Psychodynamic Theory: Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality To Freud, the mind was a mechanistic energy system that derived mental energy from the physical functioning of the body and constantly attempted to moderate this physical effort or tension by restoring it to a quiet steady (quiescent) state. This energy is not evenly distributed to all human purpose or functioning, and if blocked from expression will manifest itself as anxiety, which through cathartic release, prescribes a least resistant path of action.
Because anxiety is painful, the mind attempts to cope with this state through a range of defence mechanisms that alter reality and supress feelings that stimulate this state. The mind and its energies (derived from drives or instincts such as sex, aggression, libido or life instinct, and the death instinct) consist of three states – the conscious secondary cognitive process that can test reality and logic, preconscious (accessible with some effort) and the unconscious (a largely inaccessible primary cognitive process ).
In Freud’s view, this dynamic interfaced with society as a pleasure seeking process that was driven by sex and aggression (his pleasure principle – activated by the id) and was antagonistically arranged against societal norms – defined by the (perfectionist seeking) superego and managed by invoking states such as guilt. Laminated between these two values is the ego – a mediating layer that accommodates the tensions of the id and superego and informed by a ‘reality principle’.
Overarching core processes or (motivational dynamics) are expressed as two primary states or instincts (life and death) which, depending on emphasis, the diversity of human motives can be channelled – for example the deflecting of the death instinct to another (through competitive sports) could be an example of aggression. Assessment methods Freud’s technique to enable a person to express deep seated conflict was free association – an uninhibited and mindful selfreport or monologue.
Today this monologue is prompted by projective tests where responses to ambiguous items may reveal typical styles of thinking and therefore illuminate underlying, unconscious psychodynamic process. Examples are the Rorsarch Inkblot Test and the Thematic Appreciation Test. Critique Cervone and Pervin (2013) note the widespread use of these tests yet question their value in terms inter-judge reliability and day to day relevance.
Lilenfield et al (2000) (p121) question the relevance of the majority of Rorschach indexes to outcomes of interest- in other words the test itself may not be particularly relevant to everyday life and a diversity of scoring schemes has limited their applicability and this could also account for poor inter- judge reliability, however Groth-Marant (2009) suggest the appeal of one projective test (the Rorschach) could be its’ nontechnical nature (decoding responses to ambiguous shapes), its’ ability to by-pass conscious resistance, resistance to faking and ease of administration.
That said, Groth-Marant (2009) note about the tests’ psychometric properties – overall demonstrated reliabilities between . 80 and . 85 (Parker, 1983 as cited in GrothMarant, 2009), median inter-scorer correlations of. 82 to . 97 depending on data set used, and that recent meta-analyses support its’ validity – for example, meta-analyses by Atkinson, Quarington, Alp and Cyr (1986), Parker (1983), Parker, Hanson and Hunsley (1988) and Weiner (1986) indicated validity ranging from . to . 5. Ultimately, the contribution of psychodynamic theory may be not what it brings to personality assessment as a mainstream (diagnostic) tool but as an alternative that through psychoanalysis works beyond question (Galatzer-Levy, Bacharach, Skolnikoff, & Waldron, 2000).
Behaviourism and the learning approaches to personality Behaviourism suggests that what we learn including attributes of personality such as thoughts, feelings, and emotions, is a function of specific environmental experiences which are both causal and deterministic (meaning exclusively connected to a preceding scientifically observable event), in the absence of human agency or free will. Two ideas underwrite behaviourism – Pavlov’s classical conditioning, suggests an event that elicits no response becomes response producing when associated with another event that automatically generates a particular action or emotional response.
Three principles describe this behaviour change – generalisation or the association of a response with events similar to the one that initially generated the response, discrimination or selectivity of response producing stimuli or events and extinction where the conditioned response abates in the absence of reward from activating a conditioned input or stimulus. Skinner’s operant conditioning proposed that people’s responses are shaped by the consequences (rewards or punishments) of engaging with a stimulus.
Skinner’s model operates in the absence of personality structures (which he considered non-observable and therefore scientifically unverifiable) and describes naturally occurring behaviour in terms of operands which can be reinforced (and in a generalised manner to similar stimuli) if a stimulus consistently rewards its activation. Progressive reinforcement according to Skinner could shape (by a series of approximations) behaviour that became increasingly complex. This learning model could explain through maladaptive or inappropriate responding, the psychopathological (or maladaptive) target behaviours of interest.