Personality Psychology: A Student-Centered Approach

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Jim McMartin

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    Preface

    This textbook is intended to supplement those traditional theorist-centered textbooks that examine personality through a successive presentation of theorists, theories, and research.

    The first goal of the text is to examine the value of personality theory for understanding and appreciating one's own personality. To reach this goal, I divide the reader's life course into his or her past, present, and future self. I ask basic questions about personality that are relevant to these time periods, and then offer answers in terms of observations that are interpretable within one or more of the three theoretical orientations to personality: psychodynamic, humanistic/existential, and cognitive/social learning. Although acknowledging students from diverse backgrounds and range of ages, I assume the typical reader to be a 20-year-old college student who has taken at least one prior course in psychology. With this hypothetical reader in mind, I keep all methodological and statistical issues in personality research to a bare minimum. This textbook is designed to be student-centered rather than theorist-centered.

    The second goal is to help readers appreciate that personality psychology is fundamentally an empirical enterprise and, as such, needs to be well-grounded in replicable observations. Although these observations provide the basis for contemporary answers, I hope readers understand that in science, all answers are provisional. The very nature of the scientific process is such that future observations will lead to more refined and precise answers than those we can offer today. Nevertheless, it is important to begin providing answers to the sorts of questions that inquisitive students raise. In the long run, scientific progress is more readily served by focusing our efforts to refute possibly erroneous conclusions than by refusing to take any stand at all.

    My third goal for this text is to demonstrate the dynamic interplay of theory and research. Empirical observations need to be interpreted within some theoretical framework. Data that lack theoretical interpretation are sterile. At the same time, theories without supporting evidence are mere speculations. A well-rounded answer to any serious question requires clear observations and a coherent theory to interpret them. Thus the foreground of this book consists of empirical answers to interesting questions relevant to all readers' personalities; the background consists of three theoretical orientations that can help us interpret or explain the empirical observations.

    I hope this text complements standard personality textbooks in which the foreground is theory and the background is the potential application to interesting questions about personality. By considering what is currently known about each of the questions raised and how these data are interpreted, I encourage readers to evaluate each theory's usefulness for understanding their own personalities and thereby come to a deeper understanding of the personality theories covered here.

    In order to present theories and corresponding data in some detail within the space limitations of a supplementary text, I've selected the three orientations noted earlier as the book's primary theoretical focal points. Three other theoretical orientations to personality—as it consists of our major traits and their organization (dispositional approach), as affected by our genetic inheritance (behavioral genetics), and as merely the sum of our learned behaviors and habits (radical behaviorism)—are also discussed in appropriate chapters, but the breadth of such coverage is limited. There are many excellent sources of detailed information concerning these three approaches to personality (as acknowledged by my Suggestions for Further Reading at the end of each chapter), but this book is not one of them.

    I chose to focus on the psychodynamic, humanistic/existential, and cognitive/social learning approaches to personality for two reasons: (1) I believe these theoretical orientations are closer to the “heart” of personality than are other treatments, and (2) I believe they are more potentially useful for self-understanding than approaching personality via traits, behavior genetics, or learned habits.

    Perhaps it is simply a matter of the “level” of personality one finds personally meaningful and engaging. On the one hand, I do not think our learned behaviors are the same as our personalities. Learned behaviors are manifestations of our personalities, to be sure, but they are not synonymous with them. As such, I think their proper domain of study lies within the purview of learning theory. On the other hand, behavioral genetics and trait approaches certainly do apply to understanding personality. Both approaches highlight personality continuity rather than change over the life course. Both approaches also tend to measure personality in terms of those paper-and-pencil experiences called “personality tests.” Behavioral genetics and trait approaches offer invaluable sources of information about the complex phenomenon we call personality. But I prefer to encourage the reader to ponder other dimensions or levels of himself or herself because I believe it is easier and more meaningful to modify our interpretation of our past and present selves, should we choose to do so, than it is to change our traits or genes. The three approaches to personality highlighted in this text are all concerned, in the final analysis, with clearly interpreting our past and present personalities. Each suggests ways we can change our interpretation of who we have been and who we are now, thus shaping who we will become.

    However, this text does not ignore the behavioral genetics, trait, and radical behaviorist approaches to personality. In answering the question of whether our personalities began in the womb (Chapter 2), I present recent information about behavioral genetics and personality traits in some detail. Moreover, I cover the role of personality dispositions as they relate to stress (Chapter 5) and continuity throughout adulthood (Chapter 8). Also in Chapter 8, I review behavior modification outcome studies to look at learned behaviors that are most and least modifiable by treatment. But the major focus of the text concerns the application of psychodynamic, humanistic/existential, and cognitive/social learning approaches to personality.

    Part I, Basic Issues in Personality Psychology, consists of two chapters. The brief introductory chapter highlights the complexity of the field by contrasting definitions of personality offered by “common sense,” by Gordon Allport, and by this book. I also discuss the meaning of “self” as used in personality psychology. The Introduction concludes, as do all chapters in the text, with Questions to Ponder and Suggestions for Further Reading. The Questions to Ponder may be useful for generating class discussions or simply left for the individual student's private consideration.

    Chapter 1 (Using Theory and Research to Understand Personality) provides an overview of the three approaches to personality that are considered in this text. I intend Chapter 1 to serve as a resource for the reader. It consists mainly of a review of the key theorists, basic assumptions, and distinctive concepts of the three orientations. Readers, should they wish to do so, may refer back to Chapter 1 to refresh their memories of each approach as they read how it applies to various questions over the life course. The field of personality psychology is so multidimensional that even within each theoretical orientation presented here, hard choices must be made as to which theorists will be covered. The psychodynamic perspective is represented throughout the text by the views of Freud, Adler, Jung, Horney, Erikson, and Bowlby. Within the humanistic/existential orientation (which is also referred to as the phenomenological approach) we find a diverse group: Maslow, Rogers, Kelly, May, Frankl, and McAdams. The cognitive/social learning point of view is covered in terms of the theories of Mischel, Bandura, Rotter, Cantor and Kihlstrom, Carver and Scheier, and Epstein.

    Part II, My Past Self, also consists of two chapters. Chapter 2 (Genetic and Temperamental Influences) considers the role of nature in personality formation. I present findings from behavioral genetics, trait psychology, and three temperament research programs that bear on the question: “Did my personality begin in the womb?” Chapter 3 (Cultivating Personality), the nurture side of the perennial debate, asks, “What kinds of early childhood experiences helped form my personality?”

    Part III, My Present Self, consists of three chapters. Chapter 4 (Identity and Self-Esteem) poses the question, “Who am I, and why is liking myself important?” Chapter 5 (Stress and Coping) asks: “What is stress, and how can I cope with it?” Chapter 6 (Needs, Motives, and Goals) raises the question: “What do I want, and why does it matter?”

    Part IV, My Future Self, consists of two chapters. Chapter 7 (Expectations, Plans, and Self-Regulation) focuses on how our present expectations and anticipations of the future lead to our future outcomes. These expectations are presented as answers to the question: “What determines whether I will persist or give up trying to reach my goals?” Chapter 8 (Continuity and Change Over the Life Course) considers the question of personality growth throughout adulthood. A variety of theorists offer interesting answers to the question: “In what ways can I expect my personality to remain the same or change over the course of my life?”

    I hope this book helps students to (1) see the need for careful research to answer basic questions about the nature of human nature, (2) value theories of personality as the organizing and synthesizing tools that they are, and (3) apply these findings and theories fruitfully to a deeper understanding and appreciation of where their personalities came from, who they are now, and the future personalities they are now in the process of creating.

    I would like to thank the numerous people who helped me at various stages in writing this book. To say that the book would be the poorer if they hadn't shared their considerable talents is a grievous understatement. I thank Dick Docter, Chairman of the Psychology Department at California State University, Northridge for both his enthusiastic support of this project and his thoughtful contributions to it during our many discussions of the issues. I thank Janet Rowe Seregely for joyously sharing her powerful intelligence and creativity.

    I thank my colleagues and friends for all their suggestions. Any flaws remaining in the book, needless to say, are solely my responsibility. I would particularly like to thank Roy F. Baumeister, Michael Botwin, William F. Chaplin, Carol E. Franz, Leo Goldberger, Paul Karoly, Dan McAdams, John Nesselroade, Leonard Newman, Daniel Ozer, Carolin J. Showers, Joel Weinberger, and Paul Wink for valuable comments on previous drafts of this manuscript.

    I also thank all the people at Sage for their superb professionalism. I would like to thank especially my editors Marquita Flemming and Jim Nageotte—and their editorial assistants Dale Grenfell and Nancy Hale—for their unflagging efforts in bringing this project to fruition.

    Most of all, I am grateful to Ann, my wife and best friend, for her total support of this project from beginning to end. To her I dedicate this book.

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    Name Index

    About the Author

    Jim McMartin began his career in psychology as a Research Associate at the Institute of Developmental Studies in New York City, where he helped analyze the initial data that showed the benefits of early pre-school experience, which led to federal funding of the Head Start Program. He earned degrees in psychology from Fordham University (B.S.), Brooklyn College (M.A.), and the University of Minnesota (Ph.D.). He is currently Professor of Psychology at California State University, Northridge. He has published numerous research articles in such journals as the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Human Relations, Research in Higher Education, Sociometry, and Social Behavior and Personality. He contributed an invited article on the development of racial awareness and attitudes to the International Encyclopedia of Psychiatry, Psychology, Psychoanalysis, and Neurology.


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