The Situationist

The Oxford Handbook of Personality and Social Psychology

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 14, 2013

Deaux Snyder Personality and Social Psychology

From PsychCentral (Judy Crook reviews new book edited by Kay Deaux and Mark Snyder):

What’s the difference between personality psychology and social psychology? In essence, personality psychology focuses on the person, while social psychology focuses on the situation—how people act in different situations, or how situations affect individuals. In exploring how and why the two fields might be integrated, The Oxford Handbook of Personality and Social Psychology recounts the history of each subfield, discusses different approaches each takes to research topics, and analyzes the benefits that might come from integrating them.

This is a long reference book, and one not intended for the layperson. However, it turns out that it works quite well as a foundational text for those of us who are not research psychologists but readers simply wishing to learn about psychology. Each chapter follows a general pattern of explaining the foundational theories in each field, discussing ways these theories can be integrated, or providing new theories or frameworks for integration.

Take the book’s coverage of the Big Five Theory. The “Big Five” is a personality theory that provides a way to categorize all personality traits into five areas: extraversion, conscientiousness, openness to experience, agreeableness, and emotional stability. When researchers used it to analyze what makes leaders effective, however, the results were mixed. In the chapter on leadership, Daan van Knippenberg states that “the relationship between personality and leadership effectiveness is modest at best.” Instead, he proposes that social psychology models work better than the Big Five Theory because they analyze leaders “by taking a person-in-situation approach to leadership effectiveness.” Thus, although personality traits such as extraversion may affect one’s ability to lead, he says, we can gain a more complete perspective by analyzing leadership performance in the context of a given situation.

In a book that covers topics as disparate as motivation, prejudice, friendship, leadership, relationships, helping behavior, and antisocial behavior—each topic explored from the two perspectives of personality psychology and social psychology—a lay reader is likely to find several topics of interest. For example, in a chapter on multiculturalism, Veronica Benet-Martinez describes how the study of multiculturalism can be beneficial to both personality and social psychologists. I found her definition of multiculturalism interesting because it is so inclusive: “those who are mixed-race and mixed-ethnic, those who have lived in more than one country…those reared with at least one other culture in addition to the dominant mainstream culture, and those in intercultural relationships.” There is no commonly agreed-upon definition of the term, she tells us.

Much of what psychologists have learned in the last few years has been based on new measuring techniques, including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG). In a chapter called “Neuroscience Approaches in Social and Personality Psychology,” David M. Amodio and Eddie Harmon-Jones discuss how these relatively new techniques measure brain activity, and describe several theories that have been proposed based on these methods. One theory, that of the mirror neuron system, posits “a brain network devoted to understanding other people through their actions.” Amodio and Harmon-Jones state that the term mirror neurons refers “loosely to areas of the brain that are activated both when an individual observes the behavior of another person, and when one performs the same behavior”—i.e., when one mimics another’s actions.

Read the entire review here.

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