, and social processes are synthesized into a comprehensive view of individual experience, thought, and action as the person attempts to understand, respond to, and change the physical and social world in which he or she lives. For this reason we find it rather difficult to draw sharp distinctions among the domains of personality, cognitive, social, and clinical psychology.
The resemblance is particularly strong between
personality and psychopathology. One source of scientific
interest in personality was the preoccupation of Galton and
other English scientists, around the turn of the century, in
measuring individual differences among people, as part of a
general attempt to understand the evolution of our species.
But personology emerged from the psychiatry of 19th-century
Paris and Vienna at least as much as it did from the
psychometric of 19th-century London. The ranks of major
personality theorists have numbered many practicing
clinicians. As we shall see, the recent emergence of
behavioral and cognitive approaches to psychotherapy have
gone hand in hand with the development of a new approach to
personality which emphasizes social learning and social
cognition. There is an important sense, then, in which
personality and clinical psychology are related to each
other as basic and applied sciences.
Three Paradigms for Personology
Psychology is a young science, characterized by vigorous debate over the best way to approach questions concerning mental processes -- and even about what those questions are. Nowhere is this situation better exemplified than in scientific research on personality. At present there are three general traditions within scientific personology. These represent met psychologies, or broad conceptions of human nature, which guide scientific inquiry into personality.
These three traditions may also be thought of as scientific paradigms. According to Thomas Kuhn (19xx), a prominent philosopher of science, a paradigm represents the commitment of a particular group of investigators to a set of beliefs, values, problems, and methodological approaches. Kuhn argues that at any particular time one paradigm tends to predominate, as normal science. Normal science is the conventional way of viewing a discipline. It is emphasized in undergraduate and graduate courses, is preferred by the editors of scientific journals, and generally dominates the way that theorists and researchers think about their subject.
As research within the paradigm of normal science proceeds, a body of knowledge begins to accumulate. Eventually, however, a number of anomalous findings begin to emerge. These results are not predicted by the conventional theory, and cannot easily be explained within its framework. Attempts to account for these inconsistencies and anomalies lead to the development of alternative paradigms, which represent different sets of theoretical and methodological commitments, and which can handle the anomalous findings.
According to Kuhn, the alternative paradigm then begins to compete with normal science -- a situation that Kuhn, adopting a political metaphor, calls revolutionary science. If the alternative paradigm seems to solve the problems that beset the earlier one, then it takes its place as the new normal science. Following this paradigm shift, the new viewpoint replaces the old one as the preferred approach to the discipline.
It should be noted that Kuhn's view of the history of science is cyclical. When an alternative paradigm becomes normal science, it becomes fair game for new alternative paradigms. Kuhn predicts that anomalous findings will always emerge, forcing scientists to adopt new viewpoints on their subject matter. Scientific knowledge may progressively accumulate, but the clash of paradigms may always be with us.
There have been several episodes in the history of science that have revolutionary qualities: Copernicus, Newton, and Einstein all brought revolutions to physics, as Lavoisier did to chemistry, Darwin to biology, and Marx to economics (Cohen, 1985). Nevertheless, Kuhn's view of the history of science has not been universally accepted by other historians and philosophers of science. Many critics are uncomfortable with the implication that there is no universal standard of truth against which a scientific theory can be judged, and towards which scientific research progressively converges. However, Kuhn's analysis does appear to shed light on many important developments in the history of science -- even if his arguments prove to have been overstated.
Although Kuhn's arguments were intended to apply to theoretical developments in mature sciences like astronomy and physics, they also seem applicable to developments in psychology (Hilliard, 1973; Weimer & Palermo, 1973). Perhaps the most compelling examples of paradigm clash and shift within psychology are represented by the turns from structuralism to behaviorism in the early part of the 20th century, and then from behaviorism to cognitive in the period after World War II. Each of these revolutions was marked by the appearance of anomalous findings, a signal event, and a synthesizing treatise. In the first case, there were the structuralists'' difficulties in getting reliable results from the method of introspection. Watson's (1919) brash Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist called for the old concepts and methods to be thrown out entirely. Two decades later, Skinner's (1938) The Behavior of Organisms touted a wealth of lawful, reliable, results of efforts to bring animal behavior under the control of environmental events. In the second case, there were the behaviorists' difficulties in accounting for certain phenomena of memory, thought, and language. Chomsky's (1957) scathing review of Skinner's (1957) Verbal Behavior threw down the gauntlet to the behaviorists. Only 10 years later, Neisser's (1967) Cognitive Psychology -- the very title would have been unthinkable in 1957 -- provided a magisterial summary of a wealth of research concerning mental processes that the behaviorists had assiduously ignored. In each case there have been bitter disputes among the proponents of the competing paradigms, and an eventual victory for the new one. The fact that behaviorism replaced structuralism, only to be replaced by cognitive, illustrates the shift that a paradigm may undergo from revolutionary to normal science.
In both these instances the revolutionary period was relatively short, so that at any single point in time a particular paradigm can be truly considered normal science and the other revolutionary. In the case of personality, however, we appear to be in a lingering multiparadigmatic situation, in which several different systems have large numbers of prominent (and vocal) adherents who debate each other vigorously over the proper way to proceed. Moreover, each of these paradigms unites a number of different schools of investigators, who disagree among themselves about details while agreeing on a fundamental point of view.
This situation, with its proliferation of
theoretical approaches and schools within paradigms, makes
the scientific investigation of personality difficult for
those who are new to the field. Students naturally open the
covers of their introductory textbooks with some expectation
of learning "the truth". In the case of personality, such
readers are likely to be frustrated. In an effort to stave
off disappointment, obviate confusion, and forestall anger,
we begin by briefly characterizing each of these paradigms.
The Psychometric Approach
Many psychologists characterize personality in terms of relatively stable and enduring psychological attributes, expressed in behavior with appreciable stability over time and consistency across different situations. The approach is called psychometric because it seeks to measure these psychological characteristics, and to classify people in terms of their relative rankings on the dimensions measured. The approach is essentially historical, emphasizing continuity rather than change, and paying little attention to how these attributes develop in the individual.
There are two major traditions within the psychometric paradigm. The first,type theory, attempts to sort people into categories such as "extravert", "introvert", "genius", "moron", and the like. People who share certain attributes in common are said to belong to the same category. In the classic case, these attributes have an all or none quality: either people possess the defining attributes or they do not.
Pigeonholing people into discrete classes turns out to be a difficult enterprise, however. This is because people manifest these defining attributes in different degrees, and because they typically display attributes that are characteristic of several different categories. This is the kind of anomalous finding referred to earlier. It led to the emergence of a second approach within the psychometric tradition,trait theory.
Trait theorists, like type theorists, emphasize the possession of stable and enduring attributes. Rather than assessing merely the presence or absence of these attributes, however, they focus on measuring the degree to which they are present. Instead of classifying people as either extroverts or introverts, geniuses or morons, people are measured on continuous dimensions of "extraversion-introversion" or "intelligence". Central to trait theory has been the development of a battery of tests to measure such psychological attributes as these, of which the most well- known are the "IQ" tests ostensibly measuring intelligence.
No trait theorist believes that individual differences in personality can be adequately represented by only a single dimension, whether it be extraversion, intelligence, or anything else. Accordingly, they have been concerned with determining the number of different dimensions that are needed to adequately but economically portray the richness of human personality. Rather than sorting individuals into discrete categories, then, trait theorists prefer to locate individuals at points in multidimensional space. Individuals who lie close together in this abstract space, sharing the same rankings on a large number of different dimensions, are held to be similar in personality.
The different schools within trait psychology
may be differentiated by how many dimensions are employed.
Some theorists think only three or four are sufficient,
while others think that the task of describing individual
differences in personality requires dozens of different
dimensions. In addition, there are many trait psychologists
who are concerned with exploring particular single
dimensions of individual differences, without being overly
concerned with how these dimensions relate to each other. Of
all trait psychologists, these investigators are most
interested in the ways in which these attributes develop as
a function of biological or social factors. Because they
emphasize stable and enduring attributes of the adult
individual, however, most trait theorists are relatively
unconcerned with the possibility that traits may undergo
appreciable change once they have been established.
The Psychodynamic Approach
By and large the psychometricians look for consistencies in terms of manifest behavior -- behavior that is publicly observable. The psychodynamic theorists also emphasize consistency, but not at this level. These investigators are primarily psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, and others with particular interests in psychopathology and psychotherapy. They are very impressed with the contradictions apparent in their patients' behavior -- how they may be friendly one moment and hostile the next, or intelligent in one situation but stupid in another.
Rather than conclude that people are fundamentally inconsistent in their behavior, they argue that such seemingly contradictory behaviors were in fact all related to a small set of underlying motives. Psychodynamic theorists attempt to specify just what these hidden motives are, and also to describe the transformational processes by which they result in such seemingly divergent overt behaviors.
Central to the psychodynamic view is the iceberg metaphor, which holds that the important variables in personality lie underneath the surface of manifest behavior -- just as the vast bulk of an iceberg lies underneath the surface of the ocean. Moreover, most psychodynamic theorists hold that these motives and transformational processes are unconscious. In the final analysis, they hold, people don't know why they do the things that they do.
Psychodynamic theory is also centrally concerned with the processes of personality development and change. Adult personality is viewed as deeply rooted in childhood experience, and as emerging as the individual passes through a succession of stages or crises that arise over the course of maturation and development. Some individuals meet these crises more successfully than others, and thus are better prepared to proceed to the next stage. Thus there is a kind of fatalism in psychodynamic psychology, where an unfortunate event at one stage has a persisting negative effect on all those that follow.
All is not lost, however, because the psychodynamic theorists, as practicing clinicians, hold that adult personality can be changed through an arduous process of psychotherapy. Working with an appropriately trained professional, people can become aware of their hidden motives, the transformational processes that intervene between motives and behavior, and the untoward developmental events that prevent them from fulfilling their potential. This knowledge is the key to personality change.
The various schools within psychodynamic theory disagree over precisely what motives and developmental stages are involved in personality, and also divide on the issue of whether these motives are primarily biological or social in origin. However, all of them agree that people are more alike than different. That is, each of us has the same set of underlying motives,, although each of us may express them in qualitatively different ways. The evidence for the motives is provided by the surface behavior of the person. In the psychodynamic view, the gerontologist must act as a kind of detective, putting the pieces together and making inferences about which motive is involved, and what transformations it has undergone.
And here is where psychodynamic theory itself
runs into anomalies. The rules by which these latent motives
are to be inferred are not well specified, and the theory
accepts such a wide number of transformational processes
that literally any behavior can be related to any motive.
Thus, even before research begins, we encounter the problem
of never knowing whether our inferences are right or wrong.
An inference may make sense to one investigator, but not to
another who relies on a different list of underlying
The Social-Cognitive Approach
The mentally ill are not the only people who show inconsistencies in behavior, however. In fact, the behavior of most people appears to be extraordinarily flexible and sensitive to the situation in which it takes place. It changes markedly even with very subtle shifts in context. While it is fairly obvious that people are influenced by situational factors, it does not follow that personality is a myth, that the characteristics of people do not matter, and that environmental contingencies -- factors lying outside the domain of personality -- are all-powerful determinants of experience, thought, and action.
First, people are capable of transforming situations mentally, by ascribing one meaning rather than another to events. In addition, they may alter the actual situation itself through their actions. In either case, people are clearly not passive victims of their environments. Nor are they buffeted about by internal unconscious drives. Nor stuck in ruts established by stable and enduring trait dispositions. The cognitive approach gives center stage to human intelligence, and to the cognitive processes through which that intelligence operates. Intelligence enables people to be active agents -- controlling their lives rather than being controlled. The social-cognitive approach is interactional in nature because it focuses on the ways in which people and situations influence each other. It is constructivist because it focuses on the cognitive and behavioral processes by which people actually build the worlds in which they live.
The social-cognitive approach departs from the psychometric approach, and aligns itself with the psychodynamic approach, by placing primary focus on general psychological processes rather than individual differences. It gives center stage to social cognition: to the knowledge that people possess about themselves, other people, and the situations in which social interactions take place. Social cognition emphasizes the perceptual and judgmental processes by which we form impressions of ourselves and other people. It concerns the ways in which information about people and social events is acquired, stored, and retrieved in the memory system. Finally, it is expressly concerned with the ways in which social cognition and social behavior reciprocally influence each other. In other words, the social-cognitive approach assumes that the study of individual differences properly begins with an understanding of people in general, rather than with classification of people into categories or rankings on various dimensions.
But while the study of individual differences seems somewhat premature, the social-cognitive approach does recognize them and attempts to accommodate them within its conceptual framework. Essentially, it construes individual differences in terms of the knowledge that people bring to bear on their social interactions -- rather than in terms of their trait dispositions. From a social-cognitive perspective, people differ from each other in two principal ways. First, they have different repertoires of world knowledge relevant to social interactions. We each have somewhat different views of human nature, of "what makes people tick". We each employ somewhat different conceptual schemes to divide the social world into categories of people and situations. We differ in terms of our autobiographical record of past experiences, and in the meanings that we assign to those experiences that we share with other people. Finally, we differ in terms of our knowledge and beliefs about ourselves. This knowledge about the social world is used to guide and plan social behavior. Individual differences in social world knowledge, therefore, are important because they lead to individual differences in social behavior.
Individual differences in social skills are also important. We all possess a repertoire of skills, rules, and strategies by which we acquire, organize, and utilize our knowledge about the physical and social world. So far as social cognition is concerned, this body of knowledge includes the specific interpersonal skills that each of us employs in the course of social exchange. It also consists of the scripts that we follow in charting our interactions with other people, and our preferred strategies for presenting ourselves to others. It includes, as well, the rules that we use to form impressions of newly encountered people and situations, to make judgments of causality, and other social inferences, as well as the procedures by which we perceive and remember social events.
Some of this procedural knowledge is explicit, in the sense that we are aware of it and can describe it to others. Some of it is implicit, operating outside of awareness. In either case, this form of social intelligence represents the rules by which the individual combines information from several sources, generates inferences about missing data, makes predictions about the future, and generates and tests plans for responding to anticipated events. As in the case of world knowledge, individuals differ in their repertoires of social skills, and these differences also lead to individual differences in social behavior.
Unlike the psychometric approach, the cognitive approach also includes an explicit account of personality development and change. Assuming that individual differences in social behavior largely arise from individual differences in social knowledge, and that social knowledge is essentially equivalent to personality, then personality is acquired in the same manner in which all other knowledge is acquired: it is largely learned. Of course, biological development is not unimportant: as children's brains mature, they become better able to integrate large amounts of information, so certain developmental trends in social cognition certainly reflect the course of cognitive development in general. Moreover, there may be certain rudimentary aspects of procedural knowledge that are innate as well.
The process of social learning appears crucial to the child's mastering of specific elements of social knowledge. A great deal of this learning takes place in the family and in social institutions such as school. In addition, in the modern world television and other media supplement this socialization process by communicating normative expectations, possible and acceptable interaction strategies, values, and the like. Some social learning is the product of formal education, but most of it is probably informal. Children and adults alike, as intelligent beings, are built to learn about themselves and their world. They develop personalities as they naturally acquire this information. A major point of the social-cognitive view is that this knowledge about ourselves and others, the process of social interaction, and the like is acquired largely through observation, modeling, and imitation -- through vicarious experience -- rather than through the direct experience of rewards and punishments.
It follows from this view of social learning that personality development never stops, and that personality never becomes so firmly established as to be immutable. As people acquire new social knowledge -- especially if there is a dramatic change in their fund of knowledge -- their personalities literally change. This process is most dramatically illustrated in the forms of behavioral and cognitive therapy that take place in the psychological clinic. Many maladaptive behaviors and other problems in living seem to represent maladaptive learning. Behavior therapists teach their clients and patients to make more adaptive, realistic responses to situations that trouble them. Reflecting the mutual influence of persons and situations that is at the core of interactionism, they also seek to change the client's environment in order to foster and support behavioral change.
Recently, the emergence of cognitive within
psychology at large has led to the understanding that
behavioral change is mediated by cognitive change.
Accordingly, cognitively oriented psychotherapists now seek
to arrange learning experiences in which people can acquire
new ways of perceiving themselves, others, and social
situations; new scripts for social interactions and new
expectancies concerning the outcomes of their actions and
those of others; new strategies for self-control; and other
aspects of social intelligence. But not all adult
personality change must take place in the formal confines of
the clinical consulting room, just as not all socialization
takes place within the family and school. People, as
intelligent beings, have the power to change themselves as
well as their environments. Therefore, personality change
can occur spontaneously through the course of everyday life.
Personology today is multiparadigmatic, but the psychometric and psychodynamic viewpoints have pride of place in this book because of their longer histories. The trait approach was announced in Allport's (1937) Personality: A Psychological Interpretation, while the dynamic approach was best articulated in Freud's (1915-1917Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. As such, they seem to have the status of normal science within the field. Certainly most active gerontologists have been brought up in one (or both) of these traditions. The cognitive approach was anticipated by Kelly's (1955) Psychology of Personal Constructs, and was really announced in Michel's (1968) Personality and Assessment. Thus, the cognitive approach, being at most only a few decades old, seems to occupy the position of alternative paradigm.
As scientists, we clearly favor the social-cognitive point of view, in which personality is construed in terms of mental structures and processes, and in which the individual is analyzed in the context of his or her social environment. One reason for our preference is that it appears to address the anomalies that pose problems for other theoretical approaches. Another is that it does more than the other paradigms to link personology with the rest of empirical psychology -- particularly cognitive and social psychology, where theory is developing at a rapid pace.
As writers of an introductory textbook, however, we recognize our obligation to acquaint the reader with all currently active points of view. This we intend to do. First, by presenting the theories sympathetically, in their own terms. And then, by summarizing the major lines of research that have developed from these theories. At the same time, we wish to offer for consideration some of the anomalous findings of this research, as well as other salient criticisms of these paradigms. In so doing, however, we intend no disrespect to these theories and theoreticians. We see the psychometric and psychodynamic paradigms as representing important first steps toward the cognitive-social personology that we advocate. They also challenge us to develop a cognitive paradigm for personology that possesses both the broad sweep of the psychodynamics and the methodological rigor of the psychometricians. In being critical, then, we wish to be constructive rather than destructive, and -- let us be completely candid -- to lead the reader to see things our way.