Personality and Social Behaviour


Melancholia (detail).  H. ter Brugghen (1588-1629).

 1.  Personality assumptions

2.  Description and personality

3.  Mental function and typology

4.  Experience and pattern typology

5.  Comparison of trait and type descriptions

6.  Personality structure

7.  Argyle, personality, and social behaviour

8.  Scientific personology

9. Summary

The social psychologist of interpersonal behaviour Michael Argyle has pointed out that, where social interaction is concerned, different people need to be treated differently. He has also demonstrated that interactors in a given situation try to categorise each other. These categories are generally considerations of age, sex, social class, occupation, and personality traits.

1.  Personality assumptions

In the study of personality, or personology, there are two basic assumptions which need to be challenged. The first assumption, current with some psychologists, is that an individual’s actions have sufficient consistency so illustrating the behaviour to be a characteristic, a function of a stimulus situation. Then, secondly, there is another assumption that holds the view that the idiosyncratic ways in which individuals behave can be compared and contrasted along dimensions and continua that allow measurement. The issue revolves around the problem of whether personality is due to specific habits or a general disposition.

J. B. Watson’s thought behaviour was a reaction to a stimulus response situation, hence the theory of behaviourism. The behaviourist view is that personality is a composite of specific habits which are built upon an individual’s previous interactions with his environment, Hans Eysenck expressed the view that “…no broad general traits of personality, no general and consistent forms of conduct…” exist, but personality is “…only independent and specific S-R response bonds or habits.” This was his view in 1953.

In 1928 Carl Jung took the view that a personality was a general disposition and tendency towards either introversion or extroversion, and that this colours all activities. A compromise position was adopted by Hartshorne and May in 1928 and 1929. The problem of personality thus becomes a problem of unique or common characteristics, and is seen as a contrast between two approaches. These two approaches are the idiographic which concentrates upon the individual person, and the statistically biased nomothetic approach which concerns itself with differences between individuals.

The idiopathic orientation stems largely from the studies of clinical abnormality. The work of Allport in 1939, and Hall and Lindzey in 1957. The basic view here is that “…in reality no two individuals possess exactly the same trait…” though there “may be similarities in trait structure…” there are “…always unique features…” in the “…operation of the trait.” Hence all traits are individual traits, are unique, and applicable only to the single individual.

In contrast, the nomothetic approach involves the study of many individuals. Ant trait can be taken as the main point of reference, this being known as the average trait position. Guilford, in 1959, regarded the idiographic as the personal, and the nomothetic as the impersonal. He described the two approaches as “…generalisations that apply to classes of phenomena not as descriptions of particular events.”

2.  Description and personality

Descriptions of personality are couched in terms of traits or types. Traits are inscribed as consistent, are characteristic, are the modus operandi, the style of behaviour of a person. The extent to which this pattern of responses occurs independently of any particular immediate stimulus configuration defines the existence of a trait. Carr and Kingsbury in 1938 drew the conclusion that traits are abstractions, and have no structural relation in an individual , and proceeded to identify trait elements, source traits, and dimensions of personality.

Personality typology involves the characteristic techniques of picking out a salient feature, and this labels the total personality. Type notions fall into three categories or typologies of: mental function; physical characteristics; and experience patterns. Physical typologies are based upon constitutional factors. The original notion was that of Hippocrates, Galen and others, who defined personality as a preponderance of body humours. The classification into four types is quite well known, being the sanguine, choleric, melancholic and the phlegmatic. A neurophysiological development of this typology is that of Pavlov, who used it to elaborate four basic types of higher nervous activity.

Another correlation between physical type and personality was postulated by Kretschmer in 1925, A further constitutional typology was put forward by Sheldon in 1942. He delineated three physical types based on his concept of the primitive mesodermal, endodermal and ectodermal embryonic layers. Hence the terminology of endomorphs, mesomorphs, and ectomorphs. The bulky ectomorphs (the equivalent of Kretschmer’s pyknics) were typed as viscerotonic personalities. The mesomorphs (Kretschmer’s tall, thin asthenics or leptosomatics) were termed cerebrotonics. The theory then postulates that people’s social relations were thus determined by physique.

Viscerotonics were supposed to love comfort, enjoy sociability, are affectionate, and possess a general body relaxation, Somatotonics are active. energetic, assertive, concerned with the here and now and meet problems with action. Cerebrotonics however, are characterised by an excessive restraint, inhibited, and tend to withdraw from social contact.

3.  Mental function and typology

This typology has psychological foundations, its focus is upon the direction of interest, and attention exhibited by the individual – supposedly outwards or inwards. Typologies of this type were elaborated by Stern, James, and Rorschach. The best known is the introversion-extroversion theory of Jung. His was postulated in 1928 and developed by Fordham in 1953.  Essentially, Jung’s concept states that introvert personalities are based upon subjective determinants, with an important inner world, inner thoughts, internalised actions, with a philosophical approach.

The extroverts objective determinants cause an outward directed consciousness, with feeling predominating over thought, action rather than fantasy, with scientific rather than philosophical outlook. Later work concerning this was done by Eysenck and Carrigan in 1960. These personality theories, like the physical variants, have extrapolated to psychopathology. This claim tries to plot a path from normal introversion to the abnormal reactive depression, anxiety and psychasthenia. The extrovert personality supposedly underlies the pathology of the hysteric or the manic.

4.  Experience and pattern typology

Implicit in these theories is the idea that the personality is tight, unchanging, and dependent upon a vulgar innate determinism. This view bases its concepts on a model of the mind which possesses permanence, and stability, over time. The main theory that postulates these views is the anthropomorphic and mystification of Freud – psychoanalysis. Freud’s view was that one had to consider the influence of childhood events in personality analysis, and that normal personality development required the successful negotiation of developmental phases.

These phases are related to the disposition of erotogenic zones. Psychoanalytic typology rests upon the idea of so-called fixation in stages of development. Personalities depend in many ways, it  is assumed, upon residual elements of fixation manifest in adult life. Three analytic types are described – the oral, the anal, and the phallic – between birth and the mature, genital level of development.

5.  Comparison of trait and type description  

The enduring feature of trait personality assessments is the individual, whereas the constant features of types is the group. The main distinction between the two approaches is generality. Typologies are wider, more inclusive than the artificial trait categories. Hence there developed the cardinal trait approach of Eysenck. In 1953 the concept put forward claimed that trait and type were complimentary – that a trait was thus distinguished by position held in a hierarchical scheme of personality organisation.

In Eysenck’s view a trait is a group of correlated behavioural acts or action patterns. It has to be remembered that Eysenck, along with Burt, was a Black Paper ‘pundit’ much devoted to the biological determination of human mental attributes, personality as well as intelligence. Argyle, when speaking of the so-called biological core of a personality claims there is consistent evidence to support this innate hypothesis, quoting Eysenck’s view of 1968.

6.  Personality structure

Structural models have been suggested by Eysenck and Cattell. Based upon empirical data and factor analysis. These two psychologists are the principal exponents of the quantitative and objective approach to personality analysis. Cattell postulates the trait analysis and Eysenck is a contemporary typologist. In respect to his metrical work on the topic of intelligence Eysenck has been criticised by Daniels and Houghton in 1972 when they wrote that statistical results are a functional aspect of the particular mathematical methodology employed.

Perhaps the same criticism could be levelled at metrical analysis of personality trait and type views. The questions raised concern the validity of mechanistic models and analyses, especially when such views are based upon individual innateness undefined.

Cattell thinks traits are synonymous with mental structures and his search was for the source traits which comprise the fundamental structures of the total personality. Cattell developed a complex hierarchical model of inter-relationships between source traits, surface traits, and primary group factors. Insisting that factor analysis is the only methodology of value. Eysenck developed his own multilevel hierarchical model of personality, with the emphasis on the isolation of general factors. His research in 1947, using factor analysis, led him to his bipolar conclusions. This model demonstrated in his view the evidence of extroversion, introversion for one set of dimensions, and neuroticism and stability for his other set.

The view is a mixture of Jung’s and Sheldon’s typology. In 1952 Eysenck isolated another polar dimension, that of psychoticism. The psychotic dimension is orthogonal to the neurotic. These dimensions are the highest levels of the hierarchy. Below the type level there is the trait level. Below traits occur the response levels. The specific level is described as “…acts such as responses to an experimental trait or experience.”

7.  Argyle, personality and social behaviour

Michael Argyle thinks that individuals differ in their regard of the importance of traits and that this affects the way in which they treat others.  He points out that some people raise questions about anthers religion, some question intelligence. He develops his view further  to say that all categorisations have their basis in verbal and non-verbal communication or cues, and that the non-verbal concept is of particular importance. Physical cues, after Allport 1961, are skin colour, hair colour, hair length, forehead size, height, eye wrinkles, lip thickness, nose and chin size. These features are then taken as category membership, from which inferences are made. Individuals are thus concentrating on certain categories and dimensions, assuming from this that another individual possesses all the stereotyped qualities associated with the particular category he is a member of.

Argyle and Little in 1971 stated that an individual has only a limited number of social performances, each of which is used in a range of social situations and relationships. He then postulates that personality be regarded as the sum of all these social performances. For Argyle then, personality consists of the relation between behaviour of different peoples in different situations. His interest was whether people behave similarly in successive experimental situations, and which group of situations produce some ordering of subjects. In his personality studies he believed the origins to be inheritance and social learning. Some research was conducted by Argyle when he considered personality in regards individual and group leadership. His conclusions were that leadership depends upon different personality qualities, varying with the type of group or group task plus membership of a group.

8.  Scientific personology

There does exist a consistent materialist analysis of the personality and the social interaction of people. This theory is based upon evolutionary development and neurophysiology. In regards to zoo-psychology and primatology we have to be aware that there as many individuals as there are animals. Likewise in anthropopsychology we have to be aware that there are as many individuals as there are persons. Furthermore – the more pronounced and higher the personality level, there occurs more often individual distinctions in persons desires, thoughts, attitudes.

In terms of a hierarchy of elements, somatopsychics, thymopsychics, vegetopsychics, and sophropsychics, these are the result of the evolutionary development, and the functional manifestations of the brain as a whole. The highest level is the egospyche, and its associated egopsychics. Demonstrated at this level are manifestations of consciousness, an orientation of the individual to both self and the environment, a personality evaluation of man’s meaning and purpose, and the development of categories concerning work, morality, and duty.

In regards to personality, the essential dynamic base is shaken and changes characteristics under the impact of various factors. The concept thus develops that the essence of personality embraces tendencies, attitudes, endurance and reactivity. Evolutionary analysis of the central nervous system demonstrates that integrative activity is a most specific peculiarity of the brain and in fact contributes to its perfection. This is confirmed by synaptology and hodological considerations. Hodology meaning the concept of dynamic connections between cortical and sub-cortical areas of the brain.

Integration is a synthetic activity, of structural, morphological and dynamic systems of the organism. This is provided by the central nervous system. In humans, this synthesis of an individuals possibilities depends therefore upon the co-ordination of the mental apparatus on a personality level. The idea of a ‘Totus Homo’ or integrate man indicates the biophysical ontogeny of man. Personality research is only correct if insight exists into the integrated psycho-social nature of man.

The personality activity of man should be based on principles of duty. social spirit, conscience, heroic ideas, and this implies that every function at personality level, every personality category is invariably positive, whole and creative. Man therefore is endowed with a personality plus a complex subjective world. Human wisdom in its decisions, actions, and behaviour is governed by the personality with its notions of conscience, duty, work and love – not by the individuals intellectual resources.

Personology demonstrates that man’s meaning, purpose and significance is not the pursuit of an outer form to the detriment of content, nor ignoring individuality, nor superficial philosophising – but the attainment of economical logical thinking. Coupled with this the aim is the gaining of insight into the inner world of phemomena, and respect for the individual self governed by principles of duty, work, trust and morals.

9.  Summary

The view cannot be held of a one way process of the reaction of personality and environment. The personality of an individual does not passively influence his reactions to his social milieu – there exists a dynamic relationship between the individual and his environment. The environment also determines the personality in its characteristic changing role. A personality reacts upon, and is reacted upon, by its social life. Innate theories cannot explain change, cannot comprehend development of attitudes in a constantly changing environment.

An example of this process, whereby the central nervous system is exemplified exists in the realm of persanopathology – namely the phenomenon of psychopathy or personality disorder.  Great importance must be attached to psychopathy having its roots in both faulty nervous organisation and faulty environment. Kretschmer’s views are invalidated because he did not see, or understand, the process of the transition from quantity to quality. This is exemplified by his theories of physique to illness – his biologisation of a number of states which were conditioned by social factors renders him and Sheldon as unscientific. The same trap is shared by Eysenck and Argyle.

In conclusion – the genetic basis of personality is in the main untenable – alcohol changes personalities. Are we to assume central nervous system involvement or a situation of intoxicated genes? Are we to conclude nervous alteration with pre-frontal leucotomy or are we to conclude that genes have been cut in half?

Essay contribution to Human Sciences course paper Social, Developmental, and Personality Psychology, University of Oxford, 1973.



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