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Individuals go through different developmental phases as they negotiate diverse experiences from childhood to adulthood, otherwise known as lifespan. The experiences are mainly determined by both nature and nurture influences, and plays a central role in determining an individual’s personality (Grogorenko & Sternberg, 2003).
It is imperative to note at this early stage that consecutive studies on developmental phases through the lifespan has yielded many theories that attempt to explain the mental, emotional, cognitive, and social development experienced by individuals. This paper purposes to critically analyze what forces have impacted the life of U.S. President Barrack Obama from the perspective of developmental psychology by applying two theories of personality in the analyses of the influences throughout the lifespan.
Heredity and Environmental Influences
Psychologists largely believe that both heredity and environmental factors play a fundamental role in the development of a multiplicity of personality traits (Knafo & Plomin, 2006). Personality can be exclusively described as the continuing or long-term patterns of thought, values, world views, and behavior that an individual projects or expresses in diverse circumstances (Shaffer, 2009; Polak et al, 2010).
By any standards, Obama is charismatic, ambitious, and goal-directed (Jittan & Immelman, 2008). He is confident, analytical, thoughtful, sensitive, and energetic, not mentioning the fact that he is independent and open in both thought and action.
The above personality traits, though not conclusive, can be used to describe the person of the 44th president of the U.S. President Obama’s cognitive and intellectual aptitudes largely demonstrated through his sharp thinking and leadership approach can be attributed to heredity influences, especially with the realization that his father was an astute civil servant in post-independence Kenya.
Heredity influences occur when genetic characteristics are transmitted from the parents to the offspring. His skin color and hair type are genetic factors that must have influenced his social and emotional development especially in socialization processes. Obama’s resilient and goal-directed nature can be attributed to the experiences he underwent as a child and youth due to the heredity influences described above.
Environmental influences are thought to have the biggest role in determining personality traits of individuals (Shaffer, 2009). According to the author, personality characteristics are not only determined in part by environmental influences, but they influence how individuals adjust to the immediate environment and how they respond to particular situations.
Obama cuts across a figure of a person who is emotionally stable, morally straight, and cognitively superior as demonstrated by his accomplished oratory skills, leadership qualities, confident, sensitive, thoughtful, and attentive nature.
These characteristics can be attributed to environmental influences that the president experienced while growing up in a single-family setup and in school. According to Myers (2009), Obama’s “…black African father, white American mother, Muslim middle name, and childhood spent partially in Asia make him more that the 21st-century embodiment of the classic American melting pot” (para. 5). The cultural environment in which young Obama grew explains his assertive and competitive nature (Shaffer, 2009).
Family Issues and Support Systems
It is safe to argue that family issues must have played a significant role in the developmental growth and adjustment of President Obama. First, Obama was born out of a multi-racial relationship between an African father and a white American mother (Myers, 2009).
This must have had a profound effect on Obama’s personality development. According to Shaffer (2009), the personality development of individuals is affected by whether such individuals have other siblings, and also by the order in which the siblings are born in the family context.
Reliable sources say that Obama had a junior sister, hence he was the first born in the family. His parents separated when Obama was young. According to Shaffer (2009), first-born children live to become more achievement-oriented, independent, and responsible. This can be used to explain Obama’s mastery of the above named attributes.
Shaffer (2009) asserts that “…the home environment parents provide for their children is influenced in part by the parents own genotypes…And because parents also provide their children with genes, it so happens that the learning environments to which children are exposed are correlated with…their own genotypes (p. 82).
This statement reveals how heredity and environment come into play in the family context to influence an individual’s personality development. In support systems, Obama was said to be a high performer both in high school and college (Myers, 2009). Here, it can be said that his physical characteristics (good looks) and emotional stability (outgoing nature) influenced his developmental growth and adjustment during his formative years.
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Physical attraction comes as a result of heredity influences while emotional stability can be occasioned by both heredity and environmental influences. According to Shaffer (2009), physically attractive students are more likely to be treated favorably and auspiciously than their less attractive counterparts, hence heightening their confidence and energy levels as revealed in the case of Obama.
Theories of Personality Development
There exist many theories of personality development that attempts to explain how individuals maneuver their way through the different developmental phases. Sigmund Freud’s psychosocial theory and Watson’s social learning theory of can be applied to explain Obama’s personality development.
In psychosexual theory, Freud argued that individuals are largely driven by drives and conflicts that they are oblivious of, not mentioning the fact that their personalities is overwhelmingly shaped by early childhood experiences (Shaffer, 2009). It is up to the individual to control the powerful biological urges that seeks to be fulfilled since society view them as undesirable.
According to Shaffer, “…the way in which parents have managed these sexual and aggressive urges in the first few years of life play a major role in shaping the child’s future conduct and character” (p. 39). Freud comes up with the stages of psychological development and suggests that a child must successfully pass through the stages and avoid fixation to lead a fulfilling life in adulthood (Polak et al, 2010).
On the other hand, Watson postulates that conclusions about individual personality development should be based on observations and interpretations of unconcealed behavior patterns rather than conjecturing about unconscious processes or urges that are not observable.
Indeed, Watson believed that “…well learned associations between external stimuli and observable responses…are the building blocks of human development” (Shaffer, 2009, p. 44). According to Watson, social environment rather than inborn tendencies are instrumental in individual’s personality development.
Consequently, Sigmund’s psychosocial theory differ in major ways with Watson’s social learning approach as far as explaining Obama’s personality development is concerned. The psychosocial theory seems to suggest that childhood experiences largely determine the personality of an individual in adulthood.
In addition, Freud’s childhood experiences are largely as a result of biological urges that cannot be quantitatively measured (Shaffer, 2009). As such, the theory presupposes that Obama must have had a totally fulfilling childhood for him to develop such astute personality characteristics in adulthood. According to Sigmund’s theory, the experiences that Obama had in school and in his role as a senator cannot be said to influence his personality traits since they were informed by his childhood experiences.
Watson, however, punches holes on this viewpoint, suggesting that personality traits are largely dependent on the rearing environments. In addition, Watson asserts that the personality traits of children are also dependent on the parents and other significant individuals in the lives of children (Shaffer, 2009; Polak et al, 2010).
To conclude, therefore, Watson’s social learning theory best explains the personality traits and accomplishments of president Obama. It can be argued that Obama has gained a lot of experiences from interacting with the social environment.
It is wrong to suggest that the president has gained the incredible personality traits through a sequence of divergent stages informed by a process of biological maturation (Shafter, 2009). On the contrary, Obama’s personality traits have been achieved through a continuous process of behavior transformation that is informed by his interactions with the social environment.
Grogorenko, E.L., & Sternberg, R.J. (2003). The nature-nurture issue. In: A. Slater & G. Bremmer (Eds), An introduction to developmental psychology. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
Knafo, A., & Plomin, R. (2006). Parental discipline and affection and children’s pro-social behavior: Genetic and environmental links. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, Vol. 90, Issue 1, p. 147-164. Retrieved from Academic Source Premier Database.
Myers, D.D. (2009). Is Obama the most Famous Living Person Ever? Retrieved from <https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2009/01/is-obama-the-most-famous-living-person-ever>
Polak, M., Van, H.L., Overeem-Seldenrijk, J., Heiser, W.J., & Abraham, R.E. (2010). The developmental profile validation of a theory-driven instrument for personality assessment. Psychotherapy Research, Vo. 20, Issue, 3, P. 259-272. Retrieved from Academic Source Premier Database.
Shaffer, D.R. (2009). Social and personality development, 6th Ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.