Brian R. Little
Carleton University and
Murray Research Center
Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
Introduction: Voices in the Cafeteria
Imagine that we are listening in on a conversation between three students in the college cafeteria. Their discussion weaves around many topics but the dominant theme is their common project of applying to graduate school in psychology. Speaking animatedly and downing her third cup of coffee, Eve declares that she is only applying to her top three choices and she’s looking forward to dragging her boyfriend to Ann Arbor. She suddenly bolts from the group realizing she’s late for her stats class. Adam says little, nods often, and is wondering whether he really is grad school material. Besides, his parents want him to go back home after graduation to work in the family business. Nikki isn’t really listening at all; she’s hung over again, hadn’t realized grad application deadlines were coming up, and frankly is fed up with Adam and Eve and the whole human condition. She mumbles something they can’t quite hear and heads for the restroom.
If you are sitting in the adjacent booth in the cafeteria, would you linger a bit, intrigued by the differing styles, contrasting concerns, and singular stories you hear emerging in the snatches of conversation? If so, then you probably have a natural affinity for personality psychology. This chapter surveys the past and present state of personality psychology as a core specialty within psychology and examines how it goes about understanding the lives of the Eves, Adams, and Nikkis of this world.
The field of personality psychology is flourishing. In many respects the current buoyancy of the field reflects important shifts, both methodological and conceptual, that have occurred over the past two decades. Some of these changes arose in response to conceptual crises within the field, particularly the Great Trait Debate that occupied much of the field in the seventies. (Mischel’s (1968) critique, which launched the debate, and reactions to it are discussed in a later section). Continue reading