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Personality and Its Disorders

Posted Sep 23 2010 12:00am

The most contemporary definition of the word personality delves “beneath” surface impressions “and turns the spotlight on the inner, less revealed and hidden psychological qualities of the individual.”  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 551)  It would suffice to say that our current understanding of personality has changed tremendously since its Greek inception, and will likely continue to change as the field of psychology continues to develop.

I really liked Millon’s acknowledgement that “perspectives come and go, wax and wane, even though scholars maintain that human behavior is explained by psychological laws that are pristine and eternal.”  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 552)  I think the statement underscores how little we really know about the complexity of the human mind, further exemplifying how much more there is to learn and know about the constituent parts of personality and their interrelationships with each other.

I had not considered the limitations of the categorical model of personality.  It would appear that Millon is correct, “there are potentially as many types as there are individuals to be typed.”  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 554)  This statement seems to lend credibility to the dimensional model where personality characteristics are expressed on a continuous gradient.  The dimensional model differs from the categorical in the respect that there are no residual cases, meaning everyone regardless of situation can be accounted for.  However, even the dimensional model cannot escape the weight of the categorical model, primarily because the dimensions themselves need to be anchored to a theory… a theory the will invariably choose dimensions to cover relevant categories or personality traits.

Prototypal models seem to be the latest trend because they acknowledge the synthesis between the categorical and the dimensional models.  “To be used successfully, however, the prototype requires (1) a willingness on the part of the professional to move flexibly between categorical and dimensional paradigms as utility requires, regarding each as what it essentially is- a clinical point of departure and nothing more and (2) valid criteria sets.”  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 557)

On the whole, I was most impressed with the mathematical methods of data analysis.  I am suitably impressed with the factor models and their lack of a sharp division between normality and pathology.  Gray areas in which it is clearly a matter of opinion whether someone is “normal” or not seems to be the rule, not the exception.  This is especially true when we take multiculturalism into consideration.  I am particularly impressed with the fact that “factor models are explicitly mathematical and provide some assurance that they fuzzy domain of the social sciences can be quantified like the harder sciences of chemistry and physics.”  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 558)  The limitation of the factor models is that the data chosen for inclusion must be supplied by the scientist… and the inclusion (or exclusion) of specific types of data introduces bias into an otherwise unbiased mathematical process.  I, too, am tempted by the feeling that something “real” is being uncovered by this factor model process… although I question the long term utility if there is no way to prove or disprove them as Millon suggests on page 561.

No conversation or essay on personality would be complete without discussing cognitive theories of personality and Aaron Beck.  I have to admit, the suggestion that cognitive schemas shape experience, and experience shapes behavior… is attractive.  The idea that schemas “introduce a persistent and systematic bias into the individual’s processing machinery” gives those of us that intend to practice psychoanalysis hope that maladaptive behaviors can be changed or modified… and it’s that hope that I am most attracted to.  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 572)

Reference

Blaney, P. H., & Millon, T. (2009). Oxford textbook of psychopathology (2nd ed.). New York, New York: Oxford University Press.

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