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Personality - Essay Example

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In the common usge of psychologists, the term personlity hs trditionlly been tken to refer, in Murry's words, to "hypotheticl structure of the mind," the function of which involves integrting, orgnizing, nd controlling the multifrious spects of the individul's thought nd behvior…
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Personlity In the common usge of psychologists, the term personlity hs trditionlly been tken to refer, in Murry's words, to "hypotheticl structure of the mind," the function of which involves integrting, orgnizing, nd controlling the multifrious spects of the individul's thought nd behvior. The entity usully is thought of s constituted by "estblishments nd processes" (Murry, 1938) tht re highly consistent in their opertions nd in their observble effects through time nd cross collections of prticulr situtions. These consistent ptterns re thought to indicte the existence of underlying propensities of thought nd ction known s "dispositions" nd generlly sid. Moreover, the dispositionl properties of prticulr interest to personlity psychology re those which generlize cross different individuls of well-specified brod types s well s cross sitution-tokens within the lives of individuls.
In the lst few yers, this long-ccepted conception of "personlity" hs been seriously chllenged, by Wlter Mischel, Dryl Bem, nd psychologists who join them in questioning the very existence--or t lest, the evidence purporting to demonstrte the existence--of cross-situtionl consistencies of "globl" or "tritlike" sort. The vehemence of the controversy between Mischel nd his opponents is proof tht fundmentl mtters re involved here. Indeed, the underlying issue is the very existence of the entity most of us hve tken to be the reference of the term personlity. For dispositionl properties of the "globl" sort, be they the "trits" fmilir from decdes of reserch, Freud's instinctul drives, Murry's "need-sttes," or Eysenck's brod personlity types, re constitutive of personlities. If it is true, s some of Mischel (1978) formultions seem to suggest, tht behvior is so sitution-specific s to rule out lrge-scle cross-situtionl consistencies, then there cn be no sense in positing the existence of "estblishments," "institutions," "processes," or ny of the other "bon fide mentl structures" theorists hve long hypothesized to explin wht people do.
The globl dimensions we find in personlities therefore turn out to look little like the dispositions postulted by trditionl theorists. In substntil prt, this is becuse our personlity dispositions re determined by the structure of ordinry socil ction: In order to ct effectively, people must define situtions, perceive other persons, pln strtegiclly, construct performnce ptterns, monitor their own self-presenttions nd interpret those of others, stisfy role demnds nd enforce them on others, nd so on. In order to do these things, they must generlize nd routinize their ptterns of ction, exhibiting mximum of regulrity in deling with others. But they lso must monitor nd evlute their thinking nd behving to dpt to constnt chnges in circumstnces brought on by vritions in prtners, contexts, projects, nd purposes. The generl dispositionl properties comprising their "personlities" must be flexible enough to ccommodte esily nd smoothly such vritions in locl conditions. These properties will not be the fixed nd strongly suprsitutionl dimensions of clssicl personlity theory, immune to revision in light of the requirements of ongoing socil ction.
In support of this ccount, it is contended tht both trditionl personlity theorists nd their critics overlook fundmentl fct bout the subject of psychologicl investigtions: He or she is first of ll n ctor rther thn thinker or theorist or bundle of drives, ffects, nd needs; his or her ction tkes plce in socil contexts involving other ctors; nd, in lrge prt, this ction consists of getting the others to do things which fit in with his or her own projects nd gols. If there is ny point in psychology's ccepting the entity "personlity," then the point lies in the utility this notion hs for explining ordinry socil interction. "The theory of personlity," in other words, is subdivision of the study of socil ction, nd its tsk is to construct representtion of the person s ctor. Therefore this representtion must be constituted by whtever properties (cognitive, ffective, need-relted, drive-bsed, etc.) re required in order to ccount for the ptterned wys in which ctors orgnize their exchnges with ech other.
ccording to this perspective, the issue of whether there exist globl dispositionl properties of thought nd behvior cn only be settled by first nlyzing the structure of socil interction. It is the filure to do this, we contend, which hs led trditionl personlity theory to focus on tritlike dispositionl properties-fixed, highly generl ptterns of thinking nd behving tht re pplied in mechnicl fshion to ll instnces of very brod sitution types. Now tht this fmilir construl of "the dispositions constituting personlity" hs been effectively questioned by Mischel nd others, it is possible to focus reconstructive efforts on the nlysis of persons s socil ctors. Mischel (1978) hs seen tht dispositionl properties of n explicitly cognitive sort re mjor constituents of "personlity" nd hs thereby identified n importnt link between personlity theory nd the growing interest in "socil cognition," especilly of the sort now clled ttribution theory. "But he hs yet to show us how "cognitive-socil lerning-person vribles" re ccounts of interpersonl ction. In the present chpter we ttempt to do so.
Bibliogrphy:
1. Murry, H. . Explortions in personlity. New York: Oxford University Press, 1938.
2. Mischel, W. On the interfce of cognition nd personlity: Beyond the person-sitution debte. P Distinguished Scientist wrd ddress, expnded version in typescript, 1978. Read More
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