Thursday, April 2, 2015

How do we Study Personality? (Part 2)

There's been a tendency in research psychology to break things up into seemingly obvious dichotomies-- in other words, a personality trait, such as introvert and extrovert. Yet when many of us experience our own lives and contemplate our own experiences, we often realize that describing ourselves as either an introvert or an extrovert is not always such an easy thing. In fact, we notice that a lot of it has to do with situations we're in or periods of our lives.

So we make the first distinction in the studies of personality of doing away with or being cautious of false dichotomies. Whenever we see a yes or no, either/or option for studying an aspect of personality-- in this case, in psychology in general-- we become skeptical of this.
So for instance, a common example would be the nature/nurture question. This is really a question that is no longer discussed in the traditional sense of is it nature, or is it nurture? Is it genes, or is it environment? And we now embrace an interactionist model, understanding that it's not so easy to distinguish between nature and nurture.

It's not so easy to parse these things apart-- that, in fact, maybe they are two aspects of the same thing, or two ways of looking at the same thing. So we're going to take this approach in personality as we approach it. We're going to avoid dichotomous thinking and instead think more in a third way, in an interactionist way.

Now, this is going to come into play as we discuss the big questions about human nature. Those big questions are, are we in charge of our lives? Free will versus determinism-- because there are the two options, free will or determinism. What dominates us, our inherited nature or nurturing environment? So it's the classic nature or nurture question.

And a third question that we're going to be looking at for each of these theories is, are we dependent or independent of our past? In other words, are we determined by our past? Is human nature unique or universal? In other words, is there a basic human nature of good or bad at the core?
Our life goals-- are we headed toward satisfaction or its growth? In other words, are we being human beings or human becomings? Are we something that we arrive at, or are we something that is ever changing? Another question that we look at is, are we ultimately optimistic or pessimistic in our theoretical world view?

So we look at these questions, these six questions, not as dichotomies but as an interactionist model. Now as it turns out, each of the individual theories that we're going to study takes a stance on the six questions. And we are going to ask these six questions and describe each of the answers to these six questions through the eyes of each of those theories.

So we want to remember from the beginning that often, these dichotomies are false. They're artificial parsing of the topic. And we are always going to be asking, what is the interaction? What is the third way that is a possibility? Is there a possibility of something other than nature or nurture, a new way of looking at the problem? So that's one thing that we're considering today I'd like you to think about regarding personality theory.

I think a role model in this approach is one of the theorists that we're going to be studying in this course, and that's Erich Fromm. And in 1964, Erich Fromm wrote a book called The Heart of Man, and in that book, he addressed each of these six questions and showed us how traditional thinking is unanswerable because we're asking the wrong question.
So if you have an interest in exploring these in a very intimate way, take a look at that book by Erich Fromm. The link will be provided here in the assignment section-- Eric Fromm, 1964, The Heart of Man.

Now let's take a look at each of those individual questions more in depth. The theories of personality that we'll be addressing in this course will each deal with six questions. In other words, there's a certain worldview that each of these theories embraces, and we can describe that worldview through six questions.

These six questions are the question of free will versus determinism; the question of nature versus nurture; the question of being dependent or independent of our histories, of our pasts; the question of a unique or universal human nature; the question of whether we are growing or we are static, so a being versus a becoming; and the question of whether or not the theory itself takes an optimistic or a pessimistic view of the human condition. Let's take a look at each of these questions and go into depth describing what they're talking about.

The first dichotomous question that's presented to us that we evaluate each theory using is the question of free will versus determinism. Simply put, free will means the ability to volitionally, autonomously, and spontaneously make decisions on how we act, how we think, how we feel. So this is the concept of free will.

In the theories that we are going to discuss, we see a broad range of some theorists who embrace the idea of free will, and we see many theories in which the theorist dismisses the concept of free will. Largely today in psychology, free will does not exist within the exception of the existential phenomenological psychologists, also known as the humanists. The reason for this is scientific method, the site science itself, which looks for lawful behavior, eliminates the possibility of free will.
So if you are an individual theorist who believes in choice and free will, then this is beyond the scope of a scientific endeavor, which is ultimately looking for lawful behavior. So to do psychology in a scientific way, one must be deterministic.

So we often see today a distinction between biological determinism and environmental determinism, which is whether or not biology determines how we think, feel, and act, or our social conditions determine how we think, feel, and act.

So in contemporary psychology, the dichotomy is still free will versus determinism, with free will being embraced by humanists and existential psychologists, and the scientific psychologists looking at determinism. And the debate in determinism is between biological determinism and environmental determinism.

Now, that should sound familiar because it's the old debate of nature versus nurture. Biological determinism would be nature, and environmental determinism would be nurture, biological determinism meaning we are a product of our genes, environmental determinism meaning we are a product of our upbringing, our childhood, the way our parents approached us and parented us, our socioeconomic situations, all of these considerations.

So let's take an example here. When we're dealing in, say, psychopathology, we know that there's a distinction between the medical model and the psychological model. And the medical model usually sees things such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, any of the mental disorders, as a product of a biological cause in the brain. So it could be genetic, or it could be a brain lesion or some sort of chemical disruptance, a tissue problem, a connection problem in neurons, or the nerve cell itself could be damaged or malfunctioning. This would be biological determinism.

The disease model is biological determinism. The idea that addictions, or depression, or anxiety as a disease is the assumption of biological determinism, and that is really described by the medical model.

The alternative view to this is the environmental model, which would claim that things such as addictions, and depression, and anxiety would have to do with how the individual grew up, the family members that raised them, how they learned to think about things, to react to things, to feel about things, how they learned how to behave. So this would be an environmental determinism.
Of course, free will would be the idea that there's ultimately a choice in behavior-- the behavior of the addict, for instance. It may feel as if it is controlled by an impulse in genetics or a learned habit, but in fact, it takes-- for the free will thinker, it takes an act of volition, of autonomy, to choose to, say, buy the alcohol, open up the bottle, pour it into the glass, and to drink it. There's a lot of volition involved here.

So we really see the nuanced nature of the nature-- I'm sorry, of the free will/determinism question. And within that is embedded the nature or nurture question. We have phrased it here as biological versus environmental determinism, and you should be able to identify both terms, nature/nurture, as equal to the biological versus environmental determinism.

Regarding the nature/nurture issue, or the, as we call it, genetic versus environmental determinism issue, we should realize that today, most thinkers in this area take what is called the biopsychosocial model, which is not exclusively a biological determinism or a social determinism, but some sort of interaction between both biological and the social.

To a greater or lesser extent, individuals claim to reject the false dichotomy of biological versus environmental determinism and claim that there's a certain interaction between environment and genes, or environment and biology.

We'll see this as being the real crux, or the real foundation, of Sigmund Freud's theory as being actually a tripartite interactionist theory that deals with biological drives, social pressures, and an individual's ability to make choices. So Freud's theory, as we're going to see on that lecture in psychoanalysis, actually encompasses both biological determinism, environmental determinism, and free will.

The third main issue that each of these theorists can be evaluated upon is the idea of historical determinism. That's the idea of how much are we dependent-- is our to personality dependent on our past? Does the current event, the current situation, affect how we think, feel, and act more than our history does, our past does, our childhood, major experiences in our lives? So this is the concept of historical determinism, and it falls under the dichotomy of independence or dependence from our past.

You can see that that's intimately related to environmental determinism, but we're talking now more about an historic or a time-related determinism. In other words, do present, current circumstances affect our personality manifestations more than our past, our historical experiences?
Another dichotomy that we can evaluate the theorists upon is the difference between unique or universal personalities. So are there theories that can be applied to all people in all places at all times? Or must we evaluate each individual uniquely and on their own terms?

So this dichotomy is referred to as the unique or universal basis of human nature. Is there one universal human nature? Say, are all people at the core good? Or are all people at the core greedy or whatever descriptive word you would look for? Or must we look at individuals and unique situations? Can someone be, perhaps, altruistic in their human nature and another person be greedy in their core human nature? So that's the issue of unique or universal aspects of human nature.

A fifth dimension on which we can evaluate each of the theorists is the idea of satisfaction versus growth, and this really has to do with motivation. Are we motivated, as the humanists or the extensional psychologists would say? Are we motivated towards self-actualization, towards becoming the ideal self? Or are we momentarily pushed and motivated to satisfy certain urges, certain sexual urges or-- for moving from pleasure-- or, I'm sorry, from unpleasure to pleasure, or from pain to the absence of pain?

So the idea here is looking at the idea of how an individual theory views our life goals, the motivation of life. Is it something that we are being pulled towards in a teleological way, trying to manifest our ultimate self? Or is it in a cause-and-effect relationship of satisfying an immediate sense of desire from unpleasure to pleasure?

Finally, we come to the description of either an optimistic or a pessimistic view of the theory. Does the individual theorist seem to feel that the ultimate nature of human beings is a pessimistic one or an optimistic one? For example, if individuals are inherently self-serving and seeking their own pleasure, this might be a pessimistic view-- a theory that holds a pessimistic view.
Really, the question that we're entering in here is a question of ethics, and for some of these theorists of personality, ethics is an intimate aspect of personality-- morality. For other theorists, certainly the scientific trait theorists, questions on ethics and morality don't really play into the description of personality. But certainly for psychoanalysts and the humanists, psychodynamic theorists, we're going to see that morality and ethics are an important aspect of personality for some of these theorists.

Broadly speaking, I think we can distinguish between two main groups of theories that we're going to investigate in this series of lectures. The first, I would say, is more of an ideographic approach, that is, an individual approach that studies individuals and describes them within a theoretical framework. This might even be seen as a deductive method, starting with a theory and then looking at individuals and how they fit into that theory.

We also have nomothetic research. And the nomothetic research is more statistically based, looking at groups of individuals. Trait theories are utilizing much more standardization and statistical measures of individuals.

So we have these two categories, one of a nomothetic nature, groups using statistics to understand maybe different personality traits that are dominant in different cultures and different time periods, and we have the ideographic approach, which is really looking at individuals one on one and how their personality-- describing their personality, typically within a theoretical framework.
The ideographic method is typically used by the psychoanalytic and psychodynamic theorists as well as the humanists, whereas the nomothetic research is typically used in trait theory and some of the biological neuroscience theories looking at how cultures may differ based on percentages of individuals who score in certain levels on certain traits. So we have these two different broad methods, ideographic and nomothetic.

We're also going to see in the next part of our lecture that different theories use different research methods. The nomothetic methods are-- or nomothetic theories, rather, are typically using more empirically based research that includes questionnaires, and standardized testing, and the use of statistics, and statistical models, standardization, to understand how individuals compare to others.
We also have in the ideographic research and most of the psychodynamic theories and humanistic theories-- we're looking more at qualitative research. That's description and not so much a coefficient or a numerical quantification, but a qualification, a quality-based research, a qualitative research of understanding things as they fit into theoretical systems.

And of course, the goal in all of this, typically, is to predict behavior and to, in some instances-- to control behavior, and in other instances to modify behavior. And to certain degrees, each of these theories have that as its aim.

An exception to this would be the existential phenomenological theories, or the humanistic theories, as they're called in North America, which are usually more interested in growth and achieving an individual potential more than controlling and predicting. It's more of a personal growth type theory. But they can be used, of course, to prepare predictions, to control and to change behavior because ultimately, that's what therapy is. Therapy is about change.

So these theories are very diverse, very nuanced, and we have now the basic considerations that we're going to evaluate each of these theories on, the six basic evaluations that we're going to look at.

Next, we're going to move on to research methods in personality theory. So we're going to look at qualitative and quantitative research methods, the dominant research methods that are used in each of the schools of thought that we'll be investigating. Then we'll talk about some of the strengths and weaknesses of those research methods, and that'll be in part three of lecture one, theories of personality. Thanks for listening.