Twentieth Century Psychology: Recent Developments in Psychology

By Philip Lawrence Harriman | Go to book overview

THE PHYSIOLOGICAL CONQUEST OF PERSONALITY STRUCTURE

G. L. FREEMAN

Northwestern University

Introduction and Hypothesis: A friend of mine, a philosopher, once remarked, "You behaviorists have certainly gone a long way in the physiological analysis of the simpler mental functions, but your methods can never touch the complex problems of personality structure." Had he been more conversant with the field, he would have realized that the first telling blows had already been struck and that, slowly but surely, the conquest was advancing on all sides. It is beyond the scope of this review to cover the diverse lines of approach, including experimental neurosis, brain extirpation work and the study of "emotional" strains of rats. We shall confine ourselves to that limited area to which our own laboratory has given its time for the last five years--the study of individual differences in the physiological responses of human subjects to conditions of relaxation and tension. We shall also review the cognate work of other laboratories and relate the entirety with the fading approach of personality testing by questionnaire and the rising star of "projective" technique. Our purpose in this is to show the connection which physiological records of neuro-muscular activity bear to the larger problem of personality assay, and to indicate how a fundamental organizing principle can unite the physiological and psychological levels of descriptions.

Any discussion of personality properly begins with some definition of the term. We shall content ourselves by pointing out that neither its common-sense definition as "a person's social stimulus value" nor the traditional statement of "the sum total of a number of isolable 'traits'" is held in good repute. The first definition hardly distinguishes a person from a cocktail, and

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