Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Toward a Unified Science of Personality Coherence

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Toward a Unified Science of Personality Coherence

Article excerpt

The only approach that may safely be excluded is the rhapsodic. Here we find theories that do little more than assert personality to be an "Indivisible Whole," "a total integrated pattern of behavior," an Unteilbarkeit,anin sich geschlossene Ganzheit. This rapturous literature of wholeness does not explore the unity that it apotheosizes; it merely contemplates and admires. Personality, it says, is like a symphony. Granted; but does not the comprehension of symphonic unity come only through an understanding of the articulate weaving of motifs, movements, bridge-passages, modulations, contrasts, and codas? Nothing but empty and vague adjectives can be used to characterize the work as a whole. If a totality is not articulated, it is likely to be an incomprehensible blur; it can be extolled, but not understood. What is more fatal, the rhapsodic approach seriously oversimplifies the whole problem, underestimating the conflicts and discords in every life. Unity, at best, is a matter of degree.(Allport, 1937, pp. 343-344)

A central quality to personhood is the unity and wholeness that individuals both experience and demonstrate (albeit, perhaps, to varying degrees) in spite of the varieties and inconsistencies that regularly manifest in the cognition, emotion, and action of each individual. The capacity of each individual to some extent embody a range of contradictory qualities reflects the phenomenon known to personality researchers today as personality coherence, defined as the lawful organisation of psychological attributes within the individual (Allport, 1937, 1955, 1961). Our purpose is to review how the concept of personality coherence (or, equivalently, integration) has been defined, measured, and used since it was first introduced by Allport (1937). After examining how personality coherence has been conceptualised within five contemporary theoretical communities, we will close by considering self-insight as a common factor to help furnish a more unified approach to the study of personality coherence.

Unity of Personality

Allport's 1937 publication of Personality: A Psychological Interpretation is almost universally regarded as marking the birth of the field known as personality psychology. In both that volume and its 1961 successor, Pattern and Growth in Personality, which bookended much of Allport's career, Allport communicated an abiding interest in the phenomenon of personality coherence (which he called the unity of personality). For Allport (1937, 1955, 1961), each person is in a continual state of personality growth (or becoming), which he viewed as pressing toward a unity that is never fully achieved. "The nature of growth," Allport (1937) wrote, "is the critical problem for the psychology of personality" (p. 101), a problem which he defined in terms of the progressive differentiation and integration of behaviour. Since Allport always envisioned personality psychology as a science committed to the study of the individual and to the unique patterning of his or her growth, he had little theoretical use for the "common factors" along which individuals differ; indeed, perhaps the only individual difference in which Allport expressed theoretical interest was the extent of integration: "Unity, at best, is a matter of degree" (Allport, 1937, p. 344).

Allport (1937) predicated his early theorizing on the nature of human growth on the biologically based principles of differentiation and integration. Allport (1937) presumed that neurological functions develop over time to become increasingly differentiated and specialized, developments that are paralleled by increasingly differentiated and adaptive patterns of behaviour. However, Allport (1937) argued that the principle of differentiation could not, on its own, account for psychological growth, since "these specializations once acquired seem to influence one another and to join together into a closely knit and expanding organization" (p. 138). The significance of integration, Allport (1937) advocated, must fully equal that of differentiation, as the trillions of cells within the human body so compellingly demonstrated: "Somehow out of this bewildering array of elements a relatively unified and stable personal life is constructed. …

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