Overview of personality perspectives' strengths & weaknesses
theories with increasing validity & efficacy
grapple with “personhood” & sense of personal self
individual assessments techniques; Trait vs. Type approach
people on basis of scores; Overly-reliant on self-report
analysis & practical application
present from birth
active nature of human thought
A rant for integration
Too often, courses in personality are integrally weak - i.e. students
are not challenged back to the reality in which perspectives overlap
more than they differ. After splitting a subject up into pieces,
the real test of understanding comes in putting things back together -
comparing and contrasting is an important part of summarizing, but
integrating is the real task.
Figure 1. The six perspectives on personality are like the parable of
the blind men feeling an effort and describing different realities.
The situation is much like that described in the
Buddhist parable about the blind men of Indostan and the elephant.
The blind men each touch a different part of the elephant. The man
holding the trunk sees an elephant as snake-like. The man holding
the ear thinks of the elephant as thin and flat. The man touching
the side of the elephant thinks it is wall-like, and so on.
- O how they cling and wrangle, some who claim
- For preacher and monk the honored name!
- For, quarreling, each to his view they cling.
- Such folk see only one side of a thing.
- Jainism and Buddhism. Udana 68-69:
Related link: The Elephant in the Black Box:
A Parable about Outdoor Education
Examples of integrating perspectives and concepts
Psycho-analytic & Evolutionary Perspectives
For one thing, psycho-analytic and evolutionary perspectives on
personality were constructed at similar times, in the late 19th century,
courtesy of Freud and Darwin respectively. But more importantly,
they have in common the notion of an unconscious. In
evolutionary terms, we can understand the unconscious as the reptilian
and mammalian parts of the brain, deeply seated urges which were
successful for homo sapiens' adaptation and survival. Only in
relatively recent evolutionary history did human consciousness, as we
know it, evolve to include conscious self-awareness.
Can you find other similarities between these perspectives?
Consider, for example, that Freud was criticized for overly focusing on
the libido as being driven by sexual energy, but the theory of evolution
would seem to support that the sexual urge is a critical and fundamental
necessity for survival.
Humanistic & Evolutionary Perspectives
It seems rarely considered, but there is an important commonality
shared by the humanistic and evolutionary perspectives. Both
perspectives are evolutionary in the broadest sense of the word.
The humanistic perspective tends to focus on the future potential
evolution of individual human beings, whereas the evolutionary
perspective tends to focus on the past evolution of human beings as a
species. The notion of the human species as involved in a story of
unfolding and developing psychological capacity underlies both perspectives. What other
connections can you see?
On eclecticism & integral psychology
“There is no need to choose a
single lens for psychology when we can enjoy a kaleidoscope of
- Sandra Scarr (1985, p.511) cited in Carver & Scheier, (2000, p.510)
It can be fun and groovy to dabble in all perspectives. And it can be helpful. For example, in post-graduate
social work and clinical psychology courses, students are actively
encouraged to draw from many perspectives. But be warned of the dangers
here - don't hide behind vague statements which give no weight to one
theory over another. This is lame. The real meaning of
eclecticism is not equal inclusion of everything, but rather drawing the
best perspective from amongst multiple perspectives as opposed to being
hostage to a single perspective or a fence-sitter between all
eclectic \Ec*lec"tic\ - 1. Selecting; choosing
(what is true or excellent in doctrines, opinions, etc.) from various
sources or systems; as, an eclectic philosopher. 2. Consisting, or
made up, of what is chosen or selected; as, an eclectic method; an
broad, comprehensive, inclusive; assorted, mingled, mixed; diverse,
eclecticism - n : making decisions on the basis of
what seems best instead of following some single doctrine or style [syn:
There are also some efforts to develop sophisticaed
"integral psychology". For example,
Ken Wilber's book "Integral Psychology :
Consciousness, Spirit, Psychology, Therapy" (2000):
The goal of an "integral
psychology" is to honor and embrace every legitimate aspect of human
consciousness under one roof. This book presents one of the first truly
integrative models of consciousness, psychology, and therapy. Drawing on
hundreds of sources--Eastern and Western, ancient and modern--Wilber
creates a psychological model that includes waves of development,
streams of development, states of consciousness, and the self, and
follows the course of each from subconscious to self-conscious to
superconscious. Included in the book are charts correlating over a
hundred psychological and spiritual schools from around the world,
including Kabbalah, Vedanta, Plotinus, Teresa of Ávila, Aurobindo,
Theosophy, and modern theorists such as Jean Piaget, Erik Erikson, Jane
Loevinger, Lawrence Kohlberg, Carol Gilligan, Erich Neumann, and Jean
Gebser. Integral Psychology is Wilber's most ambitious psychological
system to date, and it is already being called a landmark study in human
Exploring topics related to personality
Although sometimes studied as single subject, personality is rarely
studied on its own. More typically, researchers are interested to
explore possible connections between personality and other aspects of
life and behavior. Here are some examples:
Personality & abnormalities
e.g., personality disorders in clinical psychology, eccentrics
Personality & achievement
e.g., achievement motivation, goal setting, career choice
Personality & development
e.g., age & developmental stages of personality
Personality & gender
differences e.g., what would a female theory of personality look
Personality & physical
health e.g., compliance with medication, Type A personality, etc.
Personality & race, culture
& nationality e.g., personality of nations, races & cultures
Personality & relationships
e.g., group dynamics, marital relations
Personality & spirituality
e.g., transcendent experiences
Looking back: Where have we succeeded & where have we failed?
We have succeeded in exploring a variety of theory and ideas about
psychological uniqueness and similarities that can be characterized as
We have failed in that so much about human behavior and experience
remains unexplained. Remember the correlations between personality
and actual behavior are roughly .3 to .4 at best, i.e., roughly 10 to
Looking forward: Trends in personality
In the 21st century, it might become as popular to craft a
personality as it has been in the 20th century to craft a particular
physical look. Personal
development is a growth industry (pun intended!) e.g., personal coaching is
increasingly popular, and the promise of "new age" experiences
continues to appeal to many
What other trends do you
think we might we see? For example, do you think we will be able
to choose the temperament of our babies via genetic engineering?
Here are some possible trends to consider:
Personality & culture:
Emerging interest in cultural contributions (e.g., Eastern
perspectives) to personality in Western cultures
Personality & biology:
A growing interest in biological contributions to personality, e.g.,
role of diet on personality
Personality & artificial
intelligence: e.g., computers are increasingly customized to
personality and via virtual environments provide a myriad of possible
ways to explore self
Personality & The Big 5:
The use of the Big Five Supertraits to organise and understand the
universe of traits is being increasingly pursued in research; its
dominance looks set to continue
Personality & terrorism:
Western governments will probably fund research into "terrorist"
personality and seek methods of screening and dealing with potential "terrorists"
Personality & marketing:
In the search for profits, big companies will fund research into how
to customize marketing to target particular personalities, e.g.,
Personality & alternative
health: Integration between personality and medicine is common in
non-Western culture and will become attractive (but not as attractive
as pills to pharaceutical companies!)
Personality & multiplicity:
Are we one or many? Western culture has adopted a unitary view
of self, whereas many other cultures, especially indigenous cultures
view self as having multiple parts worth exploring. In Western
culture, now, for example, increasing drug use to alter consciousness
can be seen as an example of this ancient view of self.
Develop your own personality theory
Despite all the theory by famous people, at the end of the day, each
person operates with some fundamental assumptions about how he/she and
others function psychologically. These assumptions are powerful. We are all amateur psychologists,
constantly wondering what other people are thinking and feeling, and
making inferences and hypotheses about the reasons for their behavior.
So, for psychology students it is important to:
- lay out the guts of one's psychological assumptions on the table,
- examine one's assumptions & incorporate helpful parts of psychological theory and research, and
- put it all back together in a way that better equips you to
succeed in the
kind of work you hope to do
- be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your perspective
In this way one's amateur assumptions can be become at least
semi-professional, but still be "true to one's self". I agree with
Funder (2002) that after considering different perspectives it is
probably helpful to adopt the perspective that appeals most, and then
work actively to improve it to suit your particular situation and needs
that evolve over time.
Developing a personal philosophy of education.
Personality & multiplicity
Are you one or many? There is an implicit assumption in most
Western psychology that we are united, singular psychology entities,
whereas we can also be considered separate, disparate parts. For
example, this is the basis of psycho-analytic theory - e.g., Id, Ego,
Superego. In Western psychology we tend to label persistent
experiences of altered consciousness as a disorder (e.g.,
schizophrenia), rather than a normal aspect of consciousness.
The Multiplicity of Consciousness and the Emergence of the Self
Everyday evidence for multiplicity might include:
- having an affair
- saying "he or she does not seem his or self today"
- "waking up on the wrong side of bed"
- feeling moody
- wanting to take risks
- hobbies & leisure activities
- altered consciousness
In modern society, our basic physiological needs are reasonably
satisfied, so there is greater opportunity to experience other parts of
self. With huge amounts of information available, modern methods of
travel, and so on, the global age serves up a huge platter of
possibilities for self-creation. Completely different and unique
lives can be manufactured, including lives of multiple parts.
Indeed, this may even be an adaptive response (e.g., case of Sybil).
The "Subtle Sybil" effect. Read more about
So, why not explore multiple aspects of self? In many respects,
the unitary sense of self is a construction or defence against the
plurality of consciousness. It may seem safest to stick with
one consciousness, but multiplicity has a way of making its presence
felt. Freud referred to the techniques one use's to keep one's
unwanted consciousness away as defense mechanisms. However, in
particular environments, people can feel more comfortable about letting
these other urges come through. And sometimes people characterize
these other ways of thinking as a different self.
After all, why not explore the labyrinth, since we are all serving a
lifetime in the dungeon of self (aka Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet
Grave, Ch 1).
The Wilderness of Neural Possibility
Exploring multiplicity: "The Dice Man" by Luke Rhinehart
Luke Rhinehart is the pseudonymn of George Cockroft who wrote a cult
bestseller in the 1970's called "The Dice Man". In the book,
Rhinehart is a bored psychiatrist who decides that his life is boring
because his dominant self keeps his other urges effectively under
control. So, he experiments with giving other aspects of self a
chance to be expressed. He does this by writing down what he might
want to do in any given moment, laying out 6 possibilities, then rolling
a dice and following the decision that comes up. Rolling dice
becomes an obsession for Rhinehart and he adopts increasingly large,
risky and perverse possibilities as the book continues.
During the 1990's there was a resurgence of interest in the novel,
and there are many people who practice at some point at least, "dice
living". There are several dice websites, if you want to
explore the idea further - go to
Where will it all end: Is personality transformation possible?
"at this point in history, the most radical,
pervasive, and earth-shaking transformation would occur simply if
everybody truly evolved to a mature, rational, and responsible ego,
capable of freely participating in the open exchange of mutual
- Ken Wilber (1981, p. 328)
Personality has been emphasized through this course as defined by
that which is psychologically characteristic of a person and reasonably
persistent over time and across situations. But we should also
consider the possibility of radical personality transformation, which.
sufficient conditions occur (e.g., supportive therapeutic environment
and efficacious methodology) then personality characteristics can be
reshaped. As Wilber optimistically points out of above, it
may even be possible for radical shifts to occur quite rapidly in the
psyche of an entire human culture.