The Evolutionary Neurodevelopmental Perspective

The perspectives outlined previously all appeal to organizing principles that derive from a single domain of personality. In Chapter 1, we noted that whereas the physical sciences advance mainly through attempts to falsify established models, the social sciences advance when heretofore-undiscovered domains of content move to the forefront of scientific thinking. Adherents of the latest fad believe that their perspective is the final word in personality and that soon it will outcompete its rivals and assume its rightful place as lord of the realm, the perfect scientific model, with total comprehensiveness of scope and perfect theoretical coherence. Psychology has romanced biological, psychodynamic, interpersonal, and cognitive perspectives at one point or another in the past. Each has recruited large numbers of disciples who keep the papers flowing into academic journals. Eventually, each fad runs its course, and the perspective fades somewhat as its founders pass into history. After that, it becomes an acknowledged part of psychological tradition, but the enthusiasm is largely gone. Skinner is gone. Freud is still a respected figure, but psychodynamic theory is on the decline. The rise and fall of diverse points of view is a consequence of the open nature of the social sciences, where the success of any particular model depends as much on the charisma and energy of its founders as on its real merits.

As each perspective vies for dominance, personality is kept in a state of perpetual warfare. Models go on the offensive by pressing foreign variables, those from other viewpoints, directly into taxonomic service to organize the competing constructs of other domains. The variables of the particular perspective are central; others are peripheral. Freud, for example, held that human nature could be reduced to sex and aggression operating in the context of restraining social forces. Leary (1957) was influenced by the psychodynamic idea of levels of consciousness, but nevertheless believed that interpersonal principles were central and could organize material at the level of personality he called "private symbolization," namely, unconscious and preconscious material expressed through "projective, indirect fantasy materials" (p. 79), including projective tests, fantasies, artistic productions, wishes, dreams, and free associations. Kiesler (1986), for example, translated his 1982 interpersonal circle to the level of behavioral acts. Benjamin (1986) translated her SASB model to embrace both the affective and cognitive domains. Factor researchers have sought to translate the personality disorders into profiles of their own statistically derived dimensions (Widiger & Costa, 1994). Such translations are obviously impressive, for they demonstrate the scope of the model by illustrating its organizing power within adjacent domains.

In the final analysis, however, we are left with a patchwork quilt that fails to converge on an integrated view of personality. Rather than capitulate to this uncertain eclecticism, we might ask if any theory embraces personality specifically as the patterning of variables across the entire matrix of the person. Such a theory would be explicitly developed not to become simply another perspective. Instead, it would develop a classification system of personality styles and disorders specifically as an integration of the major viewpoints. As we have stressed so often, personality is an intrinsic totality of interacting domains. Logically, a theory of personality must be constructed to be as integrative as the construct of personality itself (see Figure 2.3). The key to constructing such a theory lies in locating organizing principles that fall outside the field of personality proper (Millon, 1990). Otherwise, we could only repeat the errors of the past by asserting the importance of some new set of variables heretofore unemphasized, building yet another perspective inside personality as a total phenomenon, while missing a scientific understanding of the total phenomenon itself. Rather than go forth and conquer, such a theory would derive a set of holistic constructs that exist "above" any particular perspective, thereby allowing their integration as parts of the whole. The alternative is an uncomfortable eclecticism of unassimilated partial views.

Evolutionary Foundations of Personality

Evolution is the logical choice as a foundation for an integrated science of the person. Just as personality is concerned with the total patterning of variables across the entire matrix of the person, it is the total organism that survives and reproduces, carrying

forth both its adaptive and maladaptive potentials into subsequent generations. Although lethal mutations sometimes occur, the evolutionary success of most organisms is dependent on the fit between the entire configuration of their characteristics and potentials and those of the environment. Likewise, psychological health is dependent on the fit between the entire configuration of a person's characteristics and potentials with those of the environments in which the person functions, such as family, job, school, church, and recreation.

Survival: Life Preservation and Life Enhancement (Pain-Pleasure Polarity)

The first task of any organism is its immediate survival. Organisms that fail to survive have been selected out, so to speak, and fail to contribute their genes and characteristics to subsequent generations. Whether a virus or a human being, every living thing must protect itself against simple predatory threat and homeostatic misadventure. There are literally millions of ways to die. Evolutionary mechanisms related to survival tasks are oriented toward life enhancement and life preservation. The former are concerned with improvement in the quality of life and dispose organisms toward behaviors that improve survival chances and, hopefully, lead them to thrive and multiply. The latter are geared toward orienting organisms away from actions or environments that threaten to jeopardize survival. Such mechanisms form a polarity of pleasure and pain. Behaviors experienced as pleasurable are generally repeated and generally promote survival; those experienced as painful generally have the potential to endanger life and thus are not repeated. Organisms that repeat painful experiences or fail to repeat pleasurable ones do not endure for long.

As noted, evolutionary mechanisms associated with this stage relate to the processes of life enhancement and life preservation. These two superordinate processes may be called existential aims. At the highest level of abstraction, such mechanisms form, phe-nomenologically or metaphorically, what we have termed the pleasure-pain polarity.

Most humans exhibit both processes, those oriented toward enhancing pleasure and avoiding pain. Some individuals, however, appear to be conflicted concerning existential aims (e.g., the sadistic), while others possess deficits in such aims (e.g., the schizoid). In terms of evolutionary-developmental stages (Millon, 1969, 1981, 1990), orientations on the pleasure-pain polarity are set during a "sensory-attachment" period, the purpose of which is to further mature and selectively refine and focus the largely innate ability to discriminate between pain and pleasure signals.

Adaptation: Ecological Accommodation and Ecological Modification (Passive-Active Polarity)

The second evolutionary task faced universally by every organism is adaptation. To exist is to exist within an environment. Organisms must either adapt to their surroundings or adapt their surroundings to conform to and support their own style of functioning. Every organism must satisfy lower order needs related, for example, to nutrition, thirst, and sleep. Mammals and human beings must also satisfy other needs, for example, those related to safety and attachment. Whether the environment is intrinsically bountiful or hostile, the choice is essentially between a passive and an active orientation, that is, a tendency to accommodate to a given ecological niche and accept what the environment offers, versus a tendency to modify or intervene in the environment, thereby adapting it to oneself. These modes of adaptation differ from the first phase of evolution, being, in that they regard how that which is endures.

Once an integrated structure exists, it must maintain its existence through exchanges of energy and information with its environment. This second evolutionary phase is framed also as a two-part polarity: a passive orientation—that is, to be ecologically accommodating in one's environmental niche—versus an active orientation—that is, to be ecologically modifying and to intervene in or to alter one's surroundings. In terms of psychological development, this polarity is ontogenetically expressed as the "sensorimotor-autonomy stage," during which the child typically progresses from an earlier, relatively passive style of accommodation to a relatively active style of modifying his or her physical and social environment.

The accommodating-modifying polarity necessarily derives from an expansion of the systems concept. Whereas in the Survival phase the system is seen as being mainly in-traorganismic in character, the Adaptation phase expands the systems concept to its logical progression, from person to person-in-context. Some individuals, those of an active orientation, operate as genuine agencies, tending to modify their environments according to their desires. For these individuals, an active-organism model is appropriate. Other persons, however, seek to accommodate to whatever is offered or, rather than work to change what exists, seek out new, more hospitable venues when current ones become problematic. For these individuals, a passive-organism model is appropriate.

Replication: Reproductive Nurturance and Reproductive Propagation (Other-Self Polarity)

The third universal evolutionary task faced by every organism pertains to reproductive styles, essentially sociobiological mechanisms, that each gender uses to maximize its representation in the gene pool. All organisms must ultimately reproduce to evolve. At one extreme is what biologists have referred to as the r-strategy; here, the goal is to reproduce a great number of offspring, which are then left to fend for themselves against the adversities of chance or destiny. At the other extreme is the ^-strategy, in which the relatively few offspring produced are given great care by parents. Although individual exceptions always exist, these parallel the more male self-oriented versus the more female other-nurturing strategies of sociobiology. Psychologically, the former strategy is often judged to be egotistic, insensitive, inconsiderate, and uncaring; the latter is judged to be affiliative, intimate, protective, and solicitous (Gilligan, 1981; Rushton, 1985; Wilson, 1978). Organisms that make reproductive investments in many offspring so that their resources are spread too thinly or make a long gestational investment but fail to nurture their young are strongly selected against.

Although organisms may be well adapted to their environments, the existence of any life form is time-limited. To circumvent this limitation, organisms exhibit patterns of the third polarity, replicatory strategies, by which they leave progeny. As noted, these strategies relate to what biologists have referred to as an r- or self-propagating strategy, at one polar extreme, and a K- or other-nurturing strategy at the second extreme. Like pleasure-pain, the self-other polarity is not unidimensional. Whereas most humans exhibit a reasonable balance between the two polar extremes, some personality disorders are conflicted on this polarity, as are the compulsive and negativistic personalities. In terms of developmental stages, an individual's orientation toward self and others evolves largely during the "intracortical-identity" stage.

As with the passive-active polarity, the self-other bipolarity necessarily derives from an expansion of the systems concept. Whereas with the adaptation phase the system was seen as existing within an environment, here the system is seen as evolving over time. As before, the goal of the organism is its survival or continuance. When expressed across time, however, survival means reproducing and strategies for doing so.

In addition to the three polarities described previously, the theory holds that many individuals experience ambivalence concerning the pleasure-pain and self-other polarities. For example, the compulsive and negativistic (passive-aggressive) personalities, to be described fully in later chapters, share an ambivalence concerning whether to put their own priorities and expectations first or to defer to others. The negativistic acts out this ambivalence, repressed in the compulsive. The two personalities are thus theoretically linked, and the theory predicts that if the submerged anger of the compulsive can be confronted consciously, the subject may tend to act out in a passive-aggressive manner until this conflict can be constructively refocused or resolved. Figure 2.4 puts this relationship into a circumplex format and relates these disorders to the "interpersonally imbalanced" personalities: antisocial, narcissistic, histrionic, and dependent. The right side of the figure shows that the negativistic and compulsive shade into each other, the negativistic shades into the antisocial and histrionic, and the compulsive shades into the narcissistic and dependent. Loosely speaking, to transform a compulsive into a narcissist, therapy should resolve the conflict between self and other toward a preoccupation with the individual's own self-concerns. To transform a compulsive into a dependent, therapy should resolve this conflict in favor of the needs of others. Table 2.3 illustrates how the constructs of the DSM-III, DSM-III-R, and DSM-IV may be derived from various combinations of the underlying polarities when the additional idea of conflict is included.

Neurodevelopmental Foundations of Personality

The three stages of development described in the following sections parallel the three evolutionary phases discussed previously. Each evolutionary phase is related to a different stage of ontogenetic neurodevelopment (Millon, 1969). For example, life



FIGURE 2.4 Interpersonally Imbalanced and Interpersonally Conflicted Personality Disorders.

enhancement-life preservation bipolarity of evolution corresponds to what is called the sensory-attachment stage of development in that the latter represents a period when the young child learns to discriminate between experiences that are enhancing and those that are threatening.

Stage 1: Sensory-Attachment

The first year of life is dominated by sensory processes, functions basic to subsequent development in that they enable the infant to construct some order from the initial diffusion experienced in the stimulus world, especially that based on distinguishing pleasurable from painful objects. This period has also been termed that of attachment because infants cannot survive on their own but must "fasten" themselves to others who will protect, nurture, and stimulate them, that is, provide them with experiences of pleasure rather than those of pain.

Such themes are readily understood through an evolutionary theory of personality development. While evolution has endowed adult humans with the cognitive ability to project future threats and difficulties as well as potential rewards, human infants are comparably impoverished, being as yet without the benefit of these abstract capacities. Evolution has, therefore, provided mechanisms or substrates that orient the child toward those activities or venues that are life-enhancing (pleasure) and away from those that are potentially life-threatening (pain). Existence during this highly vulnerable stage is literally a to-be or not-to-be matter.

The neonate cannot differentiate between objects and persons; both are experienced simply as stimuli. How does this initial indiscriminateness become progressively refined

TABLE 2.3 Polarity Model and Its Personality Style and Disorder Derivatives

Existential Aim

Replication Strategy

Life Enhancement

Life Preservation

Reproductive Propagation

Reproductive Nurturance




Deficiency, Imbalance, or Conflict

Pleasure (low) Pain (low or high)

Pleasure Pain (Reversal)

Self (low) Other (high)

Self (high) Other (low)

Self-Other (Reversal)

Adaptation Mode

DSM Personality Disorders

Passive: Accommodation




Yielding Masochistic

Agreeing Dependent

Asserting Narcissistic

Conforming Compulsive

Active: Modification

Hesitating Avoidant

Controlling Sadistic

Outgoing Histrionic

Dissenting Antisocial

Complaining Negativistic

Structural Pathology


Borderline, Paranoid



Borderline, Paranoid

* The schizoid is passive and low in both pleasure and pain; the depressive is low in pleasure and high on pain. "Retiring" is the normal variant of the schizoid.

* The schizoid is passive and low in both pleasure and pain; the depressive is low in pleasure and high on pain. "Retiring" is the normal variant of the schizoid.

into specific attachments? For all essential purposes, the infant is helpless and dependent on others to avoid pain and supply its pleasurable needs. Separated from the womb, the neonate has lost its physical attachment to the mother's body and the protection and nur-turance it provided; it must turn toward other regions or sources of attachment if it is to survive and obtain nourishment and stimulation for further development.

Whether the infant's world is conceptualized as a buzz or a blank slate, it must begin to differentiate venues or objects that further its existential aims, supplying nourishment, preservation, and stimulation, from those that diminish, frustrate, or threaten them. These initial relationships, or "internal representational models" (e.g., Crittenden, 1990), apparently "prepared" by evolution, become the context through which other relationships develop.

Stage 2: Sensorimotor-Autonomy

In the sensorimotor-autonomy stage, the focus shifts from existence in itself to existence within an environment. From an evolutionary perspective, the child in this stage is learning a mode of adaptation, an active tendency to modify its ecologic niche, versus a passive tendency to accommodate to whatever the environment has provided. The former reflects a disposition toward taking the initiative in shaping the course of life events; the latter, a disposition to be quiescent, placid, unassertive; to react rather than act; to wait for things to happen; and to accept what is given. Whatever alternative is pursued, it is a matter of degree rather than a yes-no decision. Undoubtedly important in the child's orientation toward the environment are its attachments. Those children who possess a secure base will explore their environments without becoming fearful that their attachment figure cannot be recovered (Ainsworth, 1967). On the other hand, those without such a base tend to remain close to their caretakers, assuming the more passive mode, one likely to ultimately restrict their range of coping resources through decreased or retarded so-ciocognitive competence (Millon, 1969).

Stage 3: Intracortical-Reproductive Identity

Somewhere between the 11th and 15th years, a rather sweeping series of hormonal changes unsettle the psychic state that had been so carefully constructed in preceding years. These changes reflect the onset of puberty and the instantiation of sexual and gender-related characteristics, which are preparatory for the emergence of the r- and K- strategies—strong sexual impulses and adultlike features of anatomy, voice, and bearing.

These strategies are psychologically expressed, at the highest level of abstraction, in an orientation toward self and an orientation toward others. Here the male can be pro-totypically described as more dominant, imperial, and acquisitive, and the female more communal, nurturant, and deferent.

These representations—self and other and their coordination—are essential to the genesis of the personality system. Both attachment theory and the evolutionary model presented here recognize the importance of self and other constructs. From an attachment perspective, these constructs represent inchoate interpersonal relationships, the intricacies of which are made possible by cognitive developments.

Initially, the child must acquire abstract capacities that enable him or her to transcend the purely concrete reality of the present moment and project the self-as-object into myriad futures contingent on its own style of action or accommodation. Such capacities are both cognitive and emotional and may have wide-ranging consequences for the personality system if they fail to cohere as integrated structures, as in the more severe personality disorders, for example, borderline and schizotypal.

When the inner world of symbols is mastered, giving objective reality an order and integration, youngsters are able to create some consistency and continuity in their lives. No longer are they buffeted from one mood or action to another by the swirl of changing events; they now have an internal anchor, a nucleus of cognitions that serves as a base and imposes a sense of sameness and continuity on an otherwise fluid environment. As they grow in their capacity to organize and integrate their world, one configuration becomes increasingly differentiated and begins to predominate. Accrued from experiences with others and their reactions to the child, an image or representation of self-as-object has taken shape. This highest order of abstraction, the sense of individual identity as distinct from others, becomes the dominant source of stimuli that guides the youngster's thoughts and feelings. External events no longer have the power they once exerted; the youngster now has an ever-present and stable sphere of internal representations transformed by rational and emotional reflections, which govern his or her course of action and from which behaviors are initiated.

Just as ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, so, too, does the developmental character and sequence parallel the core elements of evolution. This theme is more fully elaborated in other writings by the senior author (Millon, 1990; Millon & Davis, 1996). The evolution-development parallel has been described in these writings as "neuropsychological stages."

Domains of Personality

The evolutionary theory offers several polarities in developmental stages and content levels. First are the polarities and their derived personality functions, such as survival and adaptation. Second are the neurodevelopmental stages that parallel the evolutionary progression. Third is the content of personality characteristics. Here we draw on the distinction between function and structure made in the biological sciences. Anatomy is concerned with permanent structures, and physiology is concerned with the functions that these structures permit. The anatomy of the hand, for example, is composed of bone, muscle, and nerves, and the function of a hand is manual manipulation. Likewise, the structural domains of personality provide essentially permanent substrates that provide "hardware support" for the functional domains of personality, that is, behaviors, social conduct, cognitive processes, and unconscious mechanisms that manage, balance, and coordinate the give-and-take between inner and outer life. Figure 2.5 shows the relationship among personality, its perspectives, and their domains. The following paragraphs provide a brief exposition of the characteristic domains that we draw on in later chapters.

Expressive Acts

Whereas the concept of a trait refers to behavioral consistencies that are pervasive across time and situation, expressive acts are the discrete units of behavior in which traits are expressed. Traits are more general; acts are more particular. Moreover, there are nearly an infinite number of acts in which a particular trait might be expressed. At the extreme, acts can even refer to stimulus-response chains, hence their close connection with the formerly popular behavioral perspective of Watson and Skinner.

Interpersonal Conduct

This functional domain captures the interpersonal perspective, originating with Sullivan and continued today by notables such as Kiesler and Benjamin. Interpersonal

















Flighty cognitive


Flat mood-







"I would like to

"My mom was

"Others see what I

"I get too distracted

"I prefer to be polite

"I never get

destroy the lives

always so sweet

have done and

to keep my mind on

and formal in all

emotional about

of the people

to me."

want to follow in

anything too long.

my relationships."


persecuting me!"

my footsteps."

Deep stuff is boring."













FIGURE 2.5 Personality, Its Perspectives, and a Subset of Its Domains.

Psychodynamic Perspective

Cognitive Perspective

Interpersonal Perspective

Biological Perspective

FIGURE 2.5 Personality, Its Perspectives, and a Subset of Its Domains.

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