Ps 277 lecture 10 11 chapter 10
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PS 277 – Lecture 10/11 – Chapter 10. Personality Development in Adulthood and the Life Story. Outline. McAdams’ theory of personality Traits and adult development Personal concerns and adulthood – Erikson’s stages and generativity The life story and identity – methods and findings.

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PS 277 – Lecture 10/11 – Chapter 10

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PS 277 – Lecture 10/11 – Chapter 10

  • Personality Development in Adulthood and the Life Story


  • McAdams’ theory of personality

  • Traits and adult development

  • Personal concerns and adulthood – Erikson’s stages and generativity

  • The life story and identity – methods and findings

Dan McAdams

I. McAdams’ Three-Part Model of Personality

  • Traits and dispositions – Big Five, common, “outside observer” knowledge (e.g., extroversion)

  • Characteristic adaptations - Goals, motives, personal projects – somewhat inside/still not unique (e.g., trying to be a good mother)

  • The life story – unique, personal, the “insider’s” view

  • Think about it: Which elements of personality are more determined by nature or nurture?

McAdams Model of Personality (McAdams & Pals, 2006)

II. Dispositional Traits and Adult Development (the Big Five)

  • Costa & McCrae’s work on the Big Five:

  • Neuroticism = average stability .50

  • Extroversion = stability .54

  • Openness = stability .51

  • Agreeableness = stability .54

  • Conscientiousness = stability .51

Stability of Traits across the Lifespan (Roberts & del Vecchio, 2000)

Sources of Trait Stability vs. Change

  • Sources of stability in midlife and later:

  • Heritability of traits is moderate in twin studies

  • Environmental stability in midlife: job, family, etc.

  • Identity stability in adulthood

III. Personal Concerns and Aging

  • Focus on goals, plans, projects, etc.

  • Erikson’s model of adult life stages and changes in broad personal concerns

  • Generativity and its relations to identity, intimacy and ego integrity

Erikson’s Stages in Adulthood – vs. Freud

Key Epigenetic Principles in Erikson

  • “Each (component) comes to its ascendance, meets its crisis, and finds its lasting resolution toward the end of the stages mentioned” (Erikson, Identity: Youth and Crisis, p. 95)

  • Ascendance = person becomes “ready” for these crises (biological/developmental)

  • Crisis = environment feels ready to convey its particular way of contributing to his character, efficiency and strength of vitality

  • Lasting resolution = each stage demands some balance of component, influences from previous stage, forward onto future stage

Generativity as a Project and Its Developmental Context in Midlife

  • Caring for next generation as a legacy of self

  • Teaching, mentoring, supporting and helping others

  • Requires ability to invest in the needs of others (intimacy)

  • Recognize the limitations of self and need to deal with mortality

  • Parenting and caring for youth as a way of doing this – can be important across the life course

Darwin’s Generativity at 50

  • Wallace’s paper on natural selection, sent to Darwin in 1856

  • Difficult issue for Darwin, but he ultimately supported its publication

  • Friends convinced him to publish it with his own work at same time

Generative Themes in the Life Story – Teaching as an Example

  • 70-year-old woman’s story to teach honesty: “I was a mediocre student and I used to hate geometry. One time we were given this homework assignment to do and I couldn’t, and so I took one of the books from a girl who had handed hers in and copied it into my book. But the teacher, who was a real battleaxe, found out. So I was really scared, but the teacher sat down and had a good talk with me, and from that moment on, I realized she wasn’t so horrible, and she really helped me a lot. I was scared out of my wits, but as soon as I’d managed to explain what happened I felt as if a heavy burden had been lifted…And so I told this story to my daughter who was having problems in another subject, and she did this exact same thing. And I was able to help her realize it was the wrong thing to do with my own example because I’d done it myself.”

Generativity and Its Relations to Other Stages

  • McAdams’ “generative identity”

  • Intimacy Generativity

  • Generativity Ego Integrity

  • Lifespan Developmental Context

IV. The Life Story and Identity (McAdams’ Theory)

  • Life story is our way of telling others and ourselves who we are = defines our adult sense of identity

  • Selected autobiographical memories from the past and ideas and plans about the future

  • Constantly revised and reworked as our perspectives on ourselves change and grow

  • Draws on cultural types of narratives to construct personal story – so life story can vary by culture, for example

McAdams’ Life Story Measurement Techniques

  • Peak Experience

  • Low Point

  • Earliest Memory

  • Turning Point

  • Significant Childhood Memory

  • Significant Adolescent Memory

  • Significant Adult Memory

  • Future Scene

Try it yourself

  • Think of a peak experience

  • Describe what happened, who was involved, what you were thinking and feeling, what this scene says about who you were, are or might be.

Underpinnings of the Life Story – Key Elements in Its Development (McAdams)

  • Basic intentionality and theory of mind in young child

  • Personal experiences and reminiscing in family as sources of storytelling skill

  • Learning of culturally specific story structure/scripts by child

  • Making stories coherent – adolescent cognitive capacities for causal and thematic reasoning help to explain experiences

  • The life review: considering the life story and its outcomes in later life (ego integrity issues of Erikson)

Personality Model: Interactions of the Life Story and Dispositional Traits (McAdams et al., 2004)

  • Openness to experience was Big Five trait that most clearly predicted story-telling style in this study

  • How would you think it might relate?

The Life Story and Personal Concerns – Feelings of Personal Control (Braun, Schiffman, 1982)

Ego Integrity and the Life Review (Wong and Watt, 1991)

  • Butler argued that rehearsing and reviewing one’s life (and life story) is important to last phase in Erikson theory – older adults often do this – a narrative function

  • Part of a somewhat more “inner focus” on the self – but just doing a life review isn’t always beneficial

  • Wong & Watt found that certain types of review are associated with positive sense of “ego integrity”, especially integrative and instrumental stories that put together long-term goals and plans and current issues

  • In contrast, “obsessive” reviews of past negative events, guilt, ruminations are negatively associated with feelings of ego integrity

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