Six Domains of Knowledge about Human Nature

The various views of researchers in personality stem not from the fact that one perspective is right and the others wrong but, rather , from the fact that they are studying different domains of knowledge. A domain of knowledge is a specialty area of science and scholarship, in which psychologists have focused on learning about some specific and limited aspects of human nature. A domain of knowledge delineates the boundaries of researchers' knowledge, expertise, and interests.

To a lar ge extent, this degree of specialization is reasonable. Indeed, specialization characterizes many scientific fields The field of medicine, for example, ha heart specialists and brain specialists, focusing in great detail on their own domains. It is likewise reasonable for the field of personality psychology to have intrapsychi specialists, cultural specialists, and biological specialists. Each of these domains of personality (intrapsychic, cultural, biological) has accumulated its own base of knowledge. Nonetheless, it is still desirable at some point to integrate these diverse domains to see how they all fit togethe .

The whole personality, like the whole elephant, is the sum of the various parts and the connections among them. For personality , each part is a domain of knowledge, representing a collection of knowledge about certain aspects of personality. How are the domains of knowledge defined? For the most part, natural boundaries hav developed in the field of personality psycholog . That is, researchers have formed natural clusters of topics, which fit together and which are distinct from other cluster of knowledge. Within these identifiable domains, researchers have developed com mon methods for asking questions; have accumulated a foundation of known facts; and have developed theoretical explanations, which account for what is known about personality from the perspective of each domain.

In this way , the field of personality can be neatly cleaved into six distinc domains of knowledge about human nature: personality is influenced by traits the per son is born with or develops ( dispositional domain); by biological events ( biological domain); by conflicts within the person s own mind ( intrapsychic domain ); by personal and private thoughts, feelings, desires, beliefs, and other subjective experiences (cognitive-experiential domain); by social, cultural, and gendered positions in the world (social and cultural domain); and by the adjustments that the person must make to the inevitable challenges of life ( adjustment domain).

Personality psychologists working within the various domains often use dif fer-ent theoretical perspectives and focus on different facts about human nature. As a consequence, psychologists from dif ferent domains can sometimes appear to contradict one another. The psychoanalytic perspective of Sigmund Freud, for example, views the human personality as consisting of irrational sexual and aggressive instincts, which ultimately fuel all human activity. The cognitive perspective on personality developed in the later half of the twentieth century , in contrast, views humans as rational "scientists," calmly trying to anticipate, predict, and control the events that occur in their worlds.

On the surface, these perspectives appear incompatible. How can humans be both irrational and rational? How can humans be driven by desire yet be cool and detached in their quest for accurate prediction? On deeper examination, the contradictions may be more apparent than real. It is entirely possible, for example, that humans have both powerful sexual and aggressive motivations and cognitive mechanisms designed to perceive and predict events with accuracy . It is entirely possible that sometimes basic emotions and motivations are activated and at other times the cool cognitive mechanisms are activated. And it is further possible that the two sets of mechanisms sometimes become linked with one another , such as when the rational mechanisms are used in the service of fulfilling fundamental desires. In short, eac theoretical perspective within the domains of personality may be focused on a critically important part of human psychological functioning, but each perspective by itself does not capture the whole person. Just as an elephant must be viewed from dif fer-ent angles to comprehend the whole animal, human personality must be viewed from different theoretical perspectives to begin to grasp the whole person.

This book is or ganized around the six domains of personality functioning— dispositional, biological, intrapsychic, cognitive-experiential, social and cultural, and adjustment. Within each of these domains of personality , we will focus on two key elements: (1) the theories that have been proposed within each domain, including the basic assumptions about human nature, and (2) the empirical research that has been accumulating within each of these domains. In an attempt to bridge the gap between theory and research in personality , we will focus primarily on the theories that have received the greatest research attention and the topics within each domain for which there is the greatest cumulative knowledge base.

Dispositional Domain

The dispositional domain deals centrally with the ways in which individuals differ from one another. As such, the dispositional domain cuts across all the other domains. The reason for this is that individuals can dif fer in their habitual emotions, in their habitual concepts of self, in their physiological propensities, and even in their intrapsychic mechanisms. However, what distinguishes the dispositional domain is an interest in the number and nature of fundamental dispositions. The central goal of personality psychologists working in the dispositional domain is to identify and measure the most important ways in which individuals dif fer from one another . They are also interested in the origin of the important individual dif ferences and in how they develop and are maintained.

Biological Domain

The core assumption within the biological domain is that humans are, first and fore most, collections of biological systems, and these systems provide the building blocks for behavior , thought, and emotion. As personality psychologists use the term, biological approaches typically refers to three areas of research within this general domain: genetics, psychophysiology, and evolution.

The first area of research consists of the genetics of personalit . Because of advances in behavioral genetic research, a fair amount is known about the genetics of personality. Some questions this research addresses include the following: Are identical twins more alike than fraternal twins in their personalities? What happens to identical twins when they are reared apart versus when they are reared together? Behavioral genetic research permits us to ask and provisionally answer these questions.

The second biological approach is best described as the psychophysiology of personality . Within this domain, researchers summarize what is known about the basis of personality in terms of nervous system functioning. Examples of such topics include cortical arousal and neurotransmitters, cardiac reactivity , strength of the nervous system, pain tolerance, circa-dian rhythms (whether you are a morning or night person), and the links between hormones, such as testosterone, and personality.

The third component of the biological approach concerns how evolution may have shaped human psychological functioning. This approach assumes that the psychological mechanisms that constitute human personality have evolved over thousands of years because they were ef fective in solving adaptive problems. An evolutionary perspective sheds light on the functional aspects of personality . We will also highlight some fascinating research on personality in nonhuman animals (Gosling, 2001; Vazire & Gosling, 2003).

Identical twins Alvin (left) and Calvin (right) Harrison, age 26, celebrate their first and second place finishes in the 400 meter race in Brisbane, Australia, August 8, 2000. Psychologists are studying twins to determine whether some aspects of personality are influenced by genetics.

Intrapsychic Domain

The intrapsychic domain deals with mental mechanisms of personality, many of which operate outside of conscious awareness. The predominant theory in this domain is Freud' s theory of psychoanalysis. This theory begins with fundamental assumptions about the instinctual system—the sexual and aggressive forces that are presumed to drive and ener gize much of human activity . Although these fundamental assumptions often lie outside the realm of direct empirical testing, considerable research reveals that sexual and aggressive motives are powerful, and their manifestations in actual behavior can be studied empirically. The intrapsychic domain also includes defense mechanisms, such as repression, denial, and projection—some of which have been examined in laboratory studies. Although the intrapsychic domain is most closely linked with the psychoanalytic theory of Sigmund Freud, there are modern versions as well. For example, much of the research on the power motives, achievement motives, and intimacy motives is based on a key intrapsychic assumption—that these forces often operate outside the realm of consciousness.

Cognitive-Experiential Domain

The cognitive-experiential domain focuses on cognition and subjective experience, such as conscious thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and desires about oneself and others. The psychological mechanisms involved in subjective experience, however , dif fer in form and

Mary Cartwright
Sigmund Freud proposed a comprehensive theory of personality. While some of his more radical ideas have been discarded, many of his concepts have been supported by research.

content from one another . One very important element of our experience entails the self and self-concept. Descriptive aspects of the self or ganize how we view ourselves: our knowledge of ourselves, our images of past selves, and our images of possible future selves. Do we see ourselves as good or as evil? Are our past successes or past failures prominent in our self-views? Do we envision ourselves in the future as married with children or as successful in a career? How we evaluate ourselves—our self-esteem—is another facet of the cognitive-experiential domain.

A somewhat different aspect of this domain pertains to the goals we strive for . Some personality psychologists, for example, view human nature as inherently goal-directed, stressing the or ganizing influence of fundamental needs, such as the nee for affiliation and the need to influence others. Recent research within this traditi includes approaching personality through the personal projects or tasks that individuals are trying to accomplish in their daily lives. These can range from the commonplace, such as getting a date for Saturday night, to the grandiose, such as changing thought in Western civilization.

Another important aspect of subjective experience entails our emotions. Are we habitually happy or sad? What makes us angry or fearful? Do we keep our emotions bottled up inside, or do we express them at the drop of a hat? Joy , sadness, feelings of triumph, and feelings of despair all are essential elements in our subjective experience and are subsumed by the cognitive-experiential domain.

Social and Cultural Domain

One of the special features of this book is an emphasis on the social and cultural domain of personality. The assumption is that personality is not something that merely resides within the heads, nervous systems, and genes of individuals. Rather , personality affects, and is af fected by, the social and cultural context.

At a cultural level, it is clear that groups dif fer tremendously from one another. Cultures such as the Yanomamo Indians of Venezuela are highly aggressive; indeed, a Yanomamo man does not achieve full status as a man until he has killed another man. In contrast, cultures such as the !Kung San of Africa are relatively peaceful and agreeable. Overt displays of aggression are discouraged and bring social shame on the perpetrator. Personality differences between these groups are most likely due to cultural influences. In other words, di ferent cultures may bring out different facets of our personalities in manifest behavior . Everyone may have the capacity to be peaceful as well as the capacity for violence. Which one of these capacities we display may depend to a lar ge extent on what is acceptable in and encouraged by the culture.

At the level of individual differences within cultures, personality plays itself out in the social sphere. Whether we are dominant or submissive affects such diverse parts of our lives as the conflicts we get into with our partners and the tactics we use t manipulate others. Whether we tend to be anxious and depressed or buoyant and optimistic af fects the likelihood of social outcomes, such as divorce. Whether we are introverted or extraverted af fects how many friends we will have and our popularity within the group. Many of the most important individual dif ferences are played out in the interpersonal sphere.

By studying people in different cultures, psychologists are learning how society shapes personality by encouraging or discouraging specific behaviors.

One important social sphere concerns relationships between men and women. At the level of dif ferences between the sexes, personality may operate dif ferently for men than for women. Gender is an essential part of our identities.

Adjustment Domain

The adjustment domain refers to the fact that personality plays a key role in how we cope, adapt, and adjust to the ebb and flow of events in our day-to-day lives Considerable evidence, for example, shows that personality is linked with important health outcomes, such as heart disease. Personality is certainly linked with health-related behaviors, such as smoking, drinking, and risk taking. Some research has even demonstrated that personality is linked with how long we live.

In addition to health, many of the important problems in coping and adjustment can be traced to personality. In this domain, certain personality features are related to poor adjustment and have been designated as personality disorders. Chapter 19 is devoted to the personality disorders, such as narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and avoidant personality disorder . An understanding of "normal" personality functioning

Personality relates to health by influencing health-related behaviors, such as smoking.

can be deepened by examining the disorders of personality , much as in the field o medicine, in which an understanding of normal physiological functioning is often illuminated by the study of disease.


Think of a behavior pattern or characteristic that you find interesting in yourself or someone you know. Such characteristics as procrastination, narcissism, and perfectionism are good examples, but any personality characteristic that catches your interest is good. Then write six sentences about this characteristic, one to represent each of the six domains: dispositional, biological, intrapsychic, cognitive-experiential, social and cultural, and adjustment. Each sentence should make a statement or ask a question about the characteristic from the perspective of a particular domain.

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  • Almaz
    What are the six knowledges of human?
    3 years ago
  • Adolfa
    What six knowledge of human?
    2 years ago
  • mary gray
    Why psychologist have defined personality based on the six domain of knowledge?
    2 years ago
  • michael green
    What is dispositional nature of knowledge?
    2 years ago
    How freuds explain about cognitive domain?
    2 years ago
    What was Sigmund Freud's contribution to cognitiveexperiential domain?
    11 months ago
  • marcus vasala
    What are the domain of personality functioning?
    11 months ago
  • linda
    How personality domain in street children can be affected?
    10 months ago
  • Sven Baumgartner
    What influence does knowledge have on human nature?
    8 months ago
  • Carl
    Which of the following are domains of knowledge about human environment?
    8 months ago
  • Kedija
    Which of the following is NOT one of the six domains of knowledge discussed in lecture.?
    5 months ago
  • felix hunter
    Why is the biological domain of human nature important?
    5 months ago
    What are the temperament domains?
    4 months ago
  • pinja
    Which domain is affected by temperement mostly?
    3 months ago
  • kenzie
    What do you call somone with great knowledge of human nature?
    3 months ago
  • Melanie
    What domain includes human traits such as feelings or emotions?
    1 month ago
  • Sara
    Is personality theory a content domain of psychology?
    1 month ago

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