January 5, 2013

Psychology unite! 1.1 (decoder rings almost sold out)

Recently, PsyPost reports on 'Universal' personality traits not necessarily applying to isolated indigenous people (new window on click). They report that studying an isolated Bolivian society researchers found that the Tsimane culture not necessarily exhibited the five broad dimensions of personality, they also found more support for the "Big Two".

Had personality been a concept belonging to the realm of positivism this is quite obviously not what one would find out observing the world. In a social constructionist realm though, this fits nicely with how SCism is defined. In a society with little to no contact with other more dominant societies, it is not necessarily so that you would find non-similar or other "personality-traits" than those belonging to the "Big Five". There is just a higher probability, since the society has had the opportunity to 'evolve' under its own parameters that it has others. An obvious probability within this is that some or even all of the "personality-traits" found in larger or more dominant cultures actually will be found here too; we are all humans after all and over the earth we have a similar type of environmental demand on us as individuals -or perhaps rather, we have a finite number of demands on us. "Socially beneficial behaviour" and "industriousness", as they claim have been found, well, look, we are most probably going to define any, one, behaviour as socially beneficial (odds are pretty high we will find at least one of these behaviours within a society, since there would be strange demands on a society to actually hold up if there are no socially beneficial behaviours). Finding that people actually behave beneficially towards one another within a cohesive group of people has very little utility.

An issue here is however that this may be used as a 'universal' claim from the side of personality. I claim the opposite. A behaviour, is going to be defined on a vastly grey scale, to be good, neutral or bad if we see to the consequences of that behaviour. The behaviour will first of all be placed on this scale wholly dependent on the situation it is in. Even killing another human being is sometimes considered appropriate in some cultures (and throughout history, we can see it has been appropriate in all cultures at one time or another). The issue is on the 'beneficial' part in this specific example, something being good or bad or neither is a value judgment that humans place on the world and that is not naturally existent. Another point being, it is not an inherent property of the behaviour to be 'socially beneficial' -and this argument can be extended to 'industriousness', not mixing in the good-bad grey scale argument. 'Industriousness' is a property we interpret a behaviour to have -it does not belong to the behaviour intrinsically -it depends on what socially constructed determinants define the behaviour to be.

In any case, I should also mention that supportive arguments and empirical observations do much less for a perspective or theory (like this post for my perspective) than does a non-falsified argument and empirical observation. It does however inform my previous post on (one of) the things I believe needs to be done in psychology to gain it the credibility it deserves. The previous post also has consequences for clinical psychology and psychiatry -something I am currently writing a post on and will publish soon on here.

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