Discussion Questions for Psychology 438, Fall 2012


For Class 2: Chapter 1 (The Scientific Study of Personality)

1.    What three characteristics, according to Leary, define personality?

2.    According to Dr. Johnson, what kind of "behavioral consistency" results from personality, contrary to what Leary and others say about personality and behavioral consistency?"

3.    What three levels of similarity do personality psychologists study?

4.    In what way is human behavior a function of both personality and the situation?


For Class 3: Handbook, Chapter 3 (Units of Analysis for the Description and Explanation of Personality)

1.    What is a trait, and why does Johnson say that the scientific study of personality virtually requires that we think about personality in terms of traits? Try to describe your personality without using trait words. Can you?

2.    What is the difference between a phenotypic and genotypic trait, and why is it important to make this distinction?

3.    Identify examples of phenotypic and genotypic traits in your personality description, and explain what makes them phenotypic or genotypic. Identify a trait word that could refer to both a phenotypic and genotypic trait. Explain.

4.    What advantages and disadvantages do observers and actors have in assessing traits accurately?

5.    Explain how, in theory, personality types differ from personality traits, but, in practice, types can function like traits.

For Class 4: Chapter 2 (Personality Measurement)

1.    According to the author of chapter 2, Stephen Briggs, behavioral prediction involves four steps. What are the four steps, and how does one move from step one to step two? From step two to step three?

2.    In what ways did the OSS procedures represent good personality research? In what ways did they fail to properly execute the four steps of prediction research?

3.    Draw up a list of behaviors for measuring conscientiousness as suggested in the activity box on page 32.

4.    What are the shortcomings and advantages of using the self versus others as sources of data about personality?

5.    What are measurement reliability and validity, and how can personality psychologists determine the reliability and validity of measures based on self-data and data from others?

6.    What role does factor analysis play in personality measurement?

For Class 5: Chapter 7 (Personality Structure)

1.    Before reading any portion of chapter 7, do the activity in Activity Box 7.1 on page 197. That is, sort the 30 trait adjectives into five groups of six adjectives each and then try to come up with a name that describes what the adjectives in each of the five groups have in common.

2.    Compare your results for Activity Box 7.1 with the results from an actual factor analysis of ratings for these 30 traits as described on pages 197-198. Compare your five names for what each group has in common with the description of the five factors in Table 7.1 on page 199. How similar were your results with the five factors as described in the textbook?

3.    What are the major empirical findings about the five personality factors?

4.    The lexical hypothesis (p. 195) states that traits are the basic building blocks of personality and that words for all important traits can be found in any language. Some argue that a scientific psychology must go beyond ordinary language, because modern physics developed many technical terms not found in ordinary language. What do you think and why?



For Classes 6 & 7: Chapter 3 (Genetic and Environmental Influences)

1.    What is heritability, and why does a heritability coefficient not apply to a single individual?

2.    What is meant by "shared environmental influence" and "non-shared environmental influence"?

3.    How is heritability estimated from individuals with different degrees of relatedness?

4.    What proportion of personality variability is generally attributed to:

a.    genes?

b.    shared environment?

c.    non-shared environment?

5.    How can an apparent environmental effect like social class actually represent genetic effects?

6.    In what way is evolutionary psychology complementary to the behavioral genetics approach to personality?

7.    In what ways has human genetics been abused to serve political goals? How can findings from behavioral genetics inform our thinking about equal rights and opportunities?


For Class 8: Chapter 4 (Biological Bases of Personality)

1.    What are the three approaches to the use of biological measures in personality research?

2.    What is the difference between thinking about a biological event as a correlate of personality versus a substrate of personality?

3.    What are some common psychophysiological measures, and how do they relate to personality? What biological measures other than psychophysiological ones have been related to personality?

4.    What has the chapter author found concerning cerebral asymmetry and affective style?

For Class 9: Chapter 5 (Personality Development)

1.    How does recent research on attachment represent a revision of traditional psychoanalytic theory?

2.    What three attachment patterns may persist over the life course?

3.    How does the behavioristic view of personality development differ from the psychoanalytic view?

4.    Research based on the humanistic model has shown a relationship between what kind of adult-child interaction and later peer-peer interaction in adolescence?

5.    In what ways do biosocial approaches to personality development go beyond the simple either-or assumptions of the psychoanalytic, behavioristic, and humanistic viewpoints?

For Class 10: Handbook, Chapter 11 (Longitudinal Stability of Adult Personality)

1.    The term "personality development" almost seems like a contradiction, because development refers to change, whereas personality refers to consistencies. How do Costa and McCrae resolve this apparent paradox?

2.    Describe the difference between mean level stability and stability of individual differences, and summarize what Costa and McCrae say about both kinds of personality stability.

3.    Evaluate the suggestion that stability of scores on self-report personality inventories merely reflects stability of self-image (self-concept) rather than actual personality stability.

4.    What do Costa and McCrae say is the "wrong question" about personality and aging, and what is the "right question?" Why do they say this?


For Class 11: Chapter 6 (Motives)

1.    What are the three traditions in the study of human motivation, and how do they relate to the perspectives on personality development found in chapter 5?

2.    What is the difference between biological (body) and cognitive (mind) approaches to motivation, and how would you reconcile the two approaches?

3.    Explain the theory underlying the use of autobiographical memory to measure motives for achievement, power, and intimacy.

4.    Go to the following web address:


Follow the link that says "Click here to read a few stories...", and locate a good example of a story that shows strong motivation for at least one of the three social motives discussed in this chapter.

For Class 12: Chapter 8 (The Psychological Unconscious)

1.    Describe examples of the four types of unconscious influence according to the chapter author:

a.    the unnoticed

b.    the noticed but unappreciated

c.    unretrievable memories

d.    fabricated memories

2.    The author's description of his own study nicely illustrates how a scientist's thinking about a topic can change according to research findings and commentary from the rest of the scientific community. Describe the evolution of the author's thinking about hypnotic age regression and his final conclusions about this phenomenon.

(Class 13, catch-up and review; no new questions)

(Class 14, midterm exam; no new questions)

For Classes 15 & 16: Chapter 9 (Self-Concept, Self-Esteem, and Identity)

1.    Rick Robins and Oliver John (Handbook, chapter 25) present four metaphors for self-knowledge: The Scientist (seeks accurate information), The Consistency-Seeker (seeks confirmation of existing beliefs), The Politician (seeks to create favorable impressions on others), and The Egoist (seeks only favorable views of the self). All of the metaphors apply to us to some extent, but, according to Baumeister, the author of the present chapter, which aspect tends to be the strongest in most people? Explain.

2.    How does social interaction affect self-concept change?

3.    How are the roots of self-esteem, as described in this chapter, consistent with the humanistic view of development described in chapter 5?

4.    Is high self-esteem a good thing? Explain.

5.    What does Baumeister mean by the motive toward self-protection versus the motive toward self-enhancement, and how are does the balance of these motives differ in people with low versus high self-esteem?

6.    What evidence does Baumeister provide to support the view that self-esteem is maintained by distorting reality rather than by achieving success through superior talent?

7.    What four types of identity can be distinguished on the basis of crisis and commitment?

For Class 17: Chapter 10 (Self-Awareness and Self-Consciousness)

1.    What is objective self-awareness, what brings it about, and what are its consequences?

2.    How does Arnold Buss's approach to self-consciousness differ from Bob Wicklund's approach to self-awareness?

3.    What characteristics distinguish individuals high in private self-consciousness from those low in private self-consciousness?

4.    What characteristics distinguish individuals high in public self-consciousness from those low in public self-consciousness?


For Classes 18 & 19: Chapter 11 (Personality and Control)

1.    What is learned helplessness, and what are the emotional and behavioral consequences of learned helplessness?

2.    What are three possible negative consequences of perceived control?

3.    What strategies can people employ to avoid learned helplessness when they lack direct control over events?

4.    How are self-efficacy and control are related, and how are these constructs related to the five-factor model of personality?

5.    What is locus of control, and what are some consequences of external versus internal locus of control?

6.    How is desire for control different from locus of control, and how does the behavior of a person with a strong desire for control differ from someone with a low desire for control?

For Class 20 & 21: Chapter 12 (Sex and Gender)

1.    The basic principle of social constructivism is that there is no reality out there to be known, that we simply act as if things were real because we tell each other that they are real. Social constructivists therefore claim that there are no real psychological differences between men and women, only arbitrary beliefs about sex differences that we have been taught. Because they assume there are no real sex differences, they regard scientific studies in this area as propaganda designed to support the status quo rather than efforts to discover truth. What do you think social constructivism?

2.    According to the research presented in the chapter, what appear to be real personality differences between men and women?

3.    Whereas the terms male and female are used as either/or categories, the terms masculinity and femininity describe a degree of resemblance of what is thought to be a "typical" male or female. How have ways of thinking about and measuring masculinity and femininity evolved over the years?

4.    What is the evolutionary, hormonal, and genetic evidence for male/female personality differences and for differences in masculinity and femininity within each sex? What is the evidence that learning causes male/female personality differences and differences in masculinity and femininity within each sex?


For Class 22: Chapter 13 (Emotions)

1. How are emotions a universal experience? In what ways are emotions a matter of individual differences?

2. What are the three major components of emotional temperament, and to which three factors of the Big 5 personality dimensions do they correspond? How do the three components combine to form the "easy," "slow-to-warm-up," and "difficult" temperament types identified by Chess and Thomas's research?

3. What is the relationship between emotional temperament and attachment style?

4. What is meant by "emotional intelligence?" Give some examples to illustrate this concept.

5. How is embarrassability related to empathy? Social skills? Public self-consciousness?

For Classes 23 & 24: Chapter 14 (Moral Character)

1. The psychoanalytic, cognitive social learning theory, and cognitive developmental views of moral development are very different, but these views all agree upon one idea. What is it? How is this idea supported by changes in crime rate when society moved into the industrial age?

2. How does the research strategy of the Hartshorne and May study derive from the idea held in common by the three views mentioned in question one?

3. What conclusion from this study was used by trait critics such as Mischel and social psychologists? What four reasons does Emler give against the conclusions often drawn from the Hartshorne and May study, and which reason is the one used by trait psychologists against trait critics in general?

4. What is problematic about studying convicted criminals to see what kind of person is a serious rule-breaker? What are the alternatives?

5. Which two personality domains from the Five Factor Model (FFM) does Emler suggest are most closely related to moral traits? How do you think these domains might be related to the two types of transgressions identified by Turiel? What other two dimensions from the FFM did Eysenck originally claim were related to criminality? What third dimension did he add later, and how is it related to the FFM?

6. What does Emler say about the mean stability and relative stability of rule-breaking across adolescence?

7. Why does Emler say that moral behavior results from a concern with reputation rather than from private, internal standards?

8. What does Emler say about the following hypotheses concerning the reason people damage their reputations by breaking rules?

a. Rule-breakers have few social contacts and therefore have no need to consider their reputations.

b. Rule-breakers fail to understand how their behavior affects their reputations.

c. Rule-breakers purposely pursue a bad reputation.

9. What role do attitudes toward authority play in forming a reputation as a rule-breaker?

For Class 25: Chapter 15 (Culture and Personality)

1. What issues in the study of culture and personality did we see earlier in the course in the chapter on sex, gender, and personality?

2. Cultural psychologists have observed that in individualist cultures, people naturally think about themselves in terms of personality traits, but in collectivist cultures, people think about themselves in terms of roles and relationships. How, then, can we study of personality traits in collectivist cultures--or is this impossible?

3.    Indigenous psychologists have noted that people in particular cultures describe each other's personal qualities with terms that are not used in other cultures, e.g., nishkama karma among Hindus. Will the documenting of the way that ordinary people characterize each other in various cultures be more or less likely than the lexical approach to used by American psychologists to lead to a valid, scientific view of personality?

4.    What are the etic and emic approaches to studying personality across cultures, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of these approaches?



For Class 26: Chapter 16 (Stress and Illness)

1. Describe the strategy underlying the construction of Holmes and Rahe's Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS) and the research findings associated with this scale. What concerns or issues have been raised concerning the SRRS?

2. Describe Hans Selye's response-based view of stress and the more elaborated transactional models of stress. Where do control factors (chapters 11 in our textbook) fit into the picture?

3. What is the role of the following personality variables in stress and illness?






4. How are the findings concerning individual responses to stress moderated by social and cultural factors?

For Class 27: Chapter 17 (Personality and Relationships)

1. What is the relevance of relationships to the study of individual personality?

2. Describe the four basic stages of relationship development according to Jones and Couch.

3.    What are global and relational trust, what are their origins, what are the consequences, and how are these two types of trust related to one another?

For Class 28 & 29: Chapter 18 (Personality Disorders)

1.    Compare the concepts of personality abnormality and personality maladaptiveness. Is either a sufficient description of a personality disorder?

2.    Why do chapter authors Maddux and Mundell assert that personality disorders should not be compared to medical illnesses?

3.    What is the difference between a categorical and dimensional approach to personality disorders, and why do Maddux and Mundell argue for the dimensional approach?

4.    The traditional DSM clustering of personality disorders is as follows:

Cluster A: Odd/Eccentric Cluster

Schizoid - socially detached, aloof, cold, indifferent

Schizotypal - loner with odd beliefs and strange habits

Paranoid - suspicious, bigoted

Cluster B: Dramatic/Emotional/Erratic

Antisocial - guilt-free, rule-breaking, exploiting

Borderline - emotionally unstable

Histrionic - overly dramatic

Narcissistic - extremely conceited, self-centered

Cluster C: Anxious/Fearful

Avoidant - socially inhibited, oversensitive, fear rejection

Dependent - insecure, over-reliant on others, fear abandonment

Obsessive-Compulsive - perfectionist, rigid, ritualistic

Costa & McCrae suggest reconceptualizing the personality disorders as extreme, maladaptive forms of the Big 5 dimensions. The AB5C extension of this idea would be to conceive of the personality disorders as extremes on pairs of the Big 5 dimensions.

Based on the your knowledge of the Big 5, the brief descriptions of the personality disorders above, and information in the textbook, see if you can identify which pair of Big 5 dimensions best describes each of the personality disorders.

For class 30: Catch-up and review; no new questions