For my Psychology of Personality class, I will be writing several deep-thought/reaction/reflection essays in regards to assigned articles.
I will be posting them here.
I have not yet adjusted to APA style. That really needs to happen soon.
Dr. Randy Young
27 January 2010
_____Thought Paper #1
_____What Do We Know When We Know a Person?
_____Personality and character traits have always been things I have enjoyed considering, particularly in my personal reflective writing, both about myself and about others. Before reading McAdams’ article, I did not have any concrete, tangible opinion about personality theory, outside of the simple belief that personality is influenced by both internal and external factors. As I read the article, I noticed I disagreed with a few points the author made, specifically the fact that I place more emphasis on traits than he does. However, by the time I finished reading the article, I agreed with his main theme that there are levels of personality when it comes to how well one knows a particular person.
_____The author primarily asks what is meant by “knowing a person better,” after simple personality details and character traits have been noted. My original opinion was that getting to know a person better simply refers to getting to know more of these personality details and character traits. McAdams disagrees and says that getting to know a person better refers to knowing something deeper about the person, specifically how the person views their own identity and how they relate this through autobiographical narrative. After reading this, I agreed that getting to know a person better should consist of some deeper connection and communication, but was still not convinced that personality is much more than just traits.
_____The theory that personality consists of only traits makes sense to me because I believe that non-trait personality items (values, motives, and goals) can be broken down and reduced to the trait they represent and are motivated by. For example, my career goal of being a youth counselor is motivated by my personality trait of compassion, my value of integrity represents my own characteristic of integrity, and my goal of writing a few books is motivated by my characteristics of being intelligent and outspoken. I agree with the author that knowing traits is not enough to fully know a person. One must also be familiar with how these traits are internalized by the individual; how they influence their values, motives, and goals; and how they are perceived by the individual.
_____I also agree with McAdams that rating personality is difficult because there is no real standard and the average must be estimated. Rating one’s own personality is also difficult because self-perception tends to differ from objective-perception. Subjectivity is an obstacle in any social sciences topic, but especially in regards to studying personality. McAdams’ Level III, identity through narrative, is entirely subjective because it is how a person tells stories that define them. Because of this, when considering one’s own personality traits, it is important to consider both personal perceptions of personality, as well as the perceptions of friends and family.
_____The most interesting thing about personality that I am now considering is the fact that it seems like personality traits tend to divide themselves into two categories. McAdams discusses the “Big Five:” extraversion, neuroticism, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness, but also mentions other, purely positive characteristics. These positive personality traits include having compassion, being a good listener, and volunteering time. These traits sound more like good deeds to me, but I have often heard them talked about as if they are inherent personality traits. I even included “compassionate” on my list of three characteristics that define me.
_____Such transient characteristics are certainly different than the “Big Five,” at least in some way. McAdams somewhat makes this distinction, but refers to them as dispositional traits (the “Big Five”) and personal concerns (what people want). I agree with McAdams more than I originally thought I did, although we do use different terminology. Traits are the actual characteristics of the individual (extraversion, neuroticism, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness) and personal concerns are positive “traits” that the individual strives to have (compassion, empathy, listening, concern, volunteerism, etc.).
_____I also thought I disagreed with McAdams’ claim that traits such as extraversion and agreeableness exist independent from development based on the fact that all three of my defining characteristics have surfaced and been solidified very recently. However, now having made the distinction between traits and “personal concerns,” I see that my three characteristics (outspoken, confident, and compassionate) are more strived-for traits than foundational personality traits. Because of this, these “personal concerns” have arisen recently because I have realized how important they are to me and now concern myself with making them true in my personality.
_____So what makes a certain trait a real “dispositional trait” and not a “personal concern”? It at first seems like those characteristics that are strived-for are all positive and that the “Big Five” personality traits have opposites that are negative. But is this to say that one cannot strive for and attain a higher level of extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experience or a lower level or neuroticism? It is my opinion that this is possible. I believe that the factor with the most influence is the individual and their attitude and that, with the right attitude and commitment, one can strive to be and be more extroverted, agreeable, conscientious, and open to experience or less neurotic.