Humanistic Approaches to Positive Growth and Self-Acceptance



Heuristic Value of the Grand Theories in Five Important Areas

Five important areas in contemporary personality theory and research:

–Focus on the special impact of biological factors on human personality development and functioning

–The necessity of incorporating a multicultural perspective into personality theory and research and psychotherapy

–The use of a trait taxonomy to increase our understanding of the role of traits within personality

–The role of positive psychology in promoting the study of human strengths and virtues in personality development and functioning

–The emergence of the study of personality differences as they relate differentially to Internet usage

Area 1: A Focus on Biological Contributions to Personality

  • Human Genome Project: international scientific effort to map all of the genes in the human body
    • Goal is to understand genetic basis of physical diseases and mental disorders so that scientists can work more effectively to reduce and eliminate them
    • May provide greater insights into human evolution and behavior

Behavioral genetics: scientific discipline that seeks to document the relative influences of heredity and environment on behavioral differences observed among individuals

Quantitative genetics: study of the individual variations in traits through procedures that allow for the assessment of the relative contributions of genetic and environmental factors

Molecular genetics: field of biology which studies the structure and functions of genes at a molecular level

  • Seeks to understand how genes at the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) level encode for sequences of amino acids that form thousands of proteins important for human functioning
  • Findings in this discipline may directly impact theorizing and research in personality psychology

Evolutionary theory: position that seeks to understand the development of human behavioral tendencies by focusing primarily on our animal heritage

  • Broad-based temperaments: traits that we share with other primates
    • Emotionality: high physiological arousal and generalized negative affect
    • Fearfulness: tendency to be wary, run away, or cower; accompanying physiological arousal
    • Activity: total energy output, as expressed in vigor or tempo
    • Nurturance: tendency to help others; includes altruism

Sociability: preference for being with others rather than remaining alone

Impulsivity: tendency to act on the spur of the moment without pause or reflection

Aggressiveness: attacking or threatening

Dominance: seeking and maintaining superior status over others

Evolutionary psychologists endorse an interactional temperament model: environment and temperament traits mutually influence each other

Differential parental investment hypothesis: the conjecture that males and females will employ different mating strategies because of their differential investments in parenting

Area 2: The Need for a Multicultural Perspective on Personality

Gender differences shaped by cultural socialization processes:

  • Freudian view
  • Chodorow’s view
  • Gilligan’s view
  • Looking to the future: androgyny-idea that males and females can possess both masculine and feminine characteristics

Sensitivity to gender differences in therapy:

  • Early criticisms by feminists of traditional personality theories have changed the ways in which therapists see and treat their male and female clients

Racial/ethnic differences:

  • Minority groups: stigmatized groups of people who face negative stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination by members of the larger society because of their physical or cultural characteristics
  • Multiculturalism: efforts by racial/ethnic groups to gain recognition and respect for their distinctive cultural identities from the larger society
  • Majority group: most dominant and powerful group in a society;  members typically enjoy more privilege and advantages than members of minority groups

While many professional therapists are sensitive to the racial/ethnic identity of their clients, the ones who are insensitive often do considerable harm

Therapists should taking into account their clients’ cultural norms when counseling

  • Native American culture: listening is highly valued
  • Asian culture: primary identity is collectivistic
  • African American culture: strong identification with those who suffer from racism
  • Hispanic culture: comfortable communicating at close proximities to others
  • Puerto Rican culture (women): avoid eye contact
  • Irish culture: lack of outward affection or praise for children

Religious differences

Mature religious orientation: use of religion as an end in itself

  • Greater positive moods or feelings, higher self-efficacy, higher self-esteem, greater life satisfaction, and greater longevity

Immature religious orientation: use of religion as a means to an end

  • Less psychologically healthy; more authoritarian, neurotic, rigid, and prejudiced

Sensitivity to religious differences in therapy

  • Therapists typically fail to meet the needs of their religious clients
  • Those who become familiar with the religious background of their clients may incorporate the clients’ beliefs into the therapeutic process in a way that promotes personal growth

Area 3: The Use of the Big Five Super-Traits to Increase Our Understanding of Personality

Use of a trait taxonomy (classification system) to increase our understanding of the role of traits within personality

Big Five Factors: major, broad dimensions of personality, which have been derived largely from analyses of the language people use to describe themselves and others

  • Surgency (extraversion)
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Neuroticism
  • Openness to experience (intellect)

Criticisms of the Big Five Factors:

  • Factor analyses has not been based on a comprehensive list of personality traits
  • Researchers do not agree on the factor labels
  • Original measures were too lengthy
  • There are more than five factors
  • Need to clarify the meaning of the five factors

Area 4: The Role of Positive Psychology in Promoting Strengths and Virtues in Personality

Positive psychology: science of positive emotions, positive individual traits, and positive institutions that attempt to improve the quality of life for everyone

Seeks to promote human strengths and virtues:

  • Courage, humility, gratitude, loyalty, altruism, compassion, hope, social responsibility, politeness, forgiveness, and self-control

Psychology should articulate a vision of the good life that is empirically grounded, while being understandable and attractive

Strength of forgiveness:

  • Letting go of anger, hostility, and resentment, as well as thoughts of revenge, against a wrongdoer
  • Forgiveness generally has a beneficial impact on people’s behaviors and performances
  • Lack of forgiveness has negative consequences for the mental health of individuals

Strength of self-control:

  • People’s ability to alter their own cognitive processes, feelings, and behavior to achieve healthier functioning
  • Frees individuals from being driven by external stimuli and automatic, impulsive, or instinctual processes

Area 5: Increasing Understanding of Personality Differences Through Analyses of Internet Use

The number of Internet users has exploded to approximately 1.1 billion people worldwide

Although the majority of Americans use the Internet as a learning tool and for social networking, there is a dark side:

  • Internet addiction: preoccupation with the Internet; persistent and indiscriminant use of Internet to escape from problems
  • Potentially destructive behaviors are quickly reinforced and even encouraged online
    • Examples: suicide, bomb-making, anorexia, gambling, binge drinking, and self-cutting

How do different personality characteristics use the Internet?

  • Internals versus externals
    • Externals engage in more cyber loafing: non-work related use of company-provided e-mail, mobile cell phones, and the Internet while working
  • Introverts versus extraverts
    • For introverts, the Internet is a safe environment to overcome their shyness
    • Surprisingly, introverts may become more addicted to Internet use than extroverts, and with many negative consequences

How do different personality characteristics use the Internet? (cont’d.)

  • Nonneurotics versus neurotics
    • Neurotics are more likely to use the Internet to resort to plagiarism than nonneurotics
    • Neurotic men use the Internet more for leisure and entertainment
    • Neurotic women use the Internet more for social networking
      • May disclose very revealing personal information and photos

Future of Personality Psychology

  • There are many challenges for personality psychologists in their quest for a fuller understanding of personality development and functioning. Example: self-reports are limited because people are imperfectly trustworthy when it comes to describing themselves
  • Personality psychologists will continue to enjoy a much-needed infusion of energy and enthusiasm, and to expand their range of ideas, issues, and phenomena
  • Personality psychology will continue to borrow knowledge, principles, and procedures from other disciplines (cognitive psychology, social psychology, developmental psychology, clinical psychology, and biological psychology)
  • Much of its foundation rests on, and will continue to rest on, the wisdom embedded in many of the current grand theories of personality
  • Personality psychology is currently a thriving discipline

It is important to use several actual life-outcome techniques to gather data such as health records, job performance evaluations, criminal records, peer reports, life story techniques, diaries, and direct behavioral observations.  These methods will help personality psychologists know what people actually do, think, or feel in various situations in their lives.  An exciting development in the last decade or so is the use of the Internet as a research instrument,  The Internet provides easy access to and the collection of data from large groups of people nationally and internationally from a variety of ages and diverse cultural backgrounds.  The future of personality psychology in the 21st century is promising.

Bernstein, D.A. & Nash, P.W. (2008). Essentials of psychology (4th ed.) Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Feldman, R. (2013). Essentials of understanding psychology (11th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Friedman, H.S. & Schustack, M.W. (2012), Personality: classic theories and modern research (5th ed). Boston: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.
Ryckman, R. M. (2013). Theories of personality (10th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

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