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Lecture 7......
Jeremy Jackson
|     May 5, 2014
NW 3431
|     New Westminster
Carl Sagan: "Science is a way of thinking much more than a body of knowledge"

Key concepts - you will be responsible for knowing a number of definitions of key concepts. You may be asked to give an accurate definition and example of any of the key concepts. Key concepts are in italics, bolded and colored red throughout the notes.

Discussion exercises and class activities - the lecture notes contain a number of discussion questions and class activities. You should conduct these exercises as soon as they are introduced in the notes. Exercises are in italics, bolded and green throughout the notes.

Critical points - there are some points that require extra emphasis because they are fundamental to the example or concept being discussed. Critical points are bolded, in italics and colored orange.

Movies - throughout the notes I have made short videos explaining various ideas.

Personality Theory

This area of study encompasses 4 main perspectives or approaches to the problem of personality. They are:

1) The Trait Perspective - this has to do with the measurement/assessment of stable traits. This area shares much in method and approach with intelligence measurement (see Chapter 10).

2) The Psychoanalytic Perspective - this has to do with Freud's theory of personality and it's associated treatment methods.

3) The Humanistic Perspective - this has to do with an approach invented by Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. This approach focuses on what is good about people and how to achieve self-actualization.

4) The Social Cognitive Perspective - this method focuses on the model of reciprocal determinism in the development of personality.

  • Why do we fight with our partner?
  • Where do these aggressive, conflictual tendencies come from?
  • How could we be more understanding and less confrontational with our partners?

In the trait perspective, we might say that this tendency comes from enduring, measurable personality traits such as dominance, aggression, etc.

In the psychoanalytic perspective we might say that this tendency comes from unresolved sexual and aggressive urges that cause us anxiety. Our defense against this anxiety causes us to lash out at our partner. 

In the humanistic perspective we might say that this tendency comes from our failure to be genuinely accepting of others.

In the social cognitive perspective we might say that this tendency comes from improper ways of thinking about our partner that are exacerbated by problems in our social life.

Let's begin by looking at the trait perspective.

The Trait Perspective

Suppose I were to describe the personality of my wife. I would say that she is kind, moral, disciplined, organized, and intelligent. I would use 5 traits to describe her personality to you.

A trait is a disposition to behave in a particular way in a variety of situations over an extended period of time.

It turns out that there are very many traits. A psychologist called Gordon Allport went through a dictionary and identified 4,500 distinct traits. One of the most significant problems in personality research has been to somehow deal with the vast number of traits in such a way that they can be scientifically studied.

Imagine a study in which the researcher is interested in studying the relationship between personality (IV) and marital happiness (DV). To fully understand how personality effects marital satisfaction, the researcher would have to assess each of their subjects on 4,501 different variables (4,500 traits and marital satisfaction). Can you imagine filling out a survey or rating a person on 4,500 different traits? How long would this take?

In addition to the practical problems faced with the large number of traits, there is also the scientific desire to REDUCE.

Following the success of physics and chemistry in which seemingly extremely complex phenomena (the universe) was reduced to a periodic table (oxygen, hydrogen, iron, etc) and a few elegant equations (E=MCsquared), psychologists wondered if personality could also be reduced to a smaller number of fundamental elements or building blocks.

In the Trait Perspective, the main job has been to find a way to reduce personality traits to the most fundamental, basic traits. By doing this we will be able to give a good DESCRIPTION of personality. In this perspective we are not interested in explaining why personality comes about, just measuring or assessing personality in individual people.


The Big Five

The Big Five are the 5 personality traits that psychologists have reduced all 4,500 (some say there are even more) traits to. The claim is that all 4,500 personality traits belong to one of these 5 categories, and that these 5 categories are universal to all human cultures.

Now, write down 5 personality traits that you think are basic and fundamental in the sense described above. What 5 most basic traits describe you?

Now, are these the same as the Big 5: Agreeableness, Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extroversion and Neuroticism?

Probably not. Notice that my description of my wife, and probably many of the traits that you thought were basic/fundamental are not included in the Big 5. So clearly, psychologists did not discover the big 5 by asking people what the most fundamental traits are, or looking at their descriptions of others. How did they do it?

How did they do it?

Steps to Discovering The Big 5

i) Develop a list of personality traits. Make the list very long. Say 1,000 traits.

ii) Give this list to a sample of subjects and ask them to rate themselves on all of the traits. So, for instance, for the trait dominance, get the subject to rate how high or low they are on that trait on a scale of 1-7 with 1 being low and 7 being high.

iii) Calculate the Pearson correlations between every possible pair of trait ratings. If we have 1,000 traits we will have 1000(1000-1)/2=499,500 correlations.

An example might help. Suppose we have 4 traits: dominance, assertiveness, gentleness, submissiveness. We get each person to rate themselves on each of the 4 traits on a scale of 1-7. We calculate the Pearson correlation between each pair of trait ratings. When we do this we get something called a correlation matrix. A correlation matrix we might get in this situation is given below:




Notice we have: 4(4-1)/2=6 correlations.

Notice also that the correlation between dominance and assertiveness is high and positive (i.e., .75). This means that people that rate themselves as dominant also tend to rate themselves as assertive. The correlation between assertiveness and gentleness, however, is strong and negative (i.e., -.5). This means that people that rate themselves as assertive tend NOT to rate themselves as gentle.

iv) Use a mathematical tool called factor analysis to identify sets of traits that correlate with factors generated by the analysis. In the above, factor analysis would find 2 factors. Dominance and assertiveness would correlate with one of  the factors and gentleness and submissiveness would correlate with the other factor. Why? Dominance and assertiveness correlate with each other AND DO NOT correlate positively with gentleness and submissiveness. They would, therefore, correlate with their own factor and not with a factor that gentleness and submissiveness correlate with.

In the BIG 5, 5 factors were found that all the thousands of traits correlated with. This means that it takes 5 factors to ACCOUNT FOR the correlations between all of the traits.

v) Name the factors based on the traits that correlate with them. In our example above, the factor that dominance and assertiveness correlate with might be called the EXTRAVERSION factor. Why? Because dominance and assertiveness are both conceptually similar to or related with extroversion. The factor that gentleness and submissiveness correlate with might be called the AGREEABLENESS factor. 

Note that we decide on the names, we do not discover them.

Now, the argument about the Big 5 is that:

i) Roughly the same factors appear to be found consistently, no matter what demographic group or culture one looks at.

ii) We find the same factors over time.

iii) We get the same factors from self-ratings as we do from others ratings of us.

NOTE: In Myers the procedure that is described as factor analysis is actually cluster analysis. Cluster analysis does not do what factor analysis does. The description given here is a more accurate description of how the analytic technique used in the Big 5 actually works.


What Are The Big 5?    

Now lets look more closely at the Big 5. The best way to get a handle on the Big 5 is to look at how we measure individuals on each of the 5 traits that comprise the Big 5. The measurement scale is called the NEO-PIR.

We are going to see how this measurement works by measuring each one of you on the Extroversion trait. The items on the Extroversion scale are given below. There are 6 sub-scales each with 8 items. (not in the text)

You will need to rate yourself on each of the 48 questions and record the ratings on a scale of 1 – 5 in which 1 = strongly disagree, 3 = neutral and 5 = strongly agree. When you are finished add-up your scores for each of the 6 sub-scales and subtract 8 from the total of each of the 6 sub-scales. You will then have a score between 0 and 32 for each of the sub-scales: Warmth, Gregariousness, Assertiveness, Activity, Excitement-seeking and Positive emotions.

If you add-up each of the total scores for the 6 sub-scales, you will have a total score for the Extroversion scale. Go ahead now and do this.




1 I really like most people I meet

2 I get a lot of pleasure from chatting with people

3 I’m known as a warm and friendly person

4 People do not think I am cold and distant

5 I really enjoy talking to people

6 I find it easy to smile and be outgoing with strangers

7 I have strong emotional attachments to my friends

8 I take a personal interest in the people I work with



1 I do not shy away from crowds of people

2 I like to have a lot of people around me

3 I do not usually prefer to do things alone

4 I really feel the need for other people if I am by myself for long

5 I do not prefer jobs that let me work alone

6 I’d rather vacation at a popular beach than an isolated cabin

7 Social gatherings are usually interesting for me

8 I enjoy parties with lots of people



1 I am dominant, forceful, and assertive

2 I rarely fail to assert myself as much as I should

3 I have often been a leader of groups I have belonged to

4 I like to speak out in meetings

5 Other people often look to me to make decisions

6 I would rather be a leader of others than go my own way

7 In conversation, I tend to do most of the talking

8 I find it easy to take charge of a situation



1 I do not have a leisurely style in work and play

2 When I do things, I do them vigorously

3 My work is not usually slow and steady

4 I often feel as if I am bursting with energy

5 I am as quick and lively as other people

6 I usually seem to be in a hurry

7 My life is fast-paced

8 I am a very active person


Excitement Seeking

1 I often crave excitement

2 I would enjoy a vacation in Las Vegas

3 I have sometimes done things just for kicks or thrills

4 I tend to like movies that are shocking or scary

5 I like to be where the action is

6 I love the excitement of roller coasters

7 I’m attracted to bright colors and flashy styles

8 I like being part of a crowd at sports events


Positive Emotions

1 I sometimes literally jump for joy

2 I have sometimes experienced intense joy or ecstasy

3 I am a cheerful optimist

4 Sometimes I bubble with happiness

5 I consider myself light hearted

6 I am a cheerful, high-spirited person

7 I often use words like “fantastic” or “sensational” to describe my experiences

8 I laugh easily

Now, the question is: “How extroverted are you?” We determine this similarly to the way that we determine how high your IQ is. We compare your score to a norm. The adult norm for all the NEO-PIR scales is below.


These norms give the mean and standard deviation for males and females, for each of the NEOPIR sub scales and Big 5 scales.  Let's see how to use them. Suppose a female scored 25 on the Warmth Sub scale. We see from the norms that the average score on this sub scale for females is 25. This means that this females score was average for this sub scale. Now, in the case of IQ we calculate the IQ given the formula in lectures 5 and 6. In the case of the NEOPIR and most personality measures we use what is called a T-Score. The formula for calculating a T-score is given below:

T = 10{(x-μ)/σ} + 50

Notice the only differences between this formula and the IQ score formula are the numbers in green. These numbers show that the mean of T-scores is 50 (as opposed to the mean of 100 for IQ scores) and the SD of T-scores is 10 (as opposed to the SD of 15 for IQ scores).

Now, the norms show that for a female, the mean and SD on the warmth sub scale are 25 and 3.4 respectively. So if a female got a score of 25 on the warmth sub scale, her T-score would be:

T = 10{(25-25)/3.4} + 50


Suppose a female  scored 30 on the warmth sub scale. Then her T-score would be:

T = 10{(30-25)/3.4} + 50


If this woman scored 16 on the activity sub scale. Then her T-score would be:

T = 10{(16-21.9)/4.0} + 50



Now go ahead and calculate your own T-scores for each of the 6 Extroversion sub scales. Once you have done this, plot them as you see in my example below. Note, place your cursor over the report to see the Extroversion profile:


Note that the scores across all of the scales would be referred to as a personality profile. Psychologists are interested in the extent to which this profile can predict/explain human behavior. Becoming a clinical psychologist requires that you spend a fair bit of time researching personality profiles and understanding their relationship to attitudes, behavior, etc.

The NEO-PIR is a measure of normal personality traits. There are measures of abnormal personality that we will discuss when we look at mental disorders/abnormal psychology. Before we turn to another influential perspective in personality research, I want to quickly look at the concept of reliability of measurement.

Now WITHOUT LOOKING AT YOUR PREVIOUS RESPONSES TO THE ITEMS, respond to the 8 items on the assertiveness sub scale again. Don't try to remember what you did last time, just respond as you think appropriate.

The reason I asked you to fill out these questions again is to illustrate the concept of reliability. There is a formal definition of the reliability of a test that you will learn later on in psychology. For now we will use a more informal definition just to introduce the idea. Reliability of a test is the extent of similarity between scores on multiple administrations of the same test to the same person. In all forms of measurement, there is some amount of unreliability. You may notice that your score changed the second time you responded to the assertiveness sub scale. This is common. All forms of measurement have unreliability. If we measured your height twice, we would not always get the same number. Reliability is absolutely critical to measurement. Make sure you know how reliable measurements are before you use them!

Stability of personality traits

The question of how stable personality traits are over time and situations is known as the person-situation controversy. The things you need to know here are:

1) Personality traits become more stable as we age. This means that personality scores change less over-time as we age.

2) Since our behavior is not particularly stable over different situations, personality traits do not predict behavior well in specific situations.

We now turn to another influential perspective on personality that also has ties to abnormal psychology.

The Freudian/Psychoanalytic Perspective

The Freudian treatment of personality is very different from the trait perspective in at least one significant way. Notice that, in the trait perspective, we started with existing traits. That is, with traits that are already defined within ordinary English language dictionaries. This means that anything we discovered in the trait perspective is based in or founded upon an existing, common language conception of personality. Even the names of the Big 5 are existing traits – look up neuroticism in a dictionary. It says: “abnormally sensitive or obsessive.”

Freud did something completely different to the trait perspective. He defined new, not previously existing TECHNICAL notions that describe and account for personality.

Watch the following video for a very nice introduction to Sigmund Freud: Freud

Now, one of the concepts Freud invented is called the Id.

The Id is an unconscious, primitive, instinctive component of personality that demands immediate gratification of its urges.

For example, the Id seeks immediate gratification for basic sexual, hunger, comfort, etc., urges. The Id operates on the pleasure principle. That is, it is driven to satisfy pleasurable unconscious drives. Freud also invented the concept of the Ego.

The Ego is the decision-making component of personality that seeks to delay gratification of the Id’s urges until appropriate outlets and situations can be found.

The Ego is mostly a conscious, decision making component of personality that operates on the reality principle. It attempts to gratify the impulses of the Id in practical, socially acceptable ways.

Freud also invented the concept of the superego, which is the moral component of personality that incorporates social standards about what represents right and wrong. In fact, Freud’s model of the structure of personality might be called Freud’s Big 3. Essentially, Freud’s model of personality is that psychic conflict between the Id, Ego and Superego result in anxiety which is controlled through the use of defense mechanisms.

The model is:


ID, Superego psychic conflict unresolved by the Ego

leads to.....              


leads to.....            

Defense mechanisms employed to reduce anxiety


Now, according to Freud, most conflict arises from the sexual and aggressive impulses of the Id. So, the Id has a sexual impulse to sleep with the neighbor’s wife, for example. The Superego "knows" that it would be better not to commit adultery and so conflict is created. The Superego stands in the way of the Id. Perhaps the Id wins the conflict and you decide to go over to the neighbor’s house when he is away on business and have a glass of wine with his wife. Just as you knock on the door the Ego enters the fray, warning you of the impending danger of your actions. The result is psychic conflict.

Now, Freud argued that much of this conflict goes unnoticed. That is, it takes place in the unconscious. In fact, the influence of the Id, Freud argued is entirely unconscious.

Now, sometimes the unconscious influence of the Id makes itself noticed in our behavior and in our dreams. The Freudian Slip is an example of how unconscious sexual and aggressive content sometimes emerges. The slip occurs when our Ego control weakens sufficiently to allow unconscious content to escape. Watch the following video for some examples of the Freudian Slip: Freudian Slip

Now, even though much of the conflict is unconscious, it causes consciously experienced anxiety. Since anxiety is disturbing, we employ mechanisms to reduce it. Freud called these defense mechanisms. Do you recognize the link to cognitive dissonance theory here?

Defense mechanisms are largely unconscious reactions that protect a person from anxiety. Read your text for an explanation of some types of defense mechanisms. The most important ones are:

Rationalization – creating plausible but false excuses to justify unacceptable behavior. e.g., After lying to a client about the capability of your products, justify the lie by noting that all businesses lie about their products. Watch the following video for a superb piece on rationalization: Rationalization

Repression – keeping anxiety provoking thoughts and feelings buried in the unconscious. e.g., Failing to recall that your sexual advances to another person were turned away. Watch Ayn Rand again speaking about socially acceptable forms of repression in the American male: Ayn Rand  Stop at 3:45.

Projection – attributing one’s own anxiety provoking thoughts and feelings to another person. e.g., Suppose you are anxious about cheating on your spouse. You may project this anxiety to your wife and accuse her of cheating on you.

Displacement – diverting emotional reactions (usually anger) from the source that originally provoked them to another source. e.g., Becoming angry at the boss and going home and taking this anger out on your spouse.

Reaction formation – behaving in a way that is exactly the opposite of one’s true feelings. e.g., Males that ridicule homosexual males may be doing this as a defense against the anxiety of recognizing their own homosexual desires. (Shakespeare – me thinks he does protest too much)

Regression – a reversion to immature patterns of behavior. e.g., When anxious about one’s ability in a particular area, or one's own self-image, revert to immature, extreme bragging and/or name-calling. This reduces anxiety about your actual/true ability/self. Watch: Trump

Identification – bolstering self-esteem by forming imaginary or real alliances with another person or group. e.g., minimizing anxiety about your own relatively ineffectual and impoverished position in life by supporting sports teams.

Psychoanalytic theory also contains considerable speculation about the development of personality. I am not going to deal with this explicitly, but we should at least recognize that, according to Freud, the majority of personality development occurs in early childhood between the ages of 2-6.

Specific personality problems are sometimes related to the idea of fixation.

Fixation occurs when we seek pleasure that we may have been deprived of during an early psychosexual stage.

For instance, in the oral stage of development (between 0 and 18 months), we gain pleasure from satisfying oral needs (biting, sucking chewing, etc.). If normal development at this stage is interrupted, we may develop an oral fixation. This fixation may cause us to engage in abnormal oral behaviors as an adult. For instance, thumb-sucking, smoking, over-eating.

Freud elaborated quite a bit on the concept of neuroticism. The root of neurosis resides within unconscious psychic conflict. Although the concept has evolved a fair bit since Freud's time there are some consistent ideas about what neurosis is. We saw in the trait perspective that neuroticism is one of the major dimensions of normal personality. So it's important to step back and take a more detailed look at it.

Neurotics have been defined as:

1) Anxious, depressed, angry, irritable, having low sense of self-worth, acting impulsively and compulsively, having unpleasant or disturbing thoughts, having obsessive thoughts, habitual fantasizing, extreme negativity, emotional lability and cynicism.

2) Interpersonally, neurosis might involve all or any of dependency, being self-centered, aggressiveness, perfectionism, or socio-culturally inappropriate behaviors.


I'd like you to watch each of the following videos and identify the existence of each of these features in George Costanza. Perhaps the most clearly expressed case of neuroticism ever portrayed on television.


Here goes:

1) George on Coffee

Anxiety: George is taking drugs to control his anxious reaction to making a mistake at the end of a blind date. George is anxiety disordered because he reacts with extreme anxiety to normal situations.

Self-loathing: "She doesn't like me". George assumes that he is unworthy because of one simple mistake.

Elaine's comment at the end describes a significant possible source of George's anxiety as would be described by Freud when she says "I don't know what your parent's did to you". The idea is that the problem with George comes from early childhood.

2) Emotional Lability

Emotionally labile: In this video George goes from extreme confidence about his life to obvious anxiety, concern and self-doubt in just a few seconds. This is an indication of his emotional insecurity/fragility.

3) Bozo The Clown

Self-centered: You get it!

Personality Assessment

Psychologists have developed methods to delve into unconscious anxieties stemming from early childhood experience. The Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) is one such method.

Below is one stimulus from the TAT. The point is to have the patient tell a story about what they see. Since the image is ambiguous, the patient is invited to respond with their own particular interpretation. This interpretation may tell us something about unresolved unconscious conflict. What do you see? Is it you in the foreground? is it your mother behind you? Have you done something wrong? What have you done? Are you pregnant? Watch the following video for some insight in to how this "test" might be used: "Lecture_7_tat.swf".



Word association is another common technique used to assess unconscious motives. Read the first word ad say quickly, without conscious reflection, something in response. Just say the first thing that comes to mind. Then repeat with the second word and so on.


We start with neutral words and work towards words with potentially more emotionally/sexually laden connotations.

Problems with Psychoanalytic Theory

There are two types of problem the book talks about:

1) Freudian theory seems inconsistent with some of the discoveries psychologists have made about human nature.

i) We now view development as occurring throughout the life-span. That is, we do not place as much emphasis on ages 0 thru 6 in the development of personality as did Freud.

ii) We now view self-protective mechanisms as resulting from attempts to protect self-esteem rather than unconscious impulses.

iii) We view peer influences to be more important than did Freud. He focused mostly on parental influence.

iv) We do not view sex and aggression as the only significant motivators of behavior.

2) Freudian theory is not a good scientific theory.

A lot is said in the text about problems with Freudian theory. I believe that most of the criticisms come down to one major issue –falsifiability (not in the text).

A theory is falsifiable if, in principle, it can be shown to be false via empirical test.

So, lets say I have a theory that the universe is expanding. If follows that if the universe is expanding the distance between our planet and all other galaxies must be increasing. By measuring the distance between our planet and other galaxies we can show empirically whether our theory is false. Our theory would be false if we found that the distance between earth and other galaxies was not increasing (assuming our empirical tests have been conducted correctly, and we have deduced the consequence of increasing distance correctly from the theory). Notice that if we found that the distance between galaxies is increasing, we do not say that our theory is correct. Why? Because there could be alternative explanations for the increase in distance.

Many critics of Freudian theory dismiss it because they claim that it is not falsifiable. There is, in principle, no empirical test that we could do to show that the theory is false. For example, they argue, what empirical study could we do to show that the Id, Ego or Superego do not exist? I think this criticism is true, but what I am really interested in is WHY IT IS TRUE?

I want you to know WHY WE CAN NOT CONDUCT AN EMPIRICAL TEST TO INVALIDATE FREUDAIN THEORY. As you might have guessed, the reason has to do with MEANING. The problem is that Freud did not lay down criteria for the Id, Ego and Superego that were sufficiently clear to allow us to determine whether they exist or not.

A Criterion is a defining characteristic or feature of something. For example, a criterion for “chair” is that it is an object designed and used for people to sit on. All chairs are objects designed and used to sit on. An object with four legs is not a criterion for chair because not all chairs have four legs.

A criterion for a person being anxious is that, in the appropriate context, they behave in a troubled or uneasy way in response to a concern or difficulty they are facing. If a person is behaving in such a way, we say that we are justified in saying that the person is anxious. We are justified because we have applied the criteria for anxiety correctly. Another way to say this is that we have used the word according to the rules for using it (the rules are that we apply the criteria correctly). So, for example, if you call God the collective consciousness of humanity, for example, you have used the word God incorrectly. You have broken the rules. The criterion for God is a superhuman being or spirit worshiped as having special powers over nature.

Now lets look at the criterion for the Id that I gave earlier. The Id is …an unconscious, primitive, instinctive component of personality that demands immediate gratification of its urges. Now I ask you, does this criterion allow us to show that an Id does not exist? How would we know when we have found the Id? What are the physical criteria for it – what does it look like, what form does it take, where would it be located? What are the behavioral criteria for it? What does a person have to be doing in order for us to show that they have or do not have an Id? How are the behavioral criteria for the Id different from behavioral criteria for perversion, anger, sexual tension, etc.? The problem is that Freud never specified these things clearly enough for us to show that there is, or is not such a thing as the Id.

The moral of this story is that.. “If you don’t define it, you can’t find it!!”

Notice though that the same cannot be said of the defense mechanisms. Take regression for example: Regression – a reversion to immature patterns of behavior. Look carefully at the example e.g., When anxious about one’s ability in a particular area, revert to immature, and extreme bragging to others about your ability. There are reasonably clear behavioral criteria to determine when a person is regressing. If they behave in a troubled or uneasy way in response to concerns about their ability (a criterion for being anxious about their ability in a particular area) and then revert to immature and extreme bragging, this is what it means to regress.

Before turning to our final perspective on personality, I’d like to recap the most basic Freudian ideas that most of psychology agrees are significant, useful and theoretically important insights.

Essentially Freud recognized 4 important things for Psychology:

1) The importance of the unconscious in determining human behavior - Freud did not invent the idea; he just elevated its importance.

2) The use of defense mechanisms to minimize anxiety.

3) The relevance of sex and sexuality to human motivation/personality.

4) The importance of early childhood in the development of personality.

Now we turn to the Humanistic perspective on personality.

The Humanistic Perspective

The view here is that psychologists should be focusing more on the promotion of personal growth than personality measurement or unconscious personality conflicts.

We can nurture the personal growth of ourselves and others by being:

  • Genuine: Being open and truthful about your own feelings and the feelings of others
  • Accepting: Accept yourself/other people for who you/they are rather than taking a judgmental or evaluatory approach.
  • Empathetic: Mirror and share the feelings of others rather than listen superficially. Listen actively!

The idea here is to have a less negative, judgmental approach to human life. To view people as good in spite of their problems. For instance, should I think that you are lazy, stupid or incapable if you do poorly on a test? Or should I attempt to understand why and help you do better? If you want to do better, that is.

You see, we can shame, manipulate and coerce you in to doing better or we can ask:

1) Do you really need to do bettter...should you being trying to do this well now or just move on to something else that you are really intrinsically motivated to do? What is your ideal self? Does it involve doing this now?

2) If you want to do better, how can we help. We don't want to focus on what is wrong with you but what you can do differently. We want to help you move from your actual self to your ideal self.

Critics of this view have claimed that it is naive. What do you think?

The Social Cognitive Perspective

This approach views personality as determined according to the model of reciprocal determinism.

The model of reciprocal determinism states that personality is shaped by and shapes one’s environment and behavior. One influential personality trait that has resulted from research on this view is called LOCUS OF CONTROL.

Let me ask you – Are you a master of your own fate? Is your fate DETERMINED by your environment? Do you control what happens to you in this life, or are the things that happen to you mostly due to luck or factors you can’t control? 

Locus of Control (LoC) is an expectancy about the degree of control that we have over events on our lives.

Individuals can be placed on a LoC dimension varying from Internal to External.

Individuals with high Internal LoC, interpret their own behavior and personality as responsible for what happens to them in life.

Individuals with high External LoC, see life consequences as determined by luck, fate or powerful others.

A psychologist called Julian Rotter developed a scale to measure the extent to which individuals are either high Internal or External LoC.

The items on the scale require the respondent to choose only one option which they think best represents their own view of the world. So each item has two options and the respondent must choose one of them. This method of assessment is called a “forced choice” response scale. Some examples of the items on the scale are:


People’s misfortunes result from the mistakes they make
Many of the unhappy things in people’s lives are partly due to bad luck
Becoming a success is a matter of hard work not luck 
Getting a good job depends mainly on being in the right place as the right time
There is really no such thing as luck
Most people don’t realize the extent to which their lives are controlled by accidental happenings


Now, whether one is internal or external LoC predicts a number of things about how a person will behave:

1) Political activism: Those who participate in marches and demonstrations are more oriented towards an INTERNAL LoC.

2) Persuasion: INTERNAL LoC are more able to persuade others to change their actions but are more resistant to manipulation of their attitudes by others

3) Smokers have a higher EXTERNAL LoC than non-smokers. Smokers who quit smoking after warnings that smoking is unhealthy are more INTERNAL.

4) Achievement motivation: Internal more likely to express behavior associated with achievement motivation e.g., planning to attend college, hours of homework, etc.

5) Health: Those who have higher levels of INTERNAL LoC engage in more healthy behaviors. Internals have lower levels of stress and are less likely to suffer from health-related illnesses.

Consider the following study: For some reason, people who live in Alabama are more likely to die in Tornado’s than people in Illinois. In fact, the death rate is 5 times higher in Southern states than Midwestern states. This difference exists after controlling for – storm strength, time of day, construction, quality of warning systems, etc. Researchers measures the LoC of Alabama and Illinois residents and found that Alabama residents have a much higher External LoC than Illinois residents.


Thought Questions

1) Describe a case in which you employed defense mechanisms to avoid anxiety about something you did or you felt. Define the mechanism and say clearly how what you did alleviated anxiety.

2) Talk about the possibility that increasing rates of depression are due to changes in locus of control. Describe an experiment you might do to test this possibility.

3) What is the relationship between IQ scores and T-scores. How are they similar? How are they dissimilar?