Saturday, February 9, 2013

Personality- Ch 2

"Traits of Personality" is a short chapter which is jam-packed with information and real life examples of a variety of theories. I wish to discuss a few points which I found particularly intriguing about personality. Sigmund Freud played an important role in analyzing the human mind and judging a person's development through stages. I was aware of that but what I did not know is that in some cases he assumed that adults were sometimes left focused on one of the developmental stages which made a significant impact on their adult lives. For instance, Freud attributed smoking and biting nails/pencils to an oral fixation established in the first year of life.

There is certainly truth to Carl Jung's theory of archetypes being relevant and recognizable throughout all cultures and being seen in story characters in every part of the world. These are not simply stereotypes or cliches but rather human traits that appear to be universal.

According to the Object-Relations School, infants have mental representations of their parents which may be realistic but may also be distorted. This triggers the development of a child's personality even when they are newborns...with these mental representations often being subconscious.

It is terrifying that even when parents consistently treat their kids well, it may have no relation to how the kids turn out. There is only a small window of time when the parents are the sole influence on their child, after that most children draw greater influence from everything but the parents and home environment, as if testing the parents and their opinions. The child seeks the thoughts and opinions of peers and new people in his/her life, trying to understand world views and habits which were absent in the home.

This chapter is not solely about the developing personality in human beings but also in other creatures. The first analysis of personality was done on octopi, by judging how differently the same creatures respond to a meal. Though I knew that animals have different behaviors and attitudes, I never thought of those traits as a total personality which goes (mostly) unchanged in one animal throughout its life. This is an area which I wish to learn about in greater depth. It is slightly related to the article about chimps' understanding of fairness which I posted last week.

Though this chapter says that announcements about certain genes pertaining to a particular part of personality are extreme and difficult to prove, when I read Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters by Matt Ridley, it went into specifics about particular genes having ties to very specific parts of human development. Certainly, there is no such thing as one gene for "worry" but there are known genes that can predict the developments of abnormalities/mutations which can lead to certain characteristics/changes in one's personality.

Ultimately, the differences in the Western versus the East Asian cultural views is a stunning difference and would explain why moving from one of those parts of the world to another would be more challenging than expected. The collective versus the individualist cultures are so vastly different that it can be hard to put yourself in the shoes of a person with the opposite world view. What I found puzzling is that depending on which mindset (an English or a Chinese) a person put themselves in, the slightest things changed about their outlook. For example, the "Who am I?" experiment uncovered some amazing truths about the human brain. In English, a person defines themselves as an individual with goals pertaining only to themselves. However, in Chinese, the person is defined by those they are related to or are influenced by. Such a detail in one's mentality leads to multitudes of other differences in tradition, custom and attitude even in the modern world.

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