wrought iron letters: UNH  

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 personalitysupplements to articles UNH Department of Psychology (New Window)

The Systems Set

Present Version of the Systems Set

The Systems Set divides personality into four areas. In this colorized version from a 2011 article, the set is shown with four parts:

1. Energy development, which includes motives and emotions

2. Action implementation, which includes procedural knowledge (knowledge of how to do things), social skills and roles

3. Knowledge guidance, which includes mental models and intelligences, and

4. Executive management, which includes awareness and self-control

Our research indicates that the four-part model is very effective at organizing traits of personality, that people view the four parts as distinctly meaningful divisions of personality. In addition the four-part division is attractive in being neither too simple nor too complex (see references below).

Four functional areas of personality, each colored differently


Development of the Systems Set

The Systems Set is a division of personality into its functional areas. [Note: The Systems Set is not technically a part of the Systems Framework, but rather an offshoot of it. Nevertheless it is covered on this web site because it has proven useful in many contexts where a division of personality is called for.]

The development of the Systems Set involved a several-step process. First, about 400 parts of personality were surveyed, collected from personality textbooks and other sources. Next, these were arranged in functional groups and defined (Mayer, 1995). A number of these functional clusters is shown below. Each cluster is itself made up of many subsidiary parts. For example, models of the self include one's own autobiographical story, the self concept or self concepts, self-esteem, and many other parts (see Mayer, 1995).

major psychological systems related to personality

These functional clusters, however, are a fairly comprehensive group, including, as they do, most areas necessary to describe parts of personality.

The problems involved in dividing personality are fairly apparent: There are no distinct boundaries between systems. Rather, they interpenetrate and blend into one another. In addition, multiple groupings are possible. That said, it is possible to identify distinctions from the past that have proven useful and apply them to personality function.

The System Set employs several distinctions: Those between the inner personality and its plans for outward expression, that between consciousness and non-conscious systems, and that between cognition, on the one hand, and motivation and emotion on the other. Applying these time-honored distinctions to a comprehensive collection of functions, one possible solution to the division issue is to identify four more-or-less discrete groups of function (Mayer, 2001).

  1. The energy lattice. This functional group provides direction to the person, drawing on subsystems that both motivate the individual and qualify those motives with emotions that guide the individual's social behavior.
  2. The knowledge works. This functional group involves the individual's models of the self and the world, along with the intelligences that operate to construct those models and to think with them.
  3. The social actor. This functional group involves the individual's characteristic or preferred styles of social expression, including attachment patterns, as well as the person's social skills.
  4. The conscious executive. This functional group involves the capacity to self-reflect and self-govern, as well as the conscious experience of those portions of personality to which the individual has access. (Most personality processes are regarded as non-conscious; that is, unconnected or disconnected from consciousness)

An example of these divisions, applied to the overall functional clusters above, can be seen in the next figure, which appeared in Mayer (2005, Figure 2) of the American Psychologist.

major psychological systems divided into the four areas of the systems set

This division of mind has now been used in a number of studies and shows considerable promise in performing well. When compared to other structural models, it tends to outperform them. For example, in one study, knowledgeable judges were asked to sort traits according to the functions of personality the traits described. Some judges used the functions described by the Trilogy-of-Mind division (motivation -- emotion -- cognition). Other judges employed the Systems Set. Judges using the Systems Set were able to include far more traits, and to assign them with greater inter-judge reliability. The Systems Set has also been used to classify clinical change techniques and psychiatric disorders of DSM-IV-TR, according to the areas of personality influenced.


Mayer, J. D. (1995). A framework for the classification of personality components. Journal of Personality , 63, 819-877.

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.

Mayer, J. D. (2005).  A tale of two visions: Can a new view of personality help integrate psychology?  American Psychologist, 60, 294-307.

Mayer, J. D. & Korogodsky, M. (2011).  A really big picture of personality.  Personality and Social Psychology Compass, 5, 104-117.



©2008-2014 Personality Laboratory