What Are Perspectives on Personality?

1. Frameworks and Perspectives: A field-wide framework provides an overall organization of a discipline. How does that differ from a theoretical perspective?

2. Perspectives on Personality: The biological and intrapsychic represent two perspectives on personality. What are the two others described in this textbook?

3. Perspectives and Theories: A perspective provides a broad viewpoint on a field. How would you distinguish a theory from a perspective?

What Is the Biological Perspective?

4. The Evolutionary Perspective: The evolutionary perspective tries to understand the mental mechanisms that have evolved within personality to promote survival and reproduction. The pressures surrounding a person are divided into the forces of natural selection and sexual selection. Can you define those two terms?

5. Studies of Brain Structure and Function: Different brain structures influence personality. There are sometimes said to be three evolutionary “layers” of brain development: the reptilian brain, the old (paleo-) mammalian brain, and the new mammalian brain. Can you characterize the functions of each?

6. Similarities and Differences among Neurotransmitters, Hormones, and the Chemistry of Immunity: As anyone who has ever tried an alcoholic beverage or taken a painkiller knows, chemicals influence brain function. Several classes of chemicals are often studied in relation to the brain, including neurotransmitters, hormones, and chemicals of the immune system. Can you describe the differences among these classes? What important relationships have been found between the neurotransmitter serotonin and behavior? What about dopamine and behavior?

7. Twin Studies: Genes—units of heritability—are thought to underlie at least some psychological function. Studies of the inheritance of psychological traits have focused on examining people with different degrees of relatedness. Do you understand how monozygotic twins and other groups differ in their degrees of relatedness? What is the logic behind studying the inheritance of psychological traits across groups of people with differing degrees of relatedness?

What Is the Intrapsychic Perspective?

8. The Ways That People Learn: One thing biology makes clear is that human beings are learning organisms. People learn according to a variety of principles. At a behavioral level, these include classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and modeling. Can you explain the basics of each of these three principles?

9. Traits and Trait Psychologists: The trait perspective emphasizes the identification of consistencies in mental and behavioral life called traits. It is probably one of the oldest perspectives on character and personality. Some psychologists believe traits are mostly biological; others view them as primarily behavioral; there is also an integrated position. Can you describe the biological and learned portions of a trait such as extraversion? More recently, trait theorists have conceived of traits as arranged in a hierarchy. “Super” or “big” traits are composed of smaller, fine-grained traits.

10. The Big Five: Today, personality is often said to be studied according to the Big Five, five big traits thought to encompass much of personality. Do you know what the Big Five traits are?

11. Psychodynamic Theory and Psychodynamic Psychologists: The psychodynamic perspective views the individual’s mental life as working out compromises between biological needs and sociocultural expectations and requirements. The conflict set up by these two forces causes the individual to suppress and defend against certain mental contents, which become unconscious. What two fundamental areas of threatening mental contents did Freud propose? Freud’s topographic model suggested a division of the mind into three areas related to levels of awareness. Can you list and define them?

12. Mental Defense: Mental defense involves the blocking out of certain ideas that are painful or threatening to think about. One form of mental defense is thought suppression. Can you define suppression and describe a study in suppression that represents some research from the area? Society exerts social control inducing guilt. How do women who experience higher levels of sex guilt react to erotic pictures? How do their reactions compare to those of women who experience lower levels of sexual guilt?

What Is the Sociocultural Perspective?

13. The Social-Cognitive Perspective: The social-cognitive perspective views the person as a thinking, analyzing being who behaves in interaction with the environment. One of the founding principles of social-cognition is that the individual exists in interaction with the environment. Can you identify the author of that principle? A contemporary view of this relationship between the person and the environment is called “reciprocal determinism.” Do you know who described “reciprocal determinism” and can you describe how it operates?

14. Person-Environment Interactions: Walter Mischel noted that traits can only go so far in predicting behavior. In fact, across situations, there appear to be upper bounds on consistency. A person’s trait will generally correlate only r = .40 with their behavior in a given situation (this is revised upward from Mischel’s initial claim and excludes intellectual traits, which are more predictive). This relationship is a modest one, and doesn’t seem to reflect the consistency we perceive in others. How did Mischel and others explain the consistency we see in other people? What has the response been to Mischel’s concern?

15. The Social-Cognitive Perspective: The social-cognitive view emphasizes stable parts of personality such as expectations and personal constructs. Can you define both the personal construct system and expectancies?

16. Conditional Traits: One idea of social-cognitive theory is that some aspects of traits are “if-then,” or conditional; that is, they are expressed under certain circumstances but not others. Can you describe a research study that examined conditional traits?

17. Culture Influences Personality: There are many ways that culture influences personality and many different dimensions along which culture varies. One way culture varies is according to how much a culture emphasizes community and the commonality among people (communal cultures) and how much the individual is emphasized (individualistic cultures). Can you describe the difference? What differences are found in people in the two sorts of cultures?

What Is the Developmental Perspective?

18. Psychosocial Theory: Psychosocial theory views the individual’s development as working in synchrony with practices and institutions provided by society. As a person matures, he or she engages with a sequence of practices and institutions that are appropriate to their age level. Can you provide an example of this? What is an example of a trait that toddlers have that is not present in infants?

19. Humanistic and Positive Psychology: The humanistic perspective emerged in the mid-20th century and applied principles of humanistic philosophy specifically to psychology. Can you identify some of those humanistic principles?

20. Positive Psychology: Abraham Maslow focused on the study of psychological health and the needs individuals face. Carl Rogers was a clinician who focused on the therapeutic conditions his clients needed to grow mentally healthy. More recently, since the mid-1990s positive psychologists have been active in elaborating positive human qualities. What are some of those qualities?

21. Research in Empathy: In the 1950s, Carl Rogers suggested that psychotherapists should adopt certain characteristics to facilitate their clients’ growth. Can you name those characteristics? He and others researched the psychotherapeutic process and found that empathy was a contributor to positive client outcomes. How is empathy defined?

How Do We Reconcile Multiple Theories?

22. Integrating Theories: Each of the above theories has attractive points, but which one is right? The question cannot be answered. Those who advocate learning about the theories often view the decision as to which one is best as an individual choice. Another alternative looks to developing one big theory that combines all the theories covered here. Has this been done? How does the systems framework approach the question of integrating the theories?