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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)

Where is Personality?

One of the most important functions of the Systems Framework for Personality Psychology (SFPP) is to develop a consensual location for the personality system. In the SFPP, personality is located according to two primary dimensions. The first is a molecular-molar dimension; the second, an internal-external dimension. These dimensions are commonly employed to locate objects of scientific study.



Personality and its neighboring systems

The vertical portion of the diagram depicts a molecular-molar dimension. That is, it spans from relatively small entities, such as neurons to the larger composites they are a part of. For example, the center column that begins with biology, moves to psychology, and culminates with sociology/anthropology. This progression will be relatively familiar to most people. It was first proposed by August Compte, and has been widely employed in organizing the sciences. It is important to note, however, that molecular elements combine into more complex forms in more than one way, and sometimes in more than one way at once (e.g., chemicals can combine to form water, or to form paint).

Here is another more recent, colorized version of the same diagram (from Mayer & Korogodsky, 2011):

Another version of personality and its surrounding systems


Employing a single molecular-molar dimension is a bit of simplification. In fact, there exist, multiple, intertwined threads of molecular-molar dimensions that ascend and descend in a generally parallel pattern. For example, one could follow the dimension from cells to sociology and anthropology as we do here, following the thread that moves from parts of cells to brains, to minds to many minds. It is also possible, however, to follow the thread from parts of cells to the ecosphere, tracing from parts of cells, to bacteria, plants, animals, and the ecosphere. There are also inorganic threads, from atoms to molecules to materials to furniture to buildings, and so forth, if one were to trace from atoms to human artifacts. As with all kinds of human measurement, one is arranging objects according to specific features of the objects, and with the aim of organizing certain phenomena rather than simply taking "all facts at once haphazardly."

It is these multiple, somewhat parallel molecular-molar dimensions that permit us to pair personality in the center with situations to the right. The transition from social settings, to situations, is a molecular-molar hierarchy based on the socially-significant features of objects. By "socially significant features" is meant features that combine to form survival-, reproductive-, or other culturally-relevant meanings, as generally understood by people. These include many human and natural artifacts relevant to social situations, at the molecular end, as well as socio-cultural-environmental groups to which one belongs, at the molar end.

More informally, the objects and people and groups along this socio-environmental continuum can be identified as socially meaningful because they are dramatic, interesting, and noticed by the individual (because they directly relate to his or her well-being). We can draw an analogy to the "virtual reality" created by traditional theatrical productions. The stage is made up of props and location (the setting), the dramatic action (the situation or play, and the people in it), and the theater itself (transactions between viewers and the fictional situations, i.e., the incorporative world). Not coincidentally, a form of social theory is referred to as the dramaturgical school. This, in turn, was inspired in part by the early sociologist, William Shakespeare, who proposed that "all the world's a stage."

In short, the second, external, molecular-molar dimension is tied in with the first, according to the social meaning provided the outside situation and its related levels. We know that "the situation," as described here, is at roughly the same level at which the individual's psychology operates. We know this because, returning to the dramaturgical metaphor, the situation (e.g., the dramatic scene) is the level at which a personality interacts with other people and things. The stage set (the setting) is at a more molecular level; the theater troupe and audience, on the other hand, operates more generally at the level of the group. It is the drama itself (e.g., the situation) that is a uniquely psychological phenomenon.


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.


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