Psychology 3 Essay, Research Paper
Will The Real You Please Stand Up?
Know thyself, advised an inscription on the ancient Temple of Apollo at Delphi. But what is it that you know when you know yourself? How do you gain this knowledge, and what should you do with it? Such questions are at the core of personality psychology, which explores both self-knowledge and knowledge of others.
Some personality psychologists compare everyday life to a play in which we put on different faces or play different roles for different audiences (Matthews 195). In fact, the word personality comes from the Latin root persona, meaning, mask (Allen 45). The impression we make on others or the mask we present to the world determines how people feel about us.
Our everyday “performances” have a profound effect on our lives, so it pays to understand how others see us. But are the acts we put on for others an indication of who we really are? Do our outward behaviors reflect our true personality? A complete picture of personality includes a look at thoughts and feelings, the unconscious, genetics, and society.
We form our impressions of people from the way they present themselves: physical appearance, dress, speech, style, and mannerisms. These first impressions are rough estimates based on broad, general, and often highly subjective traits. We usually find others clearly good (nice, warm, charming) or bad (mean, arrogant, nasty). Research shows that we make these evaluations within minutes sometimes even within seconds of meeting someone (Lima 219).
First impressions may be rough estimates, but they determine whether someone will continue to interact with you. First impressions in a job interview can determine whether you get the job. First impressions at a social gathering can determine whether a potential romantic partner wants to see you again.
Self-presentation is no game. The way we present ourselves over time creates our reputation the way people perceive us. Because self-presentation affects whether and how potential employers, romantic partners, and friends continue to interact with us, it has profound implications for life success (Dweck 313).
Our reputations are based on patterns in our behavior, called behavioral traits (Dweck 78). If there were no patterns or regularities in our behavior, there would be no factual basis for our reputations.
The basic argument against behavioral traits was that we adapt our behavior to the requirements of specific situations. One’s behavior at a rock concert isn’t the same as one’s behavior at a funeral. Critics pointed out that people too often use small bits of information to jump to premature conclusions about traits (Karlsson 61). Finally, these critics argued that personality tests couldn t predict what someone will do in a future situation.
It is relative nature of behavioral traits that tells us what we might reasonably predict with a personality test. Personality scores will not predict what you will do on a single occasion. Nobody can predict human behavior that well with any method.
Rather, personality scores are like batting averages. We can’t predict what a .350 or .250 hitter will do in one appearance at the plate, but we do know that, over the course of a season, a .350 hitter will hit safely 35 percent of the time, and a .250 hitter, 25 percent of the time. Similarly, we can’t predict what a person with a high or low score on a sociability test will do on a single occasion. But we do know that, over time, someone with a high score will behave more sociably and will be seen as more sociable than someone with a low score.
Our thoughts and feelings help explain the behavioral traits that drive our reputations. Thoughts and feelings are also referred to as cognitive and emotional traits, and they are the basis for many of our actions (Hammer 36).
What are the thoughts and feelings behind behaviors? In the case of empathic behavior, the motive is a desire to help other people. Empathic people feel genuine sympathy for people who are hurting. They also communicate empathy in expected ways: by listening, showing rapport, paraphrasing, reflecting, and nodding their heads. Their motive (to help other people) drives their behavior (listening, paraphrasing, and so on).
How can we know what someone is really like if thoughts and feelings can’t be directly observed? This relationship between motive and behavior may seem fairly straightforward. However, it’s rarely as simple as it sounds. Often, our behaviors satisfy several motives at the same time. For example, someone may act empathically to satisfy a need to be liked as well as a need to help others (Lima 50).
What’s more, our behaviors may fail to communicate our motives. A person may genuinely want to help others, but may believe that “being helpful” means quickly diagnosing the problem and giving advice (behaviors that can be seen as insensitive). The desire to help may be present, but by failing to show the behavioral traits other people associate with empathy, a person will not appear empathic.
Will the Real “You” Please Stand Up? How can we know what someone is really like, if inner thoughts and feelings cannot be directly observed and we have only external behavior to go on? How can we know that the empathic person is actually empathic, and does not simply appear that way to satisfy some other motive? And how can we know that someone is not empathic, simply because they fail to show traits we associate with that emotion? In reality, both external behaviors and internal motives are important to how we perceive personality. Neither one without the other can paint an accurate picture.
Just as other people cannot directly observe your thoughts and feelings, you cannot directly observe what’s happening in your brain when you behave or think a certain way. But if we can’t observe the unconscious, how do we know it exists?
We may not be able to see the unconscious, but we can see its effects and therefore infer its existence. Sigmund Freud outlined various “indicators” (or telltale signs) of the unconscious: forgetfulness, false recollection, slips of the tongue, accidents, and dreams (Eaves 89). Personality psychologists use these indicators in constructing projective tests. These tests are designed to throw light on the unconscious, and they are based on how people interpret ambiguous situations.
The assessment of unconscious traits is far more controversial than the measurement of behavior or motives (Dweck 67). Analyzing the unconscious may even seem closer to literary interpretation than to “hard” science. Still, studies of the unconscious continue to fascinate both the professional and the general public.
To fully understand personality, we have to continually seek deeper explanations. We explain our social reputations by consistencies in our behavior. We explain behavioral traits by consistent patterns in thoughts and feelings. Thoughts and feelings arise from the unconscious, from patterns of activity in brain structures that we cannot directly experience.
So where do brain structures come from? Why do our brains work as they do? To answer this question, we need to look at both our genes and our environment what psychologists have sometimes called “nature” and “nurture.”
For psychologists studying the individual development of personality a few decades ago, “nature vs. nurture” was a central debate. “Nature vs. nurture” suggests that biology (a person’s genes) and society (the environment in which a person grows up) are competing developmental forces, and that one may be more important than the other (Eaves 43). We now know that both are necessary for normal development. Both help to make us who we are.
To find out how genetics and environment affect personality, psychologists turn to a field of study called behavior genetics (Allen 99). Looking at behavior within a group of individuals, psychologists try to determine what percentage is related to genetic differences and what percentage is related to environmental differences.
For studying genetic differences, twin studies are useful; identical twins share a home environment and have the same genetic makeup, while fraternal twins share a home environment but do not share the exact same genetic makeup (Gallagher 129). In studies comparing behavioral traits in identical and fraternal twins, researchers found that genetic differences can account for 40 to 50 percent of differences in personality traits, while environmental influences account for about 30 percent of differences in personality traits (132).
The Role of the Family One surprising finding from behavior genetics concerns the relative lack of influence of family environments on personality development. Except for extremes like severe neglect or abuse, parental behavior has little impact on a child’s developing personality. This means, for example, that it doesn’t matter whether a child is reared in a family where affection is openly expressed or in a family where affection is not expressed at all; the child’s personality will turn out the same in both cases.
Environmental influences outside the family environment, such as school and friends, are often more important to the development of personality (Matthews 67). However, these apparent “outside influences” may have more to do with genes than it would seem at first. People seek out or even create environments to which they are genetically predisposed. For example, a combative person is more likely than a peace-loving person to find an environment in which arguments are likely to take place, or to create such an environment by starting fights.
Genes do not directly influence personality traits; instead, genes direct the development of the nervous and endocrine systems, the body chemistry that rules our behavior (Karlsson 62). Looking at personality traits, we should therefore expect to find links to differences in body chemistry.
Our brains carry a lot of baggage from the past, a sort of life movie. Though we mainly live in industrial societies, most of our species’ history has been spent in a hunting-gathering environment and that is how our brains have been molded.
Let’s look at an example of aggression. Most people accept that men, on average, are more physically aggressive than women. Boys engage in far more roughhouse play than girls, including the roughest contact sports such as football. Men also commit 90 percent of all violent crimes (Eaves 60).
Is testosterone the cause of aggression? In adulthood, men have up to ten times the amount of circulating testosterone typically found in women. There are many studies linking testosterone to aggression in other species, and even some studies that have found the same relationship in humans (Eaves 75). It is safe to say that testosterone plays some role in aggression, but its exact role is not clear.
Why do we have genes that direct the way our personalities develop? What benefit is there in having genes that direct testosterone, which in turn causes personality traits we interpret as typically masculine? The answers lie in our ancient past, with an evolutionary concept called natural selection (Hamer 83).
Our male and female ancestors needed to adapt to different problems, and some genes related to effective coping behaviors became dominant. For males, higher levels of testosterone meant greater success in competing for dominance, power, or high status in social hierarchies all of which generally meant greater success in attracting females and therefore in passing on one’s genes. This idea that genes resulting in successful adaptive behaviors would be favored as a species develops is called natural selection (87).
Delving into the origins of human nature helps us to obtain an accurate understanding of who we are as a species and how we got that way. This evolutionary awareness is as important as the self-discoveries we make after personality assessment, projective testing, or long-term soul-searching. All of these contribute to a better understanding of ourselves, which helps us to cope with life’s problems, triumphs, and everyday performances.