Personality has been defined as “the psychological qualities that influence an individual’s characteristic behaviour patterns in a stable and distinctive manner” (Huczynski and Buchanan, 2010). Personality is a complex subject that has been approached in numerous ways; indeed, it is impossible to say if one school of thought contains any more truth than the other. I will be comparing and contrasting nomothetic and idiographic approaches, and will discuss the value and practical applications of each, providing an example of theories that adopt each approach according to it’s own merit.
The nomothetic approach states that personality is determined by hereditary and biological factors and cannot change. It describes personality in terms of traits, types, or trait clusters, as being made of discrete, identifiable elements. Traits are defined as “a dimension upon which people differ psychologically. Traits are stable over time.” (Arnold, 2010). This approach uses the statistical study of large groups using objective questionnaires. The idiographic approach states personality is determined by social and cultural processes and is open to change through experience. It depicts personality in terms of the individuals’ understanding of themselves, as something that must be understood as an indivisible, intelligible whole. It uses the intensive study of individuals through projective assessments.
Hans Eysenck adopted a nomothetic approach. Using factor analysis, he broke down traits into two dimensions: extrovert-introvert and neuroticism. He later added a third, psychoticism. Factor analysis is defined as “a statistical technique used to identify key factors that underlie relationships between variables.” Arnold (2010: 701) Eysenck was a behaviourist and placed heavy importance on scientific analysis. He thought personality could be generalized and therefore studied personality across a given population. He found statistical evidence to support the existence of trait clusters.
Abraham Maslow adopted an idiographic approach. In contrast to Eysenck, he used the in-depth study of individuals, those “exemplary people” who were motivated to reach the heights of human potential. Maslow was unlike traditional psychologists like Eysenck in the sense that he focused on the positive, the source of that complete and deep-seated happiness, and what humans were capable of as their healthiest self. Maslow believed people are universally motivated by the same needs and can only be concerned with higher order needs of personal development when the lower needs of physical and emotional well-being have been satisfied. According to their needs, people will change the way they interact with the world and therefore behave differently. There is so such distinction in nomothetic personality theory. People with a high degree of personal development were what he termed as ‘self-actualized,’ and consisted of less that 3% of the population. He did not, however, have any empirical research to support his claims.
The practical applications of personality testing are significant in the workplace. Eysenck’s test is not widely used, though it can be used for selection purposes. The impersonal nature of the test makes it easy to use for managers, as there is no chance of human error as with projective assessments. People may use personality tests to gauge the temperament of the individual in order to work better with them. It is difficult, however, to compartmentalize the functions of a complex organism such as the human mind into such simplified categories. Traits are poor predictors of behaviour and do not account for how or why individual personality differences develop. The danger lies in seeing individuals as their test results. This may lead to unfair selection, as well as obstruction to individual progress. The test-takers themselves may not answer honestly. It may go beyond the scope of the question, therefore, to detect any more than a shallow pattern of behaviour with a forced choice questionnaire or self-report.
Maslow’s model has some important applications. The hierarchy of needs requires much more time than trait assessments. It takes a more holistic view of the individual so there are more factors to consider. The investigator’s personal limitations may prove obstructive in such an investigation. Maslow’s model forms the basis of much current understanding of what constitutes good leadership and successful change management. Managers use it to provide the correct environment for the workforce in order to generate maximum productivity. In therapy, it is used to understand how to stimulate psychological growth and the drive towards self-actualization, thus increasing the capacity of the individual towards independent thought. Unlike Eynseck’s theory, the model was not based on a systematic and scientific method of investigation. It is certainly difficult to quantify concepts such as an individuals’ self-concept. The self-concept was introduced by Carl Rogers, defined as “the way we view ourselves; the set of perceptions we have about ourselves” (Huczynski and Buchanan, 2010).
Taking the Maslow test was of much productive value for me. I scored 10%, 24%, 10%, 67% and 75% for physiological needs, safety needs, love needs, esteem needs and self-actualization respectively. It makes sense that I would score high on esteem needs since I have not yet gained a specialized field of knowledge, and therefore have little understanding of what I’m capable of and of my self-worth. This test gave me a new perspective on my university studies, and the aims I wish to accomplish. For the Eysenck test, I scored 65%, 9% and 38% for extroversion, neuroticism and psychoticism respectively. This is accurate in that which it aims to convey, yet in itself serves no higher purpose. I took both tests on “www.similarminds.com.”
In conclusion, I feel more comfortable with the idiographic approach. Maslow’s theory particularly appeals to me because of his focus on the higher aspects of the being. His thinking is highly realistic and I easily relate to it. We often realize we were lacking something only once we actually receive it. I myself have taken personality tests throughout my school life, with varied results at each stage of my development. I realized that it is not necessary to be anxious, submissive, or fearful; and that negative aspects of personality can be eradicated. Once you understand something about a situation it ceases to affect you. This is what I call self-actualization: constantly improving myself and gaining understanding. Every psychologist, however, is limited to his own understanding of the world. Though their contributions may be significant, the part can never be taken for the whole.
High 2.1 essay.