Culture and Personality How Do Culture and Personality Interact

Because societies are composed of individuals and because every individual has a personality, it follows that culture and personality are inextricably intertwined. Their relationship has been studied by anthropologists, psychologists, and other social scientists since the birth of these sciences. American anthropologists of the early 1900s saw culture as an extension of personality, expanded physically and temporally to a larger scale. Some (Benedict, 1934; Mead, 1928) argued that culture provides behavioral ideals that contex-tualize, and thereby influence, the natural unfolding of temperament characteristics over the course of maturation. Others (Kardiner, 1939) believed that society shaped a basic personality structure guided primarily by child-rearing practices and family organization Alarcon, Foulks, and Vakkur (in press) offer an incisive review of this literature. More recent research has examined cultural differences in the prevalence of personality disorders (Loranger et al., 1994). Although some disorders appear to be more common in certain cultures than in others, it nevertheless appears that all personality disorders have substantial cross-cultural validity, occurring in nearly every culture with at least some frequency.

Accordingly, given the universality of the DSM scheme of personality constructs and the interpenetration of personality and culture mentioned previously, it should be possible to generalize the constructs of a theoretical model of personality to a cultural level (Escovar, 1997). The evolutionary model (Millon, 1990) consists of three dimensions that motivate, prompt, energize, and direct human behavior, anchored to three evolutionary imperatives—survival, adaptation, and replication—that operate across all levels of organization in nature. Both viruses and government, for example, must obey evolutionary laws.

The first evolutionary imperative, survival, is expressed as a dimension of pleasure and pain. Events that we subjectively experience as pleasurable are those that contribute to the survival of the individual or species—sexuality, for example. Events experienced as painful are associated with death, injury, or disease. At a cultural level, malevolence versus benevolence refers to differences in the extent to which pain versus pleasure is used as a motivator. In some cultures, pain bestows absolution for previous transgressions, so members of the culture view pain as a penance. Other cultures take the attitude that individuals will intrinsically actualize in a productive direction if the society will only provide support for basic needs, such as food, water, and housing.

The second evolutionary imperative, adaptation, is expressed along a continuum of passive to active. Passive organisms seek to adapt themselves to their environment, whereas active organisms seek to adapt the environment to their own needs. At a cultural level, this distinction is expressed in the duality between the preference for a more leisurely and traditional lifestyle and one that is more industrious and dynamic. Societies thus differ in their rates of social change; in the rate that they adopt innovations, technical or otherwise; and in their level of relatedness to their environment.

The third evolutionary principle, replication, is expressed as a sociobiological duality between a desire to pursue one's own self-interest and a desire to nurture others. Some species produce many offspring that are left to fend for themselves, a male strategy;

Focus on Culture (Continued)

other species produce only a few offspring, which they nurture to adulthood, a female strategy. This duality has its counterpart at a cultural level in the distinction between individualism and collectivism (Triandis, 1995). In the collectivist culture, personal goals are subordinated to those of the collective; in the individualistic culture, the views, needs, and goals of the self are ascendant. Because every individual implicitly adopts the values and standards of the larger culture at an unconscious level, the type of culture in which he or she lives profoundly affects many aspects of human functioning. Collectivist cultures emphasize intimacy and in-group relatedness; the self is defined socially through its relations with others. In contrast, individualist cultures emphasize independence; the self stands on its own apart from the group, and not being able to do so is a sign of weakness. When it comes to social interactions, collectivists value harmony, so much so that they suppress negative feelings and "tell others what they want to hear, rather than tell the truth and create bad feelings" (Triandis, 1994, p. 293). In contrast, individualists seek to "tell it like it is," emphasizing facts at the expense of feelings.

determines who we are and who we will become. Others cannot influence, much less change, us unless we give them permission.

According to the interpersonal perspective, individuality is an illusion wrought by the Western emphasis on objectivity and rationalism. Western understanding requires that things be analyzed, dissolved into parts, distilled into fundamental units, and, finally, isolated from the larger ecology that sustains and nurtures them and may even provide their reason for being. The Western ego ideal is strength, independence, and self-sufficiency. Although we certainly have relationships, we do not require them, for relatedness entails dependency, and dependency entails weakness. Our scientific theories have inherited this bias. Even a notion that many psychologists would take for granted—that personality is composed of smaller units, or traits—can be viewed as a cultural distortion.

Origins of the Interpersonal Approach

Harry Stack Sullivan is considered the father of the interpersonal perspective. Sullivan's ideas were developed largely as a reaction against the classical analytic and medical models that dominated psychiatry in the early to mid-twentieth century. Biographers universally emphasize the stormy nature of his own development, yet Sullivan probably felt that both models implicitly blame the person without properly considering the role of social factors. Classical psychoanalysis is based on the conflict between upwelling sexual and aggressive id instincts and their containment through the defensive processes of the ego. Others are only objects that satisfy or frustrate the demands of the id, not real persons with their own lives, desires, hopes, and aspirations. By voiding others of their personhood, Freud made pathology a private affair. Likewise, the medical model presents psychopathology as a disease of the person, for it is the person who is abnormal, who receives a diagnosis, and who must be treated.

Sullivan's contribution lay in realizing that some forms of mental disorder, although perhaps most dramatically and tangibly manifest through the individual, are nevertheless created and perpetuated through maladaptive patterns of social interaction and communication. According to Sullivan (1953, pp. 110-111), then, personality is "the recurrent set of interpersonal situations which characterize a person's life." Perhaps our family, boss, or spouse makes us crazy, for example. By relocating pathology as part of a transactional system, Sullivan not only put psychopathology back into its proper ecological context, but also brought greater empathy and humanism to its treatment. No longer was the individual simply a vessel for his or her symptoms; instead, pathology could be seen as being created and sustained by patterns of communication.

The discovery that the origins of pathology might be interactional rather than individual, however, was only a beginning, a possibility rather than a process. It does not explain how disordered communication develops. Fortunately, Sullivan was acquainted with the most recent advances in many adjacent fields of knowledge. In outlining the interactional basis of psychopathology, he drew particularly from the symbolic interaction-ism of George Mead and the work of the anthropologist Edward Sapir in culture and linguistics. The issue with which Sullivan struggled, the essential basis of the interpersonal approach, concerns the nature of the self. Implicitly, all of us regard the self as a thing, a concrete entity or substance with sharply defined boundaries, like a rock. If this were true, we should know exactly who we are all the time. As Freud had already shown, however, self-consciousness does not exhaust mentality, but instead floats atop the unconscious—inaccessible and remote. But Sullivan went even further. No essential self lies hidden beneath the veils of the unconscious. Instead, there is only a self-concept that is continually being defined and redefined by the interpersonal communications of others. Keep telling a child that he or she is bad, and the child will soon believe you.

The consequences of Sullivan's insight bridge psychology and existentialism. We are not self-contained entities. In fact, we are never exactly sure who and what we are. Instead, the self-concept is a collection of probabilistic hypotheses, some of which we seek to support and some of which we seek to deny. Existentialism argues that first we exist; then we define ourselves. The interpersonalists, however, argue that others are essential to the formation of our self-identity. The communications we experience as most validating confirm our ideal self. Confusing communications leave us stranded on uncertain existential ground. These are either inconsistent with our concept of who we really are, the actual self, or else portray the self in an undesirable way, threatening self-esteem and arousing anxiety and insecurity. This provides an important contrast between interpersonal and psychodynamic views. For Freud, the ego is essentially a diplomat skilled in repression and other defense mechanisms. Anxiety is a signal to the ego that instinctual drives are on the edge of breaking openly into conscious awareness and must be defended against. For Sullivan, however, anxiety is interpersonal and, therefore, cannot exist unless others are at least symbolically involved or otherwise present in thought.

Despite his many interesting and brilliant contributions, Sullivan is not considered to be a systematic thinker. Many of his books, in fact, represent past lecture series organized for publication by dedicated followers. Moreover, the personality constructs he proposed are not notably interpersonal, at least by contemporary standards. These constructs include, for example, the stammerer and the homosexual personality. Nevertheless, Sullivan is regarded as one of the most important theorists of the twentieth century. His ideas spawned diverse lines of research, including work that led to the famous "double-bind" theory of schizophrenia (Bateson, Jackson, Haley, & Weakland, 1956), the study of family communication patterns, and even studies of nonverbal gestural communication, called kinesics.

After Sullivan, the next important figure in the emerging interpersonal movement was Timothy Leary (1957). Whereas Sullivan was brilliant but scattered, Leary was brilliant and systematic. Like Sullivan, he borrowed much from psychoanalysis. In particular, he believed that personality should be thought of in terms of levels, not unlike the psycho-dynamic idea of levels of consciousness. Leary's levels, however, organize a much wider array of information. The first level, public communication, refers to what is observable and objective in interpersonal behavior. The second, conscious description, is expressed through the verbal content of statements made about self or others. Because this level regards the world of subjective experience—by definition, always somewhat of a distortion of consensual social reality—reports of an individual's experience of self and others are often especially revealing. The third level, private symbolization, is concerned with pre-conscious and unconscious attributions, as expressed through "projective, indirect fantasy materials" (p. 79), including projective tests, fantasies, artistic productions, wishes, dreams, and free associations. Leary's fourth level, unexpressed unconscious, refers to issues that are censored from consciousness and "systematically and compulsively avoided by the subject at all the other levels of personality .. . and are conspicuous by their inflexible absence" (p. 80). Finally, the fifth level, values, is expressed not only in the ego ideal but also in the standards through which self and others are judged.

The Circumplex Model

Leary also contributed to the development of the interpersonal circumplex, one of the most influential geometric models in the history of personality theory (Freedman, Leary, Ossorio, & Coffey, 1951; Leary, 1957). The circumplex is often called the interpersonal circle. Whereas the DSM presents the personality disorders as discrete diagnostic categories with no necessary relationship, the circumplex organizes its constructs like the segments on a circle or like the face of a clock. Each personality thus shades gently into its nearby neighbors.

The circle is formed by crossing the two content dimensions believed to define interpersonal communication: dominance and affiliation (Kiesler, 1996). Though each segment of the circle, each personality, receives a different name, each is a blend of different quantities of dominance and affiliation. Segments that are near each other are closely related, whereas those that are opposite on the circle are opposites in real life. In Leary's original circle, for example, the dependent personality was represented as consisting of about equal levels of affiliation and submission, and the compulsive personality, which Leary called the responsible-hypernormal, consisted of about equal levels of affiliation and dominance. Leary also noted relationships between the interpersonal circle and other perspectives. The four quadrants, he suggested, capture the temperaments or humors of Hippocrates, and the horizontal and vertical axes capture the two basic drives of psychoanalysis—sexuality and aggression. Figure 2.1 presents Kiesler's (1986) 1982 interpersonal circle, one of the foremost current models.

Complementarity

One of the most attractive features of the interpersonal approach is the tight linkage between the theory and its derived constructs: Interpersonal principles map directly to the

RIVALROUS-DISDAINFUL

DICTATORIAL

ARROGANT-RIGIDLY AUTONOMOUS

PARANOID-VINDICTIVE

HISTRIONIC

ICY-CRUEL

RANCOROUS-SADISTIC

ESCAPISTIC

RIVALROUS-DISDAINFUL

DICTATORIAL

ARROGANT-RIGIDLY AUTONOMOUS

PARANOID-VINDICTIVE

HISTRIONIC

ICY-CRUEL

RANCOROUS-SADISTIC

ESCAPISTIC

UNRESPONSIVE

FRENETICALLY GREGAROUS

DEVOTED-INDULGENT

ALL-LOVING-ABSOLVING

GULLIBLE-MERCIFUL

ABRASIVE-HELPLESS

SUBSERVIENT

AMBITIONLESS-FLATTERING

] Relatively more normal ] Relatively more pathological (outer circle)

FRENETICALLY GREGAROUS

DEVOTED-INDULGENT

ALL-LOVING-ABSOLVING

UNRESPONSIVE

GULLIBLE-MERCIFUL

ABRASIVE-HELPLESS

SUBSERVIENT

AMBITIONLESS-FLATTERING

] Relatively more normal ] Relatively more pathological (outer circle)

FIGURE 2.1 Kiesler's 1982 Interpersonal Circle. (Adapted from Millon & Klerman, 1986.)

circle. One of the most important of these is complementarity. According to Kiesler (1983, p. 198), "Our interpersonal actions are designed to invite, pull, elicit, draw, entice, or evoke 'restricted classes' of reactions from persons with whom we interact, especially from significant others." Every interpersonal bid is intended to implicitly exclude invalidating responses—those incongruent with how we would like others to see us—and implicitly include only validating responses—those that confirm the self-presentation. If each party in the interpersonal process successfully controls the response class of the other, the needs of each participant are mutually satisfied. On the other hand, responses that are irrelevant or inconsistent with the self-presentation are likely to be ignored or to arouse insecurity and tension. On the interpersonal circle, behaviors are considered complementary when they are opposite on the vertical axis—control—or similar on the horizontal axis—affiliation. Translated into everyday language, dominance pulls for submission and submission pulls for dominance. However, friendliness pulls for friendliness, and hate pulls for hate (Carson, 1969; Kiesler, 1983).

Normality and Abnormality

The management of presentation always entails implicit beliefs about self and others, a particular perspective on the world. As explained by Kiesler (1996, pp. 87-88), "a person brings about the very consequences of his or her own prediction . . . simply by virtue of the effects of the prediction itself." For example, an individual who is highly competitive tends to view others as highly competitive and begins to compete even harder, producing a competitive atmosphere that draws out competition from others. As a general principle, the social reality associated with any particular interpersonal style evokes responses that confirm that reality, culminating in a self-fulfilling prophecy. In some cases, this is highly adaptive; a friendly person naturally pulls friendliness from others, brightening everyone's day.

Break Free From Passive Aggression

Break Free From Passive Aggression

This guide is meant to be of use for anyone who is keen on developing a better understanding of PAB, to help/support concerned people to discover various methods for helping others, also, to serve passive aggressive people as a tool for self-help.

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  • doroteo
    How do personality and culture interact?
    4 months ago

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