Thursday, September 2, 2010

Personality: Why Do We Behave the Way We Do?

Still feeling my way around campus. Came across this nice little piazza while looking for T6.
Went to Wendy's 7:30am yoga class before sitting down to breakfast with BL at Cafe O. After he shared his frustrations negotiating a business deal with a certain Macanese conglomerate, I shared with him what I found interesting from yesterday's Love course. In particular, I mentioned two points from Dr Hui's lecture on "The Science of What We Call 'Love'":
1. That "we like attractive people because we derive social gains from being seen with them", we assume attractive people have a "better personality and moral characteristics" and that "very competent people are not liked" but "competent people are a certain extent"
2. In our most intimate relationships, we have a "psychological need for consensual validation" and "any attempt to persuade strains the relationship"

BL and I ended up talking about whether we were more or less likely to attribute credibility to men or women (i.e. who are we more or less likely to question or be critical of?). We both agreed that we had a tendency to challenge women directly, but to let disagreements with men slide. So we concluded that we're more concerned with straining our relationships with men versus women. I wonder if this has anything to do with sexuality rather than gender stereotyping, which is the most often cited reason. Are straight men and lesbian women more likely to challenge the views of attractive men than attractive women? What about bisexuals? Would they be the most agreeable? There must be a study on this somewhere. Conversely, who's dissenting views or criticisms are we more likely to listen to and consider? People we do not seek or rely on for consensual validation? Or rather, people with whom we feel secure and validated. Dr Hui recounted two father-son examples. In the first, the father complained to him that he drives his son to school every day, but not once has his son shown any appreciation or expressed gratitude. In the second, the father also drives his son to school every day, but told Dr Hui, "I'm so happy that my son lets me drive him to school every day." It's worth reflecting on who we think doesn't listen to us and why we believe that to be the case. Does the other party somehow feel unvalidated in the relationship. Why?

It was with these questions in mind that I walked into Prof Blower's Psychology of Personality. The objective of this course, he explained, was not to help us answer the question: Who Am I? Rather, it was to help us understand the evolution of ideas by people trying to answer another question: Why Do We Behave the Way We Do?

"All the people I'm going to lecture on are white, male and dead. It's all history, cuz they're all dead," Prof Blowers was up front with his disclaimer. He explained that his aim was to bring the ideas of Freud, Adler, Jung, Erikson, Bandura, Kelly and Rogers into the 21st century. Since it is on their ideas that modern psychotherapy was founded.

Prof Blowers likes to pepper his lectures with Cantonese, for which he always gets the lecture hall laughing (even though he's said nothing more funny than the translation for mask (面具). Much of his lecture was about two words: personality and character, their etymology, our use and understanding of the words as lay people and the evolution of the concepts (i.e. personality comes from the latin word personalitas, which was used to mark a distinction between living and non-living things. From there, we got the concept of "persona" (the mask we wear), the "personal" (that which we conceal, experiences which are hidden and not revealed) as well as that of "personalities" as in celebrities or VIPs. Likewise, character can be revealed or concealed.

"Cometh the hour, cometh the man," Dr Blowers quoted. Psychologists continue to ask: From where does personality and character spring? What are the developmental processes and experiences that shape or inform personality and character? "It's not just a developmental process that only happens to children, it happens through life. We need to look at our life histories to understand who we are."

"For many of you, starting out, you do not yet know who you might become," he added, addressing a lecture hall full of students in their early 20s. But do they really grasp what he's telling us?

Do I, at 37, know who I might become? The difference between me as a 16-year-old freshman and me as a 37-year-old studying among freshman is that back then I would have answered with youthful certainty that of course I knew who I would become. At 16, I knew because I expected to be whatever or whomever I wanted to be. At 37, I would like to think that I now know better.


1 comment:

  1. At 37 or 40, we have fewer unanswered questions on who we may be. There are more things we can rule out - we know more about who we are not.