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The Personality Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire

  wrought iron letters: UNH  
About the Laboratory:site homepeople in the lablist of laboratory publicationsselected reprints
 
Overview of Selected Theoretical Work: personality as a scientific discipline the Systems Framework for personalitypersonal intelligence emotional intelligence ethical commentary on the personality of public figures
 

Psychological Measures and Procedures: scales of mood,• mood-congruent judgment,• empathy, • meta-experience of mood, • personal intelligence emotional intelligenceintellectual experience • and experimental procedures

 
Other Resources: links to documents, video and websites on personalityUNH Department of Psychology (New Window)

Personality Structure

One of the most crtical decisions in studying personality psychology, is how best to divide the system. A complex system such as personality can be validly divided in more than one way. The Systems Framework for Personality Psychology (SFPP) suggests several innovations in regard to understanding personality structure.

First, complex systems can be divided in more than one valid way. Second, not all divisions are equally valid. Third, criteria can be divised (and met) for good divisions (Mayer, 2001).

Personality Can Be Divided in More Than One Valid Way

Consider the analogy to another complex system -- a city. A city structure can be conceived of in a variety of valid ways. Different maps will depict different aspects of the structure. In the case of Manhatten, for example, one valid structural depiction is of the subway system...

As an alternative, one could divide Manhatten by neighborhood...

Similarly, Personality Can Be Divided in Multiple Ways

There are a number of ways that have been employed to divide personality. Well before the advent of modern psychology, Moses Mendelsohn had divided personality into motives, emotion, and cognition (Hilgard, 1981). Freud divided personality into the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious, and later, into the id, ego, and superego (Freud, 1923/1960).  More recently, a number of trait psychologists have suggested that personality can be divided into 5 Big Traits (Goldberg, 1993; Costa & McCrae, 1985).

The Systems Framework for Personality Psychology allows the field to reconcile these different divisions of personality by understanding that the different divsions serve different purposes.  For example, Freud's division of the mind help distinguish between areas of personality that differ in their level-of-processing. Whereas the id represents evolutionarily early-developing processes, the ego represents later-evolved processes. Mendelssohn's division, on the other hand, focusses on basic functionality of personlaity -- the basic tasks that carries out personality.  That is, the motivational system helps direct the organism, emotions help it navigate the social world, and cognition helps it understand and reason abstractly about the world more generally. The Big Five trait divisions, on the other hand, devide personality according to its most commonly perceived styles of social expression (Mayer, 2001).

At the same time as the Systems Framework allows for seeing the relation and purposes of these divisions, it also indicates that the divisions are not all equivalent.  Rather, there are better and worse division of miind. Any fundamental division of mind such as the above must meet specific criteria for what will form a good division of personality.

Here is one set of such criteria (adapted from Mayer, 2001, Table 1, pp. 462-463):

Specific Criterion
Further description
1. Is the set composed of primary parts? Is each part composed of broad, flexible, functional systems?
2. Is there a general fit with personality? Is the scope of the primary parts division generally appropriate to personality?
3. Is the number appropriate? Is the number of parts employed to divide personality economical?
5. Are the parts empirically justifiablel? Is there adequate empirical evidence that the parts truly exist?
4. Are the parts nearly universal? How many of the primary parts are to be found in most or all personalities?
6. Are the parts distinct? Can the various parts proposed be distinguished according to the different tasks they carry out?
7. Are the functions comprehensive? Do the functions represented by the parts adequately and comprehensively represent the functions carried out by personality?
8. Can the parts organize traits? When traits are associated to the various primary parts, do they result in an adequate and comprehensive organization of known personality traits?
9. Are there different phenomenologies associated with each part? Does the function of each primary part feel consciously different than that of the others?
10. Is there a neuropsychological division consistent with the division? Do there exist brain structures parallel to the proposed divisions?
11. Are there correspondences with social institutions? Do there exist social structures parallel to the divisions of mind?

Personality Structures: 1. Partial Structures

One of the most crtical decisions in studying personality psychology, is how best to divide the system. A complex system such as personality can be validly divided in more than one way. The Systems Framework for Personality Psychology (SFPP) suggests several innovations in regard to understanding personality structure.

Somewhere between the consideration of individual personality parts (e.g., n achievement, extroversion, intelligence), covered in the preceding survey page(s), and global personality structure (e.g., broad areas of personality function such as conation, affect, motivation), it makes sense to talk about the structure of groups of personality parts as a transitional topic.  This topic concerns how groups of individual parts -- especially traits, for example -- build into larger structures.

Example 1: Supertraits

An example of a partial personality structure is a supertrait. Super traits are structures made up of distinct but intercorrelated traits.  An example of such a super trait is Extraversion. Extraversion is a so-called super trait because it has a structure to it that includes several additional traits. That is, It is composed of a number of distinct, smaller traits. For example, from some perspectives, extraversion is composed of lively affect (also called surgency), sociability, and impulsiveness.

Example 2: Personality Types (or Personality Forms)

A second example of a partial personality structure is a "personality type."

A second kind of structure that multiple traits can form could be called a "functional trait group" (or maybe , "functional  forms" of traits).  These traits are grouped together because the have a tendency to work out well  when they co-occur together, rather than because they correlate.  For example, the brilliant 20th-century diagnostician Paul Meehl pointed out that certain distinct MMPI patterns occur much more frequently than others.  Those patterns (he would argue, if I understand him correctly) occur together, again, because they function together to create a meaningful mental (or behavioral) pattern.

Many people are more familiar with the typology of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Certain MBTI profiles are likely to occur more often than others, and others are much rarer. For example, the INTJ type (an Introverted-Intuitive-Thinking-Judging type) is a fairly common type among personality psychologists, so I'm told, and would also potentially represent a functional form suited for such work, perhaps. (For example, introversion would promote studiousness).

Personality Structure: 2 Full Personality Structures

First, complex systems can be divided in more than one valid way. Second, not all divisions are equally valid. Third, criteria can be divised (and met) for good divisions (Mayer, 2001).

Consider the analogy to another complex system -- a city. A city structure can be conceived of in a variety of valid ways. Different maps will depict different aspects of the structure. In the case of Manhatten, for example, one valid structural depiction is of the subway system...

There are a number of ways that have been employed to divide personality. Well before the advent of modern psychology, Moses Mendelsohn had divided personality into motives, emotion, and cognition (Hilgard, 1981). Freud divided personality into the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious, and later, into the id, ego, and superego (Freud, 1923/1960).  More recently, a number of trait psychologists have suggested that personality can be divided into 5 Big Traits (Goldberg, 1993; Costa & McCrae, 1985).

The Systems Framework for Personality Psychology allows the field to reconcile these different divisions of personality by understanding that the different divsions serve different purposes.  For example, Freud's division of the mind help distinguish between areas of personality that differ in their level-of-processing. Whereas the id represents evolutionarily early-developing processes, the ego represents later-evolved processes. Mendelssohn's division, on the other hand, focusses on basic functionality of personlaity -- the basic tasks that carries out personality.  That is, the motivational system helps direct the organism, emotions help it navigate the social world, and cognition helps it understand and reason abstractly about the world more generally. The Big Five trait divisions, on the other hand, devide personality according to its most commonly perceived styles of social expression (Mayer, 2001).

At the same time as the Systems Framework allows for seeing the relation and purposes of these divisions, it also indicates that the divisions are not all equivalent.  Rather, there are better and worse division of miind. Any fundamental division of mind such as the above must meet specific criteria for what will form a good division of personality.

Here is one set of such criteria (adapted from Mayer, 2001, Table 1, pp. 462-463):

Personality Dynamics

Personality dynamics concern the way in which one part of personality influences another. Two broad types of dynamics are distinguished in the SFPP. The first concerns dynamics of the self. These are dynamics that influence the conscious self, and/or by which the conscious self influences the rest of personality. For example, Dynamics of Self Control attempt to manage one or another aspects of personality. Sometimes these attempts are conscious and purposeful, and other times they occur outside of awareness. A great deal of research is now occurring in the area of conscious self control. Regarding more automatic self-control, one fascinating window into the area is the procedure of hypnosis. Another is the study of defense mechanisms.

Better Divisions of Personality Using the Systems Framework

Once the above criteria are in place, the possibility is at least raised that a more powerful division of personality is possible than has been suggested before. To see whether this was possible, the Systems Set division of personality was developed. To learn more about it, click on the "Systems Set" menu button to the left.

References

Costa, P. T., Jr., & McCrae, R. R. (1985). Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) and NEO Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI): Professional manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources, Inc.

Hilgard, E. R. (1980). The trilogy of mind: Cognition, affection, and conation. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 16, 107-117.

Freud, S. (1923/1960). The ego and the id. J. Riviere (Trans.), J. Strachey (Ed.). New York, NY: W. W. Norton.

Goldberg, L. R. (1993). The structure of phenotypic personality traits. American Psychologist, 48, 26-34.

Mayer, J. D. (2001). Primary divisions of personality and their scientific contributions: From the trilogy-of-mind to the systems set. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 31 (4), 449-477.

Mayer, J. D. (2003). Structural divisions of personality and the classification of traits. Review of General Psychology, 7, 381-401.

 

 

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