Be Whoever You Want to Be

Psychology is an interesting and diverse profession. It provides many rewards and challenges and mostly involves working closely with Be Whoever You Want to Beothers to study and enhance their well-being. In its quest to find its place alongside psychiatry, psychology has become increasingly scientifically rigorous in recent years.

Scientific rigour has many benefits. We now know a lot about human beings and our tendencies, experiences, characteristics, emotions, thoughts, behaviours, neuroanatomy, and function, and so on. We now have ever increasing databases and journals upon which we can access evidence-based information on most human-related topics we can think of.

We are living in exciting times – the information / technological age.

Psychology has found its feet in recent times. Positive psychology has attracted interest from a wide variety of disciplines and people world-wide, particularly those of business and education.

In this quest for scientific rigour and evidence-based information, have we, psychologists, simultaneously limited our view of the human experience?

Todd Kashdan, Professor of Psychology, George Mason University says yes.

Todd has a unique way of re-interpreting settled science. At a recent presentation at the Happiness Conference in Australia he challenged one of psychology’s greatest scientific achievements – the science of personality.

Most psychologists agree that personality is made up of 5 Factors. The Big 5 Model of Personality is considered settled science. The “gold standard” in personality.

The Big 5 can be remembered by the acronym OCEAN and includes:

1. Openness to Experience

2. Conscientiousness

3. Extraversion

4. Agreeableness

5. Neuroticism

Every human being can be measured and assessed along this continuum or dichotomy, depending on how you would like to look at it.

In his conference workshop, Todd explained that this model is too simplistic and does not capture an individual’s ability to behave differently in any given situation. Nor does it capture the richness and complexity of the human experience. The Big 5 is based on averages and does not explain changes in human behaviour over time and in different environments.

Sure there are patterns to our behaviour. Some of our patterns may be the result, however of life experiences and not inherent or biologically-based personality. For example, a 5 year old child may be laughed at for expressing a view to a group of kids in the play ground and from that moment on he decides it is unsafe to speak in public and becomes “shy” or “introverted” teenager and then adult.

Todd explained that we may feel more extroverted in certain environments, with certain people and less extroverted in other environments with other people. Think about how you behave at home, work, in a small group v’s a big group, a social situation v’s work situation, dinner party, with children and so on… Even within a particular environment you are likely to behave differently depending on the situation.

Take the case of beginning a new job or starting a new course. When we arrive on the first day if every person we meet seems friendly, kind, and helpful and we instantly click and feel comfortable with them, at the first break we may be more inclined to talk, crack a joke, share some personal stories and even form a group.

What if the opposite occurred? We enter the new environment and everyone we initially meet is rude, angry, unhelpful, and detached. In this case on our first break we may be more inclined to sit on our own, not talk, maybe read a book, or check our emails and Facebook!

Our behaviour varies so much with each new situation that we encounter that deciding that we are introverted or extroverted can really limit our experience of ourselves and our world. It can also limit our view of others around us.

Knowing that we are, and can be different in every new situation and environment, adds more pleasure and diversity to our lives. It frees us up to be whoever we want to be in any given situation. We can negotiate every new experience a fresh without limiting ourselves to particular behaviours and responses.

As a profession psychology’s recognition of fluidity is essential if we want to connect with our world.

One of the greatest criticisms of psychology by non-psychologists is that “it boxes people” and no-one wants to be boxed or limited. Scientific rigour is very important sure, but not to the detriment of real-world value and experience.

What is the affect of deciding that we, or others are likely to behave a certain way before the event unfolds?

Please let me know your thoughts in the comment box below the blog.

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* Image: Thanks for supplying the photo – James Menage of manupproject.com.au – promoting men’s physical, emotional and spiritual health.

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