In the social and cultural domain of knowledge, there is an emphasis on the public aspects of personality. The assumption here is that personality is not something that is only in the heads of people, or residing only in their nervous systems or carried in their genes. In this domain, the emphasis is on personality as it is af fected by and expressed through social institutions, social roles and expectations, and through relationships with other people in our lives.
We saw in Chapter 3 that several taxonomies of traits emphasize interpersonal traits, or traits that pertain to styles of interacting, such as dominance versus sub-missiveness, or love versus hate. Indeed, most of the important trait adjectives in language are important for describing how people behave with others, whether a person is cooperative or not, whether a person is reliable, easy to get along with, and so forth. Individuals dif fer greatly in how they interact with each other . Moreover, such interpersonal traits have long-term outcomes in our lives. For example, whether a person is controlling or easygoing affects such different aspects of his life as the conflicts he gets into with hi spouse and work partners and the strategies he uses to achieve his goals. Whether a person tends to be nervous and depressed or optimistic and cheerful af fects the likelihood of diverse social outcomes, such as divorce or success in a sales career. Many of the most important individual dif fer-ences and personality traits are played out in our interpersonal relationships.
We will describe three key processes whereby personality affects social interactions. The first process is through selec tion, in which people may choose specifi social environments according to their personalities. An example of this is assor-tative mating, where people look for specific kinds of people to marr , often people who have similar personality traits. A second process whereby personality affects social interactions is through the reactions we evoke in others. For example, in ar guments between married couples, there are specific ways that men tend to up set their wives, and other ways in which women tend to upset their husbands. We will examine how people evoke distress, as well as positive feelings, in others. A fina process whereby personality affects social interactions is through manipulations for influencing others. What are the strategies that people use to get what they want from others? How do people go about influenc ing others? We will discuss research on strategies for social influence, and focus o a particular style called machiavellianism, named after a medieval advisor to kings, who wrote a book on how to take advantage of others.
One very important interpersonal context concerns relationships between men and women. An essential part of our social identity is our gender. Differences between men and women in terms of personality have long been of interest to personality psychology. And indeed, much of the work by personality psychologists on gender differences has been incorporated into feminist theories in various ways. This is an area in which politics and values intermingle with the science of personality. Some researchers prefer to minimize the differences between men and women, emphasizing that sex differences are small and that the variability within sex (e.g., between women) far exceeds the variability between the sexes (e.g., between men and women). Other researchers focus on the dif ferences between the sexes and emphasize that some are rather large and are found in different cultures. For example, women tend to have slightly higher verbal ability than men, and men tend to have somewhat better spatial visual ability than women. In terms of personality, men tend to score higher on measures of assertiveness and aggressiveness, whereas women tend to score higher on measures of trust and nurturance. Where do such dif fer-ences come from?
Much of what we call gender may have its origins in culture, that is, in how society makes up dif ferent rules and expectations for men and women. The title of a popular book, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, by John Gray , suggests that men and women are so different from one another that it is like they are from different planets, or that they are different species. While men and women are not different species, one can argue that they are from different cultures. The culture of growing up as a boy may be very different from the culture of growing up as a girl. For example, parents tend to hold and cuddle infant girls longer than they do infant boys. So, differences in how people interact with boys and girls start very early in life, and such differences may accumulate and result in dif ferences in personalities between adult men and adult women.
While there is clear support for how social factors contribute to gender dif ferences, there are also findings that show such di ferences across many dif ferent societies and cultures. Men, for example, are the more aggressive gender in all societies studied to date. Consequently , some theories are emphasizing differences between men and women that may be due to hormones. Testosterone levels, for example, dif fer greatly between men and women, and testosterone has been reliably associated with the personality traits of dominance, aggression, and sexuality.
At the level of dif ference between the sexes, personality may operate dif ferently for men than for women. One answer to why men and women are dif ferent may lie in evolved behavior patterns that represent adaptations to dif ferent pressures that faced men and women in the distant past of human history . That is, as men and women faced different challenges (e.g., childbearing, competition for mates) there may have evolved solutions to these different challenges, and such solutions resulted in differences between how men and women behave. Whatever their origins, gender differences have long been of interest to personality psychologists and are clearly part of the social and cultural domain because they refer to and are played out in interpersonal relations.
Another socially important difference between people derives from their culture, the system of social rules, expectations, and rituals in which a person is raised. For example, in one culture it might be expected that a crying baby is always picked up and comforted by its parents, whereas in another culture crying babies are left to cry. Could it be that being raised in these two dif fer-ent cultures results in dif ferences in adult personality? Indeed, do people in dif ferent cultures have dif ferent personalities? Even within a country do people from different regions differ from others in that country? Are people raised on the East Coast of the United States dif ferent from the average American? Are southerners different from northerners?
It might be assumed that people from different cultures have different personalities because of the cultural forces that shape personality . It has often been said that there are more similarities than differences between individuals from diverse cultures. However, it is also a truism that small differences are magnified when peo ple from different cultures live close together. For example, in recent years in several large U.S. cities, there have been tensions between recent Asian immigrants to the United States and African Americans who already occupy neighborhoods where the immigrants settle. Many of these tensions arise because of misunderstandings about behavior between these two groups of people who grew up in distinctly different cultures.
The world is becoming an increasingly smaller place, in the sense that people from dif ferent cultural backgrounds often live and work in the same communities. Small cultural differences—for example, in conversational style, in privacy, in dress, in the use of space, in attention, in what counts as being polite, in how emotions are expressed or not expressed, and in our expectations for friends and acquaintances—become lar ge differences when there is a misunderstanding. An important goal of personality psychology is to understand how cultures shape personality and how specific cultures are di ferent from, or similar to, each other. People from different cultures have different experiences, which have taught them
different lessons about the social and physical world. It is of compelling importance that we seek to understand one another and the forces that shape dif ferences between persons from different cultures.
One personality variable that has been the topic of much cross-cultural research concerns individualistic versus collectivistic values. The U.S. culture, as well as much of Europe, tends to be more individualistic, emphasizing autonomy and individual striving and self-enhancement. The Asian cultures, as well as many formerly communist countries, tend to endorse more collectivistic values with higher priority given to group goals, or the common good, than to personal desires or wants. People from more collectivistic cultures focus more on the social context and are more self-effacing than people from individualistic cultures.
In many ways, the culture in which a person was raised has a profound effect on the person' s self-concept. For example, persons raised in the United States tend to describe themselves with abstract concepts, such as "I am reliable" or "I am friendly." Persons from Asian cultures, on the other hand, tend to describe themselves through their social relations, such as "I am Liu' s friend" or "I am the daughter of Hong Lee." Differences such as these are examples of transmitted culture, that is, what is handed down from generation to generation. It is also important to know that such dif ferences are always a matter of degree, since even in Eastern cultures it is possible to fin individualistic persons.
Besides identifying ways in which people from different cultures differ, cultural personality psychologists have also looked for similarities between cultures. One example of a cultural universal appears to be the expression of specific emotions For example, people in all cultures smile when they are happy , frown when they are sad, bare their teeth when they are angry , and protrude their tongue when they are disgusted. Moreover , people from around the world recognize these expressions as indicating the person is experiencing the specific emotion People from Dubuque, Iowa, to Calcutta, India, recognize the expression of teeth clenched and bared, nostrils flared, and eyebrow brought down and together as an expression of anger. Another aspect of personality that appears to show cultural universality is described by the five-factor model of traits. Analyzing adjectives from many dif ferent languages, personality psychologists have found strong evidence that fiv factors can be uncovered. This structure of personality, at least as it is described in natural language, may be highly similar across cultures.
In this part of the book we focus on the broader social and interpersonal aspects of personality. This side of personality many students find interesting. After all, part of understanding why people behave the way they do involves understanding their social behavior , why they interact with others in certain ways, how they do or do not maintain friendships, why they can or cannot cooperate in a group. Many important personality traits refer to styles of interacting with others. Narcissism, as an example, refers to the style of a person who needs lots of attention, recognition, and praise from others. We will begin our exploration of this fascinating domain of psychological knowledge with a chapter on the interpersonal aspects of personality.
Was this article helpful?