Study of Personality Theories - Understanding the Role of Nature and Nurture in Personality Development

Study of Personality Theories - Understanding the Role of Nature and Nurture in Personality Development

My study of personality theories has helped develop my understanding of personality in a number of ways. There are two broad categories of personality theory – nature which are the biological process, genes and processes that are innate to human beings. On the flipside there is nurture which encompasses the environment around us, things like socio-economic status, our family, the schools we attended, our friends etc. Within both categories, there are interactionists that side with one theory but don’t dispute that the other theory helps explain personality; and there are other theorists who entirely reject the other viewpoint and advocate their theory as the only possible explanation for personality.

Firstly it is important to understand those theories of personality which believe in nature. These include but are not limited to evolutionary psychology, Freud’s theory of personality, some trait theorists and biological processes relating to personality. Evolutionary psychologists believe that nature is the only explanation for personality. They believe that the justification behind personality is related to evolution. Some explanations are sex differences which include parental investment theory (women tend to invest more in their children since they are unable to have as many children as males. male-female mate preference theory -men go for younger, more attractive women that are more likely to have reproductive success and that women go or older men with more resources which was shown by buss in ’89 that there are sex differences about mate value. And lastly parental probability theory which states that women always know it’s their offspring whereas men can never be 100% sure. This was again show by buss in 1992 which showed that there are sex differences in jealousy. However this was refuted by others like De Steno in 2002 saying that people were forced to choose and if they didn’t there would be no sex differences.

Freud was also a believer in the nature argument, he believed that peoples personality was dominated by natural processes inside us. He believed people were made up of the mind as an energy system and that the only reason people would do anything would be to have catharsis – a release of energy. Freud believed that our personality developed only up until 5 and after that there was no more changes to our personality and therefore the environment and social impact had no importance to personality.

Costa and McCrae also believed that personality was solely due to nature. They believed that our behaviour was mainly down to the dynamic processes they believe contributed to our behaviour. they believed that our behaviour was genetically determined and not influenced by the environment. However while they stated that these ‘dynamic processes’ were the underlying cause of our behaviour they could not explain exactly what they dynamic processes were and therefore discredited their argument for nature.

Lastly, the more balanced interactionist view of the biological processes of personality include the study done by caspi et al in 2002. Caspi did the Dunedin study about antisocial behaviour which showed that there are people that tend to be more susceptible towards certain personality features. As shown in the Dunedin study, those with low MAOA and who were severely maltreated ended up having antisocial behaviour. Caspi showed that it wasn’t necessarily nature or nurture but nature via nurture which is important in understanding behaviour and subsequently personality.

On the flipside the other way of thinking is that nurture prevails. This includes social cognitive theory, personal construct theory and behavioural psychology. Yet again there are those who believe solely in the nurture argument and those with a more interactionist view of personality. Social cognitive theory is a firm believer that personality is down to nature; social cognitive theorists (as betrayed by the name) believe that people learn through their interactions with others and the environment. One of the core concepts is reciprocal determinism which states that people’s personality is an interconnected system between environment and behaviour and personality. More specific examples are vicarious learning – learning emotions through other people’s reactions to events in the environment. An example of reciprocal determinism is the bobo doll by bandura ross and ross in ’63. They found that children are aggressive if left alone with a bobo doll but if they were told off this aggressive behaviour decreased significantly. Also, another example is the Te Kotahitanga program that put into schools. The idea behind this program was to debunk myths against maori and pasifika that they did not do as well in schools and help improve their self efficacy. The children in TK schools did increase their marks and did improve their self efficacy, and the only difference was due to their environment – the tk teachers and program.

Personal construct theory is another firm believer in the nurture paradigm. They believe that personality and behaviour is made up by all our constructs the way we make sense of the world and the way we discriminate different aspects of the world. The world and how we live is made up entirely of our constructs. Our constructs are formed from our past experiences and our background and how the environment validates or invalidates our constructs. Therefore our behaviour and therefore personality is made up the environment and subsequently nuture.

The last important theory is behavioural psychology. behaviourists believe in materialism – that everything can be explained through tangible processes. However, behaviourists adopt a more interactionist view, they do not disregard the biological processes, in fact they use the biological processes to help show causation. Behaviourists agree that it’s learning via behavioural process AND biological processes. While there is more of an emphasis on the environment and learning, biological processes are not discredited and are actually used.

In summation, there are many ways to think about behaviour and therefore personality. Nature and nurture both have their separate roles in explaining psychological behaviour – personality. Some theories believe only in nature and some believe only in nurture. A more advanced relevant viewpoint is a more interactionist manner of thinking about personality. We must not think of personality in a dichotic manner – nature or nurture affecting personality we must instead think of nature via nurture. The theories who have chosen this more interactionist view have a much more advanced understanding of personality and should therefore have more credibility as a theory of personality.