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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 personalitysupplements to articles UNH Department of Psychology (New Window)


The Systems Framework for Personality Psychology

  • What is a fieldwide framework?
  • Are fieldwide frameworks important?
  • Slideshow: Fieldwide frameworks of personality
  • The Systems Framework for personality
  • Narrated Slideshow: Approaching personality as a system
  • Key extensions of the Systems Framework
    • Personality's definition
    • Location
    • Types of data
    • Personality structure
    • the Systems Set (a new division of personality)
  • The Systems Framework versus systems theory
  • Alternative fieldwide visions

What is a Fieldwide Framework?

In the 1990's and early 2000's one of the key obstacles to moving forward in the discipline of personality psychology was the fragmentation of the field.  Different researchers employed widely different theoretical outlooks, research specializations, and incompatible language to communicate their findings -- or at least, so it might have seemed from reading the field's textbooks.

The need for a more integrated fieldwide framework -- a framework that represented the field's common language and common pursuits -- was a high priority.  A fieldwide framework, in this sense, is an outline employed by an academic field to present the work it conducts and the findings it has made (Mayer, 1994; 1998).

This web site began as a tool to educate those in the field about the Systems Framework -- one such integrated approach to the discipline.  This section examines fieldwide frameworks in general, and the Systems Framework, in specific, in further detail.

In the discipline of personality psychology, for example, if you were to judge from most the field's textbooks, the dominant framework still today is a "theoretical perspectives" framework. This framework organizes the discipline according to the major theoretical perspectives employed in the field.

For example:

  1. The psychodynamic perspective
  2. The biological perspective
  3. The social cognitive perspective
  4. The trait perspective
  5. The humanist perspective

-- and the findings from each area. The exact list may change a bit from occasion to occasion, but that represents the general idea. If you examine the table of contents of many textbooks in the field of personality psychology, for example, you will see something like this organization. The same applies -- although less consistently -- to certain research reviews in the field.*

Are Fieldwide Frameworks Important?

Fieldwide frameworks are critical to the progress of a field for several reasons:

1. The fieldwide framework generally is followed by textbooks in the area. As such, they present the field and its positive qualities to students. When the framework succeeds, the best possible students are attracted to the discipline. When it fails, then fewer and less good students may be attracted to the discipline.

2. The fieldwide framework helps organize rationales for why the discipline is important, how it can productively interact with neighboring scientific disciplines, and how it can contribute to public welfare. When the framework is successful, this information is communicated clearly and persuasively. When the framework fails, the discipline appears weaker and less substantial.

3. The fieldwide framework helps organize theory and research within the field, along with other research pertinent to the field. When the framework is successful, the most up-to-date research knowledge is organized and its significance is apparent. When the framework is weaker, then research and theory may not connect as well.

As personality psychology grows and changes, new frameworks may be more appropriate for organizing its contents. This web page discusses some of those new frameworks, with a particular focus on the Systems Framework.


A (PDF) Powerpoint lecture on the fieldwide frameworks in personality psychology

Click here

The Systems Framework for Personality Psychology

The Systems Framework for Personality Psychology is a new fieldwide framework for personality psychology. It helps keep all the information about personality organized on this site. This framework is designed to present the personality system in a powerful new way that more clearly communicates the goals, pursuits, findings, and significance of the discipline of personality psychology.

Narrated slide show: Approaching personality as a system

The Systems Framework: A New Vision (c.1994; 1998; 2005)

The Systems Framework for Personality Psychology is a framework designed to present the personality system in a powerful new way that more clearly communicates the goals, pursuits, findings, and significance of the discipline of personality psychology (Mayer, 1998).

The Systems Framework divides the discipline into four areas of study:

  1. Identifying the personality system
  2. Understanding the parts of personality
  3. How personality is organized, and
  4. How personality develops

Some of the advantages of the framework relative to a theoretical perspective are these:

  1. The focus shifts from theories of personality to the personality system itself
  2. Research and findings concerning the system can be highlighted
  3. The still-current and still-useful areas of traditional personality theories are emphasized; out-of-date portions can be dropped
  4. One integrated view of the personality system is presented rather than many fragmented views

Key Extensions of the Systems Framework

The Systems Framework began as a four part outline of the discipline of personality psychology (location, parts, organization, development). Since then, however, the framework has been extended so as to provide some direction within each of the four parts of the outline. Below are some brief descriptions of the extensions, with links to expanded treatments of them on this site.

How Is Personality Defined?

Personality psychologists agree as to the definition of personality psychology, but few people outside the discipline are aware of this field-wide definition. That is why I argued that personality psychologists need to assert their definition of personality -- see a brief editorial here (opens in new window ~ you may need to scroll down a bit).

Where Is Personality Located?

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 amidst its surrounding systems: the body, the setting, situations, and groups that include personality (Mayer, 2005; Mayer & Korogodsky, 2011).

The picture of personality and its neighbors below is arranged according to a vertical dimension that represents smaller systems of study at the bottom and higher systems of study toward the top. Systems to the left are inside the person; those to the right are outside the person. To see more about the rationale for the diagram click here.

Personality and Its Surrounding Systems

Types of Data in Personality Psychology

Once you know where personality is located and how it is defined, a comprehensive taxonomy of data can be developed. This treatment is a bit technical. Click here for more.

The Concept of Personality's Parts

There are four basic types of personality parts that are commonly described by personality psychologists: Mental mechanisms, mental models, traits, and superdivisions. These four kinds of parts are defined here.

The Concept of Personality Organization, Elaborated a bit

The 3rd topic of the Systems Framework is personality organization. That organization is often broken down into personality structure and personality dynamics. The concept of personality structure is developed in this brief discussion.

The Systems Set: New Opportunities in Dividing Personality

The Systems Set is a division of personality into its functional areas. Below is one depiction of the division, which represents personality as composed of four areas (Mayer & Korogodsky, 2011). For a more extensive description of these areas and how they operate together click here.

The Four Functional Areas of the Systems Set

How the Systems Framework Differs from Systems Theory

There is the Systems Framework for Personality Psychology, and there is systems thinking, and then, there is General Systems Theory (sometimes shortened to Systems Theory). They sound a lot alike, and so it is natural to associate them in one's mind.

Systems Thinking

Most scientists -- most people today -- use systems thinking. That is, they think in terms of systems. They recognize that many things, be they schools, river otters, televisions, or personalities, are systems. By system, in this sense, is meant a group of parts that work together in an organization. A given system (e.g., river otters) is embedded in a broader system (e.g., an ecosystem).

The Systems Framework represents this elementary sort of systems approach to a thing -- in this case, the personality system.

General Systems Theory

There is also, however, General Systems Theory, which is also sometimes called Systems Theory. Both terms can be used loosely. General Systems Theory takes as its operating assumption that systems at most levels of complexity share certain characteristics. For example, they may use feedback loops to regulate themselves. Or they may share certain other structures in common. The idea is that some general principles of systems can be applied to all (or almost all) systems.

The Systems Framework for Personality Psychology and How it Differs from General Systems Theory

The Systems Framework for Personality Psychology is not a part of General Systems Theory, except perhaps in the most limited sense that it purveys the idea that many systems can be studied by identifying the system, and then understanding its parts, organization, and development.

Using the Systems Framework to study personality does not commit one to the idea that personality should be studied as a system that shares certain general principles with other systems. That is an idea of General Systems Theory. Although General Systems Theory has offerred the scientific world a number of very interesting and important ideas, it is also true that personality has a number of quite unique features (as do most systems), and that scientists within the discipline need to spend their time, to a great extent, in understanding those unique features of personality.

That is a key place that the Systems Framework and General Systems Theory part company. That is, the Systems Framework considers personality to be a largely unique system. To study it, one must develop a language tailored and suited to the topic (Mayer, 1993-1994). Again, this is not to deny that General Systems Theory may offer important ideas to the field based on generalizations across systems.

The Systems Framework does provide coverage of General Systems Theory. In its "Introductory" topic it covers a variety of theories including the psychodynamic, humanistic, cognitive-behavioral, and many others -- including General Systems Theory. As with any of those theories, the Systems Framework draws on aspects of General Systems Theory when it can illuminate a key idea particularly well (as in, for example, the case of self-regulation and feedback loops). In other words, General Systems Theory is a legitimate member of the theories that help inform personality psychology, but it has no special status within the Systems Framework.

Alternative Fieldwide Visions

There are other well-thought out models aside from the Systems Framework. Below is a sampling of a few additional models. As you read the technical reports on these, you will notice that there are many others as well.

Henriques' Tree of Knowledge System

Gregg Henriques' Tree of Knowledge System is an ambitious attempt to provide a systems-wide framework for the study of the discipline of psychology generally. Although Henriques' system deals with psychology-in-general, it is both relevant to personality psychology, and partly compatible with the Systems Framework. Both systems, for example, employ a molecular-molar dimension in viewing personality -- or psychology.

Henriques' systems adds in evolutionary and cultural mechanisms for how human psychology develops and evolves. These include the concept of the Justification Hypothesis and the Behavioral Investment Theory.

To see Henriques' web site devoted to the ToK System, and some of his key papers, click here.

Society for Exploration of Psychotherapy Integration (SEPI)

Like personality psychology, the discipline of clinical psychotherapy has traditionally taught its methods in a theory-by-theory approach. Many psychotherapists are dissatisified with this approach, however.

The Society for the Exploration of Psychotherapy Integration (SEPI) is "an interdisciplinary organization of professionals interested in approaches to psychotherapy that are not limited by a single orientation."

This society is devoted to developing new therapeutic approaches and techniques that integrate across therapies.

The organization does not (to my knowledge) recommend a single framework for psychotherapy. For that reason, here I am providing a link to their web site, click here. On the web site are a number of articles related to this important area of integration.

Magnavita's Integration of Personality and Clinical Psychology

Jeffrey Magnavita has published a book integrating personality characteristics with various forms of psychotherapy. It was recently reviewed by Brian H. Staner in PsycCritiques. The book is:

Magnavita, Jeffrey, J. (2005). Personality-guided relational psychotherapy: A unified approach. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

A current version of Magnavita's integrative diagram of personality can be seen by clicking here.

Joseph Lluis-Font's Systems Net Theory

A powerpoint of Joseph Lluis-Font's "Systems Net Theory" -- which provides a means for organizing parts of personality, is here.


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

Mayer, J. D. (1993-1994). A System-Topics Framework for the study of personality. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 13, 99-123.

Mayer, J. D. (1998). A systems framework for the field of personality psychology. Psychological Inquiry, 9, 118-144.

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. (2004). How does psychotherapy influence personality? A theoretical integration. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 60, 1291-1315.

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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