Levels of Analysis and Personality Research


The Case for Stability: The Five-Factor Model • Additional Studies of Dispositional Traits • Critiques of the Five-Factor Model • Current Controversies: Intraindividual Change and the Stability of Traits • Conclusions about Dispositional Traits


What’s Different about Personal Concerns? • Jung’s Theory • Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development • Loevinger’s Theory • Theories Based on Life Transitions • Conclusions about Personal Concerns

9.3 LIFE NARRATIVES, IDENTITY, AND THE SELF Discovering Development: Who Do You Want to Be When You "Grow Up"? • McAdams’s Life-Story Model • Whitbourne’s Identity Theory • Self-Concept • Possible Selves • Religiosity and Spiritual Support • How Do We Know? Views of Life: Well-Being and Aging • Gender-Role Identity • Conclusions about Narratives, Identity, and the Self


Summary • Review Questions • Integrating Concepts in Development • Key Terms • Resources


True to her conviction, she has spent a lifetime writing her story in numerous books, poems, and other literary works. She describes an incredible developmental path of oppression, hatred, and hurt that is ultimately transformed into self-awareness, understanding, and compassion. For example, in her later years she realized that in confronting the atrocities of the world, if she accepts the fact of evil, she must accept the fact of good, providing her with as little fear as possible for the anticipation of death. Another example

involves integrating spirituality into her self-perception. She was asked how spirituality fits into a way of life. She answered, "There is something more, the spirit, or the soul. I think that that quality encourages our courtesy, and care, and our minds. And mercy, and identity."

Maya Angelou’s writings reflect some of the key issues involved in personality development that we will examine in this chapter. First, we will consider whether personality changes or remains stable across adulthood. We will examine this from a trait perspective as well as personal concerns that change across the life cycle. This will lead us to the study of individuals’ life narratives, as well as changes in identity and self.

One of the oldest debates in psychology concerns whether personality development continues across the life span. From the earliest days, prominent people argued both sides. William James and Sigmund Freud, for example, believed that personality was set by the time adulthood rolled around. Indeed, Freud thought that development was essentially complete in childhood. In contrast, Carl Jung asserted the viewpoint that personality was continually shaped throughout our lives. Aspects of personality come and go as people’s experiences and life issues change.

Although we still have two main theoretical camps, one arguing for stability and the other for change, there is a movement in the field to try and reconcile these differences. Although the data can be viewed as contradictory, results often depend on which specific measures researchers use and the aspect of personality that is investigated.

Why is the area of personality controversial? The answer lies in the paradoxical beliefs we hold about personality itself. At one level we all believe people have complex personalities that remain relatively constant over time. A person with a stable personality is easier to deal with across different situations; when a person behaves in ways that violate our expectations, we act surprised. Imagine the chaos that would result if every week or so everyone woke up with a brand new personality: The once easygoing husband is now a real tyrant, trusted friends are now completely unpredictable, and our patterns of social interaction are in a shambles. Clearly, to survive in day-to-day life we must rely on consistency of personality.


Still, we like to believe that we can change undesirable aspects of our personalities. Imagine what it would be like, for example, if we could never overcome shyness; if anxiety were a lifelong, incurable curse; or if our idiosyncratic tendencies that cause others to tear their hair out could not be eliminated. The assumption of the modifiability of personality is very strong indeed. The existence of psychotherapy is a formal verification of that assumption.