Symposium: Network and Functionalist Approaches to Understanding Basic Personality Phenomena

Dustin Wood, Rene Mõttus

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOther

Abstract / Description of output

How should we regard broad factors like the Big Five? How do personality characteristics respond to features of the situation, and to one another? How do traits remain stable over time? These talks address how questions regarding basic personality phenomena can be illuminated by network and functionalist models of personality. Supporting Summary: Personality psychology is often considered to be divided along trait (individual-difference) and process (within-individual) approaches. Work within the trait tradition has been primarily descriptive, focusing on questions such as the development of trait taxonomies (e.g., the Big Five), and estimating the size of trait stabilities, heritabilities, and environmental effects on trait development. This work has provided a number of the ‘basic facts’ for personality psychology. However, the processes underlying these phenomena are less clear. The network and functionalist approaches presented in this symposium attempt to supply a richer understanding of the processes underlying these basic aspects of personality organization. First, Cramer et al. argue that it is incorrect to cast broad ‘latent variables’ such as Extraversion and the other Five Factor personality dimensions as underlying sources of trait covariation. Rather, specific components of the individual’s overall personality system impact one another more directly through causal, homeostatic, and logical processes. For example, it is hard to enjoy parties if one dislikes people: the first component is fairly directly affected by the second rather than both being driven by underlying Extraversion. The authors show that network techniques can be applied to model such dynamics and that this may result in a richer understanding of the organization of personality than latent variable-centered approaches. Second, Mõttus & Allerhand discuss a general conceptual and mathematical framework for simultaneously modeling within- and between-individual processes. Within this general framework, individuals are self-organizing systems of interconnected components that can continually develop by interacting with their environments. The overarching principle of individuals' development can be striving towards equilibrium given the various forces (including other individuals) operating on them. The authors show that such dynamic processes, taking place both within and between individuals, can be formalized using a relatively small set of mathematically expressed rules. The framework can be used to model the appearance of broad personality factors. Third, Wood, Gardner, & Harms present a functionalist understanding of trait covariation. As noted in expectancy-value and expected-utility frameworks, the overall expected value of performing a behavior can be understood as calibrated by the various expected outcomes of the behavior and the actor’s valuation of these outcomes. However, because specific elements of the person’s personality system impact the expected value of many distinct behaviors simultaneously (e.g., positive interpersonal expectancies simultaneously increase the value of extraverted, agreeable, conscientious, and open behaviors), such elements act as ‘common causes’ that influence trait covariation. This framework lends general principles for anticipating how elements of a complex personality system should be connected to one another. Finally, Read & Miller discuss a neural network architecture for understanding personality processes which is more directly linked to goal-based or motivational frameworks. Specifically, the within-person architecture can be conceptualized as being driven by the interaction of structured motivational systems (e.g., approach/avoidance systems) with situational goal affordances. They discuss how this framework is compatible with recent work concerning within-person variability in trait-related behaviors and recent related frameworks such as Fleeson’s (2012) Whole Trait Theory for modeling descriptive and explanatory functions of personality.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2015
EventInternational Convention of Psychological Science - Amsterdam, Netherlands
Duration: 12 Mar 201515 Mar 2015


ConferenceInternational Convention of Psychological Science


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