PSY100 – Personality
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PSY100 – Personality Approaches to the Scientific Study of Personality Describing and Measuring Individual Differences Validating Individual Difference Measures Important Consequences of Individual Differences Causes of Individual Differences.

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PSY100 – Personality Approaches to the Scientific Study of Personality

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  • PSY100 – Personality

  • Approaches to the Scientific Study of Personality

  • Describing and Measuring Individual Differences

  • Validating Individual Difference Measures

  • Important Consequences of Individual Differences

  • Causes of Individual Differences

  • How does Personality Psychology differ from Other Disciplines in Psychology?

  • Cognitive psychology: The science of basic cognitive processes

  • Neuropsychology: The science of the connection between the brain and the mind

  • Social psychology: The science of social influences on psychological processes

  • Developmental psychology: The science of changes in psychological processes over the life span.

  • All these disciplines implicitly assume that all people are the same.

  • Personality psychology makes a different assumption: People are different from one another in important ways.

  • Cognitive “Why do some people have better memories than others?”

  • Social “Why do people respond differently to rejection by others?”

  • Developmental “Why are some children more afraid of strangers than others?”

Two Approaches to Personality:

Idiographic versus Nomothetic Approach

The idiographic (person-centered) approach:

A focus on one individual at a time, and it tries to understand this individuals’ actions from the individuals’ characteristics.

The nomothetic (variable-centered) approach

A focus on the relation between a certain outcome such as academic achievement (getting an A in this class) to a variable like organized-disorganized.


TraditionalModernGrand TheoriesSmall TheoriesOne individual at a timeLarge samplesQualitativeQuantitativeFreudEysenckIdiographic question: Why did Mariah Carey have a nervous breakdown?

Nomothetic question: Are young stars in the music industry more likely to suffer a nervous breakdown than normal people?

  • Freud & Rogers – It is impossible to test scientific theories with case studies.

  • Skinner – Behaviorism assumed that all people are born equal and that individual differences are a mere consequence of different learning experiences. Nobody believes this anymore.

  • Eysenck – An influential early proponent of the nomothetic approach. Although unnecessarily confrontational, his work continues to influence modern personality research.

  • Important Notice

  • As noted in the textbook, “in recent decades the study of personality has shifted toward narrower research programs that examine specific aspects of personality”

  • In other words, most contemporary personality research takes the nomothetic approach.

  • Consistent with this modern trend, my second year course “PSY230 – Introduction to Personality” focuses exclusively on the modern, nomothetic approach to personality psychology.


If you want to learn more about psychodynamic theories (Freud, Adler, Jung), DO NOT take PSY230

However, I hope to convince you in the rest of today’s lecture that the nomothetic approach examines interesting questions and provides answers that are relevant to the understanding of yourself and others.

  • The Scientific (Nomothetic) Study of Personality and Individual Differences

  • Three Goals of Personality Psychology

  • Classification: How do people differ?

  • Causes: Why do individuals differ from each other?

  • Consequences: What are the effects of individual differences?

  • Examples

  • How consistent are people in their behaviors? When somebody is friendly to us, how likely is it that this person is also friendly to others.

  • Why are some people friendlier than others? Nature vs. nurture – How much is personality due to genetic differences? How much influence do parents have on their children’s personality?

  • What are the consequences of personality?Does personality predict important life-outcomes such as longevity, happiness, and income?

  • The Scientific Study of Individual Differences

  • The nomothetic approach to personality research relies heavily on correlations (textbook pp. 54-56).

  • Correlations provide information about the relation between variability in two variables.

  • Examples

  • Stability: Will individual differences in today’s friendliness be the same in the future?

  • Consistency: Are individual differences in friendliness in one situation the same in a different situation?

  • Cause: Do genetic differences predict individual differences in friendliness?

  • Consequences: Do individual differences in friendliness predict individual differences in happiness?

r = .73; r2 = 50%

  • Describing Individual Differences

  • Everyday language provides thousands of words to describe individuals (honest, caring, ambitious, orderly, shy, modest, self-confident,…)

  • Correlations (and more advanced statistics) show that individual differences in some of these traits (characteristics) are related (e..g, shy is negatively related to confident).

  • As a result, it is possible to describe personality with fewer dimensions.

  • The Big Five

  • Initially, personality psychologists used different traits to describe personality and there exist hundreds of measures to measure individual differences in these traits.

  • In the past two decades, it was discovered that these measures are related to each other and can be reduced to five major traits that differentiate one individual from another.

  • The Big Five provide a comprehensive first impression of an individual. They do not capture all aspects of individual differences.

  • The Atlas Analogy

  • I like to compare the Big Five to continents.

  • Continents capture important differences between regions of the word (Europe is different from Asia).

  • However, there still exists important differences between countries in each continent (Germany is different from Italy).

  • The Big Five

  • Neuroticism – A disposition to experience more negative feelings and low self-esteem.

  • Extraversion – A disposition to be outgoing, risk-taking, and cheerful.

  • Openness – A disposition to be curious and interested in novel and unconventional things.

  • Agreeableness – A disposition to be caring and modest

  • Conscientiousness – A disposition to be organized, ambitious, and dependable.

  • Measuring Personality Traits

  • Self-report: The easiest and most widely used method (e.g., “I am self-confident”). Assumes that people are honest and know themselves.

  • Informant reports: asking acquaintances (e.g., Joe is self-confident); more difficult to obtain; assumes that others’ know the person well.

  • Observing behavior: e.g., research assistants rate personality based on videotapes of behavior; time-consuming

  • Experience sampling: ask participants to keep a diary or momentary records of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Time-consuming, requires high motivation and honesty of participants.

  • Each methods has its advantages and drawbacks.

  • The best way of measuring personality would be to use multiple methods. For example, we are currently conducting a study of married couples in which we assess personality with self-reports, informant reports, and experience sampling.

I tend to be relaxed and handle stress well. I tend to worry a lot.I tend to be quiet. I tend to be outgoing and sociable.I tend to be original and come up with ideas. I tend to like to reflect and to play with ideas. I tend to be considerate and kind to almost everyone. I tend to be rude to others. I tend to do a thorough job. I tend to do things efficiently.

1234567Strongly disagreestrongly agree

Scoring of Your Personality Test

N1+2 8.603.00

E3+4 9.013.00

O5+6 9.732.35



  • Stability of Personality

  • Relative differences in personality are quite stable over time.

  • Stability increases over the life-span. It is not fixed at 20.

  • Personality changes with age: - Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness decrease.- Agreeableness, Conscientiousness increase.

  • Consequences of Personality

  • Personality and Health

  • Personality and Longevity

  • Personality and Happiness

  • Personality and Marital Satisfaction (Divorce)

  • Personality and Job Performance (Income)

  • Personality and Health

  • Stress is related to illness – Suppression of the immune system.

  • Neuroticism is related to stress-reactivity.

  • We would expect neuroticism to be related to health.

  • However, neuroticism is more related to subjective perception of symptoms (hypochondria) than to objective health.

  • Personality and Longevity

  • It is difficult to study the relation between personality and longevity.

  • The Terman-study assessed personality of gifted children in the 1920s and 1930s. Now researchers can examine which children are still alive.

  • Conscientiousness is the best predictor of longevity.

  • The processes underlying this relationship are still unclear.

  • Personality and Happiness

  • Extraversion is a disposition to experience more positive affect (pleasant feelings).

  • Neuroticism is a disposition to experience more negative affect (unpleasant feelings).

  • Extraversion and Neuroticism are the most important personality predictors of life-satisfaction.

  • Personality and Marital Satisfaction

  • Research on personality and marital satisfaction has a long history (since 1930s).

  • Most studies show a negative effect of neuroticism on marital satisfaction and a positive effect on divorce.

  • Another interesting finding is that people do not marry on the basis of personality: Spouses’ personality scores are uncorrelated.

  • Personality and Job Performance

  • It is plausible that some personality traits help people in certain jobs:- extraversion & service jobs- optimism & sales jobs

  • In addition, conscientiousness is a good predictor of job performance in many different jobs (work ethic)

  • Conscientiousness becomes a stronger predictor of job performance with higher autonomy.

  • Causes of Personality

  • The relative contribution of genetic/biological factors versus environmental/cultural factors has been a major controversy.

  • After the first child parents believe in environmental factors.

  • After the second child parents believe in genetic factors.

  • What is the evidence?

  • Twin Studies

  • Before DNA testing (before the 1990s), researchers had to rely on indirect evidence to examine the influence of nature (genes) and nurture (environment).

  • Twin studies capitalized on the difference between monozygotic twins (MZ) and dizygotic twins (DZ).

  • MZ twins are genetically identical.

  • DZ twins share on average 50% of their genes, just as much as other siblings.

  • Genetic Contribution to Personality

  • To examine a genetic contribution, we can compare the similarity of MZ twins to the similarity of DZ twins.

  • (Given certain assumptions), if MZ twins are more similar to each other than DZ twins, then genes must influence the trait.

  • For example, the height of MZ twins correlates very highly (r = .90), whereas the height of DZ twins is correlated less highly (r = .45).

  • Height is genetically determined.

  • Numerous studies have demonstrated greater similarity (higher correlations) for MZ twins than for DZ twins for personality traits including the Big Five.

  • Today nobody doubts that genetic factors contribute to personality.

  • Twin studies also lead to the conclusion that growing up in the same household has no influence on personality.

  • This finding is the topic of a heated debate as it is hard to believe that parents have no influence on the personality of their children.

  • Do Genes Determine Personality?

  • Genes cannot directly influence experiences and behavior.

  • Genes influence biological processes, which in turn influence experiences and behavior.

  • Understanding these processes can help people to change their personality.

  • Neuroticism has been linked to a gene that influences the reuptake of serotonin in the brain.

  • Drugs like Prozac (SSRIs) change the biological reuptake mechanism.

  • Studies show that drugs like Prozac change personality scores on a Neuroticism scale.

  • SSRIs also have several side-effects. They are used only when people suffer from abnormal levels of depression and anxiety.

  • What should we do when it becomes possible to change personality at will?

  • Cultural influences on personality

  • Cross-cultural studies show variation in personality traits across cultures. For example, HK Chinese score lower on Extraversion and Openness.

  • Acculturation studies show that personality changes. HK Chinese who migrated to Canada have higher extraversion and openness scores.

  • In North America, Extraversion and Neuroticism scores have increased over the past decades.

  • Conclusion

  • Personality psychology examines individual differences.

  • It relies more on correlations than on experimental studies.

  • It examines the major traits that differentiate people.

  • It examines the consequences of individual differences for real-world outcomes.

  • It examines the causes of individual differences.

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