Personality Development and Life Theory Interview

Introduction

Neurologists consider the brain to be a fascinating organ. They marvel at its complexity and revel at its capabilities. The brain from a physiological perspective controls the entire function of the human body. From locomotion to respiration, from speech to hearing and sight, all the actions and inactions that the human body goes through, are the result of the human brain’s manipulation. Yet they fail to understand and cannot comprehend how an organ that weighs around two pounds could be capable of such function.

Psychologists feel the same way about the ‘human mind’. The term ‘human mind’ refers to the thinking, analyzing the capability of the brain, or the aspect which allows us to become aware of the surroundings and learning from the environment. Throughout history, people have attempted to observe study, and ponder over the complexities of human behavior and tried to rationalize the behavior by presenting their own theories on how the mind works. Yet it is still a mystery. The complexity magnificence of the human mind does not receive the attention it deserves until one suffers from a mind malfunction, mental disorders, or emotional distress. Only then does one appreciate and realize that throughout the years, we had been taking our minds for granted.

The human brain, which is the visceral face of the human mind is connected to and is aware of its environment through the use of sensory instruments at hand like the eyes, ears, skin, etc. it is in the constant learning phase. A person’s personality and behavior development involve interaction with the environment, the people around, the behavior of others, and the cultural norms of the society. Donald M (2001) supports this theory when he argues that the human mind is the result of the functioning of the complex human brain and its complex interactions with the (culture and environment around) cognitive function. This mix of complex interactions leads to an individual’s personality.

Scientists suggest from research that in the “early months and years of life, the brain is expanding at a pace that will never be matched in later years. Indeed, from the moment of conception, the explosion in the growth of nerve cells, the densely interconnected “wiring” of neurons throughout the brain, and the refinement of these connections during the early years create the essential architecture for the developing mind. The baby at play is sculpting a brain that will be used for the rest of his or her life.”(Thompson, RA, 1998)

It is interesting to note that in the early years of life, the child behaves carelessly and is receptive to all sorts of information from the environment. When the child grows slightly older, he becomes more focused, controlled, and determined to complete the tasks at hand. This is a slight indication that the mind evolves through past learning experiences and in adulthood, the personality which the person owns, is a complex result of all the learning experiences that he went through at different phases in his life.

The formation or molding of one’s personality and awareness of one’s presence in the environment can be described as self-awareness. The human brain is programmed to learn continually and become aware of the environment and respond to it in a certain way. The social behavior that is the result of such interaction may be acting as an instrument that has taken the leading role in crafting a person’s consciousness and personality. Donald M (2001) is of the view that the human mind’s ability to reflect on self and scrutinize, is something that has enabled us to differentiate ourselves from other mammals.

Some philosophers in recent years have questioned the theory of consciousness, even disregarding it as an insignificant component of cognition. Donald M (2001) strongly reputes this notion and argues through behavioral studies that show that expanding the conscious capacity is an important component in evolution. “He further elaborates the cognitive foundations of self-evaluation and self-reflection, which distinguish humans from our animal relatives and give us greater mental autonomy.” (A mind so rare, 2008)

Simple yet complex questions come to mind when we talk about the human mind and how it dictates our social behavior. Why do we like the company of friends? Why do we have particular nightmares and dreams? Why is it that even though we know better, we always fall prey to the same foolish temptations? (Millon, 2004) Why is it that some incidents in our life completely change the way we interact with other people? How is it that people grow in the same neighborhood and be so different? These simple issues at face value have actually been occupying the psychologist’s mind for a long time.

Ramachandran VS (2007) along with “Barlow, Nick Humphrey, David Premack and Marvin Minsky (among others) suggest that consciousness may have evolved primarily in a social context. Minsky speaks of a second parallel mechanism that has evolved in humans to create representations of earlier representations” (Ramachandran VS 2007). He puts forward the theory that since the mind specializes in observation of and learning from the environment, it could have been that the “others awareness” and behavioral patterns of other people may have evolved first which in turn may have lead to self-awareness. Ramachandran VS (2007)

The human being’s developmental process has two main components. One is ‘self” and the awareness of self and the other is the interaction of the self with the environment. The awareness of self and its interaction with the environment can be termed as ‘Personality’.

Self can not be defined but rather explained. It is the feeling of unity, the having of mental command and control over the physical actions i.e. having ‘free will’. Other aspects of self include “a sense of its worth, dignity and mortality (or immortality).” Ramachandran VS (2007). Psychologically speaking there is one aspect of self that is quite remarkable and mysterious. It is the awareness of itself and its presence.

Scientists have proposed a lot of theories to explain human personality development. Some more recent theories are of the opinion that personality development takes place during the whole course of one’s life. They propose that from adolescence onwards, people start questioning themselves and their role in society. They develop their personality from their personal life stories and experiences, good and bad.

Many theories have been proposed to explain personality and human he. These can be broadly grouped into three broad theories; psychoanalytic theory, behavioristic theory, and humanistic theory.

Psychoanalytic Theory

This theory highlights and accentuates the role of sexuality and natural instincts. “Psychoanalytic theory is good at explaining things after they occur but offers little help in predicting future behavior. For this reason, many psychoanalytic concepts are difficult or impossible to test.” (Theories of personality, 2008),

Behavioristic Theory

This theory lends support to the idea of animal and human instincts. This theory has been developed after rigorous observations of human and animal behavior alike. This theory is of the view that public and private observations are the same. Behaviorists believe that culture and sub-culture molds are what determine a person’s personality. He is what society makes him be with little or no influence of his own free will. (Theories of personality, 2008)

Humanistic Theory

This theory takes a more positive view of personality development and people as a whole. This theory lays emphasis on the positive aspects of personality. This theory encourages self-assessment, awareness, and growth. (Theories of personality, 2008),

All three theories point to different and contrasting views of personality development.

These can be summarized as follows.

Psychoanalytic theory Behavioristic theory Humanistic theory
View of human nature Negative neutral positive
Is behavior free or determined Determined Determined free
Principle motives Sex and aggression Drives of all kinds Self actualization
Personality structure Id, ego, super ego habits self
Role of unconsciousness Maximized Practically non existent minimized
Concept of consciousness Superego Self-reinforcement Ideal-self, valuing process
Development emphasis Psychosexual stages Critical learning situations: identifications and imitation Development of self image
Barriers to personal growth Unconscious conflicts; fixations Maladaptive habits; pathological environment Conditions of incongruence

A lot of theories suggest that personality development starts young adulthood. It was jung that first theorist who linked personality development with adulthood. Erikson’s psycho social theory is a further development on Freud’s psycho-sexual theory. Erikson links the personality development of a person with social interactions during the 8 stages that he used to describe the developmental process. It is based on the epigenetic principle, meaning that our personalities develop in stages which are predetermined (Theories of personality, 2008). Each stage occurs during a specific time during a person’s life. Actions in each stage affect the development of personality and progression into the next stage. Stages, their time period in a person’s life and the psychosocial learning processes that are to occur include:

  • Stage 1>> infant>> trust vs. mistrust.
  • Stage 2>> toddler>> autonomy vs. shame & doubt
  • Stage 3>> preschooler>> initiative vs. guilt
  • Stage 4>> school age child>> industry vs. inferiority
  • Stage 5>> adolescence>> ego identity vs. role confusion
  • Stage 6>> young adult>> intimacy vs. isolation
  • Stage 7>> middle adult>> generativity vs. self-absorption
  • Stage 8>> beyond old age>> integrity vs. despair.

According to Erikson’s theory, people are faced with learning or developmental tasks during their life course and their ability to learn not one aspect but both sides of the task leads to a component of development which they can use in their next developmental stage. For example, an infant who must learn to trust also must learn not to mistrust. A balanced learning is the optimum learning, according to Erikson. Kortey advanced and further elaborated the generation vs. stagnation stage to include five types of generativity; biological and parental, technical, cultural, agentic and communal. (Touron DR, 2008). McAdams model proposed that “generativity results from complex interactions between societal and inner forces thus, creating a concern for the next generation and goodness in the belief of the human enterprise.” (Touron DR, 2008),

Another proposal made by theorists is that chronological has nothing to do with the personality development. Its development is guided more by the personal experiences and the circumstances in one’s life and his ability to cope with and adapt to the changes which these life situations brought upon him. (Touron DR, 2008)

Trait theories highlight the similarities in the situations, which each individual is faced with and point to the “differences across individuals” (Touron DR, 2008). Differences in life situations and similarities in people are describes by the stage theories. (Touron DR, 2008)

The life events frame work theory highlights the differences in both, the individuals and situations. (Touron DR, 2008)

McAdam proposed a theory for personality development in which he argued that people, create stories of their lives, which have a start, middle and a prediction for the future ending. He proposes that these exaggerated stories grow from personal life experiences, and are constantly being rewritten in adulthood at both conscious and subconscious levels.

McAdam hypothesizes that only from the stage of young adult onwards is a person capable enough to start analyzing one’s life and create stories. Therefore McAdam believes that it is from young adulthood onwards that one starts developing his/her personality. He states that in the young years of life, i.e. infancy stage and toddler stage, a person does have an idea of self. If inquired upon, the toddler will list his favorite food, color etc, but he has not yet started to create his own life story and learn from it. In the adolescent stage, the children are gathering material for their life story writing, through their daily experiences. “Erikson confined the identity formation to a single stage (emerging adulthood), but Macadam’s life story model emphasizes the continuation of identity work across the adulthood years (McAdams DP, 2001).

To observe this theory first hand, one needs to look into the personal life stories which adults have created for themselves through the years. By doing so, we can analyze this theory and assess how much, the life events of the past have crafted a person’s identity and personality.

While searching for a person who would spend with us a few moments, talking to us, we met a certain Mr. Henry Whitman*. He was a retired medical physician. We inquired from him about any incidences or learning experiences in his life that has had an effect on his life and personality. We also inquired from him about how he became a doctor and what motivated him. Our discussions revealed that Mr. Whitman did not have an easy going upbringing whatsoever. Born in Poland, the earliest images he could remember were of the Second World War. He recalled being his parents in hiding, the scared looks on their faces during that time. He reflected “when children should be playing hide and seek, me and my parents were hiding for our lives.” He was brought to the United States after the war. Mr. Whitman observed that his horrible memories of the war are “etched in stone”.

The events of the war showed him how cruel man kind can be to others. He recalled that during school years, his parents both worked long hours just to make ends meet. The struggle his father had to go through as a handyman and his mother as a maid, made him realize the importance of hard work from an early age. He recalled that even though he lived in the city where violence was rife, his parents always reminded him of their own struggle to get out of the war and taught him not to become like one of them. He recalled that even though he saw his parents work most of the time, they were always present at dinner time. “It was a sort of debriefing of sorts at my home” he recalled.

The entire days events were discussed and he were corrected where we had acted in the wrong. During the early adulthood years, he recalled that his mother fell ill due to cancer. “The pain and suffering that she had to go through is clearly visible in my mind even today.” Mr. Whitman stated that it was then that he started seriously considering the idea of becoming a doctor. He recalled that he vowed to do away the ill of society. He had made a fact with himself to not let anyone suffer as his mother had suffered during her illness. He decided that he would dedicate his life to hard work in order to alleviate the sufferings of other people to help humanity in general. According to him, his determination paid off when he received a full scholarship for medical college from which he graduated. He started a charitable free clinic to help the poor soon after.

From the interview we can see that two events made an impression on Mr. Whitman’s life. His parents struggle through the years and his mother’s battle with cancer. So much so that his personality got molded into that of a caring person who could do everything to help the poor and needy of the society in any way he could.

Reference

A mind so rare (2008), Merlin Donald. Web.

Boeree, CG (2006). Erik Erikson. Personality theories. Web.

Donald M, (2001). A mind so rare. WW Norton.

McAdams DP, (2001), the psychology of life stories, Review of general psychology, 5, 100-122.

Millon, T (2004), Masters of the Mind: exploring the story of mental illnesses from ancient times to the new millennium.

Ramachandran VS (2007), the neurology of self awareness, Edge: The third culture. Web.

Theories of personality (2008), Child development. The notebook. Web.

Thompson RA, (1998), Early brain development and social policy. Policy & practice of public human services. Web.

Touron DR, (2008), personality development. Web.