Advances in Neurosciene and Personality

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HOW DO ADVANCES IN NEUROSCIENCE ADD TO OUR UNDERSTANDING OF PERSONALITY?

The scientific study of the nervous system, or “Neuroscience” as it’s universally known, has evolved in leaps and bounds over the past few decades. The field has heralded hugely varied and significant findings from the presence of protein plaques in the brains of dementia patients (1) to the effect of medication on brain chemistry (2) and most recently the discovery of neuroplasticity (3). With advancements as remarkable as these our understandings about the human mind and human behavior is being built upon on a daily basis. In particular huge insights have been gained into the study of personality thanks to research involving advanced neuroscientific techniques and approaches. In order to appreciate just how much these advances have influenced the study of personality we must first take a brief look at the history of personality research.

From Pavlov’s behavioral conditioning experiments to Freud’s psychoanalytic perspectives and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs many of Psychology’s most famous figures have proposed a variety of theories to explain how and why we think and act in such unique ways (8). Considering all the research and contrasting theories in the field most modern day researchers and psychologists take an eclectic approach to the study of personality (10). For the sake of this essay however I’m going to concentrate on one particular branch of personality research which has gained great credence thanks to advances in neuroscience; “Type Theory”. Type theory explains people’s behaviors in terms of fixed characteristics. According to CliffsNotes “A trait is a characteristic pattern of behavior or conscious motive which can be self-assessed or assessed by peers”. The term type is used “to identify a certain collection of traits that make up a broad, general personality classification.”(9) Thus by studying and identifying someone’s particular “traits” their personality “type” may be defined. One of the earliest type theories was proposed by Carl Jung, founder of analytical Psychology, in his 1921 publication of “Psychological Types” (7). Jung’s theory proposed that we all have innate, genetically determined traits or “temperaments”(8). Jung introduced two contrasting pairs of cognitive functions; the rational functions (those which require acts of judgments); thinking and feeling and the irrational functions (those which are immediate experiences); sensing and intuition. He also proposed that humans express these functions to varying degrees in either an introverted or extraverted way depending on their individual personalities (12). A significant feature of this theory is that traits are not all-or-none characteristics but are dimensions along which people vary by degree (Kendra C, 2005)(4). Warren, H. C., & Carmichael, L. (1922) sum up this idea of personality rather nicely in their peer-reviewed book on elements of human Psychology; "Personality is the entire mental organization of a human being at any stage of his development. It embraces every phase of human character: intellect, temperament, skill, morality, and every attitude that has been built up in the course of one's life." (5)

As contentious as it has been to establish a conclusive definition of personality, measuring an individual’s character has proved exceedingly more complicated. Specialized personality tests have been constructed and developed in order to assess a person’s dominant traits and thus assign them a personality “type”. One highly esteemed personality test within the academic field of personality research (considered “the most famous personality test of all time” by Psychology Prof. George Boree and many others (8)) is the Myres-Briggs Type Indicator®(MBTI®). The MBTI® was published in 1962 by Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isobel Briggs Myres (8, 11). Using Jung’s idea of individuals possessing a set quality of dichotomous cognitive functions...
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