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The Psychology of the Person

Chapter 9 Biological Approach

Naomi Wagner, Ph.D

Lecture Outlines
Based on Burger, 8th edition
Researchers have recognized that our
personality cannot be separated from our
For many years, the “Tabula Rasa” (blank
Slate) has been very popular
The Blank Slate view of human nature,
suggesting that we are born empty and void of
any tendencies, abilities, etc, was espoused by
the behavioral perspective
This approach signifies the decline of
behaviorism and the “tabula rasa” idea of
human nature.
Tabula Rasa- Blank Slate
(The view of t he mind as empty)

Reflects the approach that we are born

“blank”, to be written upon by the
What is “Biology”?

Physiological differences among

individuals that translate into differences in
The familial genetic link
The evolutionary perspective: The
understanding of the survival value of our
tendencies and behavioral characteristics.
Natural Selection : Evolutionary Perspective

In prehistoric times, humans who weren't smart

enough to kill their prey or avoid being eaten by
them died.
Those who survived passed on
their survival skills to their
The Pioneering Work of Eysenck

In the 1960’s Eysenck introduced the idea that

biological makeup, and not parental child-raising
methods or other environmental factors
determine our personality.
Using factor-analysis, he identified 3 personality
Super-Traits: Extraversion-introversion,
neuroticism (emotional instability), and
psychoticism (egocentric and aggressive,
Structure of Supertraits
From a specific response, to a habitual
response, to a trait, to a Super-Trait.
Eysenck noted stability of these
dimensions over time, their similar cross-
cultural manifestations, and kinship
studies (run in families)
Environmental factors play a role in the
expression of the inborn personality
Eysenck was especially interested in this
Originally he suggested that introverts and
extraverts differ in terms of their cortical arousal
(extraverted were under-aroused and thus seek
Studies did not find differences between the two
tendencies while measures of brain activity in a
resting state were taken
Currently, researchers describe the Ex.-Int.
differences in terms of sensitivity to stimulation,
introverted being more sensitive.
Sensitivity to Stimulation
See the difference between the two little girls?
Temperament: Your style of responding to
the world
Temperaments are inborn (inherited) general
dispositions that are regarded as the basis for
later development of more specific traits.
Buss and Plomin identified 3 temperamental
dimensions: emotionality, activity, and sociability
Thomas and Chess identified 9 dimensions
Examples: quality of mood, intensity of reaction,
adapting to novel situations, etc
Effortful control- emotional self-regulation, is
currently regarded as an important dimension
Plomin and Buss Model:
Intensity of reactivity to life situations
Plomin and Buss Model:
Plomin and Buss Model:
Activity level
Temperament and the Environment

In a sense, the temperament creates the

We actively search for environments that
are compatible with our innate tendencies
For example, an adventurous child does
not wait for adventures to come his/her
way, but actively seek-out/create such

People react to us on the basis of our

For example: a cheerful, easy-going
person elicits different responses from the
environment as compared to a whining,
negative child
Our early environment is actually created
by the genes of our parents.
Our temperament evokes reaction

When you smile the world is smiling back

at you
The Role of the Environment

Environmental factors shape and modify

the expression of our innate tendencies
For example: If you are an impulsive
person, as you go through life you
discover that your impulsivity only hurts
Eventually you learn to curtail your
Inhibited vs. Uninhibited Children

Inhibited (shy) children were studied

extensively by Jerome Kagan and Nathan
They identified the physiology underlying
shyness (identified in very young babies):
Higher activity in the right hemisphere
Higher production of cortisol (the stress
High, stable heart rate
Will the shy child grow up to become a shy
In most cases yet
There will be some
Inhibited vs. Uninhibited Children (cont-d)

Inhibited are gentle, monitored, restrained

Anxious in novel (new) situations
Uninhibited feel at ease in new situations
Inherited biological temperament
Differ in body-built, prone to allergies, even eye-
color (blue…)
In early infancy- irritability, sleep disturbances,
constipation, increased heart-rate and pupil

fMRI (neuro-imaging) studies found

differences in brain reactivity
Abnormally high amygdala response when
presented with new or unclear stimuli
Fear of the unfamiliar throughout
childhood into adulthood
Uninhibited children are more likely to
show disruptive behaviors

Shyness is an inborn tendency but can be

modified by the environment
Goodness of Fit

The term refers to the ideal situation, when

we, social agents around the child,
recognize the child’s temperament and
pattern our treatment of the child
For example, if you have ashy child, you
gradually expose the child to novel
situations, support the child, not pushing
the child.
Evolutionary Personality theory
This perspective sees human characteristics as
the result of our evolutionary legacy.
Some traits have evolved in us because, in our
prehistoric past, they were adaptive to our
The concept of natural selection and its
application to personality:
An example is the analysis of anxiety, a shared
human tendency, and the underlying
evolutionary basis: anxiety may reflect fear of
social rejection.

In our prehistoric past we could not have

survived the harshness of the environment
if we did not align ourselves with other
Individuals who were rejected or excluded
by the group could not survive.
Those who were sensitive to social
rejection did survive, and transmitted this
”anxiety gene” to their offspring.
Application: Children’s Temperament and
Some children come into the world with
temperaments that may not be compatible
with the formal demands of school
Such children may be misjudged by their
teachers and may be regarded as lazy or
as lacking in motivation.
The Goodness-of-Fit model is evry
applicable here.
Assessment: Cerebral Asymmetry

Researchers use physiological measures to

understand personality functioning.
Recent studies using EEG on alpha-wave levels
in the anterior regions of the cerebral
hemisphere has proven useful in understanding
individual differences in emotions.
Often, differences are found between the left
and right anterior regions of a person while in
resting, non-emotional state

Higher activity in the left hemisphere has been

associated with positive moods, whereas higher
activity in the right hemisphere has been
associated with negative moods.
These patterns have been found in children less
than a year old. When in resting state, some
people tend to have higher activity in the R he.
Some in the L. is this related to proneness to
depression? Is it related to thresholds to positive
or negative experiences

Differences in cerebral asymmetry were

found when the participants were is a
resting, non-emotional state
Differences tend to be stable over time
When watching movies designed to elicit
certain emotions, people with higher left
hemisphere activity were more responsive
to the positive mood film, and vice versa
Current explanation of the relationship
between cerebral asymmetry and emotions
Instead of looking at positive and negative
emotions, researchers now describe the
differences in terms of approach and
withdrawal tendencies
Left hemisphere activity is related to
movement toward the source of emotion
Right hemisphere activity is related to
movement away (see next slide)

Higher left-hemisphere activity is related to

joy because happiness draws us toward
the source of emotion
Consistent with this analysis, researchers
found that anger is related toward Left
Hemisphere activity- angry people tend to
approach or even attack the source of
their distress
Higher Activity in the left hemisphere is
associated with positive moods
We react positively to a smiling person,
further rewarding the positive mood
Higher activity in the right hemisphere is
associated with negative moods
Cerebral asymmetry has been shown in
babies as you g as 10 months.
Is there a connection between cerebral
asymmetry and proneness to depression?
Depressed people show more right-hemisphere
activity than non-depressed
People known to have been depressed but
currently NOT in a depressive state were found
to have EEG patterns of LESS left-hem activity
when is a resting state
May be vulnerability for depression
Anxious people also were found to have higher
right-hemisphere activity
Another Finding Related to cerebral
Studies found the right-handed people
who tend to glance to their left while
engaged in reflective mental activity are
likely to show higher level of right-
hemisphere activity when resting (e.g.
prone to negative emotions)
Those who glance to the right are higher in
left-hemisphere activity (positive emotions)
Strengths and Criticism

Bridge between personality and biology

Understanding the role of genetics in human
behavior and being realistic about the feasibility
of behavior change
Based on research
But- Evolutionary concepts cannot be directly
Lack of agreement about the number of
temperament dimensions and their definition