Part Four covers the cognitive/experiential domain, which emphasizes an understanding of people' s perceptions, thoughts, feelings, desires, and other conscious experiences. The focus here is on understanding experience, especially from the person's point of view. However, distinctions can be made in terms of the kinds of experiences that people have.
One kind of experience that people have concerns cognitive experiences; what they perceive and pay attention to, how they interpret the events in their lives, and their goals and strategies and plans for getting what they want in the future. All of these kinds of cognitive experiences refer to how people process information.
Humans do not process information the way computers do, accurately reflect ing in their minds what is "objectively" given by reality. Instead, even at the level of perception, humans show interesting differences from each other in terms of what they perceive when they process information from the world.
People also dif fer from each other when it comes to cognitively interpreting or making sense out of life events. We introduce a theory based on the idea that people construct their experiences by applying personal constructs to their sensations. A related theory concerns how people decide on the causes of life events. Often people interpret events by making attributions of responsibility for those events. That is, "why did this happen?" and "whose fault is this?" Personality psychologists have extensively studied how people make attributions of responsibility, and how there may be stable individual differences in the tendency to blame oneself for bad events.
Cognitive experiences can also be studied in terms of the plans and goals that people formulate for themselves, and for the strategies they develop for reaching their goals. People anticipate dif ferent futures in terms of having dif ferent goals that they strive for . Understanding people's goals, and how their goals are expressions of personality as well as social standards, also forms a part of the cognitive/ experiential domain of knowledge about human nature.
Atopic related to cognitive experience, and included in this part of the book, is intelligence. Currently there are several controversies about the concept of intelligence. For example, what is the best definition o intelligence—the accumulation of what a person has learned, or the ability to learn new information? Is intelligence one quality, or are there several dif ferent kinds of intelligence? While we don't pretend to resolve any of these controversies, it is important that students know the issues in this area and the ways in which personality psychologists are contributing to the debate.
A second broad but important category of experience, one that is associated with, but distinct from, cognition, is emotion. Psychology has seen a sharp rise in research on emotion in the past few decades.
We can ask a straightforward question about emotional lifestyle: Is a person generally happy or generally sad? What makes a person anxious or fearful? Why is it that some people become enthusiastic so easily? What makes people angry , and why can some people control their anger whereas others cannot?
Emotional experiences are often thought of as states that come and go; now you are anxious, now you are not, or now you are angry , now you are not. However , emotions can also be thought of as traits, as the frequent experiences of specific states. For example, a perso may become anxious frequently , or have a lower threshold for experiencing anxiety. And so we might talk of anxiety proneness as a personality trait—the tendency to easily and frequently become anxious.
When it comes to emotions as traits, we can divide the main topics into variables that refer to the content, the what of emotional life, and variables that refer to the style of emotional life, or how those emotions are typically experienced. When it comes to content, we are referring to the kinds of emotions a person is likely to experience. The content of emotional life can be divided into pleasant and unpleasant emotions. In terms of pleasant emotions, the typical personalityrelevant trait is happiness. Psychologists have recently become very interested in happiness. We will discuss some of this recent research on happiness.
When it comes to unpleasant emotion traits, the research can be divided into three dif ferent disposi-tional emotions: anger, anxiety, and depression. Depression is a syndrome that is experienced by a lar ge portion of the population, and is of great importance in terms of public mental health implications. Trait anxiety has many dif ferent names in the personality literature, including neuroticism, negative affectivity, and emotional instability . Anger-proneness is also a trait-like tendency but this one refers to the tendency to easily or frequently become angry, a characteristic personality psychologists are keenly interested in. In this part of the book we will discuss some of what psychologists know about these important emotion-relevant personality characteristics.
Besides content, people dif fer from each other in the style of their emotional lives. Emotional style refers to how their emotions are typically experienced. Some people, for example, tend to experience their emotions at a higher intensity than other persons. For such high affect-intensity persons, a positive event makes them very, very happy, and a negative event makes them very, very unhappy . Consequently such people experience wider emotional swings from day to day or even within days.
A third major category of experience is distinct from cognition and emotion, yet is a category of experience that is very important to the average person. This category of experience refers to experiences of the self. These experiences are unique in that a person can focus on themselves as an object, pay attention to themselves, come to know themselves. The experience of self is unlike all of our other experiences, because in the experience of the self the knower and the known are one and the same. Psychologists have paid a great deal of attention to this unique object of our experience, self-knowing, and research and theorizing on the self has a long and rich tradition in personality psychology.
There are some useful distinctions between types of self-experiences. First there are descriptive aspects of the self: who are we, what are the important images we have of our past self, and what are the images of possible future selves? A second main component of the experience of self is evaluative: do we like or dislike who we are? This is called self-esteem and it is a central organizing force in much of what we do. And a third component of our self experience concerns the social roles we inhabit, the social selves we show to others, which we call identity . For example, many college students show one identity to their parents and another identity to their companions at school. And people sometimes go through identity crises, especially during transitions in life, such as starting college, getting married, or starting a new job. Understanding how people develop and maintain identities is part of the cognitive/experiential domain.
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