Syllabus for Psychology 438

Syllabus for PSYCH 438: Theory of Personality

Dr. John A. Johnson

Fall Semester, 2012


Room 148 Smeal Building
T&Th, 1:40-2:55

Office: 172 Smeal, 375-4774
Hours: T&Th 11:00-12:00 & by appointment

This syllabus and other important information are available to registered students on ANGEL, .  If you are a registered student in the course, after logging in to ANGEL, choose PSYCH 438 from the list of your courses. 


PSYCH 438 requires students to have successfully completed PSYCH 100 or a similar general introduction to psychology. PSYCH 238 (Introduction to Personality Psychology) is not a prerequisite, but students may find PSYCH 438 more meaningful if they first complete PSYCH 238.

Required Textbook:

Derlega, V. J., Winstead, B. A., & Jones, W. H. (Eds.) (2005). Personality: Contemporary theory and research (3rd ed.) Belmont, CA: Thomson-Wadsworth.

Other Required Reading:

Required reading also includes two chapters from R. Hogan, J. A. Johnson, & S. R. Briggs (Eds.) (1997). Handbook of personality psychology. San Diego, CA: Academic Press. They are:

Chapter 3 - Johnson, J. A. Units of analysis for description and explanation in psychology.

Chapter 11 - Costa, P. T., Jr., & McCrae, R. R. Personality across the life span.

Copies of these chapters are available on ANGEL.


Course Description and Objectives:

The course description found in the Baccalaureate Degree Programs Bulletin reads "Personality theories and their application to social and personality development and personality dynamics." This course differs from PSYCH 238 in that the 200-level course explores ideas of general concern to personality psychology such as motivation, traits and situations, the unconscious, and the self, whereas in PSYCH 438 the focus shifts somewhat more toward limited-domain theories and empirical research that tests these theories.

My main goal for the course may not be identical with your goals, but I think it is compatible. My goal is simply to get you to think and talk with one another about new ideas related to recent research on personality. The course emphasizes understanding issues more than memorizing facts. I have also considered what you, the student, might want to get out of a course in personality (beyond, of course, a good grade that will help you attain your educational and career goals). My guess is you would like a better understanding of your own personality and the personalities of others, an understanding that might be useful for building good personal relationships and achieving a measure of status in the world. You may indeed learn such useful insights in this course, but I would like to make it clear that self-insight or self-improvement is not the main focus of this course. That goal is the focus of another course I teach: PSYCH 243, Introduction to Well-Being and Positive Psychology.

Description of Course Activities

Research indicates that students learn best when learning activities are active and collaborative. Active learning means that students do activities beyond simply listening to the instructor's lectures. Collaborative learning means learning from other students. The following descriptions show how learning in this course is designed to be active and collaborative.

Active Reading for Class Discussion

Prior to every class, students are expected to actively seek answers to a list of questions distributed ahead of time. Answering the questions will require, at a minimum, reading the assigned chapters in the textbook, but may also require other activities, including self-reflection, writing, observation, and talking to other people. You will write preliminary answers to the questions to bring to each class. At the beginning of each class, students will meet in small groups to discuss their preliminary answers to the questions. In these discussions, students can learn from one another. The discussions may also generate new questions, which should be noted for later discussion with the rest of the class. After a period of time, the instructor will ask the groups to share their answers and new questions with the entire class and will moderate a discussion of these answers.

Writing Answers to Discussion Questions

After you have discussed your preliminary answers to the questions in your group, you will write a brief word-processed version of your answers. You will turn these written answers at three points in the course as described below.

Personality Self-Description Project

Over the course of the semester, students are expected to complete a personality self-description project. The project has three stages. Complete instructions are posted on the ANGEL Course Page for Psychology 438. Briefly, however, the first stage involves a rewrite of the personality description you wrote on the first day of the course. In this rewrite you will identify the specific kinds of personality traits (social, behavioral, cognitive, and emotional) discussed during the second week of the course. The second stage involves informed reflection about possible biological and social origins of your personality as discussed during the third through seventh weeks of the course. The last stage involves assessing the accuracy of a personality questionnaire you will take toward the end of the course.

Written Assignments and How to Submit Them:

You will be submitting a set of two different written assignments at three points in the course. At the three points in the course you will be submitting exactly two documents: (a) word-processed answers to the discussion questions for the section of the course we just finished and (b) one of the three stages of your personality project.


I would like you to submit your final word-processed answers to the discussion questions and each personality project stage through the drop-box feature of ANGEL. Use the following procedure to do this:

1. Select the “Lessons” tab.

2. Select the icon or name of the drop box (example: "Drop Box for First Set of Written Assignments").

3. Click the “Browse” button next to the “File to Upload” field, then locate on your local drive the file for your answers to the discussion questions.

4. When the file is found, double-click the file name, or single-click the file name, then click the “Open” button in the dialogue box.

5. Type a descriptive name for the file in the “Title” field such as “Question Set 1.”

6. Select the file type from the pull-down list.

7. Click the “OK” button.

Feedback will be given that the file has been successfully submitted. Click the “OK” button. Once returned to the drop box upload screen, you should select the link for the submitted file to make certain that it is viewable or accessible for downloading.

8. Repeat this process for your personality project paper, giving it a descriptive name such as “Personality Project Stage 1.”

Due Dates:

Tuesday, September 18th: Discussion Questions for classes 2-6 and Personality Project Stage 1

Thursday, October 11th: Discussion Questions for classes 8-13 and Personality Project Stage 2

Thursday, December 13th: Discussion Questions for classes 15-28 and Personality Project Stage 3


Grades are based on how many points you earn out of 200 possible total points. Three components will determine your grade: class participation (40 points or 20%); successful completion of your written assignments (80 points or 40%); and your performance on the midterm and final exams (80 points or 40%).

Class Participation

To earn points for participation, you must demonstrate that you have prepared for each class by reading the textbook and contributing answers to the distributed questions to the small-group and whole-class discussions. To judge how well you prepare and participate, I will rely heavily on the assessment of the other members of your small group. Each member of each group will have a fixed number of points (= 10 x [number of persons - 1]) to distribute among all the other group members. If you think everyone contributes equally, you assign an equal number of points to everyone. If you think someone contributes more, and another, less, than the others, you can assign more points to the first person. Your participation score will be computed as 40 x (total points received)/(points distributed by one person).

For example, let's say four people are in your group, including you. Each person will have 30 points to distribute among the other three members. If everyone distributes their points equally, you would receive 30 points. Your participation score will be 40 x (30/30) = 40. If someone is judged to be a slacker and receives only 5 points from each of the other three group members, his or her score would be 40 x (15/30) = 20. Note that if your group members believe you contributed more than an average amount, you could actually end up with more than 40 points for participation.

If, at any time, you see a serious problem with group members not contributing, please let me know and I will talk with your group to see what is going on. We will also conduct an informal assessment of participation (assigning points as per the formula above--but it won't count toward your grade) at midterm just to see how things are going. At the end of the course, if any individual's participation score seems to me too high or too low due to bias, I will talk to the group and I may adjust the participation grades.

Written Assignments

Your written assignments include all of your answers to the discussion questions and the three pieces of writing from your personality project. I will not be assigning points for each individual assignment; rather, I will be checking to see that you have made an adequate, honest effort to answer the questions and complete the personality project. You will earn 80 points for successfully completing all of the written assignments. I will be checking your assignments first on September 18th and October 11th, to let you know whether your work is adequate. (If I think your work is less than acceptable I will let you know to give you a chance to make it acceptable). I will check your written assignments a final time on December 13th. If your written work is incomplete at that point (extensions cannot be granted due to strict deadlines for submitting grades), points will be deducted according to how much material is missing. But I genuinely expect that everyone in the class will complete all of the assignments for the full 80 points.

Multiple Choice Examinations

The midterm and final examinations will each contain 40 multiple-choice questions built directly from the questions we discuss in class. (Therefore, seeking answers to these questions will help both your participation score and your examination score). The midterm will cover information from weeks 1-7, and the final, weeks 8-14. Exams are open-book, open-notes, and will be administered on ANGEL. The final exam will be administered during finals week on a date to be announced.

Points and Letter Grades

Letter grades will be based on the total points earned: 184-200 = A; 180-183 = A-; 176-179 = B+; 164-175 = B; 160-163 = B-; 156-159 = C+; 140-155 = C; 120-139 = D; 0-19 = F.

Course Outline:

All reading assignments are from the Derlega, Winstead, and Jones textbook unless prefaced by the word Handbook. Handbook readings refer to the Handbook of Personality Psychology chapters that are available on ANGEL.

 [Note: Dr. Johnson will be out of town during classes 3, 21, and 22. Students are to meet in class and discuss the questions for the topics on those days.]







1 T Aug 28

2 Th Aug 30

The scientific study of personality

Personality traits

Chapter 1

Handbook, Ch 3


3 T Sept 4

4 Th Sept 6 

Class discussion of personality traits

Personality measurement


Chapter 2


5 T Sept 11

6 Th Sept 13 

Personality structure

Genetic and environmental influences

Chapter 7 

Chapter 3


7 T Sept 18

8 Th Sept 20 


Biological bases of personality


Chapter 4


9 T Sept 25

10 Th Sept 27 

Personality development

Personality across the life span

Chapter 5

Handbook, Ch 11


11 T Oct 2

12 Th Oct 4 


The psychological unconscious

Chapter 6

Chapter 8


13 T Oct 9 

14 Th Oct 11 

Catch-up / Review






15 T Oct 16
16 Th Oct 18 

Self-concept, self-esteem, and identity

Self-concept, self-esteem, and identity, continued

Chapter 9


17 T Oct 23

18 Th Oct 25 

Self-awareness and self-consciousness

Personality and control

Chapter 10

Chapter 11


19 T Oct 30

20 Th Nov 1 

Personality and control, continued

Sex and gender


Chapter 12


21 T Nov 6

22 Th Nov 8 

Class discussion of sex and gender

Class discussion of emotions


Chapter 13


23 T Nov 13

24 Th Nov 15 

Moral character

Moral character, continued

Chapter 14



[T Nov 20]

[Th Nov 22]

NO CLASS! Thanksgiving vacation

NO CLASS! Thanksgiving vacation



25 T Nov 27

26 Th Nov 29

Culture and personality

Stress and illness

Chapter 15

Chapter 16


27 T Dec 4

28 Th Dec 6 

Personality and relationships

Personality disorders

Chapter 17

Chapter 18


29 T Dec 11

30 Th Dec 13 

Personality disorders, continued

Catch-up / Review


Finals Week





Note to Students with Disabilities:

Penn State DuBois welcomes students with disabilities into the University’s educational programs.  If you have a disability-related need for modifications and/or reasonable accommodations in this course, please contact The Office for Disability Services, Diana Kreydt, 142 Smeal Building, at 372-3037.

For further information regarding the Office of Disability Services, visit their web site at .  Instructors should be notified as early in the semester as possible regarding the need for modification and/or reasonable accommodations.

Statement of Academic Integrity:

All students are expected to act with civility, personal integrity; respect other students' dignity, rights and property; and help create and maintain an environment in which all can succeed through the fruits of their own efforts. An environment of academic integrity is requisite to respect for self and others and a civil community.

Academic integrity includes a commitment to not engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation or deception. Violation of academic integrity includes (but is not limited to) cheating on exams, having unauthorized possession of exams, "ghosting" (taking or having another student take an exam), plagiarizing, submitting another persons' work as your own, using Internet sources without citation, fabricating field data or citations, tampering with the academic work of another student, and facilitating other students' acts of academic dishonesty.

Students charged with a breach of academic integrity will receive due process and, if the charge is judged to be valid, academic sanctions may range, depending on the severity of the offense, from no credit for the assignment to an F for the course. More detailed information can be found in University Faculty Senate Policy 49-20, Academic Administrative Policies and Procedure G9, Academic Integrity, and the Sanctioning Guidelines for Academic Integrity Violations.