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Psychology: Retrospective Personality Analysis Essay

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Human behavior and the development of personality traits has always puzzled psychology researchers and scholars: “The development of individual differences has always been a primary focus of psychological research, and it continues to be an intensely debated topic to this day” (Giudice & Belsky 2010, p. 154). Retrospective analysis of personality is widely used to examine the development of various traits throughout life; however, it has many severe limitations and thus is not considered a valid academic research method (Gleitman, Gross, & Reisberg, 2011).

Changing Traits: Nurture

Looking back at my own life history, I realize that a lot of my personality traits have changed through the years. With changes to living conditions came the necessity to adjust to the new environment, particularly through the changes in personality and behavior. The traits that change in response to the environment are said to be under the primary influence of nurture (Gleitman et al., 2011). For instance, as a kid, I used to be very naïve and trusted everyone I met.

I did not expect people to cheat, lie, or to betray me in any way. However, as I gained more experience in communication and in dealing with other people, I became a lot warier. After one of my best friends had betrayed me several years ago, I became rather distant and secretive, and now it takes a long time before I let a new person into my private life. Another change occurred when I started living apart from my family and earning my own money. Most of the families teach their kids to share and be generous; however, they teach children to share the things that are not exactly theirs, since the kids did not buy or earn them.

As soon as I started living on my own, I became a bit more reserved about lending money to friends or paying for a shared meal at a restaurant. Parents also teach their children to seek approval from the society, be it other kids at school, family elders, professors, and so on. I used to be very dependable on other people’s opinions of me. I used to get anxiety whenever I met new people, as I was worried about what they would think of me. I refrained from speaking my mind or dressing the way I wanted if I felt like the society would not approve of my looks or actions. As I grew older, however, I came to terms with myself and became more independent. I am no longer afraid of doing the things I want, and I do not need the approval of others to feel confident about myself.

Stable Traits: Nature

Some of my personality traits, however, remained the same since childhood. For instance, I used to be very creative and artsy as a kid, and this feature still applies to my present personality. Other unchanging characteristics include kindness, intelligence, and curiosity – they have been present in my character for as long as I can remember. Scholars who stand on the side of nature believe that the unchanging qualities are innate or, in other words, depend on biological or genetic predispositions (Giudice & Belsky, 2010), which is why they are not affected by environmental conditions.

Most of these qualities were chosen as desirable by evolution: for instance, intelligence has always been one of the key favorable characteristics in natural selection (Gleitman et al., 2011); others, however, are hereditary: my mother is an artsy person, so my capacity for creativity is embedded in my DNA.

Biases in the Self-Assessment of Personality

Nevertheless, there are many opportunities for cognitive and memory biases to influence the retrospective analysis of personality. Gleitman et al. (2011) describe the various biases affecting various experiments and studies in psychology, including the retrospective self-assessment. For instance, cognitive biases that affect our perception of personality changes include choice-supportive bias and social desirability bias, both of which would cause the person to present past events and behavior in a better light (Gleitman et al., 2011).

Memory bias is also crucial for retrospective analysis: “people can have detailed (false) recollection of entire episodes—including highly emotional episodes—that never happened at all. And we know that these false memories are even more likely if the person, from her current perspective, regards the ‘remembered’ event as plausible” (Gleitman et al., 2011, p. 322). This unreliability of memory is provided for by the very process of memorizing: “the organization of memory creates a bias in what’s easily available; this bias, in turn, leads to an error in frequency judgment” (Gleitman et al., 2011, p. 350).

Conclusion

Overall, recollection and retrospective analysis are generally unreliable resources for personality development studies. Personal experience is frequently disregarded due to the high risk of bias involved, whereas anecdotal evidence does not provide the coverage needed to explore the development of personality over the years (Goodwin, 2009). In most cases of personality studies, however, personal reflections still provide the majority of information, allowing for the exploration of changes and developments in various qualities and traits.

References

Giudice, M. D., & Belsky, J. (2010). The development of life history strategies: Toward a multi-stage theory. In D. M. Buss & P. H. Hawley (Eds.), The Evolution of Personality and Individual Differences (pp. 154-176). New York, NY: OUP.

Gleitman, H., Gross, J., & Reisberg, D. (2011). Psychology (8th Ed.). New York, NY: Norton.

Goodwin, J. C. (2009). Research in psychology: Methods and design. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

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