[12.2] Cultural and Biological Approaches to Personality Flashcards Preview

🚫 PSY100H1: Introduction to Psychology (Winter 2016) with J. Vervaeke > [12.2] Cultural and Biological Approaches to Personality > Flashcards

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Culture and Personality

  • it is troubling that 96% of psychology studies have been conducted on people from WEIRD cultures; Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic
  • these cultures only account for 12% of the earth's population
  • this means that we should be cautious in making inferences about “human nature” when extrapolating from the findings of psychology studies to the human species at large 
  • we also need to better understand the similarities and differences between people in different cultures 


Universals and Differences Across Cultures: The Big Five

  • to find out whether the Big Five traits are truly universal, an enormous team of psychologists (there were 127 authors on this single article) measured the Big Five dimensions in more than 17,000 people speaking 28 different languages and inhabiting 56 countries on 6 continents  
  • despite the many differences that may exist between cultures, the people in those cultures share the same basic personality structures 
  • this suggests that the basic machinery of the human personality system is universal 


Personality Structures in Different Cultures

  • a key methodological challenge remains with the Five Factor Model: when the scale is given to people from other cultures, the scale itself brings the biases ofWestern culture and the English language right along with it 
  • Cheung et al. (1996): factor-analyzed indigenous Chinese personality traits using Chinese and found 26 new personality traits in total; when they factor-analyzed all the traits including these 26 new ones, they found a quite different structure from the Big Five 
  • instead of five traits, these researchers found four: dependability, social potency, individualism, and interpersonal relatedness
  • this last trait emphasizes the more socially interdependent nature of the self in this culture 
  • more work needs to be done from the perspective of other cultures in order to understand and analyze personality 


Comparing Personality Traits Between Nations

  • what do the differences found in personality tests across countries really mean?
  • many of the findings in large-scale cross-cultural studies defy cultural stereotypes


Challenges in Cross-Cultural Research

  • researchers attempting to answer questions about cross-cultural differences face two central challenges:
    • how to translate measures of personality such that they will mean exactly the same thing in different languages
    • and how to ensure that people are using the exact same reasoning process when answering them 
  • in regards to the second challenge, it is entirely possible that people from different cultures have different response styles: characteristic ways of responding to questions
  • e.g. in one culture it may be more socially acceptable to say highly positive things about yourself, whereas in another culture the same behaviour may be considered rude or boastful
  • it is also problematic to essentialize a culture, i.e. to attribute a difference to something fundamental to the cultures, some sort of basic difference between the “essences” of each culture 
  • focusing on average differences between cultures tends to overlook the fact that there are vast individual differences within each culture, generally much bigger than the average difference between cultures
  • no convincing evidence has demonstrated that beliefs about national character have any basis in fact, despite their wide adoption and resistance to change


Twin Studies: How Genes Affect Personality

  • research on the Big Five traits with twins has shown that correlations for identical twin pairs are approximately 0.50 for all five factors, significantly higher than the correlations for fraternal twin pairs (who average approximately 0.20)
  • the Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart located over 100 sets of twins and triplets who were raised in separate households, and compared them to those raised in the same household
  • identical twins raised in different households were similar in many ways, more similar than fraternal twins raised in the same household
  • Identical twins raised in different households are about as similar to each other as identical twins raised in the same household 
  • the personalities of adoptive parents have no influence on the personality of their adopted children; siblings who are adopted (i.e. not genetically related) and raised in the same household are no more similar in personality than two people picked randomly off the street 
  • parents can still influence their children's personality development, but most parents don't expose their children to experiences so far outside the norm that they are likely to shape their children’s personalities in a strong way


From DNA Molecules to Personality

  • scientists have not identified a specific genes involved in the expression of specific personality factors (e.g. neuroticism or agreeableness), but they have discovered genes that code for specific brain chemicals that, in turn, are related to personality
  • one way to study genes and personality is to compare responses on self-report questionnaires of people who've inherited different copies of a specific gene
    • e.g. people who inherit short copies of the serotonin transporter gene (on chromosome 17) from one or both parents seem predisposed to anxiety, shyness, and experiencing negative emotional reactions in interpersonal situations
  • another method is to conduct experiments and compare the responses of people with different copies of a gene
    • e.g. research has shown that people who have problems with anxiety focus their attention on threatening stimuli more than nonanxious people; those who are more anxious had inherited one or two copies of the serotonin transporter gene
  • however, in most cases, there is no single gene causing a single outcome in a person
  • these are also correlational studies, and inferring causality from such data is highly problematic 


Animal Behaviour: The Evolutionary Roots of Personality

  • since personality traits can be seen in nonhuman species, it can be said that approaching personality from an evolutionary perspective is useful
  • it is difficult to get animals to fill out personality questionnaires, so the people who familiar with the animals have to rate their behaviours according to the five factors
  • several of the Big Five personality traits have been found in a rich diversity of species—such as rhinos, primates, hedgehogs, and even ants 
  • you don't need a backbone to have a personality


Why There Are So Many Different Personalities: The Evolutionary Explanation

  • to the extent that the Big Five traits are built right into our biology, these traits must have been selected for by being adaptive in past evolutionary epochs, helping to promote our survival and reproductive success
  • e.g. people high in extraversion are good at taking leadership roles, but tend to be risk-takers and attention seekers, so it's good to balance them with introverts in a group
  • just as there are different niches to which animal species adapt in an ecosystem, there are different social niches to which people can adapt in society 


The Brain and Personality

  • for much of the past 2000 years, Western medicine was guided by humourism: explained both physical illnesses and disorders of personality as resulting from imbalances in key fluids in the body
  • the four “humours,” including blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile
  • e.g. too much black bile resulted in melancholy and irritability; too much yellow bile resulted in becoming hot-tempered and prone to anger
  • phrenology: the theory that personality characteristics could be assessed by carefully measuring the outer skull
  • this theory held sway well into the 1800s; phrenologists were on the right track in postulating that different psychological functions were localized in specific regions of the brain
  • however, it turns out that measurements of the skull do not correspond meaningfully to the size and power of different brain areas, nor does the shape of the skull have anything to do with personality. 


Extraversion and Arousal

  • proposed by Hans Eysenck (1967), arousal theory of extraversion: argues that extraversion is determined by people’s threshold for arousal; according to this theory, people high in extraversion have a higher threshold for arousal than people low in extraversion
  • ascending reticular activating system (ARAS): a brain system that plays a central role in controlling the arousal response
    • for a given “kick,” introverts have a stronger response
  • Jeffrey Gray (1991) proposed the approach/inhibition model of motivation, which describes two major brain systems for processing rewards and punishments: the behavioural activation system and the behavioural inhibition system 
  • behavioural activation system (BAS): a “GO” system, arousing the person to action in the pursuit of desired goals 
    • responsive to rewards and fairly unresponsive to possible negative consequences; greater BAS activation therefore is associated with greater positive emotional responses
  • behavioural inhibition system (BIS): a “danger” system, motivating the person to action in order to avoid punishments or other negative outcomes 
  • extraversion is especially related to BAS activation, whereas neuroticism is related to BIS activation 


Contemporary Research: Images of Personality in the Brain

  • brain imaging technology can test for relationships between personality and the brain
  • extraversion: a larger medial orbitofrontal cortex, leading to greater reward sensitivity; and less activation in the amygdala, meaning they're less sensitive to danger and fear
  • neuroticism: a smaller dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, meaning less control of emotions; a smaller hippocampus, meaning less control over obsessive negative thinking; and a larger mid-cingulate gyrus, meaning greater detection of errors and percieving pain
  • agreeableness: less brain volume in the left superior temporal sulcus, which is activated when interpreting other people's actions or intentions; greater volume in posterior cingulate cortex, which is involved in empathy and perspective-taking
  • conscientiousness: larger brain volume in the middle frontal gyrus in the left prefrontal cortex, involved in working memory processes and carrying out planned tasks, meaning effective self-control
  • openness: greater activiation in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, involved in creativity and intelligence, and the integration of the self and environment
  • this does not mean that these differences cause the personality differences, but it does suggest that these brain regions are involved in serving neurological functions that are related to personality processes at some level 
  • due to the complexity of the brain, in most cases, there will be no specific brain area involved uniquely in a personality trait 

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