Page: Textbook - Chapter 12
Chapter 12. Personality
Identical Twins Reunited after 35 Years
Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein were identical twins who were adopted into separate families immediately
after their births in 1968. It was only at the age of 35 that the twins were reunited and discovered how similar
they were to each other.
Paula Bernstein grew up in a happy home in suburban New York. She loved her adopted parents and older
brother and even wrote an article titled “Why I Don’t Want to Find My Birth Mother.” Elyse’s childhood,
also a happy one, was followed by university and then film school abroad.
In 2003, 35 years after she was adopted, Elyse, acting on a whim, inquired about her biological family at the
adoption agency. The response came back: “You were born on October 9, 1968, at 12:51 p.m., the younger
of twin girls. You’ve got a twin sister Paula, and she’s looking for you.”
“Oh my God, I’m a twin! Can you believe this? Is this really happening?” Elyse cried.
Elyse dialed Paula’s phone number: “It’s almost like I’m hearing my own voice in a recorder back at me,”
“It’s funny because I feel like in a way I was talking to an old, close friend I never knew I had…we had an
immediate intimacy, and yet, we didn’t know each other at all,” Paula said.
The two women met for the first time at a caf. for lunch and talked until the late evening.
“We had 35 years to catch up on,” said Paula. “How do you start asking somebody, ‘What have you been up
to since we shared a womb together?’ Where do you start?”
With each new detail revealed, the twins learned about their remarkable similarities. They’d both gone to
graduate school in film. They both loved to write, and they had both edited their high school yearbooks.
They have similar taste in music.
“I think, you know, when we met it was undeniable that we were twins. Looking at this person, you are able
to gaze into your own eyes and see yourself from the outside. This identical individual has the exact same
DNA and is essentially your clone. We don’t have to imagine,” Paula said.
Now they finally feel like sisters.
“But it’s perhaps even closer than sisters,” Elyse said, “because we’re also twins.”
The twins, who both now live in Brooklyn, combined their writing skills to write a book called Identical
Strangers about their childhoods and their experience of discovering an identical twin in their mid-30s
(Spilius, 2007; Kuntzman, 2007).
You can learn more about the experiences of Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein by viewing this video:
Watch: “Elyse and Paula” [YouTube]
One of the most fundamental tendencies of human beings is to size up other people. We say that Bill is fun, that
Marian is adventurous, or that Frank is dishonest. When we make these statements, we mean that we believe that
these people have stable individual characteristics — their personalities. Personality is defined as an individual’s
consistent patterns of feeling, thinking, and behaving (John, Robins, & Pervin, 2008).
The tendency to perceive personality is a fundamental part of human nature, and a most adaptive one. If we can
draw accurate generalizations about what other people are normally like, we can predict how they will behave in
the future, and this can help us determine how they are likely to respond in different situations. Understanding
personality can also help us better understand psychological disorders and the negative behavioural outcomes they
may produce. In short, personality matters because it guides behaviour.
In this chapter we will consider the wide variety of personality traits found in human beings. We’ll consider how
and when personality influences our behaviour, and how well we perceive the personalities of others. We will also
consider how psychologists measure personality, and the extent to which personality is caused by nature versus
nurture. The fundamental goal of personality psychologists is to understand what makes people different from each
other (the study of individual differences), but they also find that people who share genes (as do Paula Bernstein
and Elyse Schein) have a remarkable similarity in personality.
John, O. P., Robins, R. W., & Pervin, L. A. (2008). Handbook of personality psychology: Theory and research (3rd
ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Kuntzman, G. (2007, October 6). Separated twins Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein. The Brooklyn Paper. Retrieved
Spilius, A. (2007, October 27). Identical twins reunited after 35 years. Telegraph. Retrieved
12. PERSONALITY • 484
12.1 Personality and Behaviour: Approaches and Measurement
1. Outline and critique the early approaches to assessing personality.
2. Define and review the strengths and limitations of the trait approach to personality.
3. Summarize the measures that have been used to assess psychological disorders.
Early theories assumed that personality was expressed in people’s physical appearance. One early approach,
developed by the German physician Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828) and known as phrenology, was based on
the idea that we could measure personality by assessing the patterns of bumps on people’s skulls (Figure 12.1,
“Phrenology”). In the Victorian age, phrenology was taken seriously and many people promoted its use as a
source of psychological insight and self-knowledge. Machines were even developed for helping people analyze
skulls (Simpson, 2005). However, because careful scientific research did not validate the predictions of the theory,
phrenology has now been discredited in contemporary psychology.
Another approach, known as somatology, championed by the psychologist William Herbert Sheldon (1898-1977),
was based on the idea that we could determine personality from people’s body types (Figure 12.2, “Sheldon’s
Body Types”). Sheldon (1940) argued that people with more body fat and a rounder physique (endomorphs) were
more likely to be assertive and bold, whereas thinner people (ectomorphs) were more likely to be introverted and
intellectual. As with phrenology, scientific research did not validate the predictions of the theory, and somatology
has now been discredited in contemporary psychology.
Another approach to detecting personality is known as physiognomy, or the idea that it is possible to assess
personality from facial characteristics. In contrast to phrenology and somatology, for which no research support has
been found, contemporary research has found that people are able to detect some aspects of a person’s character —
for instance, whether they are gay or straight and whether they are liberal or conservative —at above-chance levels
by looking only at his or her face (Rule & Ambady, 2010; Rule, Ambady, Adams, & Macrae, 2008; Rule, Ambady,
& Hallett, 2009).
Despite these results, the ability to detect personality from faces is not guaranteed. Olivola and Todorov
(2010) recently studied the ability of thousands of people to guess the personality characteristics of hundreds
of thousands of faces on the website What’s My Image? (http://www.whatsmyimage.com). In contrast to the
predictions of physiognomy, the researchers found that these people would have made more accurate judgments
about the strangers if they had just guessed, using their expectations about what people in general are like, rather
than trying to use the particular facial features of individuals to help them. It seems then that the predictions of
physiognomy may also, in the end, find little empirical support.
Figure 12.1 Phrenology. This definition of phrenology with a chart of
the skull appeared in Webster’s Academic Dictionary, circa 1895. [Long
Personality as Traits
Personalities are characterized in terms of traits, which are relatively enduring characteristics that influence our
behaviour across many situations. Personality traits such as introversion, friendliness, conscientiousness, honesty,
and helpfulness are important because they help explain consistencies in behaviour.
The most popular way of measuring traits is by administering personality tests on which people self-report about
their own characteristics. Psychologists have investigated hundreds of traits using the self-report approach, and
this research has found many personality traits that have important implications for behaviour. You can see some
examples of the personality dimensions that have been studied by psychologists and their implications for behaviour
in Table 12.1, “Some Personality Traits That Predict Behaviour,”.
12.1 PERSONALITY AND BEHAVIOUR: APPROACHES AND MEASUREMENT • 486
Figure 12.2 Sheldon’s Body Types. William Sheldon erroneously believed that people with
different body types had different personalities.
487 • INTRODUCTION TO PSYCHOLOGY - 1ST CANADIAN EDITION
Table 12.1 Some Personality Traits That Predict Behaviour. 1
Examples of behaviours exhibited by people
who have the trait
A cluster of traits including conventionalism,
superstition, toughness, and exaggerated concerns
Authoritarians are more likely to be
prejudiced, to conform to leaders, and to
display rigid behaviours.
Individualism is the tendency to focus on oneself and
one’s personal goals; collectivism is the tendency to
focus on one’s relations with others.
Individualists prefer to engage in behaviours
that make them stand out from others, whereas
collectivists prefer to engage in behaviours that
emphasize their similarity to others.
external locus of
In comparison to those with an external locus of
control, people with an internal locus of control are
more likely to believe that life events are due largely
to their own efforts and personal characteristics.
People with higher internal locus of control are
happier, less depressed, and healthier in
comparison to those with an external locus of
The desire to make significant accomplishments by
mastering skills or meeting high standards
Those high in need for achievement select
tasks that are not too difficult to be sure they
will succeed in them.
Need for cognition
The extent to which people engage in and enjoy
effortful cognitive activities
People high in the need for cognition pay more
attention to arguments in ads.
(Shah, Higgins, &
Refers to differences in the motivations that energize
behaviour, varying from a promotion orientation
(seeking out new opportunities) to a prevention
orientation (avoiding negative outcomes)
People with a promotion orientation are more
motivated by goals of gaining money, whereas
those with prevention orientation are more
concerned about losing money.
Sheier, & Buss,
The tendency to introspect and examine one’s inner
self and feelings
People high in self-consciousness spend more
time preparing their hair and makeup before
they leave the house.
High self-esteem means having a positive attitude
toward oneself and one’s capabilities.
High self-esteem is associated with a variety of
positive psychological and health outcomes.
The motivation to engage in extreme and risky
Sensation seekers are more likely to engage in
risky behaviours such as extreme and risky
sports, substance abuse, unsafe sex, and crime.
Example of a Trait Measure
You can try completing a self-report measure of personality (a short form of the Five-Factor Personality
Test) here. There are 120 questions and it should take you about 15 to 20 minutes to complete. You will
receive feedback about your personality after you have finished the test.
Take the personality tests: http://www.personalitytest.net/ipip/ipipneo300.html
12.1 PERSONALITY AND BEHAVIOUR: APPROACHES AND MEASUREMENT • 488
As with intelligence tests, the utility of self-report measures of personality depends on their reliability and construct
validity. Some popular measures of personality are not useful because they are unreliable or invalid. Perhaps you
have heard of a personality test known as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). If so, you are not alone, because
the MBTI is the most widely administered personality test in the world, given millions of times a year to employees
in thousands of companies. The MBTI categorizes people into one of four categories on each of four dimensions:
introversion versus extraversion, sensing versus intuiting, thinking versus feeling, and judging versus perceiving.
Although completing the MBTI can be useful for helping people think about individual differences in personality,
and for breaking the ice at meetings, the measure itself is not psychologically useful because it is not reliable
or valid. People’s classifications change over time, and scores on the MBTI do not relate to other measures of
personality or to behaviour (Hunsley, Lee, & Wood, 2003). Measures such as the MBTI remind us that it is
important to scientifically and empirically test the effectiveness of personality tests by assessing their stability over
time and their ability to predict behaviour.
One of the challenges of the trait approach to personality is that there are so many of them; there are at least 18,000
English words that can be used to describe people (Allport & Odbert, 1936). Thus a major goal of psychologists is
to take this vast number of descriptors (many of which are very similar to each other) and determine the underlying
important or core traits among them (John, Angleitner, & Ostendorf, 1988).
The trait approach to personality was pioneered by early psychologists, including Gordon Allport (1897-1967),
Raymond Cattell (1905-1998), and Hans Eysenck (1916-1997). Each of these psychologists believed in the idea of
the trait as the stable unit of personality, and each attempted to provide a list or taxonomy of the most important trait
dimensions. Their approach was to provide people with a self-report measure and then to use statistical analyses to
look for the underlying factors or clusters of traits, according to the frequency and the co-occurrence of traits in the
Allport (1937) began his work by reducing the 18,000 traits to a set of about 4,500 traitlike words that he organized
into three levels according to their importance. He called them cardinal traits (the most important traits), central
traits (the basic and most useful traits), and secondary traits (the less obvious and less consistent ones). Cattell
(1990) used a statistical procedure known as factor analysis to analyze the correlations among traits and identify
the most important ones. On the basis of his research he identified what he referred to as source (more important)
and surface (less important) traits, and he developed a measure that assessed 16 dimensions of traits based on
personality adjectives taken from everyday language.
Hans Eysenck was particularly interested in the biological and genetic origins of personality and made an important
contribution to understanding the nature of a fundamental personality trait: extraversion versus introversion
(Eysenck, 1998). Eysenck proposed that people who are extraverted (i.e., who enjoy socializing with others) have
lower levels of naturally occurring arousal than do introverts (who are less likely to enjoy being with others).
Eysenck argued that extraverts have a greater desire to socialize with others to increase their arousal level, which is
naturally too low, whereas introverts, who have naturally high arousal, do not desire to engage in social activities
because they are overly stimulating.
The fundamental work on trait dimensions conducted by Allport, Cattell, Eysenck, and many others has led to
contemporary trait models, the most important and well validated of which is the Five-Factor (Big Five) Model
of Personality. According to this model, there are five fundamental underlying trait dimensions that are stable
across time, cross-culturally shared, and explain a substantial proportion of behaviour (Costa & McCrae, 1992;
Goldberg, 1982). As you can see in Table 12.2, “The Five Factors of the Five-Factor Model of Personality,” the
five dimensions (sometimes known as the Big Five) are openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion,
agreeableness, and neuroticism. (You can remember them using the watery acronyms OCEAN or CANOE.)
489 • INTRODUCTION TO PSYCHOLOGY - 1ST CANADIAN EDITION
Table 12.2 The Five Factors of the Five-Factor Model of Personality.
Dimension Sample items Description
Examples of behaviours predicted by the
“I have a vivid
have a rich
A general appreciation for art,
emotion, adventure, unusual
ideas, imagination, curiosity, and
variety of experience
Individuals who are highly open to experience
tend to have distinctive and unconventional
decorations in their home. They are also likely
to have books on a wide variety of topics, a
diverse music collection, and works of art on
“I am always
prepared”; “I am
exacting in my
work”; “I follow a
A tendency to show selfdiscipline,
act dutifully, and aim
Individuals who are conscientious have a
preference for planned rather than
“I am the life of the
party”; “I feel
people”; “I talk to a
lot of different
people at parties.”
The tendency to experience
positive emotions and to seek out
stimulation and the company of
Extraverts enjoy being with people. In groups
they like to talk, assert themselves, and draw
attention to themselves.
“I am interested in
people”; “I feel
“I make people feel
A tendency to be compassionate
and cooperative rather than
suspicious and antagonistic
toward others; reflects individual
differences in general concern
for social harmony
Agreeable individuals value getting along with
others. They are generally considerate,
friendly, generous, helpful, and willing to
compromise their interests with those of
“I am not usually
relaxed”; “I get
upset easily”; “I am
The tendency to experience
negative emotions, such as
anger, anxiety, or depression;
sometimes called “emotional
Those who score high in neuroticism are more
likely to interpret ordinary situations as
threatening and minor frustrations as
hopelessly difficult. They may have trouble
thinking clearly, making decisions, and coping
effectively with stress.
A large body of research evidence has supported the five-factor model. The Big Five dimensions seem to be crosscultural,
because the same five factors have been identified in participants in China, Japan, Italy, Hungary, Turkey,
and many other countries (Triandis & Suh, 2002). The Big Five dimensions also accurately predict behaviour.
For instance, a pattern of high conscientiousness, low neuroticism, and high agreeableness predicts successful job
performance (Tett, Jackson, & Rothstein, 1991). Scores on the Big Five dimensions also predict the performance
of leaders; ratings of openness to experience are correlated positively with ratings of leadership success, whereas
ratings of agreeableness are correlated negatively with success (Rubenzer, Faschingbauer, & Ones, 2000). The
Big Five factors are also increasingly being used to help researchers understand the dimensions of psychological
disorders such as anxiety and depression (Oldham, 2010; Saulsman & Page, 2004).
An advantage of the five-factor approach is that it is parsimonious. Rather than studying hundreds of traits,
researchers can focus on only five underlying dimensions. The Big Five may also capture other dimensions that have
been of interest to psychologists. For instance, the trait dimension of need for achievement relates to the Big Five
variable of conscientiousness, and self-esteem relates to low neuroticism. On the other hand, the Big Five factors
do not seem to capture all the important dimensions of personality. For instance, the Big Five do not capture moral
12.1 PERSONALITY AND BEHAVIOUR: APPROACHES AND MEASUREMENT • 490
behaviour, although this variable is important in many theories of personality. And there is evidence that the Big
Five factors are not exactly the same across all cultures (Cheung & Leung, 1998).
Situational Influences on Personality
One challenge to the trait approach to personality is that traits may not be as stable as we think they are. When we
say that Malik is friendly, we mean that Malik is friendly today and will be friendly tomorrow and even next week.
And we mean that Malik is friendlier than average in all situations. But what if Malik were found to behave in a
friendly way with his family members but to be unfriendly with his fellow classmates? This would clash with the
idea that traits are stable across time and situation.
The psychologist Walter Mischel (1968) reviewed the existing literature on traits and found that there was only
a relatively low correlation (about r = .30) between the traits that a person expressed in one situation and
those that they expressed in other situations. In one relevant study, Hartshorne, May, Maller, and Shuttleworth
(1928) examined the correlations among various behavioural indicators of honesty in children. They also enticed
children to behave either honestly or dishonestly in different situations: for instance, by making it easy or difficult
for them to steal and cheat. The correlations among children’s behaviour was low, generally less than r = .30,
showing that children who steal in one situation are not always the same children who steal in a different situation.
And similar low correlations were found in adults on other measures, including dependency, friendliness, and
conscientiousness (Bem & Allen, 1974).
Psychologists have proposed two possibilities for these low correlations. One possibility is that the natural tendency
for people to see traits in others leads us to believe that people have stable personalities when they really do not. In
short, perhaps traits are more in the heads of the people who are doing the judging than they are in the behaviours of
the people being observed. The fact that people tend to use human personality traits, such as the Big Five, to judge
animals in the same way that they use these traits to judge humans is consistent with this idea (Gosling, 2001). And
this idea also fits with research showing that people use their knowledge representation (schemas) about people to
help them interpret the world around them and that these schemas colour their judgments of the personalities of
others (Fiske & Taylor, 2007).
Research has also shown that people tend to see more traits in other people than they do in themselves. You might
be able to get a feeling for this by taking the following short quiz. First, think about a person you know — your
mom, your roommate, or a classmate — and choose which of the three responses on each of the four lines best
describes him or her. Then answer the questions again, but this time about yourself.
1. Energetic Relaxed Depends on the situation
2. Skeptical Trusting Depends on the situation
3. Quiet Talkative Depends on the situation
4. Intense Calm Depends on the situation
Richard Nisbett and his colleagues (Nisbett, Caputo, Legant, & Marecek, 1973) had university students complete
this same task for themselves, for their best friend, for their father, and for the American newscaster Walter Cronkite
(who was at the time well known). As you can see in Figure 12.3, “We Tend to Overestimate the Traits of Others,”
the participants chose one of the two trait terms more often for other people than they did for themselves, and chose
“depends on the situation” more frequently for themselves than they did for the other people. These results also
suggest that people may perceive more consistent traits in others than they should.
491 • INTRODUCTION TO PSYCHOLOGY - 1ST CANADIAN EDITION
Figure 12.3 We Tend to Overestimate the Traits of Others. Researchers found that participants
checked off a trait term (such as “energetic” or “talkative”) rather than “depends on the situation”
less often when asked to describe themselves than when asked to describe others. [Long
The human tendency to perceive traits is so strong that it is very easy to convince people that trait descriptions of
themselves are accurate. Imagine that you had completed a personality test and the psychologist administering the
measure gave you this description of your personality:
You have a great need for other people to like and admire you. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself.
You have a great deal of unused capacity, which you have not turned to your advantage. While you have
some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. Disciplined and self-controlled
outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you
have made the right decision or done the right thing.
I would imagine that you might find that it described you. You probably do criticize yourself at least sometimes,
and you probably do sometimes worry about things. The problem is that you would most likely have found some
truth in a personality description that was the opposite. Could this description fit you too?
You frequently stand up for your own opinions even if it means that others may judge you negatively. You
have a tendency to find the positives in your own behaviour. You work to the fullest extent of your capabilities.
You have few personality weaknesses, but some may show up under stress. You sometimes confide in others
that you are concerned or worried, but inside you maintain discipline and self-control. You generally believe
that you have made the right decision and done the right thing.
The Barnum effect refers to the observation that people tend to believe in descriptions of their personality that
supposedly are descriptive of them but could in fact describe almost anyone. The Barnum effect helps us understand
why many people believe in astrology, horoscopes, fortune-telling, palm reading, tarot card reading, and even some
personality tests (Figure 12.4, “Horoscope and Palm Reading”). People are likely to accept descriptions of their
personality if they think that they have been written for them, even though they cannot distinguish their own tarot
card or horoscope readings from those of others at better than chance levels (Hines, 2003). Again, people seem to
believe in traits more than they should.
A second way that psychologists responded to Mischel’s 1968 findings on traits was by searching even more
carefully for the existence of traits. One insight was that the relationship between a trait and a behaviour is less
than perfect because people can express their traits in different ways (Mischel & Shoda, 2008). People high in
extraversion, for instance, may become teachers, sales people, actors, or even criminals. Although the behaviours
are very different, they nevertheless all fit with the meaning of the underlying trait.
Psychologists also found that, because people do behave differently in different situations, personality will only
predict behaviour when the behaviours are aggregated or averaged across different situations. We might not be able
12.1 PERSONALITY AND BEHAVIOUR: APPROACHES AND MEASUREMENT • 492
Figure 12.4 Horoscope and Palm Reading. The popularity of tarot card reading, crystal ball
reading, horoscopes, palm reading, and other techniques shows the human propensity to believe
to use the personality trait of openness to experience to determine what Paul will do on Friday night, but we can use
it to predict what he will do over the next year in a variety of situations. When many measurements of behaviour are
combined, there is much clearer evidence for the stability of traits and for the effects of traits on behaviour (Roberts
& DelVecchio, 2000; Srivastava, John, Gosling, & Potter, 2003).
Taken together, these findings make a very important point about personality, which is that it not only comes from
inside us but is also shaped by the situations that we are exposed to. Personality is derived from our interactions with
and observations of others, from our interpretations of those interactions and observations, and from our choices
of which social situations we prefer to enter or avoid (Bandura, 1986). In fact, behaviourists such as B. F. Skinner
explain personality entirely in terms of the environmental influences that the person has experienced. Because we
are profoundly influenced by the situations that we are exposed to, our behaviour does change from situation to
situation, making personality less stable than we might expect. And yet personality does matter — we can, in many
cases, use personality measures to predict behaviour across situations.
The MMPI and Projective Tests
One of the most important measures of personality (which is used primarily to assess deviations from a normal or
average personality) is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), a test used around the world
to identify personality and psychological disorders (Tellegen et al., 2003). The MMPI was developed by creating
a list of more than 1,000 true-false questions and choosing those that best differentiated patients with different
psychological disorders from other people. The current version (the MMPI-2) has more than 500 questions, and the
items can be combined into a large number of different subscales. Some of the most important of these are shown in
Table 12.3, “Some of the Major Subscales of the MMPI,” but there are also scales that represent family problems,
work attitudes, and many other dimensions. The MMPI also has questions that are designed to detect the tendency
of the respondents to lie, fake, or simply not answer the questions.
493 • INTRODUCTION TO PSYCHOLOGY - 1ST CANADIAN EDITION
Table 12.3 Some of the Major Subscales of the MMPI.
Abbreviation Description What is measured No. of items
Hs Hypochondriasis Concern with bodily symptoms 32
D Depression Depressive symptoms 57
Hy Hysteria Awareness of problems and vulnerabilities 60
Pd Psychopathic deviate Conflict, struggle, anger, respect for society’s rules 50
MF Masculinity/femininity Stereotypical masculine or feminine interests/behaviours 56
Pa Paranoia Level of trust, suspiciousness, sensitivity 40
Pt Psychasthenia Worry, anxiety, tension, doubts, obsessiveness 48
Sc Schizophrenia Odd thinking and social alienation 78
Ma Hypomania Level of excitability 46
Si Social introversion People orientation 69
To interpret the results, the clinician looks at the pattern of responses across the different subscales and makes a
diagnosis about the potential psychological problems facing the patient. Although clinicians prefer to interpret the
patterns themselves, a variety of research has demonstrated that computers can often interpret the results as well
as clinicians can (Garb, 1998; Karon, 2000). Extensive research has found that the MMPI-2 can accurately predict
which of many different psychological disorders a person suffers from (Graham, 2006).
One potential problem with a measure like the MMPI is that it asks people to consciously report on their inner
experiences. But much of our personality is determined by unconscious processes of which we are only vaguely or
not at all aware. Projective measures are measures of personality in which unstructured stimuli, such as inkblots,
drawings of social situations, or incomplete sentences, are shown to participants, who are asked to freely list
what comes to mind as they think about the stimuli. Experts then score the responses for clues to personality. The
proposed advantage of these tests is that they are more indirect — they allow the respondent to freely express
whatever comes to mind, including perhaps the contents of their unconscious experiences.
One commonly used projective test is the Rorschach Inkblot Test, developed by the Swiss psychiatrist Hermann
Rorschach (1884-1922). The Rorschach Inkblot Test is a projective measure of personality in which the
respondent indicates his or her thoughts about a series of 10 symmetrical inkblots (Figure 12.5, “Rorschach
Inkblots”). The Rorschach is administered millions of times every year. The participants are asked to respond to the
inkblots, and their responses are systematically scored in terms of what, where, and why they saw what they saw.
For example, people who focus on the details of the inkblots may have obsessive-compulsive tendencies, whereas
those who talk about sex or aggression may have sexual or aggressive problems.
Another frequently administered projective test is the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), developed by the
psychologist Henry Murray (1893-1988). The Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) is a projective measure of
personality in which the respondent is asked to create stories about sketches of ambiguous situations, most of them
of people, either alone or with others. The sketches are shown to individuals, who are asked to tell a story about
what is happening in the picture. The TAT assumes that people may be unwilling or unable to admit their true
feelings when asked directly but that these feelings will show up in the stories about the pictures. Trained coders
read the stories and use them to develop a personality profile of the respondent.
12.1 PERSONALITY AND BEHAVIOUR: APPROACHES AND MEASUREMENT • 494
Figure 12.5 Rorschach Inkblots. The Rorschach Inkblot Test is a projective test designed to assess
Other popular projective tests include those that ask the respondent to draw pictures, such as the Draw-A-Person
Test (Machover, 1949), and free association tests in which the respondent quickly responds with the first word that
comes to mind when the examiner says a test word. Another approach is the use of anatomically correct dolls that
feature representations of the male and female genitals. Investigators allow children to play with the dolls and then
try to determine on the basis of the play if the children may have been sexually abused.
The advantage of projective tests is that they are less direct, allowing people to avoid using their defence
mechanisms and therefore show their true personality. The idea is that when people view ambiguous stimuli they
will describe them according to the aspects of personality that are most important to them, and therefore bypass
some of the limitations of more conscious responding.
Despite their widespread use, however, the empirical evidence supporting the use of projective tests is mixed
(Karon, 2000; Wood, Nezworski, Lilienfeld, & Garb, 2003). The reliability of the measures is low because people
often produce very different responses on different occasions. The construct validity of the measures is also suspect
because there are very few consistent associations between Rorschach scores or TAT scores and most personality
traits. The projective tests often fail to distinguish between people with psychological disorders and those without,
or to correlate with other measures of personality or with behaviour.
In sum, projective tests are more useful as icebreakers to get to know a person better, to make the person feel
comfortable, and to get some ideas about topics that may be of importance to that person than for accurately
495 • INTRODUCTION TO PSYCHOLOGY - 1ST CANADIAN EDITION
Psychology in Everyday Life: Leaders and Leadership
One trait that has been studied in thousands of studies is leadership, the ability to direct or inspire others to
achieve goals. Trait theories of leadership are theories based on the idea that some people are simply “natural
leaders” because they possess personality characteristics that make them effective (Zaccaro, 2007). Consider
Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party of Canada, shown in Figure 12.6, “Varieties of Leaders.” What
characteristics do you think she possessed that allowed her to function as the sole member of her party in
Parliament when she was first elected?
Figure 12.6 Varieties of Leaders. Which personality traits do you think characterize good leaders?
Research has found that being intelligent is an important characteristic of leaders, as long as the leader
communicates to others in a way that is easily understood by his or her followers (Simonton, 1994,
1995). Other research has found that people with good social skills, such as the ability to accurately
perceive the needs and goals of the group members and communicate with others, also tend to make
good leaders (Kenny & Zaccaro, 1983).Because so many characteristics seem to be related to leader
skills, some researchers have attempted to account for leadership not in terms of individual traits, but
rather in terms of a package of traits that successful leaders seem to have. Some have considered this
in terms of charisma (Sternberg & Lubart, 1995; Sternberg, 2002). Charismatic leaders are leaders who
are enthusiastic, committed, and self-confident; who tend to talk about the importance of group goals
12.1 PERSONALITY AND BEHAVIOUR: APPROACHES AND MEASUREMENT • 496
at a broad level; and who make personal sacrifices for the group. Charismatic leaders express views
that support and validate existing group norms but that also contain a vision of what the group could
or should be. Charismatic leaders use their referent power to motivate, uplift, and inspire others. And
research has found a positive relationship between a leader’s charisma and effective leadership performance
(Simonton, 1988).Another trait-based approach to leadership is based on the idea that leaders take either
transactional or transformational leadership styles with their subordinates (Bass, 1999; Pieterse, Van
Knippenberg, Schippers, & Stam, 2010). Transactional leaders are the more regular leaders, who work
with their subordinates to help them understand what is required of them and to get the job done.
Transformational leaders, on the other hand, are more like charismatic leaders — they have a vision
of where the group is going, and attempt to stimulate and inspire their workers to move beyond their
present status and create a new and better future.Despite the fact that there appear to be at least some
personality traits that relate to leadership ability, the most important approaches to understanding leadership
take into consideration both the personality characteristics of the leader as well as the situation in which
the leader is operating. In some cases the situation itself is important. For instance, during the Calgary
flooding of 2013, Mayor Naheed Nenshi enhanced his popularity further with his ability to support and
unify the community, and ensure that the Calgary Stampede went ahead as planned despite severe damage
to the fair grounds and arenas.In still other cases, different types of leaders may perform differently in
different situations. Leaders whose personalities lead them to be more focused on fostering harmonious
social relationships among the members of the group, for instance, are particularly effective in situations in
which the group is already functioning well, and yet it is important to keep the group members engaged in the
task and committed to the group outcomes. Leaders who are more task-oriented and directive, on the other
hand, are more effective when the group is not functioning well and needs a firm hand to guide it (Ayman,
Chemers, & Fiedler, 1995).
• Personality is an individual’s consistent patterns of feeling, thinking, and behaving.
• Personality is driven in large part by underlying individual motivations, where motivation refers
to a need or desire that directs behaviour.
• Early theories assumed that personality was expressed in people’s physical appearance. One of
these approaches, known as physiognomy, has been validated by current research.
• Personalities are characterized in terms of traits — relatively enduring characteristics that
influence our behaviour across many situations.
• The most important and well-validated theory about the traits of normal personality is the Five-
Factor Model of Personality.
• There is often only a low correlation between the specific traits that a person expresses in one
situation and those that he or she expresses in other situations. This is in part because people tend
to see more traits in other people than they do in themselves. Personality predicts behaviour better
when the behaviours are aggregated or averaged across different situations.
497 • INTRODUCTION TO PSYCHOLOGY - 1ST CANADIAN EDITION
• The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is the most important measure of
• Projective measures are measures of personality in which unstructured stimuli, such as inkblots,
drawings of social situations, or incomplete sentences are shown to participants, who are asked to
freely list what comes to mind as they think about the stimuli. Despite their widespread use,
however, the empirical evidence supporting the use of projective tests is mixed.
Exercises and Critical Thinking
1. Consider your own personality and those of people you know. What traits do you enjoy in other
people, and what traits do you dislike?
2. Consider some of the people who have had an important influence on you. What were the
personality characteristics of these people that made them so influential?
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Figure 12.1: 1895 Dictionary Phrenolog by Webster’s Academic Dictionary (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
File:1895-Dictionary-Phrenolog.png) is in public domain.
Figure 12.3: Adapted from Nisbett, Caputo, Legant, & Marecek, 1973.
Figure 12.4: “Astro signs” by Tavmjong is licensed under the CC BY 3.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/
licenses/by/3.0/deed.en). “Erica’s palm reading” by Matthew Romack is licensed under CC BY 2.0 license
Figure 12.5: “Rorschach blot 02” by Hermann Rorschach is in the public domain. “Rorschach blot 08” by Hermann
Rorschach is in the public domain. “Rorschach blot 09” by Hermann Rorschach is in the public domain. “Rorschach
blot 10” by Hermann Rorschach is in the public domain.
Figure 12.6: Elizabeth May ( http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:EMay2010.JPG); Queen Mother with Prime
501 • INTRODUCTION TO PSYCHOLOGY - 1ST CANADIAN EDITION
Minister William Lyon MacKenzie (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:QueenMotherandWLMK.jpg) is in
public domain; Hayley Wickenheiser ( http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/
File:Hayley_Wickenheiser_cropped.jpg) used under CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
deed.en); Barack Obama signs Parliament of Canada guestbook by Pete Souza (http://commons.wikimedia.org/
wiki/File:Barack_Obama_signs_Parliament_of_Canada_guestbook_2-19-09.JPG ) is in public domain.
Figure 12.1 long description: Phrenology. 1. Science of the special functions of the several parts of the brain, or of
the supposed connection between the faculties of the mind and organs of the brain. 2. Physiological hypothesis that
mental faculties, and traits of character, are shown on the surface of the head or skull; craniology. [Return to Figure
Figure 12.3 long description:We Tend to Overestimate the Traits of others
Number of time a trait term was selected Number of times “Depends on the situation” was seleced
Self 12 8
Best friend 14 6
Father 13 7
Walter Cronkite 15 5
[Return to Figure 12.3]
Figure 12.6 long description: Top Left: Leader of the Green Party of Canada – Elizabeth May; Top Middle: Queen
Mother with Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King; Top Right: Hayley Wikenheiser, Captain of Canadian
Women’s National Hockey team; Bottom: Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama signing
Canadian Parliamentary guestbook. [Return to Figure 12.6]
1. Sources: Adorno, 1950; Cacioppo, 1982; Fenigstein, 1975; McClelland, 1958; Rosenberg, 1965; Rotter, 1966; Shah, 1998;
Triandis, 1989; Zuckerman, 2007.
12.1 PERSONALITY AND BEHAVIOUR: APPROACHES AND MEASUREMENT • 502
12.2 The Origins of Personality
1. Describe the strengths and limitations of the psychodynamic approach to explaining
2. Summarize the accomplishments of the neo-Freudians.
3. Identify the major contributions of the humanistic approach to understanding personality.
Although measures such as the Big Five and the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) are able to
effectively assess personality, they do not say much about where personality comes from. In this section we will
consider two major theories of the origin of personality: psychodynamic and humanistic approaches.
Psychodynamic Theories of Personality: The Role of the Unconscious
One of the most important psychological approaches to understanding personality is based on the theorizing of
the Austrian physician and psychologist Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), who founded what today is known as the
psychodynamic approach, an approach to understanding human behaviour that focuses on the role of unconscious
thoughts, feelings, and memories. Many people know about Freud because his work has had a huge impact on our
everyday thinking about psychology, and the psychodynamic approach is one of the most important approaches to
psychological therapy (Roudinesco, 2003; Taylor, 2009). Freud is probably the best known of all psychologists, in
part because of his impressive observation and analyses of personality (there are 24 volumes of his writings). As is
true of all theories, many of Freud’s ingenious ideas have turned out to be at least partially incorrect, and yet other
aspects of his theories are still influencing psychology.
Freud was influenced by the work of the French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893), who had been
interviewing patients (almost all women) who were experiencing what was at the time known as hysteria. Although
it is no longer used to describe a psychological disorder, hysteria at the time referred to a set of personality and
physical symptoms that included chronic pain, fainting, seizures, and paralysis.
Charcot could find no biological reason for the symptoms. For instance, some women experienced a loss of feeling
in their hands and yet not in their arms, and this seemed impossible given that the nerves in the arms are the same as
those in the hands. Charcot was experimenting with the use of hypnosis, and he and Freud found that under hypnosis
many of the hysterical patients reported having experienced a traumatic sexual experience, such as sexual abuse, as
children (Dolnick, 1998).
Freud and Charcot also found that during hypnosis the remembering of the trauma was often accompanied by an
outpouring of emotion, known as catharsis, and that following the catharsis the patient’s symptoms were frequently
reduced in severity. These observations led Freud and Charcot to conclude that these disorders were caused by
psychological rather than physiological factors.
Freud used the observations that he and Charcot had made to develop his theory regarding the sources of personality
and behaviour, and his insights are central to the fundamental themes of psychology. In terms of free will, Freud
did not believe that we were able to control our own behaviours. Rather, he believed that all behaviours are
predetermined by motivations that lie outside our awareness, in the unconscious. These forces show themselves
in our dreams, in neurotic symptoms such as obsessions, while we are under hypnosis, and in Freudian “slips of
the tongue” in which people reveal their unconscious desires in language. Freud argued that we rarely understand
why we do what we do, although we can make up explanations for our behaviours after the fact. For Freud the
mind was like an iceberg, with the many motivations of the unconscious being much larger, but also out of sight, in
comparison to the consciousness of which we are aware (Figure 12.7, “Mind as Iceberg”).
Figure 12.7 Mind as Iceberg. In Sigmund Freud’s conceptualization of personality, the most
important motivations are unconscious, just as the major part of an iceberg is under water.
Id, Ego, and Superego
Freud proposed that the mind is divided into three components: id, ego, and superego, and that the interactions and
conflicts among the components create personality (Freud, 1923/1949). According to Freudian theory, the id is the
component of personality that forms the basis of our most primitive impulses. The id is entirely unconscious, and
it drives our most important motivations, including the sexual drive (libido) and the aggressive or destructive drive
(Thanatos). According to Freud, the id is driven by the pleasure principle — the desire for immediate gratification
12.2 THE ORIGINS OF PERSONALITY • 504
of our sexual and aggressive urges. The id is why we smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, view pornography, tell mean
jokes about people, and engage in other fun or harmful behaviours, often at the cost of doing more productive
In stark contrast to the id, the superego represents our sense of morality and oughts. The superego tell us all the
things that we shouldn’t do, or the duties and obligations of society. The superego strives for perfection, and when
we fail to live up to its demands we feel guilty.
In contrast to the id, which is about the pleasure principle, the function of the ego is based on the reality
principle — the idea that we must delay gratification of our basic motivations until the appropriate time with the
appropriate outlet. The ego is the largely conscious controller or decision-maker of personality. The ego serves as
the intermediary between the desires of the id and the constraints of society contained in the superego (Figure 12.8,
“Ego, Id, and Superego in Interaction”). We may wish to scream, yell, or hit, and yet our ego normally tells us to
wait, reflect, and choose a more appropriate response.
Figure 12.8 Ego, Id, and Superego in Interaction.
Freud believed that psychological disorders, and particularly the experience of anxiety, occur when there is
conflict or imbalance among the motivations of the id, ego, and superego. When the ego finds that the id is
pressing too hard for immediate pleasure, it attempts to correct for this problem, often through the use of defence
mechanisms — unconscious psychological strategies used to cope with anxiety and maintain a positive self-image.
Freud believed that the defence mechanisms were essential for effective coping with everyday life, but that any of
them could be overused (Table 12.4, “The Major Freudian Defence Mechanisms”).
505 • INTRODUCTION TO PSYCHOLOGY - 1ST CANADIAN EDITION
Table 12.4 The Major Freudian Defence Mechanisms.
mechanism Definition Possible behavioural example
Diverting threatening impulses away from the
source of the anxiety and toward a more
A student who is angry at her professor for a low grade
lashes out at her roommate, who is a safer target of her
Projection Disguising threatening impulses by attributing
them to others
A man with powerful unconscious sexual desires for
women claims that women use him as a sex object.
Rationalization Generating self-justifying explanations for our
A drama student convinces herself that getting the part
in the play wasn’t that important after all.
Making unacceptable motivations appear as their
Jane is sexually attracted to friend Jake, but she claims
in public that she intensely dislikes him.
Regression Retreating to an earlier, more childlike, and safer
stage of development
A university student who is worried about an important
test begins to suck on his finger.
Pushing anxiety-arousing thoughts into the
A person who witnesses his parents having sex is later
unable to remember anything about the event.
Sublimation Channeling unacceptable sexual or aggressive
desires into acceptable activities
A person participates in sports to sublimate aggressive
drives. A person creates music or art to sublimate
The most controversial, and least scientifically valid, part of Freudian theory is its explanations of personality
development. Freud argued that personality is developed through a series of psychosexual stages, each focusing
on pleasure from a different part of the body (Table 12.5, “Freud’s Stages of Psychosexual Development”). Freud
believed that sexuality begins in infancy, and that the appropriate resolution of each stage has implications for later
Table 12.5 Freud’s Stages of Psychosexual Development.
Stage Approximate ages Description
Oral Birth to 18 months Pleasure comes from the mouth in the form of sucking, biting, and chewing.
Anal 18 months to 3
years Pleasure comes from bowel and bladder elimination and the constraints of toilet training.
Phallic 3 years to 6 years Pleasure comes from the genitals, and the conflict is with sexual desires for the opposite-sex
Latency 6 years to puberty Sexual feelings are less important.
Genital Puberty and older If prior stages have been properly reached, mature sexual orientation develops.
In the first of Freud’s proposed stages of psychosexual development, which begins at birth and lasts until about 18
months of age, the focus is on the mouth. During this oral stage, the infant obtains sexual pleasure by sucking and
drinking. Infants who receive either too little or too much gratification become fixated or locked in the oral stage,
and are likely to regress to these points of fixation under stress, even as adults. According to Freud, a child who
12.2 THE ORIGINS OF PERSONALITY • 506
receives too little oral gratification (e.g., who was underfed or neglected) will become orally dependent as an adult
and be likely to manipulate others to fulfill his or her needs rather than becoming independent. On the other hand,
the child who was overfed or overly gratified will resist growing up and try to return to the prior state of dependency
by acting helpless, demanding satisfaction from others, and acting in a needy way.
The anal stage, lasting from about 18 months to three years of age, is when children first experience psychological
conflict. During this stage children desire to experience pleasure through bowel movements, but they are also being
toilet trained to delay this gratification. Freud believed that if this toilet training was either too harsh or too lenient,
children would become fixated in the anal stage and become likely to regress to this stage under stress as adults. If
the child received too little anal gratification (i.e., if the parents had been very harsh about toilet training), the adult
personality will be anal retentive — stingy, with a compulsive seeking of order and tidiness. On the other hand, if
the parents had been too lenient, the anal expulsive personality results, characterized by a lack of self-control and
a tendency toward messiness and carelessness.
The phallic stage, which lasts from age three to age six is when the penis (for boys) and clitoris (for girls) become
the primary erogenous zone for sexual pleasure. During this stage, Freud believed that children develop a powerful
but unconscious attraction for the opposite-sex parent, as well as a desire to eliminate the same-sex parent as a rival.
Freud based his theory of sexual development in boys (the Oedipus complex) on the Greek mythological character
Oedipus, who unknowingly killed his father and married his mother, and then put his own eyes out when he learned
what he had done. Freud argued that boys will normally eventually abandon their love of the mother, and instead
identify with the father, also taking on the father’s personality characteristics, but that boys who do not successfully
resolve the Oedipus complex will experience psychological problems later in life. Although it was not as important
in Freud’s theorizing, in girls the phallic stage is often termed the Electra complex, after the Greek character who
avenged her father’s murder by killing her mother. Freud believed that girls frequently experienced penis envy, the
sense of deprivation supposedly experienced by girls because they do not have a penis.
The latency stage is a period of relative calm that lasts from about six years to 12 years. During this time, Freud
believed that sexual impulses were repressed, leading boys and girls to have little or no interest in members of the
The fifth and last stage, the genital stage, begins about 12 years of age and lasts into adulthood. According to
Freud, sexual impulses return during this time frame, and if development has proceeded normally to this point, the
child is able to move into the development of mature romantic relationships. But if earlier problems have not been
appropriately resolved, difficulties with establishing intimate love attachments are likely.
Freud’s Followers: The Neo-Freudians
Freudian theory was so popular that it led to a number of followers, including many of Freud’s own students,
who developed, modified, and expanded his theories. Taken together, these approaches are known as neo-Freudian
theories. The neo-Freudian theories are theories based on Freudian principles that emphasize the role of the
unconscious and early experience in shaping personality but place less evidence on sexuality as the primary
motivating force in personality and are more optimistic concerning the prospects for personality growth and change
in personality in adults.
Alfred Adler (1870-1937) was a follower of Freud’s who developed his own interpretation of Freudian theory.
Adler proposed that the primary motivation in human personality was not sex or aggression, but rather the striving
for superiority. According to Adler, we desire to be better than others and we accomplish this goal by creating a
unique and valuable life. We may attempt to satisfy our need for superiority through our school or professional
accomplishments, or by our enjoyment of music, athletics, or other activities that seem important to us.
507 • INTRODUCTION TO PSYCHOLOGY - 1ST CANADIAN EDITION
Adler believed that psychological disorders begin in early childhood. He argued that children who are either overly
nurtured or overly neglected by their parents are later likely to develop an inferiority complex — a psychological
state in which people feel that they are not living up to expectations, leading them to have low self-esteem, with
a tendency to try to overcompensate for the negative feelings. People with an inferiority complex often attempt to
demonstrate their superiority to others at all costs, even if it means humiliating, dominating, or alienating them.
According to Adler, most psychological disorders result from misguided attempts to compensate for the inferiority
complex in order meet the goal of superiority.
Carl Jung (1875-1961) was another student of Freud’s who developed his own theories about personality. Jung
agreed with Freud about the power of the unconscious but felt that Freud overemphasized the importance of
sexuality. Jung argued that in addition to the personal unconscious, there was also a collective unconscious, or
a collection of shared ancestral memories. Jung believed that the collective unconscious contains a variety of
archetypes, or cross-culturally universal symbols, which explain the similarities among people in their emotional
reactions to many stimuli. Important archetypes include the mother, the goddess, the hero, and the mandala or circle,
which Jung believed symbolized a desire for wholeness or unity. For Jung, the underlying motivation that guides
successful personality is self-realization, or learning about and developing the self to the fullest possible extent.
Karen Horney (the last syllable of her last name rhymes with “eye”; 1855-1952) was a German physician who
applied Freudian theories to create a personality theory that she thought was more balanced between men and
women. Horney believed that parts of Freudian theory, and particularly the ideas of the Oedipus complex and penis
envy, were biased against women. Horney argued that women’s sense of inferiority was not due to their lack of a
penis but rather to their dependency on men, an approach that the culture made it difficult for them to break from.
For Horney, the underlying motivation that guides personality development is the desire for security, the ability to
develop appropriate and supportive relationships with others.
Another important neo-Freudian was Erich Fromm (1900-1980). Fromm’s focus was on the negative impact of
technology, arguing that the increases in its use have led people to feel increasingly isolated from others. Fromm
believed that the independence that technology brings us also creates the need to “escape from freedom,” that is, to
become closer to others.
Research Focus: How the Fear of Death Causes Aggressive Behaviour
Fromm believed that the primary human motivation was to escape the fear of death, and contemporary
research has shown how our concerns about dying can influence our behaviour. In this research, people
have been made to confront their death by writing about it or otherwise being reminded of it, and effects on
their behaviour are then observed. In one relevant study, McGregor and colleagues (1998) demonstrated that
people who are provoked may be particularly aggressive after they have been reminded of the possibility of
their own death. The participants in the study had been selected, on the basis of prior reporting, to have either
politically liberal or politically conservative views. When they arrived at the lab they were asked to write a
short paragraph describing their opinion of politics in the United States. In addition, half of the participants
(the mortality salient condition) were asked to “briefly describe the emotions that the thought of your own
death arouses in you” and to “jot down as specifically as you can, what you think will happen to you as you
physically die, and once you are physically dead.” Participants in the exam control condition also thought
about a negative event, but not one associated with a fear of death. They were instructed to “please briefly
describe the emotions that the thought of your next important exam arouses in you” and to “jot down as
specifically as you can, what you think will happen to you as you physically take your next exam, and once
you are physically taking your next exam.”
12.2 THE ORIGINS OF PERSONALITY • 508
Then the participants read the essay that had supposedly just been written by another person. (The other
person did not exist, but the participants didn’t know this until the end of the experiment.) The essay that
they read had been prepared by the experimenters to be very negative toward politically liberal views or
to be very negative toward politically conservative views. Thus one-half of the participants were provoked
by the other person by reading a statement that strongly conflicted with their own political beliefs, whereas
the other half read an essay in which the other person’s views supported their own (liberal or conservative)
At this point the participants moved on to what they thought was a completely separate study in which
they were to be tasting and giving their impression of some foods. Furthermore, they were told that it was
necessary for the participants in the research to administer the food samples to each other. At this point,
the participants found out that the food they were going to be sampling was spicy hot sauce and that they
were going to be administering the sauce to the very person whose essay they had just read. In addition, the
participants read some information about the other person that indicated that he very much disliked eating
spicy food. Participants were given a taste of the hot sauce (it was really hot!) and then instructed to place
a quantity of it into a cup for the other person to sample. Furthermore, they were told that the other person
would have to eat all the sauce.
As you can see in Figure 12.9, “Aggression as a Function of Mortality Salience and Provocation,” McGregor
and colleagues found that the participants who had not been reminded of their own death, even if they had
been insulted by the partner, did not retaliate by giving him a lot of hot sauce to eat. On the other hand, the
participants who were both provoked by the other person and who had also been reminded of their own death
administered significantly more hot sauce than did the participants in the other three conditions. McGregor
and colleagues (1998) argued that thinking about one’s own death creates a strong concern with maintaining
one’s one cherished worldviews (in this case our political beliefs). When we are concerned about dying we
become more motivated to defend these important beliefs from the challenges made by others, in this case
by aggressing through the hot sauce.
Figure 12.9 Aggression as a Function of Mortality Salience and Provocation. Participants who had
been provoked by a stranger who disagreed with them on important opinions, and who had also
been reminded of their own death, administered significantly more unpleasant hot sauce to the
partner than did the participants in the other three conditions. [Long Description]
Strengths and Limitations of Freudian and Neo-Freudian Approaches
Freud has probably exerted a greater impact on the public’s understanding of personality than any other thinker, and
he has also in large part defined the field of psychology. Although Freudian psychologists no longer talk about oral,
509 • INTRODUCTION TO PSYCHOLOGY - 1ST CANADIAN EDITION
anal, or genital fixations, they do continue to believe that our childhood experiences and unconscious motivations
shape our personalities and our attachments with others, and they still make use of psychodynamic concepts when
they conduct psychological therapy.
Nevertheless, Freud’s theories, as well as those of the neo-Freudians, have in many cases failed to pass the test of
empiricism, and as a result they are less influential now than they have been in the past (Crews, 1998). The problems
are, first, that it has proved to be difficult to rigorously test Freudian theory because the predictions that it makes
(particularly those regarding defence mechanisms) are often vague and unfalsifiable and, second, that the aspects of
the theory that can be tested often have not received much empirical support.
As examples, although Freud claimed that children exposed to overly harsh toilet training would become fixated in
the anal stage and thus be prone to excessive neatness, stinginess, and stubbornness in adulthood, research has found
few reliable associations between toilet training practices and adult personality (Fisher & Greenberg, 1996). And
since the time of Freud, the need to repress sexual desires would seem to have become much less necessary as
societies have tolerated a wider variety of sexual practices. And yet the psychological disorders that Freud thought
we caused by this repression have not decreased.
There is also little scientific support for most of the Freudian defence mechanisms. For example, studies have
failed to yield evidence for the existence of repression. People who are exposed to traumatic experiences in war
have been found to remember their traumas only too well (Kihlstrom, 1997). Although we may attempt to push
information that is anxiety-arousing into our unconscious, this often has the ironic effect of making us think about
the information even more strongly than if we hadn’t tried to repress it (Newman, Duff, & Baumeister, 1997). It is
true that children remember little of their childhood experiences, but this seems to be true of both negative as well as
positive experiences, is true for animals as well, and probably is better explained in terms of the brain’s inability to
form long-term memories than in terms of repression. On the other hand, Freud’s important idea that expressing or
talking through one’s difficulties can be psychologically helpful has been supported in current research (Baddeley
& Pennebaker, 2009) and has become a mainstay of psychological therapy.
A particular problem for testing Freudian theories is that almost anything that conflicts with a prediction based in
Freudian theory can be explained away in terms of the use of a defence mechanism. A man who expresses a lot of
anger toward his father may be seen via Freudian theory to be experiencing the Oedipus complex, which includes
conflict with the father. But a man who expresses no anger at all toward the father also may be seen as experiencing
the Oedipus complex by repressing the anger. Because Freud hypothesized that either was possible, but did not
specify when repression would or would not occur, the theory is difficult to falsify.
In terms of the important role of the unconscious, Freud seems to have been at least in part correct. More and
more research demonstrates that a large part of everyday behaviour is driven by processes that are outside our
conscious awareness (Kihlstrom, 1987). And yet, although our unconscious motivations influence every aspect of
our learning and behaviour, Freud probably overestimated the extent to which these unconscious motivations are
primarily sexual and aggressive.
Taken together, it is fair to say that Freudian theory, like most psychological theories, was not entirely correct and
that it has had to be modified over time as the results of new studies have become available. But the fundamental
ideas about personality that Freud proposed, as well as the use of talk therapy as an essential component of therapy,
are nevertheless still a major part of psychology and are used by clinical psychologists every day.
Focusing on the Self: Humanism and Self-Actualization
Psychoanalytic models of personality were complemented during the 1950s and 1960s by the theories of
12.2 THE ORIGINS OF PERSONALITY • 510
humanistic psychologists, an approach to psychology that embraces the notions of self-esteem, self-actualization,
and free will. In contrast to the proponents of psychoanalysis, humanists embraced the notion of free will. Arguing
that people are free to choose their own lives and make their own decisions, humanistic psychologists focused on
the underlying motivations that they believed drove personality, focusing on the nature of the self-concept, the set
of beliefs about who we are, and self-esteem, our positive feelings about the self.
One of the most important humanists, Abraham Maslow (1908-1970), conceptualized personality in terms of a
pyramid-shaped hierarchy of motives, also called the hierarchy of needs, (Figure 12.10 “Maslow’s Hierarchy of
Needs”). At the base of the pyramid are the lowest-level motivations, including hunger and thirst, and safety and
belongingness. Maslow argued that only when people are able to meet the lower-level needs are they able to move
on to achieve the higher-level needs of self-esteem, and eventually self-actualization, which is the motivation to
develop our innate potential to the fullest possible extent.
Maslow studied how successful people, including Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Helen
Keller, and Mahatma Gandhi, had been able to lead such successful and productive lives. Maslow (1970) believed
that self-actualized people are creative, spontaneous, and loving of themselves and others. They tend to have a
few deep friendships rather than many superficial ones, and are generally private. He felt that these individuals do
not need to conform to the opinions of others because they are very confident and thus free to express unpopular
opinions. Self-actualized people are also likely to have peak experiences, or transcendent moments of tranquility
accompanied by a strong sense of connection with others.
Figure 12.10 Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Abraham Maslow conceptualized personality in
terms of a hierarchy of needs. The highest of these motivations is self-actualization. [Long
Perhaps the best-known humanistic theorist is Carl Rogers (1902-1987). Rogers was positive about human nature,
viewing people as primarily moral and helpful to others, and believed that we can achieve our full potential for
emotional fulfilment if the self-concept is characterized by unconditional positive regard — a set of behaviours
including being genuine, open to experience, transparent, able to listen to others, and self-disclosing and empathic.
When we treat ourselves or others with unconditional positive regard, we express understanding and support, even
while we may acknowledge failings. Unconditional positive regard allows us to admit our fears and failures, to drop
our pretenses, and yet at the same time to feel completely accepted for what we are. The principle of unconditional
511 • INTRODUCTION TO PSYCHOLOGY - 1ST CANADIAN EDITION
positive regard has become a foundation of psychological therapy; therapists who use it in their practice are more
effective than those who do not (Prochaska & Norcross, 2007; Yalom, 1995).
Although there are critiques of the humanistic psychologists (e.g., that Maslow focused on historically productive
rather than destructive personalities in his research and thus drew overly optimistic conclusions about the capacity of
people to do good), the ideas of humanism are so powerful and optimistic that they have continued to influence both
everyday experiences and psychology. Today the positive psychology movement argues for many of these ideas, and
research has documented the extent to which thinking positively and openly has important positive consequences
for our relationships, our life satisfaction, and our psychological and physical health (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi,
Research Focus: Self-Discrepancies, Anxiety, and Depression
Tory Higgins and his colleagues (Higgins, Bond, Klein, & Strauman, 1986; Strauman & Higgins, 1988) have
studied how different aspects of the self-concept relate to personality characteristics. These researchers
focused on the types of emotional distress that we might experience as a result of how we are currently
evaluating our self-concept. Higgins proposes that the emotions we experience are determined both by our
perceptions of how well our own behaviours meet up to the standards and goals we have provided ourselves
(our internal standards) and by our perceptions of how others think about us (our external standards).
Furthermore, Higgins argues that different types of self-discrepancies lead to different types of negative
In one of Higgins’s experiments (Higgins, Bond, Klein, & Strauman, 1986), participants were first asked
to describe themselves using a self-report measure. The participants listed 10 thoughts that they thought
described the kind of person they actually are; this is the actual self-concept. Then, participants also listed 10
thoughts that they thought described the type of person they would ideally like to be (the ideal self-concept)
as well as 10 thoughts describing the way that someone else — for instance, a parent — thinks they ought to
be (the ought self-concept).
Higgins then divided his participants into two groups. Those with low self-concept discrepancies were those
who listed similar traits on all three lists. Their ideal, ought, and actual self-concepts were all pretty similar
and so they were not considered to be vulnerable to threats to their self-concept. The other half of the
participants, those with high self-concept discrepancies, were those for whom the traits listed on the ideal
and ought lists were very different from those listed on the actual self list. These participants were expected
to be vulnerable to threats to the self-concept.
Then, at a later research session, Higgins first asked people to express their current emotions, including those
related to sadness and anxiety. After obtaining this baseline measure, Higgins activated either ideal or ought
discrepancies for the participants. Participants in the ideal self-discrepancy priming condition were asked to
think about and discuss their own and their parents’ hopes and goals for them. Participants in the ought selfpriming
condition listed their own and their parents’ beliefs concerning their duty and obligations. Then all
participants again indicated their current emotions.
As you can see in Figure 12.11, “Research Results,” for low self-concept discrepancy participants, thinking
about their ideal or ought selves did not much change their emotions. For high self-concept discrepancy
participants, however, priming the ideal self-concept increased their sadness and dejection, whereas priming
the ought self-concept increased their anxiety and agitation. These results are consistent with the idea that
discrepancies between the ideal and the actual self lead us to experience sadness, dissatisfaction, and other
12.2 THE ORIGINS OF PERSONALITY • 512
depression-related emotions, whereas discrepancies between the actual and ought self are more likely to lead
to fear, worry, tension, and other anxiety-related emotions.
Figure 12.11 Research Results. Higgins and his colleagues documented the impact of self-concept
discrepancies on emotion. For participants with low self-concept discrepancies (right bars), seeing
words that related to the self had little influence on emotions. For those with high self-concept
discrepancies (left bars), priming the ideal self increased dejection whereas priming the ought self
increased agitation. [Long Description]
One of the critical aspects of Higgins’s approach is that, as is our personality, our feelings are influenced both
by our own behaviour and by our expectations of how other people view us. This makes it clear that even
though you might not care that much about achieving in school, your failure to do well may still produce
negative emotions because you realize that your parents do think it is important.
• One of the most important psychological approaches to understanding personality is based on the
psychodynamic approach to personality developed by Sigmund Freud.
• For Freud the mind was like an iceberg, with the many motivations of the unconscious being
much larger, but also out of sight, in comparison to the consciousness of which we are aware.
513 • INTRODUCTION TO PSYCHOLOGY - 1ST CANADIAN EDITION
• Freud proposed that the mind is divided into three components: id, ego, and superego, and that the
interactions and conflicts among the components create personality.
• Freud proposed that we use defence mechanisms to cope with anxiety and maintain a positive
• Freud argued that personality is developed through a series of psychosexual stages, each focusing
on pleasure from a different part of the body.
• The neo-Freudian theorists, including Adler, Jung, Horney, and Fromm, emphasized the role of
the unconscious and early experience in shaping personality, but placed less evidence on sexuality
as the primary motivating force in personality.
• Psychoanalytic and behavioural models of personality were complemented during the 1950s and
1960s by the theories of humanistic psychologists, including Maslow and Rogers.
Exercises and Critical Thinking
1. Based on your understanding of psychodynamic theories, how would you analyze your own
personality? Are there aspects of the theory that might help you explain your own strengths and
2. Based on your understanding of humanistic theories, how would you try to change your
behaviour to better meet the underlying motivations of security, acceptance, and self-realization?
3. Consider your own self-concept discrepancies. Do you have an actual-ideal or actual-ought
discrepancy? Which one is more important for you, and why?
Baddeley, J. L., & Pennebaker, J. W. (2009). Expressive writing. In W. T. O’Donohue & J. E. Fisher (Eds.), General
principles and empirically supported techniques of cognitive behavior therapy (pp. 295–299). Hoboken, NJ: John
Wiley & Sons.
Crews, F. C. (1998). Unauthorized Freud: Doubters confront a legend. New York, NY: Viking Press.
Dolnick, E. (1998). Madness on the couch: Blaming the victim in the heyday of psychoanalysis. New York, NY:
Simon & Schuster.
Fisher, S., & Greenberg, R. P. (1996). Freud scientifically reappraised: Testing the theories and therapy. Oxford,
England: John Wiley & Sons.
Freud, S. (1923/1949). The ego and the id. London, England: Hogarth Press. (Original work published 1923)
Higgins, E. T., Bond, R. N., Klein, R., & Strauman, T. (1986). Self-discrepancies and emotional vulnerability: How
12.2 THE ORIGINS OF PERSONALITY • 514
magnitude, accessibility, and type of discrepancy influence affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,
Kihlstrom, J. F. (1987). The cognitive unconscious. Science, 237(4821), 1445–1452.
Kihlstrom, J. F. (1997). Memory, abuse, and science. American Psychologist, 52(9), 994–995.
Maslow, Abraham (1970). Motivation and personality (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Harper.
McGregor, H. A., Lieberman, J. D., Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., Arndt, J., Simon, L.,…Pyszczynski, T. (1998).
Terror management and aggression: Evidence that mortality salience motivates aggression against worldviewthreatening
others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(3), 590–605.
Newman, L. S., Duff, K. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (1997). A new look at defensive projection: Thought suppression,
accessibility, and biased person perception. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72(5), 980–1001.
Prochaska, J. O., & Norcross, J. C. (2007). Systems of psychotherapy: A transtheoretical analysis (6th ed.). Pacific
Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Roudinesco, E. (2003). Why psychoanalysis? New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist,
Strauman, T. J., & Higgins, E. T. (1988). Self-discrepancies as predictors of vulnerability to distinct syndromes of
chronic emotional distress. Journal of Personality, 56(4), 685–707.
Taylor, E. (2009). The mystery of personality: A history of psychodynamic theories. New York, NY: Springer
Science + Business Media.
Yalom, I. (1995). Introduction. In C. Rogers, A way of being. (1980). New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.
Figure 12.9: Adapted from McGregor, et al., 1998.
Figure 12.11: Adapted from Higgins, Bond, Klein, & Strauman, 1986.
Figure 12.9 long description: Aggression as a Function of
Mortality Salience and Provocation
Provocation Morality Salience Control condition
No 15 grams of hot sauce 17 grams of hot sauce
Yes 26 grams of hot sauce 11 grams of hot sauce
[Return to Figure 12.9]
515 • INTRODUCTION TO PSYCHOLOGY - 1ST CANADIAN EDITION
Figure 12.10 long description: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, from bottom to top.
Physiological (Base) Need to satisfy hunger and thirst.
Safety Need to feel that the world is organized and predictable; need to feel safe, secure, and stable.
Love/belonging Need to love and be loved, to belong and be accepted; need to avoid loneliness and alienation.
Esteem Need for self-esteem, achievement, competence, and independence; need for recognition and respect
(Top) Need to live up to one’s fullest and unique potential.
[Return to Figure 12.10]
Figure 12.11 long description: Research results. Actualideal
Change in rated emotion
High self-concept discrepancy 3.1 0.8
Low self-concept discrepancy negative 1.3 0.9
Figure 12.11 long description continued: Research
results. Actual-ought discrepancies primed.
Change in rated emotion
High self-concept discrepancy 0.8 4.9
Low self-concept discrepancy 0.3 negative 2.4
[Return to Figure 12.11]
12.2 THE ORIGINS OF PERSONALITY • 516
12.3 Is Personality More Nature or More Nurture? Behavioural and Molecular
1. Explain how genes transmit personality from one generation to the next.
2. Outline the methods of behavioural genetics studies and the conclusions that we can draw from
them about the determinants of personality.
3. Explain how molecular genetics research helps us understand the role of genetics in
One question that is exceedingly important for the study of personality concerns the extent to which it is the result of
nature or nurture. If nature is more important, then our personalities will form early in our lives and will be difficult
to change later. If nurture is more important, however, then our experiences are likely to be particularly important,
and we may be able to flexibly alter our personalities over time. In this section we will see that the personality traits
of humans and animals are determined in large part by their genetic makeup, and thus it is no surprise that identical
twins Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein turned out to be very similar even though they had been raised separately.
But we will also see that genetics does not determine everything.
In the nucleus of each cell in your body are 23 pairs of chromosomes. One of each pair comes from your
father, and the other comes from your mother. The chromosomes are made up of strands of the molecule DNA
(deoxyribonucleic acid), and the DNA is grouped into segments known as genes. A gene is the basic biological unit
that transmits characteristics from one generation to the next. Human cells have about 25,000 genes.
The genes of different members of the same species are almost identical. The DNA in your genes, for instance, is
about 99.9% the same as the DNA in my genes and in the DNA of every other human being. These common genetic
structures lead members of the same species to be born with a variety of behaviours that come naturally to them and
that define the characteristics of the species. These abilities and characteristics are known as instincts — complex
inborn patterns of behaviours that help ensure survival and reproduction (Tinbergen, 1951). Different animals
have different instincts. Birds naturally build nests, dogs are naturally loyal to their human caretakers, and humans
instinctively learn to walk and to speak and understand language.
But the strength of different traits and behaviours also varies within species. Rabbits are naturally fearful, but some
are more fearful than others; some dogs are more loyal than others to their caretakers; and some humans learn to
speak and write better than others do. These differences are determined in part by the small amount (in humans, the
0.1%) of the differences in genes among the members of the species.
Personality is not determined by any single gene, but rather by the actions of many genes working together. There
is no “IQ gene” that determines intelligence and there is no “good marriage-partner gene” that makes a person a
particularly good marriage bet. Furthermore, even working together, genes are not so powerful that they can control
or create our personality. Some genes tend to increase a given characteristic and others work to decrease that same
characteristic—the complex relationship among the various genes, as well as a variety of random factors, produces
the final outcome. Furthermore, genetic factors always work with environmental factors to create personality.
Having a given pattern of genes doesn’t necessarily mean that a particular trait will develop, because some traits
might occur only in some environments. For example, a person may have a genetic variant that is known to increase
his or her risk for developing emphysema from smoking. But if that person never smokes, then emphysema most
likely will not develop.
Studying Personality Using Behavioural Genetics
Perhaps the most direct way to study the role of genetics in personality is to selectively breed animals for the trait of
interest. In this approach the scientist chooses the animals that most strongly express the personality characteristics
of interest and breeds these animals with each other. If the selective breeding creates offspring with even stronger
traits, then we can assume that the trait has genetic origins. In this manner, scientists have studied the role of genetics
in how worms respond to stimuli, how fish develop courtship rituals, how rats differ in play, and how pigs differ in
their responses to stress.
Although selective breeding studies can be informative, they are clearly not useful for studying humans. For
this psychologists rely on behavioural genetics — a variety of research techniques that scientists use to learn
about the genetic and environmental influences on human behaviour by comparing the traits of biologically and
nonbiologically related family members (Baker, 2004). Behavioural genetics is based on the results of family
studies, twin studies, and adoptive studies.
A family study starts with one person who has a trait of interest — for instance, a developmental disorder such as
autism — and examines the individual’s family tree to determine the extent to which other members of the family
also have the trait. The presence of the trait in first-degree relatives (parents, siblings, and children) is compared
with the prevalence of the trait in second-degree relatives (aunts, uncles, grandchildren, grandparents, and nephews
or nieces) and in more distant family members. The scientists then analyze the patterns of the trait in the family
members to see the extent to which it is shared by closer and more distant relatives.
Although family studies can reveal whether a trait runs in a family, it cannot explain why. In a twin study,
researchers study the personality characteristics of twins. Twin studies rely on the fact that identical (or
monozygotic) twins have essentially the same set of genes, while fraternal (or dizygotic) twins have, on average, a
half-identical set. The idea is that if the twins are raised in the same household, then the twins will be influenced
by their environments to an equal degree, and this influence will be pretty much equal for identical and fraternal
twins. In other words, if environmental factors are the same, then the only factor that can make identical twins more
similar than fraternal twins is their greater genetic similarity.
In a twin study, the data from many pairs of twins are collected and the rates of similarity for identical and fraternal
pairs are compared. A correlation coefficient is calculated that assesses the extent to which the trait for one twin is
associated with the trait in the other twin. Twin studies divide the influence of nature and nurture into three parts:
• Heritability (i.e., genetic influence) is indicated when the correlation coefficient for identical twins
exceeds that for fraternal twins, indicating that shared DNA is an important determinant of personality.
• Shared environment determinants are indicated when the correlation coefficients for identical and
fraternal twins are greater than zero and also very similar. These correlations indicate that both twins are
having experiences in the family that make them alike.
• Nonshared environment is indicated when identical twins do not have similar traits. These influences
12.3 IS PERSONALITY MORE NATURE OR MORE NURTURE? BEHAVIOURAL AND MOLECULAR GENETICS • 518
refer to experiences that are not accounted for either by heritability or by shared environmental factors.
Nonshared environmental factors are the experiences that make individuals within the same family less
alike. If a parent treats one child more affectionately than another, and as a consequence this child ends
up with higher self-esteem, the parenting in this case is a nonshared environmental factor.
In the typical twin study, all three sources of influence are operating simultaneously, and it is possible to determine
the relative importance of each type.
An adoption study compares biologically related people, including twins, who have been reared either separately
or apart. Evidence for genetic influence on a trait is found when children who have been adopted show traits that are
more similar to those of their biological parents than to those of their adoptive parents. Evidence for environmental
influence is found when the adoptee is more like his or her adoptive parents than the biological parents.
The results of family, twin, and adoption studies are combined to get a better idea of the influence of genetics and
environment on traits of interest. Table 12.6, “Data from Twin and Adoption Studies on the Heritability of Various
Characteristics,” presents data on the correlations and heritability estimates for a variety of traits based on the results
of behavioural genetics studies (Bouchard, Lykken, McGue, Segal, & Tellegen, 1990).
Table 12.6 Data from Twin and Adoption Studies on the Heritability of Various Characteristics. 1
children raised together
children raised apart Estimated percent of total due to
puberty 45 5 50
Aggression 0.43 0.14 0.46 0.06
disease 0.54 0.16
patterns 0.96 0.47 0.96 0.47 100 0 0
56 0 44
divorce 0.52 0.22
orientation 0.52 0.22 18–39 0–17 61–66
This table presents some of the observed correlations and heritability estimates for various characteristics.
If you look in the second column of Table 12.6 , “Data from Twin and Adoption Studies on the Heritability of
519 • INTRODUCTION TO PSYCHOLOGY - 1ST CANADIAN EDITION
Various Characteristics,” you will see the observed correlations for the traits between identical twins who have
been raised together in the same house by the same parents. This column represents the pure effects of genetics,
in the sense that environmental differences have been controlled to be a small as possible. You can see that these
correlations are higher for some traits than for others. Fingerprint patterns are very highly determined by our
genetics (r = .96), whereas the Big Five trait dimensions have a heritability of 40% to 50%.
You can also see from the table that, overall, there is more influence of nature than of parents. Identical twins,
even when they are raised in separate households by different parents (column 4), turn out to be quite similar in
personality, and are more similar than fraternal twins who are raised in separate households (column 5). These
results show that genetics has a strong influence on personality, and helps explain why Elyse and Paula were so
similar when they finally met.
Despite the overall role of genetics, you can see in Table 12.6, “Data from Twin and Adoption Studies on the
Heritability of Various Characteristics,” that the correlations between identical twins (column 2) and heritability
estimates for most traits (column 6) are substantially less than 1.00, showing that the environment also plays an
important role in personality (Turkheimer & Waldron, 2000). For instance, for sexual orientation the estimates of
heritability vary from 18% to 39% of the total across studies, suggesting that 61% to 82% of the total influence is
due to environment.
You might at first think that parents would have a strong influence on the personalities of their children, but this
would be incorrect. As you can see by looking in column 7 of Table 12.6,” research finds that the influence of
shared environment (i.e., the effects of parents or other caretakers) plays little or no role in adult personality (Harris,
2006). Shared environment does influence the personality and behaviour of young children, but this influence
decreases rapidly as the child grows older. By the time we reach adulthood, the impact of shared environment on our
personalities is weak at best (Roberts & DelVecchio, 2000). What this means is that although parents must provide
a nourishing and stimulating environment for children, no matter how hard they try they are not likely to be able to
turn their children into geniuses or into professional athletes, nor will they be able to turn them into criminals.
If parents are not providing the environmental influences on the child, then what is? The last column in Table 12.6,”
the influence of nonshared environment, represents whatever is “left over” after removing the effects of genetics
and parents. You can see that these factors — the largely unknown things that happen to us that make us different
from other people — often have the largest influence on personality.
Studying Personality Using Molecular Genetics
In addition to the use of behavioural genetics, our understanding of the role of biology in personality recently has
been dramatically increased through the use of molecular genetics, which is the study of which genes are associated
with which personality traits (Goldsmith et al., 2003; Strachan & Read, 1999). These advances have occurred as a
result of new knowledge about the structure of human DNA made possible through the Human Genome Project and
related work that has identified the genes in the human body (Human Genome Project, 2010). Molecular genetics
researchers have also developed new techniques that allow them to find the locations of genes within chromosomes
and to identify the effects those genes have when activated or deactivated.
One approach that can be used in animals, usually in laboratory mice, is the knockout study (as shown in Figure
12.12, “Laboratory Mice”). In this approach the researchers use specialized techniques to remove or modify the
influence of a gene in a line of knockout mice (Crusio, Goldowitz, Holmes, & Wolfer, 2009). The researchers
harvest embryonic stem cells from mouse embryos and then modify the DNA of the cells. The DNA is created
so that the action of certain genes will be eliminated or knocked out. The cells are then injected into the embryos of
other mice that are implanted into the uteruses of living female mice. When these animals are born, they are studied
12.3 IS PERSONALITY MORE NATURE OR MORE NURTURE? BEHAVIOURAL AND MOLECULAR GENETICS • 520
Figure 12.12 Laboratory Mice. These “knockout” mice are participating in studies in which some
of their genes have been deactivated to determine the influence of the genes on behaviour.
to see whether their behaviour differs from a control group of normal animals. Research has found that removing or
changing genes in mice can affect their anxiety, aggression, learning, and socialization patterns.
In humans, a molecular genetics study normally begins with the collection of a DNA sample from the participants
in the study, usually by taking some cells from the inner surface of the cheek. In the lab, the DNA is extracted from
the sampled cells and is combined with a solution containing a marker for the particular genes of interest as well as
a fluorescent dye. If the gene is present in the DNA of the individual, then the solution will bind to that gene and
activate the dye. The more the gene is expressed, the stronger the reaction.
In one common approach, DNA is collected from people who have a particular personality characteristic and also
from people who do not. The DNA of the two groups is compared to see which genes differ between them. These
studies are now able to compare thousands of genes at the same time. Research using molecular genetics has found
genes associated with a variety of personality traits including novelty-seeking (Ekelund, Lichtermann, J.rvelin,
& Peltonen, 1999), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (Waldman & Gizer, 2006), and smoking behaviour
(Thorgeirsson et al., 2008).
Reviewing the Literature: Is Our Genetics Our Destiny?
Over the past two decades scientists have made substantial progress in understanding the important role of genetics
in behaviour. Behavioural genetics studies have found that, for most traits, genetics is more important than parental
influence. And molecular genetics studies have begun to pinpoint the particular genes that are causing these
differences. The results of these studies might lead you to believe that your destiny is determined by your genes, but
this would be a mistaken assumption.
For one, the results of all research must be interpreted carefully. Over time we will learn even more about the role
of genetics, and our conclusions about its influence will likely change. Current research in the area of behavioural
genetics is often criticized for making assumptions about how researchers categorize identical and fraternal twins,
521 • INTRODUCTION TO PSYCHOLOGY - 1ST CANADIAN EDITION
about whether twins are in fact treated in the same way by their parents, about whether twins are representative
of children more generally, and about many other issues. Although these critiques may not change the overall
conclusions, it must be kept in mind that these findings are relatively new and will certainly be updated with time
Furthermore, it is important to reiterate that although genetics is important, and although we are learning more every
day about its role in many personality variables, genetics does not determine everything. In fact, the major influence
on personality is nonshared environmental influences, which include all the things that occur to us that make us
unique individuals. These differences include variability in brain structure, nutrition, education, upbringing, and
even interactions among the genes themselves.
The genetic differences that exist at birth may be either amplified or diminished over time through environmental
factors. The brains and bodies of identical twins are not exactly the same, and they become even more different as
they grow up. As a result, even genetically identical twins have distinct personalities, resulting in large part from
Because these nonshared environmental differences are nonsystematic and largely accidental or random, it will
be difficult to ever determine exactly what will happen to a child as he or she grows up. Although we do inherit
our genes, we do not inherit personality in any fixed sense. The effect of our genes on our behaviour is entirely
dependent on the context of our life as it unfolds day to day. Based on your genes, no one can say what kind of
human being you will turn out to be or what you will do in life.
• Genes are the basic biological units that transmit characteristics from one generation to the next.
• Personality is not determined by any single gene, but rather by the actions of many genes working
• Behavioural genetics refers to a variety of research techniques that scientists use to learn about the
genetic and environmental influences on human behaviour.
• Behavioural genetics is based on the results of family studies, twin studies, and adoptive studies.
• Overall, genetics has more influence than parents do on shaping our personality.
• Molecular genetics is the study of which genes are associated with which personality traits.
• The largely unknown environmental influences, known as the nonshared environmental effects,
have the largest impact on personality. Because these differences are nonsystematic and largely
accidental or random, we do not inherit our personality in any fixed sense.
Exercises and Critical Thinking
1. Think about the twins you know. Do they seem to be very similar to each other, or does it seem
that their differences outweigh their similarities?
12.3 IS PERSONALITY MORE NATURE OR MORE NURTURE? BEHAVIOURAL AND MOLECULAR GENETICS • 522
2. Describe the implications of the effects of genetics on personality, overall. What does it mean
to say that genetics “determines” or “does not determine” our personality?
Baker, C. (2004). Behavioral genetics: An introduction to how genes and environments interact through
development to shape differences in mood, personality, and intelligence. [PDF] Retrieved
Bouchard, T. J., Lykken, D. T., McGue, M., Segal, N. L., & Tellegen, A. (1990). Sources of human psychological
differences: The Minnesota study of twins reared apart. Science, 250(4978), 223–228. Retrieved
Crusio, W. E., Goldowitz, D., Holmes, A., & Wolfer, D. (2009). Standards for the publication of mouse mutant
studies. Genes, Brain & Behavior, 8(1), 1–4.
Ekelund, J., Lichtermann, D., J.rvelin, M. R., & Peltonen, L. (1999). Association between novelty seeking and the
type 4 dopamine receptor gene in a large Finnish cohort sample. American Journal of Psychiatry, 156, 1453–1455.
Goldsmith, H., Gernsbacher, M. A., Crabbe, J., Dawson, G., Gottesman, I. I., Hewitt, J.,…Swanson, J. (2003).
Research psychologists’ roles in the genetic revolution. American Psychologist, 58(4), 318–319.
Harris, J. R. (2006). No two alike: Human nature and human individuality. New York, NY: Norton.
Human Genome Project. (2010). Information. Retrieved from http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/
L.ngstr.m, N., Rahman, Q., Carlstr.m, E., & Lichtenstein, P. (2010). Genetic and environmental effects on samesex
sexual behaviour: A population study of twins in Sweden. Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 39(1), 75-80.
Loehlin, J. C. (1992). Genes and environment in personality development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications,
McGue, M., & Lykken, D. T. (1992). Genetic influence on risk of divorce. Psychological Science, 3(6), 368–373.
Plomin, R. (2000). Behavioural genetics in the 21st century. International Journal of Behavioral Development,
Plomin, R., Fulker, D. W., Corley, R., & DeFries, J. C. (1997). Nature, nurture, and cognitive development from 1
to 16 years: A parent-offspring adoption study. Psychological Science, 8(6), 442–447.
Roberts, B. W., & DelVecchio, W. F. (2000). The rank-order consistency of personality traits from childhood to old
age: A quantitative review of longitudinal studies. Psychological Bulletin, 126(1), 3–25.
Strachan, T., & Read, A. P. (1999). Human molecular genetics (2nd ed.). Retrieved
523 • INTRODUCTION TO PSYCHOLOGY - 1ST CANADIAN EDITION
Tellegen, A., Lykken, D. T., Bouchard, T. J., Wilcox, K. J., Segal, N. L., & Rich, S. (1988). Personality similarity
in twins reared apart and together. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(6), 1031–1039.
Thorgeirsson, T. E., Geller, F., Sulem, P., Rafnar, T., Wiste, A., Magnusson, K. P.,…Stefansson, K. (2008).
A variant associated with nicotine dependence, lung cancer and peripheral arterial disease. Nature, 452(7187),
Tinbergen, N. (1951). The study of instinct (1st ed.). Oxford, England: Clarendon Press.
Turkheimer, E., & Waldron, M. (2000). Nonshared environment: A theoretical, methodological, and quantitative
review. Psychological Bulletin, 126(1), 78–108.
Waldman, I. D., & Gizer, I. R. (2006). The genetics of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Clinical Psychology
Review, 26(4), 396–432.
Figure 12.12: “Laboratory mice” by Aaron Logan is licensed under CC BY 1.0 license
1. Sources: L.ngstr.m, et al, 2010; Loehlin, 1992; McGue & Lykken, 1992; Plomin et al, 1997; Tellegen et al, 1988.
12.3 IS PERSONALITY MORE NATURE OR MORE NURTURE? BEHAVIOURAL AND MOLECULAR GENETICS • 524
12.4 Chapter Summary
Personality is defined as an individual’s consistent patterns of feeling, thinking, and behaving. Early theories of
personality, including phrenology and somatology, are now discredited, but there is at least some research evidence
for physiognomy — the idea that it is possible to assess personality from facial characteristics.
Personalities are characterized in terms of traits, which are relatively enduring characteristics that influence our
behaviour across many situations. Psychologists have investigated hundreds of traits using the self-report approach.
The utility of self-report measures of personality depends on their reliability and construct validity. Some popular
measures of personality, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), do not have reliability or construct
validity and therefore are not useful measures of personality.
The trait approach to personality was pioneered by early psychologists, including Allport, Cattell, and Eysenck,
and their research helped produce the Five-Factor (Big Five) Model of Personality. The Big Five dimensions are
cross-culturally valid and accurately predict behaviour. The Big Five factors are also increasingly being used to help
researchers understand the dimensions of psychological disorders.
A difficulty of the trait approach to personality is that there is often only a low correlation between the traits that a
person expresses in one situation and those that he or she expresses in other situations. However, psychologists have
also found that personality predicts behaviour better when the behaviours are averaged across different situations.
People may believe in the existence of traits because they use their schemas to judge other people, leading them
to believe that traits are more stable than they really are. An example is the Barnum effect — the observation that
people tend to believe in descriptions of their personality that supposedly are descriptive of them but could in fact
describe almost anyone.
An important personality test is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) used to detect personality
and psychological disorders. Another approach to measuring personality is to use projective measures, such as the
Rorschach Inkblot Test and the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). The advantage of projective tests is that they
are less direct, but empirical evidence supporting their reliability and construct validity is mixed.
There are behaviourist, social-cognitive, psychodynamic, and humanist theories of personality.
The psychodynamic approach to understanding personality, begun by Sigmund Freud, is based on the idea that all
behaviours are predetermined by motivations that lie outside our awareness, in the unconscious. Freud proposed
that the mind is divided into three components: id, ego, and superego, and that the interactions and conflicts among
the components create personality. Freud also believed that psychological disorders, and particularly the experience
of anxiety, occur when there is conflict or imbalance among the motivations of the id, ego, and superego and that
people use defence mechanisms to cope with this anxiety.
Freud argued that personality is developed through a series of psychosexual stages, each focusing on pleasure from
a different part of the body, and that the appropriate resolution of each stage has implications for later personality
Freud has probably exerted a greater impact on the public’s understanding of personality than any other thinker, but
his theories have in many cases failed to pass the test of empiricism.
Freudian theory led to a number of followers known as the neo-Freudians, including Adler, Jung, Horney, and
Humanistic theories of personality focus on the underlying motivations that they believe drive personality, focusing
on the nature of the self-concept and the development of self-esteem. The idea of unconditional positive regard
championed by Carl Rogers has led in part to the positive psychology movement, and it is a basis for almost all
contemporary psychological therapy.
Personality traits of humans and animals are determined in large part by their genetic makeup. Personality is not
determined by any single gene, but rather by the actions of many genes working together.
The role of nature and nurture in personality is studied by means of behavioural genetics studies including family
studies, twin studies, and adoption studies. These studies partition variability in personality into the influence of
genetics (known as heritability), shared environment, and nonshared environment. Although these studies find
that many personality traits are highly heritable, genetics does not determine everything. The major influence on
personality is nonshared environmental influences.
In addition to the use of behavioural genetics, our understanding of the role of biology in personality recently has
been dramatically increased through the use of molecular genetics, the study of which genes are associated with
which personality traits in animals and humans.
12.4 CHAPTER SUMMARY • 526