ECP presentat...oretical - Lund University Publications

Toward an Integrative Personality
Artur Nilsson
Lund University, Sweden
The 13th European Congress of Psychology, July 10th, 2013,
Stockholm, Sweden
The problem
Integrative work has special importance for personality
 Many personality psychologists, such as Allport, Mayer, and
Pervin, have, following William Stern, described personality as a
unified system.
 Others, like Dan McAdams, deny that personality is necessarily a
unified system, but nevertheless maintain a strong integrative
theme in our understanding of the whole person.
 The philosopher Donald Davidson has demonstrated that the
attribution of unity is integral to the interpretation of any
creature as a linguistic being (i.e. a person). Unity increases the
scope, and consequent power, of our theories of behavior.
How do we facilitate such integrative work?
We need a conceptual framework that is integrative and
comprehensive to guide integrative personality research and
idiographic interpretation!
Previous attempts to construct such a framework(e.g.
McAdams; McCrae & Costa; Mischel & Shoda) are too
descriptive, thus threatening to reify the field and stifle
critical normative thinking.
1. The study of personality consists of the study of traits,
defined as objective behavioral regularities, and the study
of worldviews, defined as subjective sources of meaning
2. Traits and worldviews are mutually irreducible and
equally basic aspects of personality (e.g. in terms of
3. We need to account for unity not just within traits, but
also within worldviews and between traits and worldviews
Argument for thesis 1
1. Personality psychology is concerned with behavior
2. Behavior is described not just mechanistically but also as
laden with meaning and intentionality (reason-based action)
3. Reasons are constitutive of actions. E.g. an altruistic action is
altruistic only if it expresses an altruistic intention.
4. Reasons are partly constituted by a background of beliefs,
goals, values, etc. (”the holism of the mental”).
5. Therefore, worldviews need to be studied in their own right,
as sources of meaning in personality
The study of traits
Trait constructs summarize the complex objective patterning
of behavior, thus making it intelligible. Stability is the
demarcating ideal.
Includes not just the Big Five, but also socio-cognitive and
other traits, and both mental and observable behavior
The reduction of traits to causal structure is problematic:
1. It would require us to measure and conceptualize traits in
behavior-independent, self-report independent,
idiosyncratic terms (Boag, 2011; Harré, 1998; Lamiell, 1987)
2. It is based upon the false presupposition that the only type
of explanation at our disposal is the mechanistic one
Traits explain non-mechanistically!
To explain a phenomenon in terms of a trait is:
(a) to make it intelligible by fitting it into a pattern
(b) that includes theoretical assumptions about rationales
and capacities associated with the trait
(c) in an empirically adequate way
The study of worldviews
Worldview constructs summarize the person’s subjective
meanings. Demarcated by centrality as source of meaning.
Meanings are conceptual and propositional mental contents
and the epistemic, emotional, and conative-volitional
attitudes held toward them.
Central sources of meaning are the concepts, presuppositions,
and scripts through which we think, feel, and act; the
background, substrata, or skeleton of intentionality
Both abstract philosophical notions (e.g. free will) and
experientially derived (life-narratives and goals), whether
conscious and deliberated or unconscious and internalized
On a philosophical note, I am not suggesting that mental
states are entirely transparent to the subject. Persons do not
necessarily understand, or have the ability to verbalize, the
depth structure of their subjective ontology.
This makes the study of worldviews more dependent upon
expert vocabulary than the standard lexical trait approach.
Limitations of previous worldview research
It consists of scattered islands of research. There is no
systematic top-down study or taxonomy of broad worldview
patterns (cf. the Big Five).
Worldviews are treated as derivatively interesting insofar as
they cause particular behaviors (socio-cognitive theory) or
form part of mental regularities (trait theory); not as sources
of meaning in personality
Personality models that take meaning into account include
goals, view of self and life events (e.g. Kelly; Little; McAdams),
but not view of world, society, and life in general
Examples of worldview constructs
Goals, life-story narratives, lay theories of persons and
groups, just-, dangerous-, competitive-, static-, mechanistic/organismic-, and benevolent-world beliefs, moral intuitions,
values, assumptions about human nature, socio-political
attitudes, beliefs about free will and determinism, ontological
and religious beliefs, epistemological beliefs
Are traits and worldviews really different?
Objection: Persons can have stable ways of viewing the
world, therefore worldviews are traits (Allport, 1966)
They provide different kinds of information, illuminating
personality from different perspectives (objective/subjective):
• Trait self-report: proxy for objective behavioral
regularities, e.g. ”I tend to/usually/often/seldom get irritated”
• Worldview self-report: current subjective experience
regardless of its truth or falsity, e.g. ”I believe that we
should be tough on crime, ”Human nature is basically good”
They focus on different kinds of discourse (e.g. culturally
novel, cognitively sophisticated, unusual phenomena..)
Are traits more basic than worldviews?
Traits are often thought of as more inherently universal and
worldviews as relatively more culture-dependent
But theory and research on values (Schwartz), social beliefs
(Leung et al.), and moral intuitions (Haidt et al.) indicate a
high degree of universality
Despite our different historic-cultural worlds, there are:
• universal existential conditions: changeableness and
terminality of life, social relationships, human limitations,
injustice and evil, freedom, relation to nature …
• and a common biological constitution for endowing the
world with meaning
If we take the intentional level of description seriously,
universalism is in fact a methodological approach rather than
a property of traits or worldviews per se
A universalist approach emphasizes commonalities and strips
away layers of cultural meaning for intercultural comparability
A historic-cultural approach studies personality aspects in
their historic-cultural embedment, emphasizing differences
Both approaches are usefully applicable to both traits and
Normative implications
• Worldviews need to be studied systematically in their
own right, as basic sources of meaning in personality
• This includes applying a universalist approach, and
investigating developmental origins, and heritabilities
• We need to account for, and search for, unity not just
within traits (i.e. the consistency of behavior), but also
within worldviews and between traits and worldviews
• The conclusions are equally applicable to individual
differences and personalistic approaches
But how do we study worldviews
1. Factor analyzing worldview items
2. Trying to find worldview items that map onto
current models of traits
3. Theoretical analysis of similarities and
differences between worldview models
Thank you for your attention!
[email protected]

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