Theories of Personality

Theories of Personality

What are some ways that human cultures differ? How do gender, race, and modernity figure in human culture?

In relation to the nature-nurture debate, behaviorism focuses on the nature or environment as a main cause of behaviors. From the environment, people learn two types of behaviors: classical and instrumental or operant conditioning. In the first one, creatures associate stimuli that are close in time. In the second one, consequences, which are either rewards or punishments, shape the learning and behaviors. Personally, I am aware that my unconscious makes association at all times and I may be unaware of them for a while. I make sure that my associations or beliefs are supporting me and my desired lifestyle. I prefer rewards to punishments. Personally, at this stage of my life, I would never intentionally do anything deserving a punishment. I have successfully trained my cat and dog with rewards. They are so loving and obedient, a casting company here in Los Angeles had asked me to use them for movies, but I kept them at home.

The social learning theory says that cognitive variables, such as values, competencies, strategies, systems and plans, determine people’s responses. Bandura proved that learning expands with imitations and observations. These lead to behavioral responses, which, on their turn, lead to beliefs and self- efficacy or control over dangerous environments. Thanks to Bandura’s findings, I have always used mentors in my life to become more successful. Basically, I have been modeling my mentors.

Human functioning is empowered by social learning. An example of this phenomenon is aggression, which is proven to be caused by observation of it. Living in Los Angeles, I can see how gang members become gangsters. They grow in gang-link environment and they are exposed to gang behaviors all the time. Despite their environment, thanks to education and mass-media, they are capable to break through that circle. I think it is also possible that aggressive genes play a role, such as in the example of some pit-bull dogs. The environment presents different contexts that shape people’s behaviors. Examples of contexts or social ecology are microcontexts, or immediate social situations, and macrocontexts, or family and community, or social culture and history. Microcontexts are subjective perceptions of behaviors or situational prototypes or scripts.

Studies have shown that upper social classes correlate with higher self-direction and internal control. Lower social classes tend to be obedient and conforming with authorities. This is obvious to me and common sense, such as in the gang example above. Gender, like race, is another influential macrocontexts. In most societies, men have higher control of public resources than women and can make more decisions and are freer than women. These facts fit the gender stereotypes.

According to research, men are more aggressive, more directive and more helpful in public acts than women. Women are more empathetic and interpersonally intimate, are better interpreters nonverbal behaviors, are friendlier and more caring than men. As much as I believe in human equality, I have experienced gender discrimination, language (accent) discrimination, race and nationality discrimination. Theoretically men and women have same rights, but we know that in practice they do not. Most employers would pay a man more for the same position and would hire a man if the man and the woman have the same qualifications but the woman looks pregnant.

The most inclusive behavioral macrocontext is culture. Culture is a system of rules that binds humans together in a specific group, that provide believes to build life upon. Culture provides life meaning. I often refer to an Italian or European culture or an American culture and different types of organizational (corporate) cultures to relate to people in my private and professional practice.

Cultures are organized by individualism or collectivism. Individualistic cultures focus on independence and autonomy. Collective cultures focus on community. Recent or modern cultures are more individualistic. Collectivism and individualism resonate with me. I am thirty-three years old and I moved to this country from Italy at age twenty, to purse my higher education. I am not a dual citizen of these two fascinating countries. They are different.

My experience tells me that Italy is much more collective or family and community focused than the United States is. There is no right or wrong, I believe. It is a matter of different priorities, values and benefits. The US overall focuses on making and spending money, before family; as a consequence, the US makes more money than Italy, but also enjoys family and community life less because that is second in the priority list.

Generational and historical differences influence personality, including values and beliefs. Events happening in a person’s late teens are likely to impact the person’s life direction. For me, healing from eating disorders, solving conflicts with family, and moving to another continent, were the confirmation that Psychology is the field and arena I am most passionate about, and, after overcoming these challenges, I am now able to make a difference by bringing my experience and understanding.

Events happening in mid-life could change the person’s life direction. Now I am thirty-three years old and I survived a divorce, without having children, thankfully. I did a lot of work on myself, in terms of letting go, healing, personal and financial development. I am now finally ready to attract better matches as my life partners, and I have. After my divorce in 2006, I have been valuing my career and independence and avoided any romantic relation. This year, I opened my heart and mind to sharing my life with someone.

I am not sure who that person is, yet, but I have great men friends in my life. Historical events are subjectively interpreted by a person. For instance, on September eleventh, I was living in New York and my roommate, who worked in the Twin towers, never came home. That event made me realize how fragile life can be and made me be highly grateful for each day of my life. I do my best to live at the fullest each day.

Personality traits distinguish different people in general, global and stable dispositions of thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Trait theorist Allport defined traits as a neuropsychic structure that causes predictable behaviors and as, both common and unique. Trait theorist Cattell researched sixteen basic source traits that are the lion’s share of variance in personality. Trait theorist Eysenck identified three basic traits: extra-version-introversion, neuroticism and psychotism that shape individual differences in neurophysiology.

All recent trait theorists agree on the Big Five general trait domains: extra-version, neuroticism, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness. Scientific, reliable and validated scales and inventories measure these personality traits, such as the MMPI, CPI, PRF, and the NEO-PI-R. I wonder where the MBTI falls. Mischel claimed that behavior is situationally specific, which launched personality research with aggregation or pool methods.

Mechanistic interactionism focuses on the interaction, between trait and situation, which affects the behavior. Reciprocal interactionism explains how the person, the situation and the behavior always influence one another. The last approach shows how a person changes behavior depending on the situation. Interactionism taught me to always consider all three variables before drawing a conclusion or make any type of assessment or diagnosis: trait, situation and behavior.

At the current moment, I am the behavioral interventionist implementer for a severely autistic six year old client. Cognitive he’s very low. To find the right placement for this kid, it is important to evaluate his traits, situations and behaviors. In coaching individual in life, business and office organization, I implement system that fit all three of these dimensions: once again, their traits, situations and behaviors. In my former profession as a teacher, I practiced the same rule. On my current radio show, when a caller calls in with a question, before answering, I quickly assess the above three dimensions, as well.

I relate to most personality psychology principles. I resonate with the learning because I believe in the power of communication to make changes in the world. Without a true understanding of personality psychology, there won’t be effective communication.

Thank you.

Elena Pezzini, M.S., C.P.C.

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