Early Historical Forerunners

Despite repeated attempts to develop the concept of an antisocial personality free from the implications of "moral insanity" (Prichard, 1835), it continued to influence subsequent conceptions, including early conceptions of the dependent, which were contaminated by the idea that such persons simply reflect a seldom-seen variant of moral degeneration.

Both Kraepelin (1913) and Schneider (1923/1950), for example, made little reference to the dependent's need for external support, stressing instead their malleability of will and the ease with which they could be influenced by others. Schneider noted that "as far as their pliable natures will allow they are responsive to good influences, show regret for their lapses and display good intentions" (p. 133). Kraepelin considered these types to be a product of delayed maturation, a remarkably contemporary view. Nevertheless, to these early theorists, the "shiftless and weak-willed types" were easy prey to social misdeeds such as addiction and thievery. Unless motivated by powerful external forces, such outcomes are not typically characteristic of the dependent personality.

In the following three sections, we offer a detailed portrayal of the dependent personality as expressed through the psychodynamic, interpersonal, and cognitive perspectives.

Focus on Gender

Measurement Issues Gender Differences in Dependency

Do men and women differ in their willingness to admit dependent feelings, attitudes, and behaviors? Studies using self-report measures have found significantly higher levels of dependency in women than in men. Similar results have been obtained using school-age children rather than adults and using subjects from other cultures.

Because self-reports measure what is accessible to conscious awareness, Bornstein (1993) asked whether the difference between males and females would be found when using projective tests intended to tap motives outside conscious awareness, in the realm of the unconscious, not available for self-report.

Similar levels of dependency were found for men and women. Bornstein concluded: "Women report higher levels of dependency than do men on self-report measures, but men and women obtain comparable dependency scores on projective measure" (1993, p. 47). Women are thus more willing to admit dependency; men are just as dependent but unwilling to admit it. In fact, there is a consistent relationship between the face validity of the measure used and the extent to which gender differences are found when assessing dependency. As face validity increases, so does the magnitude of the gender differences found when using that measure (Bornstein, Rossner, Hill, & Stepanian, 1994).

Because face validity is largely a function of how easy it is to figure out what a test assesses (the item, "I feel helpless without someone to protect me," is face valid for dependency), such differences between men and women can only be a function of self-presentation and social desirability. As it becomes easier to figure out that a test measures dependency, men refuse to admit their dependency needs. Traditionally, men have been socialized to express dependency indirectly, whereas women express dependency in a more direct and overt manner (Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974; Mischel, 1970).

Future studies of the dependent personality must take into account the potential masking effects of self-presentation and social desirability. Valid assessment of a personality trait so closely linked to sex-role orientation argues for an unobtrusive approach to assessment, at least where males are concerned.

Each of these domains interacts to form the whole person. We have chosen to present history and description side by side. If you see the material simply as a historical progression of "who did what when," you will miss out on the descriptive bounty that each author brings to the construct. By the time you finish these sections, you should have a good grasp of the dependent prototype. Developmental pathways are also described, though these are currently speculative and indistinct. Read not only for history but also for the characteristics that each author unearthed and their significance to the total personality.

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