Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

How our personalities change for different people

with 3 comments

I think everyone who has come to adulthood notices how, in the presence of parents, a much younger personality seems to emerge. And it turns out, it’s true. MindHacks:

The BPS Research Digest covers an intriguing study that found that imagining friends, parents, and romantic partners differently affected how we rate ourselves on personality measures.

The study suggests that being primed with certain sorts of relationship seems to alter either our personality, or how we perceive our personal characteristics.

Dozens of female university students were led to believe they were participating in an investigation into the effect of visualisation on heart rate, with the appropriate medical paraphernalia in place to make the story more convincing.

The students were asked to visualise a range of fairly mundane items or experiences and then at the end they were asked to visualise in detail either one of their parents, a recent romantic partner, or a friend. Afterwards they completed a range of personality and self-esteem tests. Post-experimental debriefing confirmed they hadn’t guessed the true purpose of the study.

Students who visualised a parent subsequently rated themselves as less sensual, adventurous, dominant, extraverted and industrious, than did students asked to visualise a friend or romantic partner, consistent with the idea that people revert to a more submissive “child role” with their parents.

The paper itself doesn’t mention it, but the study has some striking relevance to rather confusingly named ‘object relations theory‘, which could be much more clearly named ‘human relations theory’.

It’s a development of a Freudian idea, but instead of suggesting that sex and aggression are the core drives which shape our psychological landscape, it suggests, rather more sensibly, that …

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Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2008 at 10:48 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

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3 Responses

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  1. This idea was showcased in one of last season’s episodes of How I Met Your Mother (one of two or three shows I watch). The idea was termed `Revertigo’ (and described as associative regression, though I’ve never seen / heard that term before, either). The idea in this case was that, when paired with old friends, you revert to acting like the person you were when you first met. In some people, it’s more apparent than others.

    (I’ve been away from your blog for a while, but going through, I’m really enjoying reading a lot of these psychology/sociology related links you’re posting, as that’s sort of a personal hobby of mine).

    I personally notice this happen to me when I think about people in my past who had a strong influence on me. These thoughts actually end up having a prominent effect on my demeanor (I wonder if this is similar at all to synaesthesia?) — thinking about / talking to childhood friends makes me feel happy and carefree; similarly talking to people in past relationships, I find myself reverting in thought to the person I felt that I was when I was in the relationship.

    I also wonder whether this has any relation to NLP. Interesting subjects, anyway… I’ll be checking out mindhacks a bit more often 🙂

    Devon H. O'Dell

    10 July 2008 at 11:08 am

  2. It’s interesting how plastic our personalities can be, and clearly not under conscious control: the old unconscious is a busy place indeed. I don’t know whether you’ve come across psychosynthesis, a quite interesting theory of personality and the mind developed by Roberto Assagioli. In my experience, it has considerable validity. Besides Assagioli’s own books, I would particularly recomment Piero Ferrucci’s What We May Be, which includes exercises to explore the phenomenon. (Copies at the link available for $1.)

    And, of course, I always recommend Joanna Field’s fascinating book, A Life of One’s Own. It’s well worth reading and has various interesting techniques for exploring one’s own mind.


    10 July 2008 at 11:16 am

  3. I indeed haven’t stumbled on this yet. It seems like it makes sense — I’m still kind of poking around at all the psychological / philosophical theories and trying to figure out what makes sense to me.

    My experience with psychology and sociology is that, in a human attempt to classify everything, we end up pigeonholing ideas where they should be made general and generalizing ideas where I feel like only bits and pieces are applicable. In that respect, I think I always take readings on psychology with a grain of salt. We all (well, those of us who choose to be interested in the topics) have our own ideas of why we do things the way we do, but those ideas are also shaped by the building blocks that they are attempting to describe. We look to neuroscience to try to explain the whys of those things, but, as far as I can tell, we don’t yet understand the results of all the research in those areas to a deep enough level to be able to use it as any kind of psychological classification for the inherent `why’ in the questions we ask about our own psyche and how we interact with each other. As I read more, I gather the bits and pieces I find pertaining to my own experiences, and I suppose I form my own theories from that. Seems to be what psychologists and philosophers have been doing for at least a couple thousand years 🙂

    My readings recently have been focused on interpersonal loving relationships. My favorite books have been The New Psychology of Love and Fromm’s classic work The Art of Loving. I’ll check out the books you recommended as well.

    Devon H. O'Dell

    10 July 2008 at 11:37 am

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