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Critically Assess the Value of the Construct 'Personality' with Reference to One Specified Theory of 'Personality' in Psychology

Topics: Psychology / Pages: 12 (2882 words) / Published: Dec 6th, 2011
Critically assess the value of the construct 'personality ' with reference to one specified theory of 'personality ' in Psychology

In order to answer the question and assess the value of the construct 'personality ', this essay will focus on the biological approach to ‘personality’ in particular, while weighing up the strengths and weaknesses, in order to reach a valid conclusion.

When considering to what extent the construct 'personality ' is valuable, it is necessary to define what is meant by the terms 'personality ' and construct. The idea of 'personality ' is prevalent in both every day and academic discourse, meaning views on ‘personality’ vary widely, from lay definitions to Psychological definitions. While many Psychological terms have been adopted into everyday language, the public perspective of ‘personality’ differs from the actual Psychological terms. Lay definitions of 'personality ' are often based on value judgements in terms of social attractiveness and physical appearance, and are judged primarily in a social context. Lay definitions of 'personality ' are commonly linked with implicit ‘personality’ theories. These are 'intuitively based theories of human behaviour that we all construct to help us understand both others and ourselves ' (Maltby, 2010). As human beings have a natural interest in explaining behaviour, we use implicit theories, based on observations, to try to understand concepts such as people 's character and what sort of person they are. Our implicit theories of ‘personality’ tend to work quite well, but are flawed in the fact that they are based on chance observations which we seldom get the chance to investigate further. Psychologists attempt to find more reliable methods when regarding 'personality '. As previously stated, Psychological definitions of 'personality ' are not the same as lay definitions, yet there is also much debate over the Psychological definition. A reasonably comprehensive definition is provided by Gordon Allport, 'a dynamic organisation, inside the person, of psychophysical systems that create the person 's characteristic patterns of behaviour, thoughts and feelings ' (Allport, 1961, p.11). 'Personality ' is, 'perceived to be a relatively stable, enduring, important aspect of self ' (Maltby, 2010). Moreover, people are presumed to have reasonably consistent characteristics in different situations and to have little change in their 'personality ' traits over time. Yet, it is also recognised that there exists observable and unobservable aspects to 'personality '. The unobservable aspects include thoughts, memories and dreams. Psychoanalytic theory provides a further distinction between the conscious and unconscious within 'personality ', with the unconscious consisting of specific drives of which we are unaware. The difference between the public and private persona is also considered as part of 'personality ', with the public persona being an individual’s representation of themselves to the outside world and the private persona being the inner person.

A Psychological construct is, 'a mental concept that influences behaviour via the mind-body interaction ' (Maltby, 2010). They cannot be directly observed, but are hypothesised to be important when determining behaviour. Furthermore, 'personality ' itself cannot be observed, merely theorised using behavioural observations. Lee J. Cronbach and Paul Meehl (1995) provide a method for demonstrating the validity of Psychological concepts in 'personality ' tests. They propose three steps for establishing the validity of Psychological concepts, which include; describe the characteristics that make up the construct and hypothesis how they relate to each other, develop techniques for measuring the suggested characteristics of the construct and to then test the hypothesised relationships. It should be noted that Cronach and Meehl recognised establishing the validity of Psychological concepts is an ongoing process.

Although there are many theories and perspectives on the construct ‘personality’, I have chosen to reference the biological approach to provide examples during my evaluation. The biological approach to ‘personality’ suggests there is a genetic explanation; it is argued that our ‘personalities’ are phenotypes (outward manifestation of ourselves) determined by our genes. Eysenck’s three factor model of ‘personality’ is part of the biological approach as he believed different systems in the brain were responsible for different aspects of ‘personality’. He proposes his extroversion scale is concerned with the reticulo-cortical circuit, which manages arousal generated by external stimulation. He goes on to suggest that the brain has two sets of mechanisms; the excitatory and inhibitory mechanisms which are regulated by the ascending reticular activating system (ARAS) Introverted individuals have too much arousal in their ARAS and need low external stimulation, while extroverts have lower levels of activation in their ARAS and therefore require higher external stimulation. Eysenck stated his neuroticism scale is concernced with the reticulo-limbic scale, which manages and controls arousal to emotional stimuli. Neurotics will become highly aroused due to emotional stimulation compared to emotionally stable individuals. Eysenck’s theory demonstrates the value of research into ‘personality’. It can be very useful to help explain why an individual behaves as they do and if it is due to biological reasons this could then be controlled or measured. However, issues arise as to whether ‘personality’ itself can be measured. Instead, it could be argued what is actually being measured is merely a projection of an individual’s ‘personality’ or what could be being measured could be an individual’s mood at the time. People may perform differently on ‘personalit’y tests depending on their frame of mind at the time. Eysenck’s approach is nomothetic, meaning the uniqueness of individuals is based on their combination of levels on trait dimensions. These traits are reduced to as few as possible in order to apply them universally. Weaknesses of this approach include the assumption that traits are constant throughout the lifespan and unchanging and the fact that it can lead to a fairly superficial understanding of any one person. The biological approach relies on the fact that there is consistency in ‘personality’ traits as they are biologically determined. This can be seen as reductionist as it neglects the environmental effects involved in the formation of ‘personality’ including influences from authority figures, parents and peers and an individual’s socio-political and socio-economic situation. However, while the biological approach aims to discern to what extent our ‘personalities’ are genetically determined, it is also recognised that there is an environment context as well. Research in the biological approach is commonly done through three types of studies; family studies, twin studies and adoption studies. From these studies, it is possible to develop genetic heritability estimates of ‘personality’. It could be widely beneficial to be able to state to what extent our ‘personality’ is from our genetic make-up and what is developed from our environmental experiences. We can then go about suggesting to what extent socio-political/economic issues need to be addressed compared to what extent we can blame our actions on inherent qualities. It can also be suggested that the biological approach is deterministic in its nature, removing the autonomy in our ‘personality’ and behaviour, which we like to believe we have control over. Yet, as previously stated, by recognising that ‘personality ‘originates from a combination of both genetics and environmental experiences, it is also recognised that our ‘personalities’ are only pre-determined to a certain extent.

‘Personality’ theory originally developed within Psychology from a clinical perspective; to help us understand mental illness and abnormal behaviour. We need some idea of what constitutes the normal range of human behaviour in order to make judgements about what is abnormal. Although treatment for abnormal ‘personalities’ can have negative effects, the idea of identifying and helping those on the abnormal spectrum is a positive one. Once we foster a deeper understanding of human beings and how their ‘personality’ can affect behaviour, we can then assist the development of interventions to facilitate behaviour change. In this sense, the construct ‘personality’ is shown to have significant value, but perhaps just in theory. Accepting the existence of the construct ‘personality’ gives rise to issues such as what constitutes as a normal ‘personality’ and how to treat abnormal ‘personalities’, but not necessarily in the positive way it originally appears to. As the biological approach suggests there is a genetic cause for ‘personality’, it can be further suggested that ‘personality’ can be physically controlled with things like medication. This can be seen in both a positive and negative light concerning the value of the construct ‘personality’. It can be useful to be able to treat ‘personality’ disorders, especially when it comes to things like criminality which some theorise has a genetic basis (Tehrani and Mednick, 2000). However, ‘personality’ disorders have not been conclusively proven to exist and it is difficult to give evidence for a genetic cause presently. This has led many to believe that treating ‘personality’ involves medicalising experiences which could be caused by the social and political environment and not aspects of our brain and has been termed ‘blaming the brain’. Pharmaceutical companies have been accused of encouraging diminished individual responsibility for people’s problems through attributing blame to predetermined genetic factors. With issues like depression, people are encouraged to think of it as a problem with their brain which can be rectified with drugs, rather than look at their own lives and the issues that lead to the problem to begin with, which undermines techniques like self-help. While the environment may be recognised as a trigger for ‘personality’ disorders, it is not seen as a factor. In theory, medical treatment for ‘personality’ disorders could be quite useful and could help many people. In practise though, it often proves ineffective as antidepressant drugs are ‘barely more effective than placebos in treating mental disorder’ (Robert Whitaker, 2005). While the theory of a biological basis for abnormal ‘personalities’ leading to medical treatment to correct a chemical imbalance appears like a sound idea, this falls apart when we look deeper into what biological evidence we currently have. In the example of depression, it has been widely publicised that abnormalities of the serotonin system are found in people who are depressed. Yet there is no reliable scientific evidence for this. This fact is highlight by Joanna Moncrieff who goes on to demonstrate how these drugs actually affect us, ‘in my view it remains more plausible that they "work" by producing drug-induced states which suppress or mask emotional problems’ (Moncrieff, 2009). While she does not necessarily condone medical treatment, Moncrieff raises the issue that we should be more honest and more aware of what these drugs are actually doing. They control our behaviour but this is not medicating or treating the problem and dressing it up as such could be dangerous. While aspects of control can be beneficial, there needs to be a balance in these matters and patients should be much more aware of the consequences of pharmaceutical drugs.

One problem with the construct ‘personality’ is particularly prevalent to today’s society. We live in a consumerist culture and this is reflected in views on ‘personality’. People believe they can buy a solution to everything, including problems with their ‘personality’. This has played upon by the drug market and now results in many people, particularly in America, to seek to solve their problems quickly and easily through drugs. Psychiatric drugs are advertised as a ‘magic bullet’ to solve all our problems, leading to medicalisation of social problems. People are encouraged to avoid looking at themselves as the issue and jump straight to the ‘solution’ of drugs. Before anti-depressants, depression was almost unrecognised. Instead it was viewed as melancholy or stress. Pharmaceutical companies are said to not only be marketing their drug, but also the diagnosis of mental illness in order to promote the drug. With such a rise in mental illness questions arise as to what extent the need for diagnosis has been constructed.

‘Personality’ can been argued to be purely socially constructed in order to reflect society’s expectations of behaviour. If people do not fit into this construct, they are outcasted as abnormal and labelled as such with terms like ‘personality’ disorder. Labelling people through diagnosis can be very damaging to a person. Although it has the positive aspect of giving people an answer to their problems by recognising them as a condition, it can threaten their positive identity. For example, if someone was diagnosed with schizophrenia they would be viewed as outside normal society. The media often portrays schizophrenics as associated with violence and other negative qualities. People with mental disorders are often seen as irrational and something to be afraid of and avoid. Once labelled mentally ill, you are often likely to be treated as such for life, partly because the diagnosis will remain on your medical records. There are also issues with labelling children with ADHD as the diagnosis can be seen as a form of social control. The diagnosis of ADHD has dramatically increased over recent years, which can be argued to be caused by society to ‘medicate boyhood’. In the next few decades from the 1980s, when ADHD first started being recognised, the rise of children diagnosed with ADHD rose dramatically, particularly in boys in Northern American. In the UK, the statistics are equally astonishing. In 1991 there were 2,000 prescriptions of Ritalin, yet by just 1999 they had reached a remarkable 158,000 (Department of Health, 2000). Characteristics such as being fidgety and easily distracted are not viewed positively by society and so children who display these qualities are represented as abnormal and are encouraged to conform.

The construct ‘personality’ can be valuable, as it has been theorised that it can be measured. This would be useful to employers who are seeking individuals with certain characteristics for a job. ‘Personality’ questionnaires are often already incorporated within the interview process in many jobs. Sports ‘personality’ questionnaires are also highly useful for looking at characteristics and weighing up whether people have the right ‘personalities’ to be a successful athlete. Another advantage to the measurement of’ personality’ is the link with criminal or abnormal behaviour. If this kind of behaviour could be measured, it could be predicted and then prevented or treated.

A problem with the construct ‘personality’ is that in order for the theory to be valid people should have fixed characteristics despite the situation. However, this is not always the case. People often behave differently depending on the situation, sometimes showing introvert qualities, other times showing extravert qualities. This raises the question as to whether ‘personality’ exists at all and to what extent our qualities are fixed.

In conclusion, the construct ‘personality’ is of reasonable value. In theory, the construct ‘personality’ can be very beneficial in explaining and determining human behaviour. It is useful for lay discussions of people’s character and for employers as part of the interview process. People are naturally curious in what causes human behaviour, and ‘personality’ is thought to be one of these aspects. An explanation for human behaviour based on ‘personality’ could be increasingly valuable. Once the normal range of ‘personality’ is determined, the construct of ‘personality’ can be used to determine abnormal ‘personalities’ and help can be given to treat them. In the case of the biological approach to ‘personality’, a lot of this treatment may come from medication. As it is also acknowledged that there is an environmental aspect to ‘personality’, other treatments such as self-help can be valuable to approaching abnormal ‘personalities’. However, in practise these ideas have not yet materialised to the extent they could. The existence of ‘personality’ is accepted by most but the problems lie in the proof of the construct. There are many theories on ‘personality’ and there is not yet one universally accepted one. As ‘personality’ theories are not conclusively proven, they lack validity and approaches to the treatment of what constitutes an abnormal ‘personality’ have not proved to be successful in many accounts. The biological approach to ‘personality’ has led to a culture of medication for the treatment of so-called ‘personality’ disorders and mental illness. Often, external influences are ignored completely and this has led to ineffective treatment. The drugs used are supposed to balance the chemical problems in the brain which cause the abnormal ‘personality’ but instead leave patients in a pacified state without addressing any of the fundamental issues. This is why the construct ‘personality’ can only be said to be of reasonable value at the moment. In many cases it has done more harm than good, encouraging people to believe pills are the answers to all their problems as they believe they have something wrong with their biologically-determined ‘personality’. Perhaps in the future when a valid, universal construct for ‘personality’ has been accepted and issues such as drug culture and labelling theory have been addressed, the construct of ‘personality’ may prove to be of greater value to society.

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Whitaker, R (August 27, 2005) Psychiatric Drugs: Chemical Warfare on Humans - interview with Robert Whitaker by: Terry Messman

Maltby, J. Day, L, & Macaskill, A. (2010) Personality, Individual Differences and Intelligence (2nd Ed). Harlow, England: Pearson.

Allport, G. W. (1961) Pattern and growth in personality. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Cronbach, L. J. and Meehl, P.E. (1995) Construct validity in psychological tests. Psychological bulletin, 52, 281-302.

Tehrani, j. and Mednick, S. (2000). Genetic factors and criminal behaviour. Federal Probation, 64, 24-28.

Moncrieff, J. (July 2009). The myth of the chemical cure. BBC news channel

Department of Health (2000) Prescription Cost Analysis Data, London: The Stationery Office.

References: Whitaker, R (August 27, 2005) Psychiatric Drugs: Chemical Warfare on Humans - interview with Robert Whitaker by: Terry Messman Maltby, J. Day, L, & Macaskill, A. (2010) Personality, Individual Differences and Intelligence (2nd Ed). Harlow, England: Pearson. Allport, G. W. (1961) Pattern and growth in personality. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. Cronbach, L. J. and Meehl, P.E. (1995) Construct validity in psychological tests. Psychological bulletin, 52, 281-302. Tehrani, j. and Mednick, S. (2000). Genetic factors and criminal behaviour. Federal Probation, 64, 24-28. Moncrieff, J. (July 2009). The myth of the chemical cure. BBC news channel Department of Health (2000) Prescription Cost Analysis Data, London: The Stationery Office.

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