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Chapter 15

Chapter 15: Personality

Critical Thinking Activities


How Has Personality Been Studied?

Studying Personality
Personality can be defined as a consistent way of behaving in the face of an ever-changing world. If personality exists, then it is only a meaningful theoretical construct if there are a relatively finite number of personality types. In other words, if there are as many personality types as there are people in the world, the concept of personality is meaningless. Luckily for personality theorists, science and intuition both arrive at the conclusion that people sort themselves out along meaningful dimensions. The question now becomes, what are those dimensions or factors?

One of the most influential models of personality is the Big 5, or OCEAN, model. This model, discussed in your text, proposes that personality types can be classified into five factors:
  • Openness to experience: liberalism, love of adventure, intellect, creativity, artistry, and emotionality.
  • Conscientiousness: caution, discipline, need for achievement, resourcefulness, and need for structure.
  • Extraversion: friendliness, optimism, need for stimulation, activity level, and assertiveness.
  • Agreeableness: trust, cooperativeness, modesty, empathy, morality, and altruism.
  • Natural reactions: immoderation, anxiety, anger, pessimism, self-consciousness.
The Big 5 model of personality has considerable utility in predicting how people will act in specific situations. In this activity, you will take a Web-based version of a common personality test that is based on the Big 5 model of personality. The link below will take you to this test.

The Big 5 Personality Test

It is said that two people can look at a glass and one will see it as half empty while the other will see it as half full. Why will two people react very differently to the same situation? Do their brains react in different ways to the same input? One way to consider why personality is categorized by the five dimensions given above is to ask if personality differences may be reflecting neurological differences.

Turhan Canli and colleagues at Stanford University presented fourteen women with a series of positive images (smiling faces, puppies, sunsets) and negative images (cemeteries, spiders, guns) while fMRI measured cortical activation. The unique aspect of this study was that the women had been divided into categories of high and low on extraversion and neuroticism on the basis of a personality test. The results were startling: women who scored high on extraversion showed more activation to the positive stimuli in regions associated with emotion such as the amygdala, frontal cortex, and anterior cingulate than did those women who scored low on extraversion. Women who scored high on neuroticism also showed greater activation to negative stimuli than did their non-neurotic counterparts. These results are portrayed below.

Figure courtesy Dr. Turhan Canli, SUNY Stony Brook

To summarize, Canli found that how the brain activates in response to emotional input reflects two distinct dimensions on the OCEAN model (Openness and Natural Reactions).
How did you do on the personality test? Do the results agree with your self-assessment or do you feel that the test missed the mark? Explain your answer.
While many people feel satisfied with the Big 5 as a reasonable model for assessing personality, some feel that they fall short. Come up with one dimension or attribute of human personality that you feel is missing from the Big 5 model.
The research reported by Canli and colleagues suggests that a smiling face has more of an impact on an extravert, while a frown has more of an effect upon a person who is relatively high in neuroticism. Does this mean that personality differences are innate, or is the matter still open?

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