Personality Psychology is a branch of Psychology
often lumped together with Social Psychology
. It is concerned with the what, why, and how of human individuals. I will outline briefly the seven major schools of thought
that have had the most influence on this field in the last century
or so. In each case, following Oliver John
's book "Personality," I will discuss how structure
, and personality change
are addressed in the theory.
- Freud's Psychodynamic Theory. Though much of his work is largely discredited at this point as far as mainstream psychology goes, Freud set the stage in many ways for the various theories that followed his (most if not all of the following schools of thought can be understood as reactions against Freud's), and there are still plenty of strict psychoanalytic therapists out there.
- Structure: Freud works with the id, the superego, and the ego, which can be understood respectively in a rudimentary fashion as the instinctual drives toward pleasure and away from pain, the network of experienced constraints on fulfillment of the id's desires (e.g. conscience), and the complicated functions that mediate among the two other components and objective reality.
- Process: The two main motivations for Freud are aggression and sex.
- Growth and Development: Freud sees all human children as passing through distinct phases of development, each of which is concerned with different issues. The oral stage is about satisfaction of desires, the anal stage is about control (both the pleasures of control and the pleasures of the release of control), and the phallic stage is about gender identity. After the phallic stage comes almost a decade of latency, followed by adult life.
- Psychopathology: For Freud, most psychopathology is associated with infantile fixations on one of the stages of development. Prototypically, this is expressed as either an excess of characteristics of the stage or their total absence. That is, an orally fixated individual may be overly hedonistic, or may deny any desires whatsoever.
Fixations or conflicts between the id and the superego may lead to defense mechanisms, including sublimation (the channeling of taboo energies into a more socially acceptable form such as football or love poems), repression (the unwillingness to let impulses into conscious thought), and reaction formation (the expression of behavior opposite to impulse)
- Change: For Freud, therapeutic change occurs through a process of insight, where previously unconscious truths become accessible to the individual. Also important is the ceding of control by the id to the ego of the individual's actions.
- Phenomenological Psychology is so called because of its view of both self and experience as subjective. This school of thought, most commonly associated with Carl Rogers, deals with the phenomenal field, by which is meant all that is perceived, both consciously and unconsciously, by the individual. The view of the person is an optimistic, positive one.
- Structure: The unit is the self, which is just that part of the phenomenal field construed by the individual as "myself," "me," or "I." A closely related structure is the ideal self, or the self the individual would like most to possess.
- Process: This theory brought the phrase self-actualization the popularity it holds or held in the realm of pop-psychology self-help books and the like, and self-actualization is the main process in phenomenological psychology. This signifies a force innate to every person that, unblocked, moves her toward the fulfillment of her potentialities. Another important process that the self engages in is the maintenance of self-consistency and congruence between perceptions of and attitudes about the self and those of objective reality.
- Growth and Development: The theory does not have much to say about this, but it is indirectly addressed by the process elements. Children develop through innate self-actualizing forces and avoidance of incongruence and inconsistency
- Psychopathology: Rogers thinks of people as generally good as they are, so there is not very much detail in this branch of psychology on deviance, but this is also related to incongruence, particularly to the defensive maintenance of the self at the expense of accurate understanding of events in the world.
- Change: Three things are important for meaningful change: a therapeutic atmosphere, the unconditional positive regard of the therapist, and an empathic understanding. Critics have accused Rogerian therapists of "being nice for an hour" instead of helping their patients with their problems.
- Trait Theory
- While B.F. Skinner is the most salient behaviorist for this generation of Americans, Behaviorism and Learning Theory includes as well such notables as John B. Watson and Ivan Pavlov. Behavioral approaches eschew a focus on internal processes, which cannot be observed directly, and prefer instead to study overt behavior. This means that they do a lot of research with animals, and in fact it was behavioral psychology that "invented" the lab rat.
- Structure: The structural unit of behavior is either the response, which is any internally-motivated action, or the operant, which is behavior performed for no observable reason.
- Process: This school of though focuses on learning, which it calls conditioning. There are two main categories. Classical conditioning, associated with Pavlov, involves the association of a neutral stimulus with a positive or negative stimulus through their repeated temporal association. Operant conditioning refers to the reinforcement of operant behavior with rewards.
- Growth and Development: According to learning theorists, Imitation of the behavior of our parents or peers is rewarded, and because of this we learn the imitative behavior. As there are different schedules of reinforcement, or manners in which behavior is rewarded, the manner in which behavior is performed is also different. We learn more complex tasks through a process called successive approximation, wherein a chain of behaviors leading from simple responses to the desired behavior are rewarded in turn. As the behavior grows more complex, the rewards for the simpler versions are withdrawn. This is how seals are taught to balance balls on their noses
- Psychopathology: This is conceptualized as maladaptive learned responses. In essence, when societally unacceptable behaviors are reinforced at a young age, the patterns can persist to adulthood. Alternatively, behavioral deficit occurs when normal behavior is not properly reinforced early on.
- Change: Change is possible in a number of ways. Extinction, or the weakening of classical conditioning, occurs when the neutral stimulus occurs repeatedly without the positive or negative stimulus. Discrimination, or the differentiation between similar stimuli, can also occur, if only some classes of stimuli are rewarded. Systematic desensitization, where over a period of time a feared stimulus is applied in more and more anxiety-provoking ways in order to extinguish the fear, is a common method for the treatment of phobia. Behavioral modification involves assessment of the exact behavioral change desired, then of the situational factors that can cue or alter this behavioral pattern.
- Personal Construct Theory
- Social Cognitive Psychology
- Cognitive Information-Processing Psychology
I am in the process of breaking this node up into subnodes for each individual theory.