The Personality Puzzle (III)

I have added some more quotes and observations from the book below.

“Across many, many traits, the average correlation across MZ twins is about .60, and across DZ twins it is about .40, when adjusted for age and gender […] This means that, according to twin studies, the average heritability of many traits is about .40, which is interpreted to mean that 40 percent of phenotypic (behavioral) variance is accounted for by genetic variance. The heritabilities of the Big Five traits are a bit higher; according to one comprehensive summary they range from .42, for agreeableness, to .57, for openness (Bouchard, 2004). […] behavioral genetic analyses and the statistics they produce refer to groups or populations, not individuals. […] when research concludes that a personality trait is, say, 50 percent heritable, this does not mean that half of the extent to which an individual expresses that trait is determined genetically. Instead, it means that 50 percent of the degree to which the trait varies across the population can be attributed to genetic variation. […] Because heritability is the proportion of variation due to genetic influences, if there is no variation, then the heritability must approach zero. […] Heritability statistics are not the nature-nurture ratio; a biologically determined trait can have a zero heritability.”

The environment can […] affect heritability […]. For example, when every child receives adequate nutrition, variance in height is genetically controlled. […] But in an environment where some are well fed while others go hungry, variance in height will fall more under the control of the environment. Well-fed children will grow near the maximum of their genetic potential while poorly fed children will grow closer to their genetic minimum, and the height of the parents will not matter so much; the heritability coeffcient for height will be much closer to 0. […] A trait that is adaptive in one situation may be harmful in another […] the same environments that promote good outcomes for some people can promote bad outcomes for others, and vice versa […] More generally, the same circumstances might be experienced as stressful, enjoyable, or boring, depending on the genetic predispositions of the individuals involved; these variations in experience can lead to very different behaviors and, over time, to the development of different personality traits.”

Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi [argued] that the best way a person can spend time is in autotelic activities, those that are enjoyable for their own sake. The subjective experience of an autotelic activity — the enjoyment itself — is what Csikszentmihalyi calls flow.
Flow is not the same thing as joy, happiness, or other, more familiar terms for subjective well-being. Rather, the experience of flow is characterized by tremendous concentration, total lack of distractibility, and thoughts concerning only the activity at hand. […] Losing track of time is one sign of experiencing flow. According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow arises when the challenges an activity presents are well matched with your skills. If an activity is too diffcult or too confusing, you will experience anxiety, worry, and frustration. If the activity is too easy, you will experience boredom and (again) anxiety. But when skills and challenges are balanced, you experience flow. […] Csikszentmihalyi thinks that the secret for enhancing your quality of life is to spend as much time in flow as possible. Achieving flow entails becoming good at something you find worthwhile and enjoyable. […] Even in the best of circumstances [however], flow seems to describe a rather solitary kind of happiness. […] The drawback with flow is that somebody experiencing it can be difficult to interact with”. [I really did not like most of the stuff included in the part of the book from which this quote is taken, but I did find Csikszentmihalyi’s flow concept quite interesting.]

“About 80 percent of the participants in psychological research come from countries that are Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic — ”WEIRD” in other words — although only 12 percent of the world’s population live there (Henrich et al., 2010).”

“If an animal or a person performs a behavior, and the behavior is followed by a good result — a reinforcement — the behavior becomes more likely. If the behavior is followed by a punishment, it becomes less likely. […] the results of operant conditioning are not necessarily logical. It can increase the frequency of any behavior, regardless of its real connection with the consequences that follow.”

“A punishment is an aversive consequence that follows an act in order to stop it and prevent its repetition. […] Many people believe the only way to stop or prevent somebody from doing something is punishment. […] You can [however] use reward for this purpose too. All you have to do is find a response that is incompatible with the one you are trying to get rid of, and reward that incompatible response instead. Reward a child for reading instead of punishing him for watching television. […] punishment works well when it is done right. The only problem is, it is almost never done right. […] One way to see how punishment works, or fails to work, is to examine the rules for applying it correctly. The classic behaviorist analysis says that five principles are most important […] 1. Availability of Alternatives: An alternative response to the behavior that is being punished must be available. This alternative response must not be punished and should be rewarded. […] 2. Behavioral and Situational Specificity: Be clear about exactly what behavior you are punishing and the circumstances under which it will and will not be punished. […] 3. Timing and Consistency: To be effective, a punishment needs to be applied immediately after the behavior you wish to prevent, every time that behavior occurs. Otherwise, the person (or animal) being punished may not understand which behavior is forbidden. […] 4. Conditioning Secondary Punishing Stimuli: One can lessen the actual use of punishment by conditioning secondary stimuli to it [such as e.g.  verbal warnings] […] 5. Avoiding Mixed Messages: […] Sometimes, after punishing a child, the parent feels so guilty that she picks the child up for a cuddle. This is a mistake. The child might start to misbehave just to get the cuddle that follows the punishment. Punish if you must punish, but do not mix your message. A variant on this problem occurs when the child learns to play one parent against the other. For example, after the father punishes the child, the child goes to the mother for sympathy, or vice versa. This can produce the same counterproductive result.”

Punishment will backfire unless all of the guidelines [above] are followed. Usually, they are not. A punisher has to be extremely careful, for several reasons. […] The first and perhaps most important danger of punishment is that it creates emotion. […] powerful emotions are not conducive to clear thinking. […] Punishment [also] tends to vary with the punisher’s mood, which is one reason it is rarely applied consistently. […] Punishment [furthermore] [m]otivates [c]oncealment: The prospective punishee has good reasons to conceal behavior that might be punished. […] Rewards have the reverse effect. When workers anticipate rewards for good work instead of punishment for bad work, they are naturally motivated to bring to the boss’s attention everything they are doing, in case it merits reward.”

Gordon Allport observed years ago [that] [“]For some the world is a hostile place where men are evil and dangerous; for others it is a stage for fun and frolic. It may appear as a place to do one’s duty grimly; or a pasture for cultivating friendship and love.[“] […] people with different traits see the world differently. This perception affects how they react to the events in their lives which, in turn, affects what they do. […] People [also] differ in the emotions they experience, the emotions they want to experience, how strongly they experience emotions, how frequently their emotions change, and how well they understand and control their emotions.”


July 9, 2017 - Posted by | Books, Genetics, Psychology

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