M. Kozhevnikov’s Lab, Harvard / Important ASD Visual Object, Spatial Imagery Differences

Welcome to Maria Kozhevnikov’s Lab

Maria Kozhevnikov currently holds positions as Visiting Associate Professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School, Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Department of Radiology and as Associate in Neuroscience at Massachusetts General Hospital. Maria’s primary academic appointment is as an Associate Professor of Psychology at the National University of Singapore, Department of Psychology and Communication and New Media Programme.

Maria Kozhevnikov’ labs at Harvard and NUS jointly investigate the neural mechanisms of visual/spatial imagery, as well as individual differences in basic information processing capacities (e.g. the ability to generate, inspect, or transform visual/spatial images). In addition, the lab research focuses on examining how these individual differences affect more complex activities, such as spatial navigation, learning and problem solving in mathematics and science, as well as in exploring ways to train visual/spatial imagery skills and design learning technologies that can accommodate individual differences and learning styles.

NOTE: This research may clear up some of the variation within ASD / Asperger’s. I  identify myself as “object dominant” but also “spatial” (geology requires visual manipulation of objects across scale, relative location and time; I could not imagine not using both types of visual processing in the field of geology.) I’m definitely “verbal as a second language”. I assume each person has a mix of processing preferences that come together in unique ways. 

Object-Spatial Dissociation in Individual Differences in Visual Imagery

http://www.nmr.mgh.harvard.edu/mkozhevnlab/?page_id=618

Based on recent data from cognitive neuroscience and behavioral research about the existence of two anatomically and neurologically distinct visual, object and spatial visual systems in perception, working memory, and imagery, (Ungerleider, & Mishkin, 1982; Kosslyn, Ganis, & Thompson, 2001), we propose a new framework of individual differences in mental imagery. Specifically, we investigate the dissociation between individual differences in object visualization ability (processing visual information about appearances of objects and scenes in terms of their pictorial properties) and spatial visualization ability (processing visual information about spatial relations between objects or their parts, and performing mental spatial transformations and manipulations) and how these different types of imagery are used in different professional domains (e.g., science, visual arts, architecture).
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Our research into the object-spatial dissociation follow three directions:

Our central finding is that some individuals use imagery to construct vivid, concrete, and detailed images of individual objects (object visualizers), whereas others use imagery to represent the spatial relationships between objects and perform spatial transformations, such as mental rotation (spatial visualizers). Moreover, our behavioral results showed that there is a trade-off between object and spatial imagery abilities : while object visualizers score poorly on spatial imagery tasks but excel on object imagery tasks, spatial visualizers score high on spatial imagery tasks but poorly on object imagery tasks (Kozhevnikov, Hegarty, & Mayer, 2002; Kozhevnikov, Kosslyn, & Shephard, 2005; Kozhevnikov, Blazhenkova, & Becker, 2010).
Recently, we designed the Object-Spatial-Verbal Questionnaire ( OSIVQ ) as an assessment tool for distinguishing between object visualizers, spatial visualizers, and verbalizers (Blazhenkova & Kozhevnikov, 2009) The OSIVQ assesses different visual style preferences effectively and quickly, which makes it highly useful in applied settings (e.g., education, vocational guidance), and for psychological research (e.g., studying object and spatial visual and verbal processing)

Research (These are links to summaries) 

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Emotions: What a Mess! / Physiology, Supernatural Mental State, Words

This drives me “nuts” – emotions ARE physiological responses to the environment; and yet, psychologists (and other sinners) continue to conceive of emotions as “mental or psychological states” and “word objects” that exist somewhere “inside” humans, like colored jelly beans in jar, waiting to be “called on” by their “names”. Worse, other “scientists hah-hah” also continue to confuse “physiology” as arising from some abstract construct or supernatural domain (NT thingie) called emotion.

Physiological Changes Associated with Emotion

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK10829/

The most obvious signs of emotional arousal involve changes in the activity of the visceral motor (autonomic) system (see Chapter 21). Thus, increases or decreases in heart rate, cutaneous blood flow (blushing or turning pale), piloerection, sweating, and gastrointestinal motility can all accompany various emotions. These responses are brought about by changes in activity in the sympathetic, parasympathetic, and enteric components of the visceral motor system, which govern smooth muscle, cardiac muscle, and glands throughout the body. (This is obviously real physical activity of the body, and not a magical, psychological or mental “state”) As discussed in Chapter 21, Walter Cannon argued that intense activity of the sympathetic division of the visceral motor system prepares the animal to fully utilize metabolic and other resources in challenging or threatening situations.

Honestly? I think in the above we have a working description of the ASD / Asperger “emotional” system: NO WORDS. So-called “emotions” are a SOCIALLY GENERATED SYSTEM that utilizes language to EXTERNALLY REGULATE human “reactivity” – that is, the child learns to IDENTIFY it’s physiological response with the vocabulary supplied to it by parents, teachers, other adults and by overhearing human conversation, in which it is immersed from birth.

Conversely, activity of the parasympathetic division (and the enteric division) promotes a building up of metabolic reserves. Cannon further suggested that the natural opposition of the expenditure and storage of resources is reflected in a parallel opposition of the emotions associated with these different physiological states. As Cannon pointed out, “The desire for food and drink, the relish of taking them, all the pleasures of the table are naught in the presence of anger or great anxiety.” (This is the physiological state that ASD / Asperger children “exist in” when having to negotiate the “world of social typicals” The social environment is confusing, frustrating, and alien. Asking us “how we feel” in such a circumstance will produce a “pure” physiological response: anxiety, fear, and the overwhelming desire to escape.)

Activation of the visceral motor system, particularly the sympathetic division, was long considered an all-or-nothing process. Once effective stimuli engaged the system, it was argued, a widespread discharge of all of its components ensued. More recent studies have shown that the responses of the autonomic nervous system are actually quite specific, with different patterns of activation characterizing different situations and their associated emotional states. (What is an emotional state? Emotion words are not emotions: they are language used to parse, identify and “name” the physiologic arousal AS SOCIETY  DICTATES TO BE ACCEPTABLE) Indeed, emotion-specific expressions produced voluntarily can elicit distinct patterns of autonomic activity. For example, if subjects are given muscle-by-muscle instructions that result in facial expressions recognizable as anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, or surprise without being told which emotion they are simulating, each pattern of facial muscle activity is accompanied by specific and reproducible differences in visceral motor activity (as measured by indices such as heart rate, skin conductance, and skin temperature). Moreover, autonomic responses are strongest when the facial expressions are judged to most closely resemble actual emotional expression and are often accompanied by the subjective experience of that emotion! One interpretation of these findings is that when voluntary facial expressions are produced, signals in the brain engage not only the motor cortex but also some of the circuits that produce emotional states. Perhaps this relationship helps explain how good actors can be so convincing. Nevertheless, we are quite adept at recognizing the difference between a contrived facial expression and the spontaneous smile that accompanies a pleasant emotional state. (Since modern humans are notoriously “gullible” to the false words, body language and manipulations of “con men” of all types, how can this claim be extended outside a controlled “experiment” in THE LAB? Having worked in advertising for 15 years, I can assure the reader that finding models and actors who could act, speak and use body language that was “fake but natural” was a constant challenge. In other words, what was needed was a person who could “fake” natural behavior. Fooling the consumer was the GOAL!)

This evidence, along with many other observations, indicates that one source of emotion is sensory drive from muscles and internal organs. This input forms the sensory limb of reflex circuitry that allows rapid physiological changes in response to altered conditions. However, physiological responses can also be elicited by complex and idiosyncratic stimuli mediated by the forebrain. For example, an anticipated tryst with a lover, a suspenseful episode in a novel or film, stirring patriotic or religious music, or dishonest accusations can all lead to autonomicactivation and strongly felt emotions. (Are these “events, anticipated or actualized”, not social constructs that are learned? Would any child grow up to “behave patriotically” if he or she had not been taught do this by immersion in the total social environment, which “indoctrinates” children in the “proper emotions” of the culture?) The neural activity evoked by such complex stimuli is relayed from the forebrain to autonomic and somatic motor nuclei via the hypothalamus and brainstem reticular formation, the major structures that coordinate the expression of emotional behavior (see next section). (Is exploitation of this “neural activity” not the “pathway” to training social humans to “obey” the social rules?) 

In summary, emotion and motor behavior are inextricably linked. (Why would any one think that they are not? Emotion is merely the language used to manipulate, interpret and communicate the physiology) As William James put it more than a century ago:

What kind of an emotion of fear would be left if the feeling neither of quickened heart-beats nor of shallow breathing, neither of trembling lips nor of weakened limbs, neither of goose-flesh nor of visceral stirrings, were present, it is quite impossible for me to think … I say that for us emotion dissociated from all bodily feeling is inconceivable.

William James, 1893 (Psychology: p. 379.)

NEXT: The representation of “emotions” as “thingies” that can be experienced and eaten! Are we to believe that 34,000 distinct “emotion objects” exist “in nature / in humans” or are these “inventions” of social language? 

Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions: What is it and How to Use it in Counseling?

Can you guess how many emotions a human can experience?

The answer might shock you – it’s around 34,000.

With so many, how can one navigate the turbulent waters of emotions, its different intensities, and compositions, without getting lost?

The answer – an emotion wheel.

Through years of studying emotions, Dr. Robert Plutchik, an American psychologist, proposed that there are eight primary emotions that serve as the foundation for all others: joy, sadness, acceptance, disgust, fear, anger, surprise and anticipation. (Pollack, 2016)

This means that, while it’s impossible to fully understand all 34,000 distinguishable emotions, (what is referred to is merely “vocabulary” that humans have come up with, and not emotion thingies that exist “somewhere” -) learning how to accurately identify how each of the primary emotions is expressed within you can be empowering. It’s especially useful for moments of intense feelings when the mind is unable to remain objective as it operates from its older compartments that deal with the fight or flight response. (Watkins, 2014) (This refers to the “pop-science” theory of the additive brain, (lizard, etc) which is utter fantasy) 

This article contains:

NEXT: Some Definitions of Emotions / Rather confusing, conflicting, unsatisfying, nonspecific descriptions: – indication that we’ve entered the supernatural realm of word concepts. Aye, yai, yai!

From introductory psychology texts

Sternberg, R. In Search of the Human Mind, 2nd Ed.Harcourt, Brace, 1998 p 542 “An emotion is a feeling comprising physiological and behavioral (and possibly cognitive) reactions to internal and external events.”

Nairne, J. S. Psychology: The Adaptive Mind. 2nd Ed. Wadsworth, 2000. p. 444 ” . . . an emotion is a complex psychological event that involves a mixture of reactions: (1) a physiological response (usually arousal), (2) an expressive reaction (distinctive facial expression, body posture, or vocalization), and (3) some kind of subjective experience (internal thoughts and feelings).”

From a book in which many researchers in the field of emotion discuss their views of some basic issues in the study of emotion. (Ekman, P., & Davidson, R. J. The Nature of Emotions: Fundamental Questions. Oxford, 1994)

Panksepp, Jaak p 86. .Compared to moods, “emotions reflect the intense arousal of brain systems that strongly encourage the organism to act impulsively.”

Clore, Jerald L p 184. “. . . emotion tems refer to internal mental states that are primarily focused on affect (where “affect” simply refers to the perceived goodness or badness of something). [see Clore & Ortony (1988) in V. Hamilton et al. Cognitive Science Perspectives on Emotion and Motivation. 367-398]

Clore, Jerald L p 285-6. “If there are necessary features of emotions, feeling is a good candidate. Of all the features that emotions have in common, feeling seems the least dispensable. It is perfectly reasonable to say about ones anger, for example,’I was angry, but I didn’t do anything,’ but it would be odd to say ‘I was angry, but I didn’t feel anything.’ ”

Ellsworth, Phoebe p 192. “. . . the process of emotion . . . is initiated when one’s attention is captured by some discrepancy or change. When this happens , one’s state is different, physiologically and psychologically, from what it was before. This might be called a “state of preparedness” for an emotion . . . The process almost always begins before the name [of the emotion is known] and almost always continues after it.

Averill, James R. p 265-6. “The concept of emotion . . . refer[s] to (1) emotional syndromes, (2) emotional states, and (3) emotional reactions. An emotional syndrome is what we mean when we speak of anger, grief, fear, love and so on in the abstract. . . . For example, the syndrome of anger both describes and prescribes what a person may (or should) do when angry. An emotional state is a relatively short term, reversible (episodic) disposition to respond in a manner representative of the corresponding emotional syndrome. . . . Finally, and emotional reaction is the actual (and highly variable) set of responses manifested by an individual when in an emotional state: . . . facial expressions, physiological changes, overt behavior and subjective experience.”

LeDoux, Joseph E. p 291. “In my view, “emotions” are affectively charged, sujectively experienced states of awareness.”

 

OMG! Disaster / Broken Leg

About two weeks ago I posted that I’d sprained my ankle…

Two days ago, I found out that I actually broke both leg bones at the ankle…This is my new “leg” – will be immobilized for 8-12 weeks. I’m stir crazy already!!!!

 

 

Question / Is Common Sense even better than Empathy?

My posting has slowed to almost nothing since last Saturday:

Summer at last; warm winds, blue skies, puffy clouds. The dog and I are both delirious over the ability to “get out of” quasi imprisonment indoors.

Into the truck; a short drive to the south, up and over the canyon edge into the wide open space of the plateau. Out into “the world again” striding easily along a two-rut track that goes nowhere; the type that is established by the driver of a first vehicle, turning off the road, through the brush, and headed nowhere. Humans cannot resist such a “lure” – Who drove off the road and why? Maybe the track does go somewhere. And so, the tracks grow, simply by repetition of the “nowhere” pattern. Years pass; ruts widen, deepen, grow and are bypassed, smoothed out, and grow again, becoming as permanent and indestructible as the Appian Way.

This particular set of ruts is a habitual dog-walking path for me: the view, the wind, the light, the sky whipped into a frenzy of lovely clouds… and then, agony. Gravel underfoot has turned my foot, twisting my ankle and plunging me into a deep rut and onto the rough ground. Pain; not Whoops, I tripped pain, but OMG! I’m screwed pain. I make a habit of glancing a few feet ahead to check where my feet are going, but my head was in the clouds.

This isn’t the first time in 23 years that I’ve taken a fall out in the boonies: a banged up shin or knee, a quick trip to the gravel; scraped hands, even a bonk on the head, but now… can I walk back to the truck, or even stand up? One, two, three… up.

Wow! Real pain; there’s no choice. Get to the truck, which appears to be very, very far away, at this point. Hobble, hobble, hobble; stop. Don’t stop! Keep going. Glance up at the truck to check periodically to see if it’s “growing bigger” – reachable. I always tell myself the same (true) mantra in circumstances like this: shut out time, let it pass, and suddenly, there you will be, pulling open the truck door and pulling yourself inside.

There is always some dumb luck in these matters: it’s my left ankle. I don’t need my left foot to drive home. Then the impossible journey from the truck to the house, the steps, the keys, wrangling the dog and her leash, trying not to get tangled and fall again – falling through the doorway, grabbing something and landing on the couch. Now what?

That was five days ago. Five days of rolling around with my knee planted in the seat of a wheeled office chair, pushing with the right foot as far as I can go, then hopping like a  one-legged kangaroo the rest of the way. Dwindling food supplies; unable to stand to cook; zapping anything eligible in the microwave. No milk in my coffee. Restless nights. Any bump to my bandaged foot wakes me up. This is ridiculous! My life utterly disrupted by a (badly) sprained ankle. I think I’m descending into depression.

Bipedalism, of course, begins to takeover my thoughts. But first, I try to locate hope on the internet, googling “treatment for sprained ankle.” You’re screwed, the pages of entries say. One begins to doubt “evolution” as the master process that produces elegant and sturdy design. Ankles are a nightmare of tiny bones and connecting ligaments, with little blood supply to heal the damage, and once damaged, a human can expect a long recovery, intermittent swelling and inevitable reinjury, for as long as you live.

It seems that for our “wild ancestors” a simple sprain could trigger the expiration date for any individual unlucky enough to be injured: the hyenas, big cats, bears and other local predators circle in, and then the vultures. Just like any other animal grazing the savannah or born into the forest, vulnerability = death. It’s as true today as it ever was. Unless someone is there with you when you are injured, you can be royally screwed: people die in their own homes due to accidents. People die in solo car wrecks. People go for a day hike in a state park and within an hour or two, require rescue, hospitalization and difficult recovery, from one slip in awareness and focus. And, being in the company of one or more humans, hardly guarantees survival. Success may depend on their common sense.

So: the question arises around this whole business of Homo sapiens, The Social Species. There are many social species, and it is claimed that some “non-human” social species “survive and reproduce successfully” because they “travel together” in the dozens, thousands or millions and “empathize” with others of their kind. Really? How many of these individual organisms even notice that another is in peril, other than to sound the alarm and get the hell out of the danger zone or predator’s path? How one human mind gets from reproduction in massive numbers, that is, playing the “numbers game” (1/ 100, 1/100, 1, 100,000 new creatures survive in a generation), and the congregation of vast numbers in schools, flocks and the odds for “not being one of the few that gets caught and eaten” – how one gets from there to “pan-social wonderfulness” is one of the mysteries of the social human mind.

There are occasions when a herd may challenge a predator, or a predatory group; parents (usually the female), will defend offspring in varying manner and degree, but what one notices in encounters (fortuitously caught on camera, posted on the internet or included in documentaries) that solitary instances are declared to represent “universal behavior” and proof of the existence of (the current fad of) empathy in “lesser animals”. What is ignored (inattentional blindness) and not posted, is the usual behavior; some type of distraction or defensive behavior is invested in, but the attempt is abandoned, at some “common sense point” in the interaction; the parents give up, or the offspring or herd member is abandoned.

What one notices is that the eggs and the young of all species supply an immense amount of food for other species.

Skittles evolved solely as a food source for Homo sapiens children. It has no future as a species. LOL

I’ve been watching a lot of “nature documentaries” to pass the time. This is, in its way, an extraordinary “fact of nature”. Our orientation to extreme Darwinian evolution (reductionist survival of the fittest) is stunningly myopic. We create narratives from “wildlife video clips” edited and narrated to confirm our imaginary interpretation of natural processes; the baby “whatever” – bird, seal, monkey, or cute cub; scrambling, helpless, clueless, “magically” escapes death (dramatic soundtrack, breathless narration) due to Mom’s miraculous, just-in-the-nick-of-time return. The scoundrel predator is foiled once again; little penguin hero “Achilles” (they must have names) has triumphantly upheld our notion that “survival is no accident” – which in great measure is exactly what it is.

One thing about how evolution “works” (at least as presented) has always bothered me no end: that insistence that the individual creatures which survive to reproduce are “the fittest”. How can we know that? What if among the hundreds, thousands, millions of “young” produced, but almost immediately destroyed or consumed by chance, by random events, by the natural changes and disasters that occur again and again, the genetic potential “to be most fit” had been eliminated, depriving the species of potential even “better” adaptations than what those we see? We have to ask, which individuals are “fittest” for UNKNOWN challenges that have not yet occurred? Where is the variation that may be acted upon by the changing environment?

This is a problem of human perception; of anthropomorphic projection, of the unfailing insistence of belief in an intentional universe. Whatever “happens” is the fulfilment of a plan; evolution is distorted to “fit” the human conceit, that by one’s own superior DNA, survival and reproduction necessarily become fact. 

Human ankles (and many other details) of human physiology are not “great feats of evolutionary engineering.”

Like those two-rut roads that are ubiquitous where I live, chance predicts that most of evolution’s organisms “go nowhere” but do constitute quick and easy energy sources for a multitude of other organisms.

 

Genealogy of Religion / Cris Campbell

Cris Campbell holds advanced degrees in anthropology, philosophy, and law. This (WordPress) blog is his research database and idea playspace. (The most recent post seems to be in 2015, but there is plenty to explore)

 

Why “Hunter-Gatherers and Religion”?

Anyone who surveys the “religious” beliefs of hunter-gatherers (or foragers) will almost immediately discover that many of them do not have a word that translates as “religion” and do not understand the Western concept of “religion,” as explained to them by ethnographers and others.  Anyone who engages in such a survey will also soon discover that hunter-gatherers have a dazzling and sometimes bewildering array of beliefs related to the cosmos, creation, spirits, gods, and the supernatural.  Within a single group, these beliefs may be different and contradictory from individual to individual; the beliefs are often fluid and change considerably over time.  When comparing groups, the details — at least on the surface — seem to be so different that nothing general can be said about foragers on the one hand and their beliefs on the other hand.  Despite this variety, one can identify certain common themes, motifs and tropes that are characteristic of hunter-gatherer metaphysics.  These include:

  • A generalized belief in higher powers, which may be gods, spirits, or other forces; (I would modify this based on those who are visual thinkers and do not make abstract “things”)
  • A spiritualized reverence for nature and everything of nature; (what does ‘spiritualized’ entail? This is one of those Weasel Words that is never defined)
  • A cosmology oriented horizontally rather than vertically; “egalitarian”
  • A cyclic notion of time and perpetual renewal; and (or non-time, ie “living in the present”)
  • A belief array that includes animism, ritualism, totemism and shamanism. (these are all “western” inventions. The people supposedly practicing these “religions” may not see any difference or separation between these categorizations and behaviors of everyday life. There are atheist hunter-gatherers)

Because humans have been foragers for the vast majority of their time on earth, understanding the supernatural beliefs and practices of hunter-gatherers is essential to any genealogy of religion.  This Category will examine those beliefs as part of a larger effort to trace the history of religion.

How ironic! It is modern social humans who are trapped in a supernatural dimension created by “magic words”

Overview of personality “theories” + History of “personality concept” / Yikes!

https://www.simplypsychology.org/personality-theories.html

Without any attempt at addressing this enormously complex problem as a whole, it may be worthwhile to recall one recent example of interdisciplinary discussion occurring at the intersection of empirical psychology and normative ethics: a discussion of virtuous character. The latter being a paradigmatic subject matter of virtue ethics, at least from Socrates, has recently been reconsidered in the light of experimental results obtained by academic psychology. More specifically, it was related to the criticism of the concept of personality voiced mostly by social psychologists.

The conceptual and theoretical core of personality psychology, both in its scientific and folk versions (Gilbert & Malone, 1995; Ross, 1977), has usually been constructed around the notion of temporally stable and cross-situationally consistent features: so-called global or robust traits. A recent empirical tradition of situationism, however, seems to provide ample evidence not only for the fact that we are all indeed “prone to dispositionism” of this kind, but also that such “dispositionism is false” (Goldie, 2004, p. 63). The researchers from this tradition deny that there are stable and consistent traits or, alternatively, insist that most actual people don’t exhibit traits of this kind. Rather, the large body of empirical evidence (among the research most commonly discussed by virtue ethicists is that by Darley & Batson, 1973; Isen & Levin, 1972; Milgram, 1963; for a more complete review see Doris, 2002) provided shows that it is a situation in which an agent finds him/herself acting, rather than an allegedly context-independent and stable personality, that accounts for the large amount of human behavior.

The experiments conducted by social psychologists were soon generalized into doubts concerning the usefulness of trait concepts for the purposes of scientific explanation and prediction. Understood in such a context, in turn, they attracted the attention of many philosophers. The empirical results mentioned above could, indeed, have been disquieting, especially if one realized that the very center of traditional philosophical moral psychology, especially within so-called virtue ethics, had been founded on the notion of moral character with virtues and vices aspiring to exactly the same stability and cross-situational consistency that was undermined in the case of personality. Among the philosophers it was especially Gilbert Harman (1999, 2000) and John Doris (1998, 2002) who stimulated a fierce debate by stating that situationist literature posed a grave threat against “globalist moral psychologies” (Doris & Stich, 2014), and as undermining the very basis of both ancient and contemporary virtue ethics.

Such a far-reaching claim, obviously, provoked a strong response (for useful reviews see Alfano, 2013; Appiah, 2008; Goldie, 2004; Miller, 2013a). What seems to have been assumed by at least many disputants from both sides of the controversy, however, was a relatively direct applicability of psychological theses concerning personality to philosophical issues referring to character. In brief, it was the interchangeability of the notions of personality and character that had been presumed. Despite the fact that such an implicit assumption has been often made, these two notions are not identical. True, they are often used interchangeably and the difference is vague, if not obscure. Still, however, the notions in question can be distinguished from each other and the effort to draw the distinction is arguably worthwhile because of the latter’s bearing on many particular issues, including the above discussion of situationism.

One possible way of exploring the difference between these two concepts is to compare the typical, or paradigmatic, ways of their application as revealed in their respective original domains. Common language is obviously not very helpful here, as it exhibits the very same confusion that is intended to be clarified. Rather, the context of classical virtue ethics (for character) as well as that of academic personality psychology (for personality), are promising. Such a general clue will be used in the following sections. At first, the concepts of character and personality will be investigated both historically and systematically. Then, in turn, a parallel will be drawn between the pair in question and so-called fact–value distinction and an analysis of the functions played by both concepts conducted. Finally, the outcomes achieved will be placed in the context of some differences between the fact–value distinction and the Humean is–ought dichotomy.

Historical vicissitudes of the notions

In antiquity the notion of character was inseparably connected with the normative aspect of human conduct and in most contexts amounted to moral qualities of a respective person: to virtues and vices. Such a connection was emphasized in a term alternative to “character”: the Greek word “êthos” (cf. Gill, 1983, p. 472). An evaluative discourse of character can be found in common language and folk psychology (cf. Irwin, 1996), but it is its professional version proper to virtue ethics that is crucial in the present context. The latter philosophical tradition took on its classical form in Socrates and culminated with Aristotle’s (trans. 2000) Nicomachean Ethics, which to this day is a paradigmatic example of a virtue ethical account.

Ancient conceptions of character were descriptive and normative with both these features closely intertwined. They involved theories of moral and developmental psychology and, at the same time, a prescription and a detailed instruction of character education and character self-cultivation. And it was, importantly, a ‘life-long learning’ account that was provided: it was a rational adult, rather than a child deprived of genuine rationality, who was regarded by Cicero, Seneca, or Plutarch as able to accomplish “character formation through reasoned reflection and decision” (Gill, 1983, p. 470). The standards for the success of such a process were usually considered objective. In the Aristotelian context, for instance, it was the ability to properly perform human natural functions that provided the ultimate criterion.

The ancient Greek and Roman concept of character turned out to be profoundly influential in the following ages at least, as has been mentioned, until the beginnings of the previous century (for part of the story, see MacIntyre, 2013). Some of the variations on this ancient notion can be found in the Kantian ideal of the ethical personality, the German tradition of Bildung, the 19th-century American model of the balanced character and, last but not least, the Victorian vision of the virtuous character very vivid in the novels from this cultural milieu (Woolfolk, 2002). What is remarkable is that the notion of character, as influential as it used to be, is considerably much less important today. Nowadays, in fact, it seems to be mostly substituted by the concept of personality. And it is the history of the process that led to this state of affairs, of the shift “from a language of ‘character’ to a language of ‘personality’” (Nicholson, 1998, p. 52) that can be very revealing in the present context. Two particularly helpful accounts have been provided by Danziger (1990, 1997) and Brinkmann (2010).3

Danziger begins his account with an important remark that initially the notion of personality carried the meanings which were not psychological, but were theological, legal, or ethical ones. It was only as a result of considerable evolution that it “ended up as a psychological category.” The first important dimension of the process of its coming “down to earth” (1997, p. 124) was the medicalization. Danziger places the latter in 19th-century France, where medical professionals were as skeptical about the earlier theologically or philosophically laden versions of the notion as they were enthusiastic about the promises of its naturalization. It was as a result of their reconceptualization that “personality” began to refer to “a quasi-medical entity subject to disease, disorder and symptomatology” (1997, p. 131). The term understood as such won its place within medical discourse and soon, in 1885, it became possible for Théodule Ribot to publish The Diseases of the Personality without a risk of conceptual confusion. An evolution began which would later lead to the inclusion of the personality disorders into the DSM (cf. Brinkmann, 2010, p. 73).

Among the descendants of the medicalization it is arguably the mental hygiene movement, “an ideological component” (Danziger, 1990, p. 163) of the rise of contemporary research on personality, that was most important at that time. On the basis of the belief that it is an individual maladjustment rooted in early development that is responsible for all kinds of social and interpersonal problems, “a powerful and well-founded social movement” (p. 164) directed at the therapy of the maladjusted as well as at the preventive efforts addressed to the potentially maladjusted (which could include everybody), was initiated. The notion of personality, as noted by Danziger, “played a central role in the ideology” (p. 164) of this movement. More particularly, it was the “personality” of individuals addressed by the latter which was recognized as “the site where the seeds of future individual and social problems were sown and germinated” (Danziger, 1997, p. 127) and, accordingly, established as an object of intervention.

Personality understood as such needed to be scientifically measured on the dimension of its adaptation/maladaptation and it was at this place that the psychologists from the Galtonian tradition of individual differences and mental testing arrived on the scene. In fact, it could easily seem that no one was better equipped than those researchers to perform the task set by the mental hygiene movement and to provide the latter’s ideology with a technical background. Mental testing confined to cognitive abilities or intelligence at roughly the same time, i.e., after World War I, turned out to be insufficient not only as a means of occupational selection but also for its originally intended application, i.e. as a predictor of school success. In effect, there was an increasing recognition of the need for measurement techniques for non-intellectual mental qualities.

And such techniques were indeed soon developed using the very same methodological assumptions that had been previously applied to cognitive abilities. Paper-and-pencil questionnaires measuring non-cognitive individual differences “began to proliferate” (Danziger, 1990, p. 159). Simultaneously, a new field of psychological investigation, “something that could sail under the flag of science” (p. 163), began to emerge. Only one more thing was lacking and it was a label, a name for the new sub-discipline and its subject matter.

The “shortlisted” candidates included the notions of temperament, character, and personality. The first one was rejected due to its then associations with physiological reductionism. Why not “character,” then? Well, that notion in turn was considered inappropriate due to its association with the concept of will being an “anathema to scientifically minded American psychologists” (Danziger, 1997, p. 126) and generally normative connotations. The third candidate, “personality,” as a result, came to the fore.

Not only was it devoid of an unwelcome moralistic background and already popularized by the mental hygiene movement, it also offered a realistic prospect of quantitative empirical research. Already adopted by scientific medicine and understood along the lines of Ribot as an “associated whole” (un tout de coalition) of the variety of forces, personality, rather than holistic character, was a much more promising object for the post-Galtonian methodology (Danziger, 1997, p. 127; cf. Brinkmann, 2010, p. 74). Soon, the newly emerging field “developed loftier ambitions” (Danziger, 1997, p. 128) and became a well-established part of academic psychology4 with its flagship project of discovering basic, independent, and universal personality-related qualities: the traits. And it is actually this tradition that is more or less continued today, with the Big Five model being a default perspective.

Note: I would add, that moralistic social “tradition” did not disappear from “personality theory” – psychology remains a socio-religious “prescriptive and rigid” conception of human behavior, despite the effort to construct “something that could sail under the flag of science”

For the establishment of personality rather than character as a subject matter of the new psychological science, Gordon W. Allport’s importance can hardly be overestimated (Allport, 1921, 1927; cf. Nicholson, 1998). Following an earlier proposal by John B. Watson Allport drew an explicit distinction between normatively neutral personality, “personality devaluated,” and character as “personality evaluated” (Allport, 1927, p. 285). Personality and character, crucially, were regarded by him as conceptually independent. The former, in particular, could be intelligibly grasped without the reference to the latter: “There are no ‘moral traits’ until trends in personality are evaluated” (p. 285). Accordingly, an evaluation was considered as additional and only accidental. As such it was regarded as both relative and connected with inevitable uncertainty (for the cultural background and metaethical position of emotivism lying behind such an approach see MacIntyre, 2013).5

The point which is crucial here is that the recognition of the normative element of the character concept led to its virtual banishment. While listing “basic requirements in procedures for investigating personality,” Allport (1927, p. 292) was quite explicit to enumerate “the exclusion of objective evaluation (character judgments) from purely psychological method” (p. 292). Those psychologists who accept his perspective “have no right, strictly speaking, to include character study in the province of psychology” (Allport, 1921, p. 443).6

The transition from the notion of character to that of personality was a very complex process which reflected some substantial changes in cultural and social milieu. Some insightful remarks about the nature of the latter have been provided by Brinkmann’s (2010) account of the shift between the premodern “culture of character” and essentially modern “culture of personality.”This shift, importantly, was not only a “linguistic trifle.” Rather, it was strictly associated with “the development of a new kind of American self” (Nicholson, 1998, p. 52).

A culture of character, to begin with, was essentially connected with moral and religious perspectives, which provided the specification of human télos. And it was in relation to the latter that the pursuit of moral character was placed. In the paradigmatic Aristotelian account, for instance, the notion of the virtuous character was essentially functional in the same way in which the concept of a good watch is (MacIntyre, 2013). The criteria of success and failure, accordingly, were defined in terms of one’s ability to perform the natural functions of the human creature. And the latter were not “something for individuals to subjectively decide” (Brinkmann, 2010, p. 70). Rather, they were predetermined by a broader cosmic order of naturalistic or theological bent.

The goal of adjusting one’s character to suit the requirements of human nature was institutionalized in social practices of moral education and character formation. According to Brinkmann, it was especially moral treatment or moral therapy that embodied the default approach “to the formation and correction of human subjects” (2010, p. 71). This endeavor was subsequently carried on in the very same spirit, though in an essentially different cultural milieu, by William Tuke and Phillipe Pinel and it was no earlier than with Sigmund Freud that a new form of therapy, properly modern and deprived of an explicit normative background, emerged.

Note: And yet, in American psychology, it is precisely this “imaginary normal” that continues to be the default assumption against which pathology and defect are  assigned.

The ancient virtue ethical approach embodied in a culture of character was taken over by the Middle Ages, with an emphasis shifted considerably towards theological accounts of human goals. A thoroughly new perspective proper to a culture of personality appeared much later with the emergence of the scientific revolution, which seriously undermined the belief in objective normative order. The earlier cosmic frameworks started to be supplanted by psychological perspectives with romanticism and modernism being, according to Brinkmann (2010, p. 72), two forces behind them.

One of the main running threads of romanticism is the idea that “each human being has a unique personality that must be expressed as fully as possible” (Brinkmann, 2010, p. 73). Before romanticism, the final purpose had been specified in terms external to a particular individual. It was related to generic norms of humanity as such or to those determined by God. (Today, “generic norms” are determined by a “new” God: the psych industry) Now the goal to be pursued started to be understood as properly individual and unique

Note: I don’t think that Americans understand how pervasive “the shift” away from the individual being “a unique personality that must be expressed as fully as possible” to a totalitarian demand for conformity as dictated by a “new religious” tide of psycho-social tyranny was accomplished in a few decades. It is not surprising that Liberalism is every bit as religious as the Christian Right in its goal to “restore” the extreme religious aims (and hatred of humanity) of Colonial America; a continuation of the religious wars that raged in Europe for centuries.  

This difference is evident when one compares Augustine’s and Rousseau’s confessional writings. The former “tells the story of a man’s journey towards God,” whereas the latter “is about a man’s journey towards himself, towards an expression of his own personality” (Brinkmann, 2010, p. 73). (Not allowed anymore!)

The demand for the “journey towards himself” can be connected with a disenchantment of the world, which had left an individual in a universe devoid of meaning and value. If not discovered in the world, the latter needed to be invented by humans. One had to “turn inwards” in order to find the purpose of life and this entailed, significantly, the rejection of external and social forces as potentially corrupting the genuine inborn self. The idea of “an individual in relative isolation from larger social and cosmological contexts” began to prosper and it “paved the way for the modern preoccupation with personality” (Brinkmann, 2010, pp. 67, 73) defined in fully atomistic or non-relational terms.

The second major force behind a culture of personality was modernism, which, in alliance with the modern idea of science, entailed an “ambition of knowing, measuring [emphasis added], and possibly improving [emphasis added] the properties of individuals” (Brinkmann, 2010, p. 73), which proved to have a considerable bearing on the newly emerging notion of personality. The latter concept had been deeply influenced by the logic of standardization and quantification characteristic of the whole of modernity; not only of its industry, but also of education, bureaucracy, and the prevailing ways of thinking. This logic found its direct counterpart in trait-based thinking about personality with the idea that the latter can “be measured with reference to fixed parameters” and that individuals “vary within the parameters, but the units of measurement are universal” (Brinkmann, 2010, p. 75). (This assumption that “opinions that arise from a social agenda” can be quantified is disastrous.)

The romantic and modernist branches of a culture of personality, with all the differences between what they laid emphasis on, were connected by the common atomistic account of the self and a plea for the development of unique qualities of the individual. And it is this “core element” of their influence which is still in place today,8 even though some authors, Brinkmann included, have announced the appearance of a new cultural formation, a culture of identity.

The character–personality distinction

The relationship between two notions in question can be elucidated by, first, indicating their common features (genus proximum) and, then, by specifying the ways in which they differ from each other (differentia specifica). As far as the former is concerned, both “character” and “personality” can be regarded as constructs belonging to the discourse of individual differences.9 Both notions are analyzable, even if not reductively analyzable, in terms of some lower-level terms such as virtues and vices or, respectively, traits. These lower-lever concepts are usually understood as dispositional. A personality trait, for instance, can be defined as a “disposition to form beliefs and/or desires of a certain sort and (in many cases) to act in a certain way, when in conditions relevant to that disposition” (Miller, 2013a, p. 6). The higher level notions of character and personality, accordingly, are also dispositional.

The formal features indicated above are common to the notions of character and personality.10 And it is on the basis of this “common denominator” that one can attempt to clarify the difference between them. A good place to begin with is a brief remark made by Goldie (2004) who claimed that “character traits are, in some sense, deeper than personality traits, and … are concerned with a person’s moral worth” (p. 27). It is a dimension of depth and morality, then, which can provide one with a useful clue. (Note that both “traits” and moral rules are subjective, culturally defined and NOT quantifiable objects: that is, this remains a religious discussion.) 

As far as the depth of the notion of character is concerned, the concept of personality is often associated with a considerable superficiality and the shallowness of mere appearances (Goldie, 2004, pp. 4–5; Kristjansson, 2010, p. 27). The fact that people care about character, accordingly, is often connected with their attempt to go beyond the “surface,” beyond “the mask or veneer of mere personality” (Goldie, 2004, p. 50; cf. Gaita, 1998, pp. 101–102).11 Even the very etymology of the term “personality” suggests superficiality by its relation to the Latin concept of persona: “a mask of the kind that used to be worn by actors.” Character as deeper “emerges when the mask is removed” (Goldie, 2004, p. 13; cf. the Jungian meaning of persona).

The reference to the depth of character, as helpful as it may be, is certainly insufficient due to its purely formal nature. What still remains to be determined, is a substantive issue of the dimension on which character is deeper than personality. As far as Goldie’s distinction is concerned such a specification is provided in what follows: “someone’s personality traits are only good [emphasis added] conditionally upon that person also having good character traits … On the other hand, the converse isn’t true: the goodness [emphasis added] of someone’s character trait is not good [emphasis added] conditionally on his having good personality traits” (2004, p. 32). It is depth referring to ethical dimension, then, which distinguishes between character and personality.12 One’s virtue of honesty, for instance, can still be valued even if the person in question is extremely shy (introvert, as the psychologist would say). (Both introversion and “honesty” are labeled symptoms of “developmental disorder” in the ASD / Asperger diagnosis)

It does not work the other way around, though. An outgoing and charming personality, when connected with considerably bad character, is in a sense polluted. A criminal who is charming can be even more dangerous, because he/she can use the charm for wicked purposes.13 Such a difference, importantly, should not be taken as implying that personality cannot be evaluated at all. It can, with a reservation that such an evaluation will be made in terms of non-moral criteria or preferences. An extraverted person, for instance, can still be considered as a “better” or more preferable candidate for the position of talk show host (cf. Goldie, 2004, p. 47; McKinnon, 1999, pp. 61–62).

The above-given specification of the distinction can be enriched by some remarks by Gill (1983, p. 470), who notices that “character” and “personality” are not only distinguishable as two concepts but also as “two perspectives on human psychology” for which they are, respectively, central. The character-viewpoint, to begin with, “presents the world as one of … performers of deliberate actions” (Gill, 1986, p. 271). Human individuals, in particular, are considered as more or less rational and internally consistent moral agents possessing stable dispositions (virtues and vices) and performing actions which are susceptible to moral evaluation and responsibility ascription. The evaluation of their acts, importantly, is believed to be objective: to be made along the lines of some definite “human or divine standards” (p. 271). No “special account,” accordingly, is taken “of the particular point of view or perspective of the individuals concerned” (Gill, 1990, p. 4).

The personality-viewpoint, on the other hand, is not associated with any explicitly normative framework. Rather, it is colored by “the sense that we see things ‘as they really are’ … and people, as they really are” (Gill, 1986, p. 271). The purposes are psychological, rather than evaluative: to understand, empathize with, or to explain. Also the default view of the individuals in question is considerably shifted. Their personality is recognized as being “of interest in its own right” (Gill, 1983, p. 472) and their agency as considerably weakened: “The person is not typically regarded as a self-determining agent,” but rather as a “relatively passive” (p. 471) individual often at the mercy of the forces acting beyond conscious choice and intention. The unpredictability and irrationality entailed by such a view is substantial.

To sum up the points made above, it may be said that while both “character” and “personality” belong to the discourse of individual differences, only the former is involved in the normative discourse of person’s moral worth and responsibility. The thesis that the notion of character, but not that of personality, belongs to the discourse of responsibility should be taken here as conceptual. What is claimed, in particular, is that linguistic schemes involving the former notion usually involve the notion of responsibility as well and allow us to meaningfully hold somebody responsible for his/her character. Language games involving both concepts, in other words, make it a permissible, and actually quite a common, “move” to be made. Whether and, if yes, under what circumstances such a “move” is metaphysically and ethically justified is a logically separate issue, which won’t be addressed here.

In those accounts in which the connection between character and responsibility is considered stronger, i.e., as making responsibility claims not only conceptually possible but also justified, a separate account of responsibility is needed (e.g., Miller, 2013a, p. 13). One possible ground on which such an account can be developed is the relationship between character and reasons (as opposed to mere causes). Goldie (2004), for instance, emphasizes the reason-responsiveness of character traits: the fact that they are dispositions “to respond to certain kind of reasons” (p. 43). Actually, he even defines a virtue as “a trait that is reliably responsive to good reasons, to reasons that reveal values” (p. 43, emphasis removed; cf. the definition by Miller, 2013b, p. 24). A vice, accordingly, would be a disposition responsive to bad reasons.

Whether all personality traits are devoid of reason-responsiveness is not altogether clear (cf. Goldie, 2004, p. 13). For the notion of personality proper to academic psychology the answer would probably depend on a particular theoretical model employed. There would be a substantial difference, for instance, between personality understood, along the behavioristic lines, as a disposition to behavior and more full-fledged accounts allowing emotional and, especially, cognitive dispositions. What seems to be clear is the importance of reason-responsiveness for character traits.

The fact–value distinction is usually derived from some remarks in David Hume’s (1738/2014, p. 302) Treatise of Human Nature, in which the idea of the logical distinctiveness of the language of description (is) and the one of evaluation (ought) was expressed. A relatively concise passage by Hume soon became very influential and gave birth not only to a distinction, but actually to a strict dichotomy between facts and values (cf. Putnam, 2002). A methodological prescription “that no valid argument can move from entirely factual premises to any moral or evaluative conclusion” (MacIntyre, 2013, p. 67) was its direct consequence.

In order to refer the above dichotomy to the notions of character and personality, it may be helpful to remember Allport’s (1921) idea of character being “the personality evaluated according to prevailing standards of conduct” (p. 443). A crucial point to be made here is that the act of evaluation is considered as an addition of a new element to an earlier phenomenon of personality, which can be comprehended without any reference to normativeness. The latter notion, in other words, is itself morally neutral: “There are no ‘moral traits’ until trends in personality are evaluated” (Allport, 1927, p. 285).

The thesis that personality can be specified independently of character or more generally, without any application of normative terms, is of considerable importance because it illustrates the fact that the character–personality distinction logically implies the fact–value one. The validity and the strictness of the former, in consequence, rely on the same features of the latter. Character and personality, in brief, can be separated only as long as it is possible to isolate personality-related facts from character-related values.

Such dependence should necessarily be referred to contemporary criticism of the fact–value distinction (e.g., MacIntyre, 2013; Putnam, 2002; cf. Brinkmann, 2005, 2009; Davydova & Sharrock, 2003). This criticism has been voiced from different perspectives and involves at least several logically distinct claims. For the present purposes, however, it is an argument appealing to so-called thick ethical concepts14 and the fact–value entanglement that is of most direct significance.

The distinction between thick and thin ethical concepts was first introduced (in writing) by Bernard Williams (1985/2006)15 and subsequently subjected to intense discussion (for useful introductions see Kirchin, 2013; Roberts, 2013; applications for moral psychology can be found in Fitzgerald & Goldie, 2012). What is common to both kinds of concepts is that they are evaluative: they “indicate some pro or con evaluation” (Kirchin, 2013, p. 5). Thick concepts, furthermore, are supposed to provide some information about the object to which they refer (information, which thin concepts do not provide). They have, in other words, “both evaluative conceptual content … and descriptive conceptual content … are both evaluative and descriptive” (Kirchin, 2013, pp. 1–2). If I inform somebody, for instance, that person A is good and person B is courageous, it is obvious that my evaluation of both A and B is positive. At the same time, however, the person informed doesn’t seem to know much about a good (thin concept) person A, whereas he/she knows quite a bit about a courageous (thick concept) person B.

The significance of thick concepts for philosophical discussion is usually connected with some “various distinctive powers” they supposedly possess. More specifically, when they are interpreted along the lines of a so-called non-reductive view they seem to have “the power to undermine the distinction between fact and value” (Roberts, 2013, p. 677).16 The non-reductive position is usually introduced as a criticism of the reductive idea that thick concepts “can be split into separable and independently intelligible elements” (Kirchin, 2013, p. 8; cf. the idea of dividing character into two parts mentioned above) or, more specifically, explained away as a combination of (supposedly pure) description and thin evaluation. If such a reduction was successful thick concepts would turn out to be derivative and lacking philosophical importance.

Many authors, however, including notably Williams (1985/2006), McDowell (1981), and Putnam (2002), claim that no such reductive analysis can be conducted due to the fact–value entanglement characteristic of thick concepts. The latter, as is argued, are not only simultaneously descriptive and evaluative, but also “seem to express a union of fact and value” (Williams, 1985/2006, p. 129). The fact–value entanglement proper to thick concepts becomes apparent if one realizes that any attempt to provide a set of purely descriptive rules governing their application seems to be a hopeless endeavor. One cannot, for instance, develop a list of necessary and jointly sufficient factual criteria of cruelty.17 It is obviously possible “to describe the pure physical movements of a torturer without including the moral qualities” (Brinkmann, 2005, p. 759), but it would yield a specification which comes dangerously close to the description of some, especially unsuccessful, surgical operations. In order to convey the meaning of the word “cruelty” (and to differentiate it from the phrase “pain-inflicting”) one needs to refer to values and reasons (rather than facts and causes only). An evaluative perspective from which particular actions are recognized as cruel, accordingly, must be at least imaginatively taken in order to grasp the rationale for applying the term in some cases, but not in others. Communication using thick concepts, as a result, turns out to be value-laden through and through.

The above-given features assigned to thick concepts by the non-reductionists are crucial due to the fact that they cannot be accounted for within the framework of the fact–value distinction. As such they are often believed to “wreak havoc” (Roberts, 2013, p. 678) with the latter or, more precisely, to undermine “the whole idea of an omnipresent and all-important gulf between value judgments and so-called statements of fact” (Putnam, 2002, p. 8).

The undermining of the sharp and universal dichotomy between facts and values has a very direct bearing on the character–personality distinction being, as emphasized above, dependent on the former. A crucial point has been made by Brinkmann who noticed that almost “all our words used to describe human action are thick ethical concepts” (2005, p. 759; cf. Fitzgerald & Goldie, 2012, p. 220). And the same applies to the language of character which, contrary to Allport’s expectations, cannot be neatly separated into the factual core of personality and the normative addition. The distinction between the notions of character and personality, in consequence, even though often applicable and helpful, cannot be inflated into a sharp dichotomy.

Having analyzed the reliance of the character–personality distinction on the dichotomy between, respectively, value and fact, it becomes possible to carry out the second detailed investigation devoted to the functions played by the two concepts scrutinized. A good starting point for this exploration may be a remark made by Goldie (2004) who, while discussing the omnipresence of the discourse of personality and character, noticed that it is “everywhere largely because it serves a purpose: or rather, because it serves several purposes [emphasis added]” (p. 3). These functions merit some closer attention because they can help to further specify the difference between the concepts investigated.

The purposes served by the discourse of individual differences have been briefly summarized by the abovementioned author when he said that we use it “to describe people, to judge them, to enable us to predict what they will think, feel and do, and to enable us to explain their thoughts, feelings and actions” (and to control, manipulate and abuse them) (Goldie, 2004, pp. 3–4; cf. an analogous list provided by Miller, 2013b, pp. 12–13). Some of these functions are common to the notions of character and personality. Some others, however, are proper to the concept of character only.

The first of the common functions is description. The language of character and personality can serve as a kind of shorthand for the longer accounts of the actions taken. When asked about the performance of a new employee, for instance, a shift manager can say that he/she is certainly efficient and hard-working (rather than mention all particular tasks that have been handled). Similarly, if we say that A is neurotic, B is extraverted, C is just, and D is cruel, we do convey some non-trivial information about A, B, C, and D, respectively (even though our utterances may include something more than a mere description).

The second of the purposes that can be served by both concepts is prediction. We may anticipate, for example, that neurotic A will experience anxiety in new social situations. Despite the fact that such a prediction will be inevitably imprecise and fallible, it does enable us to narrow down “the range of possible choices and actions” (Goldie, 2004, p. 67) we can expect from a particular agent.

In fact, predictions regarding human behavior are notoriously inaccurate “guesses” – note the inability of the Psych Industry to identify mass shooters before they act.) 

The notions of character and personality, furthermore, can be employed as a means of judgment. At this point, however, an important qualification needs to be made. If this function is to be assigned to both concepts it can be understood only in a weak sense of judging as providing an instrumental assessment. The ascription of personality traits of neuroticism and extraversion to A and B, respectively, can be used to say that A would not make a good candidate for an assertiveness coach, whereas B may deserve a try in team work. It falls short, however, of any moral judgment, which can be made only by means of character-related notions.

The concepts of personality and character, finally, can both be used to provide explanation. We can, for instance, say that C was chosen as a team leader because he/she is just and expected to deal fairly with potential conflicts. Having assigned an explanatory role to “character” and “personality,” however, one should necessarily remain fully aware of the experimental results reported in the first section. An appeal to “character” and “personality” as explanatory constructs does not have to mean that they provide the whole explanation. Situational factors still count and, as a matter of fact, one may need to acknowledge that in a “great many cases … [they] will be nearly the entire explanation” (Kupperman, 1991, p. 59).

One other reservation concerns the kind of explanation conveyed by the personality- or character-trait ascription. Human behavior, in particular, can be explained in at least two distinct ways (e.g., Gill, 1990, p. 4). Explanation, to begin with, can be made along the lines of the deductive-nomological model and refer to causes and natural laws. In such cases it is not substantially different from explanations of natural facts (like an earthquake) offered by the sciences. And it is this kind of explanation that is provided when non-reason-responsive features of personality are appealed to (cf. Goldie, 2004, p. 66).

Human action, however, can be also made comprehensible by the reference to reasons behind it. If we know what a person in question “values or cares for,” in particular, we can “make sense [emphasis added] of the action, or make the action intelligible, understandable or rational [emphasis added]” (Goldie, 2004, p. 65). Such an “explanation” can be given by the indication of only those traits, which are reason-responsive and, strictly speaking, is much closer to Dilthey’s (1894/2010) understanding (Verstehen) than to naturalistically understood explanation (Erklären).

The functions of description, prediction, instrumental assessment, and explanation (at least as far as the latter is understood in terms of causes) are common to both concepts of “personality” and “character.” The latter notion, however, can serve some additional purposes, which give it a kind of functional autonomy. Among the character-specific functions, to begin with, there is moral judgment. When we say that C is just and D is cruel we don’t make an instrumental and task-relative assessment. Rather, we simply evaluate that C is a morally better person than D (other things being equal). With this, the function of imposing moral responsibility is often connected. The issue of the validity of such an imposition is very complex and controversial. Still, it does remain a discursive fact that the claim that D is cruel is usually associated with holding D, at least to some extent, responsible for his/her cruelty.

Note that “pathological, disordered, mentally ill, socially defective” are labels every bit as “moral / judgmental” in the “real social environment” as  “sinful, perverted, possessed by demons, Godless atheist, or an “agent of Satan” 

The functions of moral judgment and moral responsibility ascription are not typically served by the scientific notion of personality. They may, however, become formally similar to description, explanation, and prediction if they are, as is often the case, applied within mostly third-personal language (as judging others and imposing responsibility on others). Apart from these functions, however, the notion of character can fulfill some essentially first-personal kind of purposes. And it is the latter that seems to be its most specific feature.

Among the first-personal functions ofcharacter,” identification is fundamental, both psychologically and conceptually. When a person identifies with a character trait or, more holistically, with a complete character ideal, she begins to consider such a trait or character as a part of her identity (cf. Goldie, 2004, pp. 69–70): as something she “decides to be or, at least, to see herself as being” (Kupperman, 1991, p. 50). Such an identification, if serious, is very rich in consequences: it establishes “the experienced structure of the world of direct experience as a field of reasons, demands, invitations, threats, promises, opportunities, and so on” (Webber, 2013, p. 240) and helps one to achieve a narrative unity of one’s life (cf. Goldie, 2004; Kuppermann, 1991; McKinnon, 1999).

First-personal functions of the character notion, additionally, enable the agent to undertake more specific self-formative acts such as evaluating oneself against the idealized self, structuring moral progress, or providing motivation needed to cope with the difficulties of moral development. The notion of character employed in such a way becomes a kind of an internalized regulative ideal with a considerable emotional, imaginative, and narrative dimension. Its specific purposes are self-evaluative, self-prescriptive, and self-creative (rather than descriptive, predictive, and explanatory). The criteria of its assessment, accordingly, should be at least partially independent from those proper to strictly scientific constructs.

The latter fact, as may be worthwhile to mention, has a direct bearing on the challenge of situationism mentioned at the beginning of these analyses. The arguments in favor of this disquieting position have typically referred to experiments indicating that situational variables possess much bigger explanatory and predictive value than those related to personality and concluded that the usefulness of the personality concept needs to be seriously questioned. The doubts concerning the notion of character usually followed without further ado. No special attention, in particular, was paid to the assumption that the concepts of character and personality fulfill the same functions of description, explanation, and prediction. Accordingly, it was usually taken for granted that the failure of the latter concept automatically entails the uselessness of the former.18 As far as it is admitted that such an approach is at least partially erroneous, it may be worthwhile to refocus the debate towards the specific, first-personal, and normative functions of the notion of character. Do we need the latter to perform them and, if so, does this notion really serve us well, even though it is scientifically weak?

Some final remarks

An important clarification, however, that needs to be made here is that any skepticism concerning the fact–value dichotomy suggested by some features of thick concepts should not be conceived by the psychologists as a call to develop a prescriptive and moralistic science of character and, thus, to become “like priests” (too late: this is where American Psychology stands today)  (Charland, 2008, p. 16). A false impression that it is the case might result from the conflation between the full-fledged version of the fact–value distinction and the original, and relatively modest, Humean dictum that “no valid argument can move from entirely factual premises to any moral or evaluative conclusion” (MacIntyre, 2013, p. 67).19

That it is the latter that most psychologists care about can be clearly seen in two recent papers by Kendler (1999, 2002), who issues a stern warning that any psychological project developed along the lines of what he calls “the enchanted science”20 and motivated by the belief that psychology itself can discover moral truths can lead not only to Gestalt psychology’s holism or humanistic psychology, but also to the quasi-scientific justification of “Nazi and Communist ideology” (1999, p. 828). And it is in order to prevent these kinds of abuses that Kendler (1999) refers to what he calls “the fact/value dichotomy” or “an unbridgeable chasm between fact and values” (p. 829). By this, however, he does not seem to mean anything more than that “empirical evidence can validate factual truth but not moral truth” (p. 829). An example he provides considers the possibility of obtaining reliable empirical data supporting the thesis that bilingual education is advantageous for ethnic identification, but disadvantageous for academic development. Such data, as he rightly insists, would still leave it to the society to decide which value, ethnic identification or academic progress, should be given priority.

All of this, however, does not need to lead one to the acceptance of the fact–value dichotomy in the strong version that has been criticized by Putnam, McDowell, and others. Rather, it is the is–ought dichotomy which seems to be sufficient. The subtle differences between these two distinctions have been clarified by Dodd and Stern-Gillet (1995) who argue that the Humean dictum can be best understood as a general logical principle without any substantive metaphysical dimension of the kind usually connected with the fact–value dichotomy. That the is–ought gap is narrower and weaker is also illustrated by the fact that it is confined to “ought” statements with a considerable amount of other evaluative statements left aside. The examples provided by the authors are the aesthetic language of art and, importantly, the virtue ethical discourse of character. And as the ascription of beauty to a painting does not automatically entail any particular prescription,21 so does the assignment of courage or foolishness to a person. Even though such a feature of the characterological language has often happened to be conceived as a weakness within metaethical contexts, it can be arguably beneficial to all those psychologists who want to study the complexities of character without making an impression that any particular normative position can be derived from purely scientific study. A substantial amount of normativity, as shown by the example of thick concepts, will obviously remain inevitable, but it is certainly worthwhile to emphasize that it is mostly placed before empirical research as an evaluative framework taken from elsewhere and, thus, subjected to criteria and authorities of a non-empirical nature.

This paper has been written during a visit to Oxford University’s Faculty of Philosophy. I am greatly indebted to Edward Harcourt for all his help and support.

Visual Thinking / Maria Kozhevnikov Research Re-Post

http://nmr.mgh.harvard.edu/mkozhevnlab/?page_id=618 Mental Imagery and Human-Computer Interaction Lab

 

For those who can’t resist taking brain tests, go to the website. I would love to hear comments by Aspies who look into this research.

Maria Kozhevnikov’s labs at Harvard and NUS jointly investigate the neural mechanisms of visual/spatial imagery, as well as individual differences in basic information processing capacities (e.g. the ability to generate, inspect, or transform visual/spatial images). In addition, the lab research focuses on examining how these individual differences affect more complex activities, such as spatial navigation, learning and problem solving in mathematics and science, as well as in exploring ways to train visual/spatial imagery skills and design learning technologies that can accommodate individual differences and learning styles.

Our research into the object-spatial dissociation follow three directions:

Our central finding is that some individuals use imagery to construct vivid, concrete, and detailed images of individual objects (object visualizers), whereas others use imagery to represent the spatial relationships between objects and perform spatial transformations, such as mental rotation (spatial visualizers). Moreover, our behavioral results showed that there is a trade-off between object and spatial imagery ability while object visualizers score poorly on spatial imagery tasks but excel on object imagery tasks, spatial visualizers score high on spatial imagery tasks  but poorly on object imagery tasks.  

Visualization Ability

____________________________________________________________________________
IMG_0142wp

“The land, and the land inside me.”

My awareness of the environment is overwhelmingly visual. I have stated before, that if asked “Who are you?” my answer would be, “I am everything that I have ever seen.” When immersed in the surrounding desert, which is mostly devoid of human activity, I experience the landscape intimately – its forms, surfaces and “light” – as if boundaries melt away. This “boundary-less” state probably also explains the Asperger dislike of humanscapes: the sensory “invasion” by human stress, emotions and aggression is highly negative and taxing. The exhaustion that comes with trying to “shut out” chaotic thoughts and constant social strife, simply is too much to endure for very long.
I haven’t explored the questionnaires constructed by Mental Imagery and Human-Computer Interaction Lab, but I would predict that I’m an object visualizer. I have taken spatial tests, but these require “word instructions” beforehand that explain the steps one must follow to solve the puzzle. In other words, (it seems to me) that spatial tests are not entirely visual – they require conscious word activity and “rules” to accomplish the actual geometric tasks.
 

What is Personality? / The American Psychological Assoc. (surprise!)

What the American Psychological Association has to say about “What is Personality?” Do I need to point out the “one track mind” of psychological dogma? This entry does not answer the above question, but instead jumps to it’s favorite obsession: Pathologizing an entire species. 

 

“Personality refers to individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. The study of personality focuses on two broad areas: One is understanding individual differences in particular personality characteristics, such as sociability or irritability. The other is understanding how the various parts of a person come together as a whole.”

Adapted from the Encyclopedia of Psychology

Understanding Personality Disorders

  • What causes personality disorders? Research suggests that genetics, abuse and other factors contribute to the development of obsessive-compulsive, narcissistic or other personality disorders.
  • Ten Turtles on Tuesday This is the story of an 11 year old girl with obsessive–compulsive disorder. She is confused, embarrassed, and frustrated by her counting rituals; eventually she talks to her mom and they seek help.
  • Mixing oil and water Psychologists often find that opposites attract in couples with personality disorders.
  • Research Debunks Commonly Held Belief About Narcissism Overuse of “I” and “me” not associated with pathology, study finds
  • Recognizing the signs of schizophrenia Schizophrenia can cause hallucinations, delusions and unusual behaviors, as well as cognitive challenges, such as problems with memory, attention and concentration.

Getting Help with Personality Disorders

  • Help for personality disorders Research suggests that dialectical behavior therapy and cognitive therapy can help people with one of the most common disorders.

Find a Psychologist

(the bottom line is always the “bottom line” $$$$$)

Another odd belief about Asperger behavior

 

Optimum population density for "wild" Asperger's

Optimum population density for a “wild” Asperger? One person per square mile.

The previous post was about the number of modern humans who can peacefully coexist; I decided to google “Asperger’s and territoriality” as well as “Asperger’s and boundaries.” Once again, the links that popped up surprised me, since the claims don’t match my experience. A common assertion is that ASD /Asperger types are aggressive; don’t observe boundaries and must be taught social rules. Social people can tell us the rules and try to force us to act them out, but the rules will still not make sense to us.

It’s pretty obvious that we’re not hierarchical people. My native impulse has always been that any person ought to be approachable. It’s that simple. No one is so high and mighty that they may refuse natural hospitality; neither is anyone so lowly that we may ignore them. I’ve made mistakes in judgment by choosing to be friendly to the wrong person (authoritarian, self-important) and was immediately rejected, but I’ve also found that some people who are “too important to talk to” are often receptive when someone sees beyond their status and speaks to them “on the level.”

I think that social typicals are confused about aggression. What Asperger people experience is fear, and like a wild animal that is cornered, an Asperger may panic and try to escape a confusing social situation, and if not allowed to retreat, will become agitated and desperate. Social typical behavior is unstable and predatory, and therefore not to be trusted. This is not a sound basis for gaining the friendship of an Asperger type individual.

And, I suspect that most, if not all social typicals are not possessed of “magic mind reading” of other people’s “mental and emotional” states, and get exasperated by the people in their daily lives who refuse to say whatever it is they have to say, or to give a straight answer to a reasonable question. Social communication is too often a childish “guessing game” as to what the other person “really thinks” or “how they feel.” How do I know? Google “Why don’t people say what they mean?”

 

 

Big 5 Personality Traits / cont., The Evolution of Personality Variation in Humans

I would submit that these personality factors are not scientifically valid, but socially invented and constructed; not objective, but subjective. This “theory without proof” lies outside the scientific method of proof – but these “speculations” are the basis for Psychology; the socio-cultural Western religion.   

Note the highly “socially judgmental” descriptions of “low scorers” and “high scorers”. A polarized view of human personality, in which “socially approved” characteristics (outgoing, empathetic, warm, helpful) are given “high scores” The  trait categories are also skewed: extraversion, agreeableness, openness – conscientiousness, neuroticism! How do these highly subjective ideas drive the relentless push toward conformity to social prescriptions for “normal, typical, or idealized” behavior, which is determined by culture? What they “measure” is the opinion of the measurer – and his or her socio-cultural agenda. As the author points out, “However, it is important not to conflate social desirability with positive effects on fitness.” 

continued from: The Evolution of Personality Variation in Humans and animals by Daniel Nettle, Newcastle University in American Psychologist, 2006  Evolution and Behaviour Research Group, Division of Psychology, Henry Wellcome Building, University of Newcastle, Newcastle NE2 4HH, United Kingdom.

Human Personality Traits

The rest of this article follows the structure of the five factor model of personality (Costa & McCrae, 1985, 1992; Digman, 1990). Though the five broad factors, or domains, are decomposable into finer facets (Costa & McCrae, 1985) and certainly do not capture all the variation in human personality (Paunonen & Jackson, 2000), there is broad consensus that they are useful representations of the major axes of variation in human disposition (Digman, 1990). Following the considerations outlined in the previous section, I briefly examine the nature of each domain and consider the kinds of costs and benefits that increasing the level of the domain might have with respect to biological fitness. The reviews here are speculative, but they are offered in the hope of stimulating empirical work and of drawing psychologists’ attention to the idea that changing the level of a trait is associated with fitness costs as well as fitness benefits.

Extraversion

Note that many of the “negative risk factors” are actually admired and rewarded in American males: I would go so far as to say, that ‘extraversion’ is tailor-made permission for “boys to be boys” as defined culturally. In females, these same behaviors are viewed negatively. Also, my comments refer to the BIG 5 model, not to the author’s concepts. 

A dimension related to positive emotion, exploratory activity, and reward is a feature common to all personality frameworks and theories. Its most common label is extraversion, and its proximate basis is thought to involve variation in dopamine-mediated reward circuits in the brain (Depue & Collins, 1999). I have outlined a trade-offs-based evolutionary model for the maintenance of polymorphism in extraversion (Nettle, 2005). Extraversion is strongly and positively related to number of sexual partners (Heaven, Fitzpatrick, Craig, Kelly, & Sebar, 2000; Nettle, 2005), which, for men in particular, can increase fitness. High scorers are also more likely to engage in extrapair copulations or to terminate a relationship for another. This may lead to their securing mates of higher quality than those secured by individuals who are more constant in their choice of partners. The benefits of extraversion are not limited to mating, as extraverts, or those high on the closely correlated trait of sensation seeking, initiate more social behavior (Buchanan, Johnson, & Goldberg, 2005) and have more social support (Franken, Gibson, & Mohan, 1990) than others. Moreover, they are more physically active and undertake more exploration of their environment (Chen et al., 1999; Kircaldy, 1982). However, in pursuing high sexual diversity, and high levels of exploration and activity in general, extraverts also expose themselves to risk. Those who are hospitalized due to accident or illness are higher in extraversion than those who are not (Nettle, 2005), and those who suffer traumatic injury have been found to be high in sensation seeking (Field & O’Keefe, 2004). High extraversion or sensation seeking scorers also have elevated probabilities of migrating (Chen et al., 1999), becoming involved in criminal or antisocial behavior (Ellis, 1987), and being arrested (Samuels et al., 2004). All of these are sources of risk, risk that in the ancestral environment might have meant social ostracism or death. Moreover, because of their turnover of relationships, extraverts have an elevated probability of
exposing their offspring to step-parenting, which is a known risk factor for child well-being. One can thus conceive of extraversion as leading to benefits in terms of mating opportunities and exploration of novel aspects of the environment but carrying costs in terms of personal survival and possibly offspring welfare. It is unlikely that there will be a universal optimal position on this trade-off curve. Instead, local conditions, including the density and behavioral strategies of surrounding individuals, could lead to a constant fluctuation in the optimal value, and hence genetic polymorphism would be retained.

Neuroticism (Traditionally in psych / psych dogma, Neuroticism is by default the normal “female” condition.)

The neuroticism personality axis is associated with variation in the activity levels of negative emotion systems such as fear, sadness, anxiety, and guilt. The negative effects of neuroticism are well-known in the psychological literature. High neuroticism is a strong predictor of psychiatric disorder in general (Claridge & Davis, 2001), particularly depression and anxiety. Neuroticism is also associated with impaired physical health, presumably through chronic activation of stress mechanisms (Neeleman et al., 2002). Neuroticism is a predictor of relationship failure and social isolation (Kelly & Conley, 1987). A much more challenging issue, then, is finding any compensatory benefit to neuroticism. However, given the normal distribution observed in the human population, and the persistence of lineages demonstrably high in the trait, such a benefit seems likely. Studies in nonhuman animals, such as guppies (see the Evolution of Variation section), suggest that vigilance and wariness are both highly beneficial in avoiding predation and highly costly because they are quickly lost when predation pressure is absent. In ancestral environments, a level of neuroticism may have been necessary for avoidance of acute dangers. Anxiety, of which neuroticism can be considered a trait measure, enhances detection of threatening stimuli by speeding up the reaction to them, interpreting ambiguous stimuli as negative, and locking attention onto them (Mathews, Mackintosh, & Fulcher, 1997).

Because actual physical threats are generally attenuated in contemporary situations, (this is highly dependent on gender, race, socio-economic and class status and geographical location) the safety benefits of neuroticism may be hard to detect empirically. However, certain groups who take extreme risks, such as alpinists (mostly male?) (Goma-i-Freixanet, 1991) and Mount Everest climbers (Egan & Stelmack, 2003), have been found to be unusually low in neuroticism. Given the high mortality involved in such endeavors (around 300 people have died in attempting Everest), this finding suggests that neuroticism can be protective. There may also be other kinds of benefits to neuroticism. Neuroticism is positively correlated with competitiveness (Ross, Stewart, Mugge, & Fultz, 2001). McKenzie has shown that, among university students, academic success is strongly positively correlated with neuroticism among those who are resilient enough to cope with its effects (McKenzie, 1989; McKenzie, Taghavi-Knosary, & Tindell, 2000). Thus negative affect can be channeled into striving to better one’s position. However, here neuroticism certainly interacts with other factors. When intelligence or conscientiousness is high, for example, the outcomes of neuroticism may be significantly different than when such factors are low. Thus it is quite possible that very low neuroticism has fitness disadvantages in terms of lack of striving or hazard avoidance. Although very high neuroticism has evident drawbacks, it may also serve as a motivator to achievement in competitive fields among those equipped to succeed. Thus the optimal value of neuroticism would plausibly depend on precise local conditions and other attributes of the person, leading to the maintenance of polymorphism.

Openness

The trait of openness to experience again seems, at first blush, to be an unalloyed good. Openness is positively related to artistic creativity (McCrae, 1987). According to Miller’s (1999; 2000a) cultural courtship model, creative production in artistic domains serves to attract mates, and there is evidence that women find creativity attractive, (Again, we have the problem of just who is defining and judging what qualifies as “creative production”, a highly subjective culturally-dependent matter, often attributed in the U.S. to whatever/whomever makes a profit…) creative especially during the most fertile phase of the menstrual cycle (Haselton & Miller, 2006), and that poets and visual artists have higher numbers of sexual partners than controls (Nettle & Clegg, 2006). The core of openness seems to be a divergent cognitive style that seeks novelty and complexity and makes associations or mappings between apparently disparate domains (McCrae, 1987). Though such a cognitive style might appear purely beneficial, it is conceptually very similar to components of schizotypy, or proneness to psychosis (of course; creative types are “dangerous” in a rigid, impoverished culture of social conformity) (Green & Williams, 1999; Woody & Claridge, 1977). Indeed, five-factor Openness correlates positively with the Unusual Experiences scale of the Oxford–Liverpool Inventory for Feelings and Experiences schizotypy inventory (Mason, Claridge, & Jackson, 1995; Rawlings & Freeman, 1997). The Unusual Experiences scale is also correlated with measures of creativity (Nettle, in press-b; Schuldberg, 2000). Individuals scoring high in Unusual Experiences and on measures of creativity have increased levels of paranormal belief (McCreery & Claridge, 2002; Thalbourne, 2000; Thalbourne & Delin, 1994), and five-factor Openness itself is positively correlated with beliefs in the paranormal (Charlton, 2005). The Unusual Experiences trait is elevated in schizophrenia patients (Nettle, in press), and an extremely similar scale predicted the onset of schizophrenia in a longitudinal study (Chapman, Chapman, Kwapil, Eckblad,&Zinser,1994).Thus, openness and its covariates are associated with damaging psychotic and delusional phenomena as well as high function. Openness itself has been found to be associated with depression (Nowakowska, Strong, Santosa, Wang, & Ketter, 2005), as has a high score on the Unusual Experiences scale (Nettle, in press-b). Thus, the unusual thinking style characteristic of openness can lead to nonveridical ideas about the world, from supernatural or paranormal belief systems to the frank break with reality that is psychosis. What determines whether the outcome of openness is benign or pathological is not fully understood. It may be a simple matter of degree, or there may be interactions with developmental events. Poets, for example, differ from schizophrenia patients not in their Unusual Experiences scores, which are in the same range, but in the absence of negative symptoms such as anhedonia and social withdrawal (Nettle, in press-b).

And yet, we relentlessly promote creativity and “out of the box” thinking in American schools as social positives; are we actually promoting sexual promiscuity, schizophrenia, “Ancient Alien” “UFO” “Paranormal” delusion and psychotic behavior?

The Unusual Experiences trait is positively correlated with mating success in nonclinical populations, at least partly because it leads to creativity (Nettle & Clegg, 2006). However, when it leads to schizophrenia, reproductive success is much reduced (Avila et al., 2001; Bassett et al., 1996). Thus the fitness payoffs to openness appear to be very context or condition dependent, leading to the retention of variation.

Conscientiousness

The remaining two personality domains, conscientiousness and agreeableness, are often thought of as being unalloyed in their benefits, because they are generally negatively related to measures of delinquency and antisocial behavior (e.g. Heaven, 1996). However, it is important not to conflate social desirability with positive effects on fitness. Natural selection favors traits that increase reproductive success, including many cases in which this success comes at the expense of other individuals. It is likely that fitness can be enhanced by a capacity to demand a free ride, break rules, and cheat on others under certain circumstances. Conscientiousness involves orderliness and self-control in the pursuit of goals. A by-product of conscientiousness is that immediate gratification is often delayed in favor of a longer term plan. This leads, for example, to a positive association of conscientiousness with life expectancy (Friedman et al., 1995), which works through adoption of healthy behaviors and avoidance of unhygienic risks. Very high levels of traits related to conscientiousness —moral principle, perfectionism, and self-control—are found in patients with eating disorders and with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (Austin & Deary, 2000; Claridge & Davis, 2003).

Though some obsessional individuals can be very high achievers in the modern context, it is not evident that their fitness would always have been maximal in a variable and unpredictable ancestral environment. Their extreme self control not only may be damaging, as their routines become pathological, but may lead to the missing of spontaneous opportunities to enhance reproductive success. Highly conscientious individuals have fewer short-term mating episodes (Schmidt, 2004) and will forgo opportunities to take an immediate return that may be to their advantage. Adaptations that orient the organism toward working for long-term payoffs will tend to have the effect of reducing the opportunistic taking of immediate ones. This can have fitness costs and benefits, which will vary with local conditions.

Agreeableness

Agreeableness, with its correlates of empathy and trust, is also generally seen as beneficial by personality psychologists, and its absence is associated with antisocial personality disorder (Austin & Deary, 2000). Agreeableness is strongly correlated with Baron-Cohen’s empathizing scale (Nettle, in press-a), which is in turn argued to measure theory of mind abilities and the awareness of others’ mental states (Baron-Cohen & Wheelwright, 2004). Several evolutionary psychologists have argued plausibly that as a highly social species, humans have been under strong selection to attend to and track the mental states of others (Byrne & Whiten, 1988; Dunbar, 1996; Humphrey, 1976). Others have noted that we seem to be unique among mammals in the extent of our cooperation with unrelated conspecifics. Inasmuch as agreeableness facilitates these interactions, it would be highly advantageous. Agreeable individuals have harmonious interpersonal interactions and avoid violence and interpersonal hostility (Caprara, Barbaranelli, & Zimbardo, 1996; Heaven, 1996; Suls, Martin, & David, 1998). They are much valued as friends and coalition partners. Although this may be true, a vast literature in theoretical biology has been devoted to demonstrating that unconditional trust of others is almost never an adaptive strategy. Across a wide variety of conditions, unconditional trusters are invariably outcompeted by defectors or by those whose trust is conditional or selective (see, e.g., Axelrod & Hamilton, 1981; Maynard-Smith, 1982; Trivers, 1971). Levels of aggression can often be selected for (Maynard-Smith, 1982). Very high agreeableness, if it led to an excessive attention to the needs and interests of others, or excessive trusting, would be detrimental to fitness. Among modern executives, agreeableness is negatively related to achieved remuneration and status (Boudreau, Boswell, & Judge, 2001), and creative accomplishment (as distinct from creative potential) is negatively related to agreeableness (King, Walker, & Broyles, 1996). Though it is an uncomfortable truth to recognize, it is unlikely that fitness is unconditionally maximized by investing energy in positive attention to others. Instead, though an empathic cognitive style may be useful in the whirl of social life, it may have costs in terms of exploitation or inattention to personal fitness gains.

Moreover, sociopaths, who are low in agreeableness, may at least sometimes do very well in terms of fitness, especially when they are rare in a population (Mealey, 1995). The balance of advantages between being agreeable and looking after personal interests will obviously vary enormously according to context. For example, in a small isolated group with a limited number of people to interact with and a need for common actions, high agreeableness may be selected for. Larger, looser social formations, or situations in which the environment allows solitary foraging, may select agreeableness downward.

Conclusions

This article has had several purposes. The first has been to stress that heritable variation is ubiquitous in wild populations and therefore should be expected as the normal outcome of evolutionary processes acting on human behavioral tendencies. Thus, personality variation can be understood in the context of a large literature, both theoretical and empirical, on variation in other species.

Second, I have suggested that a fruitful way of looking at variation is in terms of trade-offs of different fitness benefits and costs (summarized in Table 1 for the Big Five personality factors). Theories based on trade-offs have been very successful in providing an understanding of evolution in other species. Moreover, the idea of trade-offs can be usefully married to the notion of fluctuating selection to explain the persistence of diversity. Such accounts are not speculative. Studies such as those on great tits, guppies, finches, and sunfish (see the section on Evolution of Variation) have demonstrated how fluctuations in environmental context change the fitness outcomes associated with particular phenotypes, which in turn affects the future shape of the population through natural selection. Thus, researchers examining nonhuman variation have been able to go well beyond post hoc explanations and actually observe evolution in action. The current trade-off account builds on the ideas of MacDonald (1995), who argued that the observed range of variation represents the range of viable human behavioral strategies and who stressed that there are fitness disadvantages at the extremes. Thus, he stressed stabilizing selection. The present argument is that selection can fluctuate, such that it may sometimes be directional for increasing a trait and sometimes be directional for decreasing it. Among the great tits, for example, selection on exploration is clearly directional in any given year (Dingemanse et al., 2004). The retention of a normal distribution is a consequence of the inconsistency of the direction of selection, not its stabilizing form. That said, I agree with MacDonald that there could be quite general disadvantages at the extremes of some personality dimensions, such as chronic depression with high neuroticism, or obsessive–compulsive personality disorder with high conscientiousness. It is not a necessary feature of the current approach that there always be stabilizing effects. The other major difference between the current approach and that of MacDonald (1995) is that he did not fully develop the notion of trade-offs across the middle range of a continuum, and in particular, he did not develop empirical predictions for the nature of trade-offs for all the different five-factor dimensions. It is important to stress that trade-offs and fluctuating selection are not the only possible approaches to the maintenance of heritable variation. Biologists have also observed that there are a number of traits that are unidirectionally correlated with fitness and yet in which substantial heritable variation is maintained (Rowe & Houle, 1996). An example would be physical symmetry. In general, the more symmetrical an individual, the higher its fitness, and yet heritable variation in symmetry persists. The maintenance of variation in such cases appears paradoxical, because directional selection might be expected to home in on perfect symmetry and winnow out all variation. The solution to the paradox appears to be that such global traits as symmetry are affected by mutations to many, if not most, genes. Most mutations that arise are to some extent deleterious, so deviation from physical symmetry becomes an index of the load of mutations an individual is carrying.

Selection, particularly that operating via mate choice, favors symmetry, and thus individual deleterious mutations are winnowed from the population. However, so many genes are involved that there is a constant stream of new mutations maintaining population diversity. Thus, symmetry is a fitness indicator trait in that it is a reliable signal of genetic quality. Some heritable human traits may be better explained by fitness indicator theory than by trade-off theory. Miller (2000b), for example, has applied such reasoning to intelligence. Intelligence is correlated with physical symmetry, (reallsuggesting that it taps overall quality (Prokosch, Yeo, & Miller, 2005). Thus, a fitness indicator approach seems likely to be fruitful in such a case. For personality, however, I suggest that an evolutionary trade-off account is likely to be useful. This does not mean that all personality differences are to be explained by the same mechanism. There are likely to be developmental calibration effects, too, as indicated by behavior genetics data showing a role for the unique environment and also as suggested by recent studies on early life stress and adult behavior (Figueredo et al., 2005). However, for the heritable basis of personality, the combination of trade-off and genetic polymorphism seems a fruitful avenue to pursue. It might be objected that the particular costs and benefits put forward here are speculative and as such amount to just-so stories about how personality variation has arisen. The former is true; as for the latter, such a charge misunderstands the utility of adaptive explanation in psychology. The evolutionary framework used here is hypothesis generating. That is, an article such as this one, which draws on evolutionary biology, is not an end in itself but rather an engine for generating testable empirical ideas.

The particular costs and benefits listed here may not turn out to be the correct ones. However, the framework makes testable predictions that would not have been arrived at inductively. For extraversion, the hypothesis that high scorers will have greater numbers of sexual partners but more serious injuries has already been confirmed (Nettle, 2005). For neuroticism, the current framework makes the prediction that performance on certain types of perceptual monitoring tasks, such as detecting an artificial predator, will actually be improved by neuroticism. Because neuroticism impairs performance on many kinds of tasks, this is a novel prediction.

For openness, the model predicts that high scorers will either be socially successful through creative activity or be socially and culturally marginalized through bizarre beliefs, (who decides which beliefs are “bizarre beliefs? This is highly culturally and individually determined) and the determinants of which outcome prevails may depend on overall condition. This is a hypothesis that certainly merits further investigation (see Nettle & Clegg, 2006).

For conscientiousness, the model predicts that high scoring individuals might perform badly on tasks in which they have to respond spontaneously to changes in the affordances of the local environment, because they will be rigidly attached to previously defined goals. Finally, for agreeableness, the theory predicts that high scorers will avoid being victims of interpersonal conflict but may often emerge as suckers in games such as the public goods game and the iterated prisoner’s dilemma game, which are well studied by psychologists and in which the usual equilibrium is a mixture of cooperation and exploitation. Thus, the current framework should be seen not as a post hoc explanation of the past but as an engine of predictions about the consequences of dispositional variation in the present. Such consequences are a central explanatory concern of personality psychology, and as such, the evolutionary framework, with its emphasis on costs, benefits, and trade-offs, could be of great utility.