Week 6

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1. How do biological processes impact behavior? Give three examples

2.  In your experience, do women respond to stress and danger differently from men?

The Psychology of the Person
Biological Approach


  • Researchers have recognized that our personality cannot be separated from our biology
  • For many years, the “Tabula Rasa” (blank Slate) has been very popular
  • The Blank Slate view of human nature, suggesting that we are born empty and void of any tendencies, abilities, etc, was espoused by the behavioral perspective
  • This approach signifies the decline of behaviorism and the “tabula rasa” idea of human nature.

Tabula Rasa- Blank Slate
(The view of t he mind as empty)

Reflects the approach that we are born “blank”, to be written upon by the environment

What is “Biology”?

  • Physiological differences among individuals that translate into differences in behavior,
  • The familial genetic link
  • The evolutionary perspective: The understanding of the survival value of our tendencies and behavioral characteristics.

Natural Selection : Evolutionary Perspective

  • In prehistoric times, humans who weren’t smart enough to kill their prey or avoid being eaten by them died.
  • Those who survived passed on

their survival skills to their


The Pioneering Work of Eysenck

  • In the 1960’s Eysenck introduced the idea that biological makeup, and not parental child-raising methods or other environmental factors determine our personality.
  • Using factor-analysis, he identified 3 personality Super-Traits: Extraversion-introversion, neuroticism (emotional instability), and psychoticism (egocentric and aggressive, impersonal).

Structure of Supertraits

  • From a specific response, to a habitual response, to a trait, to a Super-Trait.
  • Eysenck noted stability of these dimensions over time, their similar cross-cultural manifestations, and kinship studies (run in families)
  • Environmental factors play a role in the expression of the inborn personality tendencies.


  • Eysenck was especially interested in this dimension
  • Originally he suggested that introverts and extraverts differ in terms of their cortical arousal (extraverted were under-aroused and thus seek stimulation)
  • Studies did not find differences between the two tendencies while measures of brain activity in a resting state were taken
  • Currently, researchers describe the Ex.-Int. differences in terms of sensitivity to stimulation, introverted being more sensitive.

Sensitivity to Stimulation
See the difference between the two little girls?

Temperament: Your style of responding to the world

  • Temperaments are inborn (inherited) general dispositions that are regarded as the basis for later development of more specific traits.
  • Buss and Plomin identified 3 temperamental dimensions: emotionality, activity, and sociability
  • Thomas and Chess identified 9 dimensions
  • Examples: quality of mood, intensity of reaction, adapting to novel situations, etc
  • Effortful control- emotional self-regulation, is currently regarded as an important dimension

Plomin and Buss Model:

  • Intensity of reactivity to life situations

Plomin and Buss Model:

Plomin and Buss Model:
Activity level

Temperament and the Environment

  • In a sense, the temperament creates the environment:
  • We actively search for environments that are compatible with our innate tendencies
  • For example, an adventurous child does not wait for adventures to come his/her way, but actively seek-out/create such situations


  • People react to us on the basis of our temperament
  • For example: a cheerful, easy-going person elicits different responses from the environment as compared to a whining, negative child
  • Our early environment is actually created by the genes of our parents.

Our temperament evokes reaction

  • When you smile the world is smiling back at you

The Role of the Environment

  • Environmental factors shape and modify the expression of our innate tendencies
  • For example: If you are an impulsive person, as you go through life you discover that your impulsivity only hurts you
  • Eventually you learn to curtail your impulsivity

Inhibited vs. Uninhibited Children

  • Inhibited (shy) children were studied extensively by Jerome Kagan and Nathan Fox
  • They identified the physiology underlying shyness (identified in very young babies):
  • Higher activity in the right hemisphere
  • Higher production of cortisol (the stress hormone)
  • High, stable heart rate

Will the shy child grow up to become a shy adult?

  • In most cases yet
  • There will be some


Inhibited vs. Uninhibited Children (cont-d)

  • Inhibited are gentle, monitored, restrained
  • Anxious in novel (new) situations
  • Uninhibited feel at ease in new situations
  • Inherited biological temperament
  • Differ in body-built, prone to allergies, even eye-color (blue…)
  • In early infancy- irritability, sleep disturbances, constipation, increased heart-rate and pupil dilation


  • fMRI (neuro-imaging) studies found differences in brain reactivity
  • Abnormally high amygdala response when presented with new or unclear stimuli
  • Fear of the unfamiliar throughout childhood into adulthood
  • Uninhibited children are more likely to show disruptive behaviors


  • Shyness is an inborn tendency but can be modified by the environment

Goodness of Fit

  • The term refers to the ideal situation, when we, social agents around the child, recognize the child’s temperament and pattern our treatment of the child accordingly.
  • For example, if you have ashy child, you gradually expose the child to novel situations, support the child, not pushing the child.

Evolutionary Personality theory

  • This perspective sees human characteristics as the result of our evolutionary legacy.
  • Some traits have evolved in us because, in our prehistoric past, they were adaptive to our survival.
  • The concept of natural selection and its application to personality:
  • An example is the analysis of anxiety, a shared human tendency, and the underlying evolutionary basis: anxiety may reflect fear of social rejection.


  • In our prehistoric past we could not have survived the harshness of the environment if we did not align ourselves with other people
  • Individuals who were rejected or excluded by the group could not survive.
  • Those who were sensitive to social rejection did survive, and transmitted this ”anxiety gene” to their offspring.

Application: Children’s Temperament and School

  • Some children come into the world with temperaments that may not be compatible with the formal demands of school
  • Such children may be misjudged by their teachers and may be regarded as lazy or as lacking in motivation.
  • The Goodness-of-Fit model is evry applicable here.

Assessment: Cerebral Asymmetry

  • Researchers use physiological measures to understand personality functioning.
  • Recent studies using EEG on alpha-wave levels in the anterior regions of the cerebral hemisphere has proven useful in understanding individual differences in emotions.
  • Often, differences are found between the left and right anterior regions of a person while in resting, non-emotional state


  • Higher activity in the left hemisphere has been associated with positive moods, whereas higher activity in the right hemisphere has been associated with negative moods.
  • These patterns have been found in children less than a year old. When in resting state, some people tend to have higher activity in the R he. Some in the L. is this related to proneness to depression? Is it related to thresholds to positive or negative experiences


  • Differences in cerebral asymmetry were found when the participants were is a resting, non-emotional state
  • Differences tend to be stable over time
  • When watching movies designed to elicit certain emotions, people with higher left hemisphere activity were more responsive to the positive mood film, and vice versa

Current explanation of the relationship between cerebral asymmetry and emotions

  • Instead of looking at positive and negative emotions, researchers now describe the differences in terms of approach and withdrawal tendencies
  • Left hemisphere activity is related to movement toward the source of emotion
  • Right hemisphere activity is related to movement away (see next slide)


  • Higher left-hemisphere activity is related to joy because happiness draws us toward the source of emotion
  • Consistent with this analysis, researchers found that anger is related toward Left Hemisphere activity- angry people tend to approach or even attack the source of their distress

Higher Activity in the left hemisphere is associated with positive moods

  • We react positively to a smiling person, further rewarding the positive mood

Higher activity in the right hemisphere is associated with negative moods

  • Cerebral asymmetry has been shown in babies as young as 10 months.

Is there a connection between cerebral asymmetry and proneness to depression?

  • Depressed people show more right-hemisphere activity than non-depressed
  • People known to have been depressed but currently NOT in a depressive state were found to have EEG patterns of LESS left-hem activity when is a resting state
  • May be vulnerability for depression
  • Anxious people also were found to have higher right-hemisphere activity

Another Finding Related to cerebral Asymmetry

  • Studies found the right-handed people who tend to glance to their left while engaged in reflective mental activity are likely to show higher level of right- hemisphere activity when resting (e.g. prone to negative emotions)
  • Those who glance to the right are higher in left-hemisphere activity (positive emotions)

Strengths and Criticism

  • Bridge between personality and biology
  • Understanding the role of genetics in human behavior and being realistic about the feasibility of behavior change
  • Based on research
  • But- Evolutionary concepts cannot be directly tested
  • Lack of agreement about the number of temperament dimensions and their definition

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