Sunday, February 15, 2015

How do we Study Personality? (Part 1)

I'd like to begin our exploration of personality with the word itself, "personality." If we look into the etymology of the word "personality," we find the Latin word "persona." This term has its most recent origins in Etruscan language of northern and central Italy meaning "mask."
So we have the Latin use of the term "persona" that relates to the Etruscan use, which is mask, a mask through which we speak. And even earlier than this, some scholars trace the word back to Persephone, who was the goddess of the underworld in Greek mythology. Persephone, persona, mask, personality.

Reification. Reification is the idea that when we describe something using a word, we bring it into being. There are some that contend that personality doesn't exist, that it's a social construct, that it's a psychological construct, and maybe even an evolutionarily byproduct of other things that aid in survivability. The fact that we talk about it so much might just bring it into real being. That is the concept of reification.

For example, the term "traits." This is a term you'll hear quite often in personality research in the 20th and 21st century. And we're going to study this in depth, trait psychology. The word "trait" is a word. It simply means adjective It is a word that is used to fill in for the term adjective or descriptive word.
When traits were first described, they were done so by collecting the adjectives in the dictionary. Instead of calling these descriptive words adjectives, the individual psychologist referred to them as traits. Over time, the term "trait" has become reified to the point that when most individuals talk about traits, they imagine somehow that there's some sort of substance that might even exist in DNA or genetics somehow. In fact, the word "trait" is a word that means adjective, means descriptive word. It is a reification.

And the concept here is that-- quite possibly the argument is that personality itself might not actually exist. It might be something that we have brought about through naming it. This is where we're going to begin with our study of personality. We are looking at theories of personality. The assumption is that personality exists in this course. And we are going to look at the various theories that describe what personality is.

The study, the investigation of personality certainly did not begin with contemporary psychology. And by contemporary psychology, we roughly mean the mid- to late-19th century. Experimental, scientific psychology has its origins in the 19th century as does therapeutic clinical psychology. We usually point to William James or Wilhelm Wundt in the experimental or scientific, even into the philosophical, areas of psychology. Wilhelm Wundt was concentrated more on laboratory experimental psychology whereas the American William James was interested more in a theoretical psychology. And James actually did investigate personality.

But we usually begin our discussion of personality with Sigmund Freud and the psychoanalytic and consequent psychodynamic theorists. But, of course, the history of the study of personality has existed long before Freud or James or even psychology.

I guess if we would point back to some of the earliest theories of personality, we could begin with Eastern philosophy with the Vedic cultures. We could look at Hebrew culture. We could look at the Confucian philosophy, Taoism. We even can look to the pre-Socratics, the Sophists, Socrates, the character of Plato and Aristotle and the ancient Greeks. All of these individuals had theories of personality.

In fact, if you simply replace the word [GREEK]-- "psyche, soul"-- in Plato's writings with the word "mind," you'll have a contemporary psychology textbook. And if you remember, this word "psyche" refers to soul. The transition of this term from soul to mind didn't happen until this enlightenment, scientific revolution. So if we read these ancient texts of the Greek philosophers and we simply think of psyche-- "soul"-- as mind or personality, we have contemporary psychology textbooks.
We are going to begin our exploration of personality with Sigmund Freud, mid-19th century, late-19th century theorist, into the 20th century. And we're going to pick up the story from there. But we should be clear that the story doesn't really begin with Freud. It's much earlier than this.

As we explore Freudian theory, we're going to find that much of what Freud said was a synthesis of earlier thinkers. We're going to see a lot of Judaism in his personality theory. We're going to see mystic kabbala in his personality theory. We're going to see the writings of Plato in his personality theory. And we're going to see a conglomeration of many theories that existed before Freud taken from Nietzsche and Schopenhauer and others that Freud put together in a certain-- what he called the new science, a new science for exploring this thing called personality. Well, let's just keep in mind that the story begins much earlier than where we are beginning in this course.

In this, our first lecture, we are going to begin by talking broadly about the study of personality. We want to describe what it is that we're talking about, if we can touch on that. We want to look at how personality, perhaps, develops. We're also going to look at different definitions of personality, what we mean by this term "personality" through the different schools of thought within psychology.
We are then going to look at different assessment techniques in personality. How do we describe and measure the different aspects of personality? We'll be looking at reliability and validity and self-report personality tests, online tests, projective techniques, clinical interviews, behavioral assessment, thought and experience. So this would be introspective techniques. And we're going to look at also gender and ethnic issues in assessment.

We'll also be looking at the clinical method of research, the experimental method. We're going to look at virtual research methods, correlational method. We're going to explore some qualitative methods as well, so both qualitative and quantitative methods in research in this lecture.
We are also going to look at a brief understanding of the major questions about human nature, such as, are we in charge of our lives? So free will versus determinism. What dominates us? Our inherited nature or our nurturing environments? Are we pressured more by genetics, by environment? Or is the question itself a problematic question?

We're also going to be looking at whether or not there's a unique or universal human nature. Are people born good or bad, in other words. We're also going to look at whether or not we have-- whether we arrive at an ultimate persona, an ultimate personality, or if we're constantly becoming. Are we being? Or are we becoming individuals? This is the understanding of reaching a certain satisfaction, an end state, or a constant state of growth.

We're also going to look at some basic understandings of whether or not we are universally pessimistic or optimistic, or whether or not this is something that is distinct for each individual theory. We're also going to finally conclude by looking at effects of ethnic and cultural background on how this thing we call personality manifests. Before we dive into those questions, let's take a look at the history of personality, how the study of personality integrates into the history of psychology as a whole.

Wilhelm Wundt, the first scientific experimental psychologist, was primarily interested in consciousness, in conscious awareness of things around us and of ourselves. He initiated-- in many ways, he replicated much of the physiological research that had been done for at least 50 to 70 years before 1879 when he started his first lab in Leipzig. He was interested in reaction times and how the brain voluntarily organized conscious experience into what we might call consciousness or in reality.
Now it wasn't really until William James where a really distinct study of self-consciousness took place. And James did this in his 1890 textbook, chapter 10, on consciousness of the self. William James, American born, Harvard professor of psychology, is also considered to be one of the first founders of scientific psychology. His theory of psychology was greatly rooted in philosophy and pragmatism and in what was called semiotics. And his type of psychology was called functionalism. And this was one of the first discussions in psychology of self-consciousness. And, again, you can read about this if you'd like, outside of this coursework, in the 1890 Principles of Psychology, chapter 10, by William James.

The thing we want to focus on here is that the earliest psychologists-- that is, Wilhelm Wundt, William James in the United States-- were primarily interested in consciousness and consciousness of the self. This is what we refer to in this way as personality. This way of doing this psychology actually-- through personality psychology-- was the dominant paradigm, the dominant way of doing psychology, studying it as a phenomenon of consciousness.

Now it's very interesting to point something out. The bookends of personality psychology and social psychology actually share a common journal and, in fact, share two brothers in scientific research. That is Gordon Allport and Floyd Allport. We're going to study Gordon Allport-- he's the father of trait theory-- in great detail in this course. And his brother Floyd Allport was a great social psychologist. So these two bookends of personality theory-- that is, psychology of the individual versus social psychology, which is the psychology of group dynamics-- are intimately connected, and in the earliest psychology actually shared the same division in the APA and share the same journal.
Now we can trace this connection back earlier than the Americans Floyd and Gordon Allport to the gestalt psychologists, if you remember those folks from Introduction to Psychology class. You remember Max Wertheimer and Wolfgang Kohler and Kurt Koffka And maybe you will recall a guy named Kurt Lewin, spelled L-E-W-I-N. It looks like Lewin, pronounced luh-veen. And Kurt Lewin is a gestalt psychologist who is considered to be the father of social psychology.

Now Kurt Lewin introduced a dynamic theory of personality. And this is what the Gestaltists were interested in-- not just consciousness of self, but how the environment and the entire gestalt-- the entire field within which one exists-- comes to dynamically shape personality.
So we have this shifting from the earliest paradigms of psychology of consciousness to a psychology of self-consciousness with William James, and then a melding into the Gestaltist view of phenomenology of the personality as something that arises from both dynamic interactions with the environment and the internal phenomenological world.

Now I'm going to pause for a moment and just discuss this idea of phenomenological world. The phenomenological world may be understood as the subjective world. But it's much different than this. The phenomenological world would be what temperature feels like versus what temperature is. So in the empirical world, we look at a thermostat. And we measure it through different expanding and contracting of metals or certain liquids that are sensitive to certain pressures in the environment. And we might say, ah, the temperature is 65 degrees. That's an objective, empirical understanding of temperature.

The phenomenological understanding of temperature is what one experiences. Are you warm? Are you cold? Are you hot? Are you just right, just comfortable? That's the phenomenological world.
We can experience phenomenological world, the gestalt psychologist taught us, in contrast to the empirical world. For instance, a typical lecture might last an hour and 20 minutes empirically, objectively, measuring that through a chronological timepiece, a theoretical work of time. But the experience of the lecture could be very different for many people. For some folks, the lecture might feel like it lasts three hours. That's the phenomenological experience of time. Or for another, it might be so engaging and exciting that the lecture might feel like it lasts for 20 minutes.

So this is a distinction between empirical time and phenomenological time, between empirical consciousness or experience of the world and phenomenological experience of the world. And this is what the Gestaltists and Kurt Lewin entered into discussion of personality, the dynamic structure of conscious experience as a relationship between ourselves and the world. And this has its roots in gestalt psychology and, ultimately, in the bookend of personality psychology, social psychology, division eight of the American Psychological Association, the division of personality and social psychologies.

So let's take a moment here for just a recap so that you can make a note for yourself. You can write down this little schematic. We begin with, of course, ancient Eastern and also Western approaches to personality. But we begin our conversation with Wundt and consciousness. We then shift towards James and self-consciousness. We're now discussing a very interesting phenomenon that arose in Germany at the time of a gestalt phenomenological approach to personality. This is an interaction between the environment and the individual, and the distinction between objective reality and phenomenological reality, or what we might call empiricism and phenomenology.

We're now going to talk about a current that began simultaneously in Austria at this time. And that's the idea of psychodynamic theory, or psychoanalytic theory. Now this is important to make a distinction between psychoanalysis and psychodynamic-- psychoanalytic versus psychodynamic. Psychoanalytic refers only to Sigmund Freud and his initial theory, which the seminal work was 1899. So you're seeing this is about 20 years after Wundt's establishment of an empirical, scientific, objective psychology. Sigmund Freud is publishing 1899 his Interpretation of Dreams, which is really the seminal work of personality theory for Freud. And this is called psychoanalytic. Anything that comes after Freud, we call them the neo-Freudians. That means folks like Carl Yung and Alfred Adler, Wilhelm Reich, Karen Horney, some of the individuals we'll be studying in this course. They're referred to a psychodynamic thinkers. So psychodynamic refers to post-Freudians. Psychoanalytic refers to classical Freudian theory.

Now the interesting thing about Freud and his theory was that he was very skeptical that the personality, that persona, personality could be studied using only empirical methods. He said that we cannot investigate things such as the dream life and the eternal life, the introspective life of an individual and emotional life, through empiricism because we can't observe and measure these things. He called for what he referred to as a new science. And he laid forth the new science, as he called it-- psychoanalysis-- as a way of understanding and describing the internal world. We might even call it the phenomenological world. This is the world of dreams, the world of emotions, all those things that we cannot empirically observe and measure. Freud said that if we're going to study personality, we have to have a new science that goes beyond what Wundt was describing.

Now it will be of interest for you to note that the first chapter of the Interpretation of Dreams, 1899, is filled with citations of Wilhelm Wundt. Wundt was an authority on investigating the dream life and consciousness. And Freud was very aware of Wundt's work. If you look at the reference section of Freud's Interpretation of Dreams-- it was published in English in 1900-- if you look at that reference section in the first chapter, you'll see a lot of references to Wilhelm Wundt and Wundt's ideas of dreams. And this is where Sigmund Freud really lays out his ideas of how a new science must be developed to study this thing called personality.

Now while this is taking place in Europe, primarily in Germany and Austria, the Americans and the British are becoming fascinated by Darwin's theory of evolution and how this is playing into psychology. This mixture of American philosophy, which was really rooted in Scottish common sense philosophy-- we might think of this as a very kind of empirical, objective philosophy with evolutionary theory-- leads to a 1913 and John B. Watson's Behaviorist Manifesto. This is the idea of America's maybe first dominant paradigm of psychology called behaviorism. And for Watson and the behaviorists, really, the paradigm that dominated American psychology from 1913 all the way through the 1960s, behaviorism was interested in how personality's a manifestation of learning. So we could have reward and punishment schedules and operand conditioning. And we can have the associative learning of classical conditioning. And then, eventually, different models of learning, how personality is a set of learned responses. And behaviorism really dominated American psychology up and through the 1960s.

But in the 1960s, something happened. The advent of computer science and computer programming led to individuals, primarily at Harvard university, and individuals who were investigating language and thought, primarily Noam Chomsky, the linguist, to really challenge the basis of behavioral psychology. And they began to find problems with the behavioral model and introduce new models of psychology, of personality, of thinking and decision-making and of consciousness that had to do with artificial intelligence computer models and linguistic theory. And that's what we call the cognitive revolution, cognitive psychology. It was really ushered in by a few individuals at Harvard and primarily Noam Chomsky, the linguist.

So we have this transition now. If we pause and just take an overview beginning with Wundt and consciousness, James and the idea of self-consciousness, and then we look at the gestalt theorists and their idea of a more holistic, dynamic theory of environment and individual. We look at Sigmund Freud's new science of psychoanalysis of personality. We then look at behaviorism and how that dominated the field of psychology and personality theory through the 1960s. And then in the 1960s, the advent of cognitive psychology, the cognitive revolution, and looking at things like artificial intelligence and the study thinking, the mind, which is cognition.

It's around this time that Gordon Allport, someone who we'll be studying in depth, introduced the idea of traits, the idea that we could measure traits. This theory of personality has become possibly the dominant way of studying personality in the late 20th and early 21st century. And Allport basically described measures of these descriptive words he called traits that could serve as a conglomerate in ways of viewing the world and behaving in the world and thinking in the world that we come to call this thing personality.

Finally, where we are at today is a continuation of this line of thinking into cognitive neuroscience. And neuroscience is interested largely in, as we will see, three understandings of how the mind functions as the organ of the brain. So the brain is the organ. And the organ of the brain minds. Just like the heart beats, the brain minds.

And for neuroscientists, there are three assumptions. And that is the assumption of reductionism, that things reduce down to an element, whether it be a brain chemical, a brain tissue, or a neural connection or neuron. That's the idea of reductionism. We have the idea of materialism. And that is everything is ultimately some sort of physical substance, whether that's a chemical or a tissue or a cell. And, finally, the third aspect of neuroscience is mechanism. And that is if we keep dissecting far enough, if we keep analyzing the structures enough, we will come to some kind of mechanized understanding of how this thing called personality or consciousness unfolds. So we have reductionism, mechanism, and materialism as the hallmarks of a biological neuroscience.

Now that's a brief overview of the history of personality psychology. And if we look at these ways of doing things, we'll see that a shift takes place. And it's typically a 50-year shift. We can see that things will not remain in the current paradigm. It will shift again. We'll be doing personality theory in an entirely new way in the future. But for right now, that's a brief, thumbnail sketch of the history of personality research. For those interested in an excellent overview of theories of personality that have existed before psychoanalytic and psychological theories, I recommend a 2005 book Who Are We? Theories of Human Nature by Louis Pojman. And that link is below in the link area of the lectures as are a few other links that I've referred to in this talk.