Personality: Development and Assessment

By Charles M. Harsh; H. G. Schrickel | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 19
Problems of Organization

One can easily lose perspective on personality amid the innumerable observations of behavior and appearance, physiological measures, and reports of feelings or thoughts. Only an extreme specifist is interested in these raw data, for a personologist, like any other scientist, prefers to describe unique events in terms of commonly understood variables or configurations. Often he must be content with approximation, for he realizes that there are more intricate variables than he can comprehend. Yet he would like to isolate the major variables in order to make meaningful statements about the development and functioning of personality. Preconceptions or theories influence his collection of data, but experimental or statistical methods can aid his study of theories. Whatever his viewpoint, the investigator is tempted to confuse observations with his concepts about unseen processes, or with inferences about causation. Thus it becomes important to define the data from which one judges observed variables, and to specify the reasoning whereby one infers obscure processes or principles of organization. In terms of the philosophy of science, this concerns the operational definition of terms and the logic of construct validation ( Cronbach and Meehl, 1955).


DEFINING THE VARIABLES

TRAIT CONCEPTS. Most of the descriptive and explanatory concepts of personality have been called traits, at one time or another, so we shall use this term because it is shorter than "characteristics." A few writers have limited the term to behavior habits, but most theorists allow more variability in traits. The naming of traits can be either descriptive or imaginative; ordinarily one perceives ab-

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