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Discuss the Contribution of Physiological Approaches to Personality by Comparing This Approach with at Least Two Other Approaches to Personality.

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Discuss the contribution of physiological approaches to personality by comparing this approach with at least TWO other approaches to personality.

Personality can be defined as, “...the set of psychological traits and mechanisms within the individual that are organised and relatively enduring and that influence his or her interactions with, and adaptations to, the intrapsychic, physical, and social environments.” (Larson & Buss, 2007, p.6).

“Personality is the organized, developing system within the individual that represents the collective action of that individual’s major psychological subsystems.” (Mayer, 2007, p. 14).

The ‘major psychological subsystems’ that Mayer mentions in his definition, incorporate the traits and mechanisms which Larson & Buss mention in their definition. The traits of a human being are the characteristics which describe ways in which one person is different to another. They also determine the ways in which an individual could behave in certain situations encountered during life. Psychological mechanisms are the processes of personality. These processes are what control the individual’s actions depending on the situation. The stimulus would be processed in the brain, where cognitive processing will occur of the situation, and then the reaction output.

Throughout this essay, the evolutionary approaches and the cognitive approaches will be compared and discussed with the physiological approach to personality.

The physiological and evolutionary approaches are both biological perspectives of personality. It can be said that they are perhaps similar or share common interests. Within the evolutionary approach, key issues are natural selection, environmental influences and heritable differences.

The idea of natural selection is that only the fittest will survive. This was Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Offspring which survived arguably would carry ‘traits’ or were better ‘equipped’ to survive, and so these variants would be passed onto later generations. The evolutionary approach relies heavily on the ‘human nature,’ this being what lies innate in the human mind or being. There have been many debates about whether traits such as aggression are innate to the human being or whether it is a nurtured attribute, which develops. According to an evolutionary psychologist, he or she would argue that it is an innate feature since man has evolved from a primitive being, where violence has been found evident (Daly & Wilson 1988).

In contrast to the evolutionary theories, the physiological approach is quite different. Though it is similar to the evolutionary theory’s idea that everything is innate, physiological psychologists argue that the brain plays a part in determining a person’s behaviour and personality.

Using the example of Phineas Gage (1848), he was a rail worker in the nineteenth century, and was involved in an accident, where a 3 feet long iron rod impaled itself in Phineas’ head. Remarkably, he recovered fully, and remembered everything that had happened since he did not fall unconscious. He lost a large section in the front of his head; however it did not seem to affect him in any other way than causing his personality to change dramatically. This event leads psychologists to believe that it is possible that the brain plays a role on determining an individual’s personality.

Modern research methods within this field of personality psychology, has the main interest in the measures of brain waves and heart rate of a person. The way in which the brain waves change or the variability of the person’s heart rate, can tell the psychologist a lot about the person depending on the situation that the person is in. For example, the heart rate of a shy person tends to increase when he or she gets nervous when presenting something (Larsen & Buss, 2007). The brain emits small amounts of electricity which can be measured by placing electrodes on the scalp. Various readings from this can indicate areas of activity involved with the processing of different information. Such techniques are known as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) (Lauterbur & Mansfield, 2003).

One major contribution to personality psychology from a physiological point of view would be the extroversion-introversion debate. Eysenck’s theory (1967) tries to explain the differences between an extroverted and an introverted person by measuring the brain activity of that person. In his theory, it states that introverts are characterised by having higher levels of activity in the brain’s ascending reticular activating system than extroverts. It is thought that this system within the brain controls the overall cortical arousal. The arousal level of an introvert would be higher, and thus more stimulated than an extrovert, and would behaving in an introverted manner to suppress any more stimulation, causing them to be quiet and shy.

Hebb’s notion of “optimal level of arousal” (1955), was also used to explain Eysenck’s theory. The optimal level of arousal would be the ideal state of arousal in order to do a task. In the case of an introvert, their already highly aroused state would mean that they are easily over aroused, and opposite of that in the extrovert. Being in an under or over aroused state would result in poorer performance of the task at hand.

Similar to the physiological approach is the cognitive approach to personality psychology. Cognition simply means, “...the underlying mental processes. Processes such as reasoning, problem solving, language, concept, creativity, motivation, instincts, beliefs and memory. How we understand or perceive and with what level of awareness we function.” (Lachman, Lachman, & Butterfield, 1979). Within cognitive psychology, psychologist argue that it is the way in which the brain processes the information received which will determine the outcome displayed, such as the resulting behaviour.

Given the same situation, two people can behave differently. The way that their brain had interpreted the situation would have affected the way in which they behaved. Herman A. Witkin (1954) had the idea that a person’s personality can be shown through differences in how people see the environment. His topic of “field dependence versus field independence” reflected this. Witkin devised a simple experiment called the Rod and Frame Test (RFT). In this test, he had participants in a darkened room where

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