Table 1.1 Three Levels of Personality Analysis

Level of Analysis


Human Nature

Need to belong

Capacity for love

Individual and Group

Variation in need to belong (individual difference)


Men more physically aggressive than women (group


Individual Uniqueness

Letisha's unique way of expressing her love

Santino's unique way of expressing aggression

part of general human nature. There are many ways in which each person is like every other person, and by understanding those ways we may achieve an understanding of the general principles of human nature.

Individual and Group Differences

The second level of personality analysis pertains to individual and group dif ferences. Some people are gregarious and love parties; others prefer quiet evenings reading. Some people take great physical risks by jumping out of airplanes, riding motorcycles, and driving fast cars; others shun such risks. Some people enjoy high self-esteem and experience life relatively free from anxiety; others worry constantly and are plagued by self-doubt. These are dimensions of individual differences, ways in which each person is like some other people (e.g., extraverts, sensation seekers, and high self-esteem persons).

Personality can also be observed by studying differences between gr oups. That is, people in one group may have certain personality features in common, and these common features make that group of people dif ferent from other groups. Examples of groups studied by personality psychologists include dif ferent cultures, different age groups, dif ferent political parties, and groups from dif ferent socioeconomic backgrounds. Another important set of dif ferences studied by personality psychologists concerns those between men and women. Although many traits and mechanisms of humans are common to both sexes, a few are dif fer-ent for men and women. For example, there is accumulated evidence that, across cultures, men are typically more physically aggressive than women. Men are responsible for most of the violence in society. One goal of personality psychology is to understand why certain aspects of personality are differentiated along group lines, such as understanding how and why women are dif ferent from men and Personality psychologists sometimes study group differences, why persons from one culture are dif ferent from per such as differences between men and women. sons from another culture.

Individual Uniqueness

No two individuals, not even identical twins raised by the same parents in the same home in the same culture, have exactly the same personalities. Every individual has personal qualities not shared by any other person in the world. One of the goals of personality psychology is to allow for individual uniqueness and to develop ways to capture the richness of unique individual lives.

One debate in the field concerns whether individuals should be studie nomothetically—that is, as individual instances of general characteristics that are distributed in the population, or should be studied idiographically, as single, unique cases. Nomothetic research typically involves statistical comparisons of individuals or gr oups, requiring samples of subjects on which to conduct r esearch. Nomothetic research is typically applied to identify universal human characteristics and dimensions of individual or group dif ferences. Idiographic (translated literally as "the description of one") research typically focuses on a single subject, trying to observe general principles that are manifest in a single life over time . Often, idiographic research results in case studies or the psychological biography of a single person (Runyon, 1983). Sigmund Freud, for example, wrote a psychobiography of Leonardo da Vinci (1916/1947). An example of another version of idiographic research is provided by Rosenzweig (1986, 1997), in which he proposes to analyze persons in terms of the sequence of events in their lives, trying to understand critical life events within the persons' own histories.

The important point is that personality psychologists have been concerned with all three levels of analysis: the universal level, the level of individual and group differences, and the level of individual uniqueness. Each contributes valuable knowledge to the total understanding of the nature of personality .

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