Pavlov's Couch

A Psychology Student's Mental Experience

Archive for the tag “psychology”

Helping out a budding psychologist

I don’t usually do this but: I’ve been contacted by an American high school student called Trisha whos is looking for participants to take an online survey as part of her Social Science research project entitled Effects of Perceived Responsiveness on Peer Conflict. It actually looks like a pretty well put together study so if anyone can spare some minutes to fill it out, please do!

Reading for Research and Other Reasons

As an undergraduate I have got into the habit of reading lots of journal articles for research. When I have an assignment to write, or an essay coming up, I hit the university journal search engine dig out stacks of journal articles about whatever it is I’m writing about. I think I’m actually fairly good at this, I tend to read and cite quite a lot of journals in each of my assignments. Probably too many actually.

Watching and listening to the assistant psychologists on the ward something has sunk in: the importance of reading journals not for the sake of research but in order to keep up with new developments in the field. When you become an assistant psychologist, and very much when you are sitting in the interview for the clinical psychology course, you will be expected to have a good knowledge of what is happening in the field, any changes to NICE guidelines, and so on. From what I can tell knowing the names of prominent psychologists really helps too.

I’m going to spend some of my tube journey into placement reading some journals instead of watching nonstop tv episodes on my laptop (it takes me up to three hours one-way if there are delays!). Reading whole journals rather than just specific articles will be a new experience! Hopefully one I find interesting! Although I have to admit I fully intend to skip some articles if I don’t find them interesting.

Talking about keeping up with journals, I found out today that some of the old Clinical Psychology Forum issues (Currently those before Sep 2010) are available for free to student members of the BPS. Even though they’re not the most recent issues (the newer ones cost a few quid each), they’re worth a read as there are some very interesting articles in there.

All I Know is That I Don’t Know Nothing

I’m a big fan of Stumble Upon. As well as being a great way to entertain yourself when times are quiet, it’s also a great way to discover new things. I made one such discovery today – the Mpemba Effect. While not related to psychology directly, this effect reminds me of how important it is not to make assumptions or believe that we know more than we really do.

Given two equal volumes of water, under equal cooling conditions, with one starting at 30°c and one at 70°c, which one freezes first? The one that starts at 30°c, right?
Not necessarily. The Mpemba Effect, is often summarised as ‘‘hot water can freeze faster than cold” (Vynnycky & Mitchell, 2010). Despite having been known and studied for a very very long time it is still not known exactly why this happens. Have a read of this excellent page for a more detailed explanation of the effect and the history of the Mpbemba Effect.

I take this as a reminder to always question my own knowledge. Even things that you “know” now, may be disproven later or replaced by new theories. Any person, particularly any therapist (which I would one day like to be) who feels secure in the knowledge that they know what’s best, is in grave danger of making some terrible mistakes.

Note: The title of this post is a reference to this song by Operation Ivy

What are the similarities and differences between conformity, compliance, and obedience?

Here’s another one of my first year assignments for your casual reading. Please bear in mind that this is all written by myself as a first year student, so it’s accuracy is not to be taken as gospel! Having said that this essay bagged me an A grade, so it can’t be all bad 🙂

What are the similarities and differences between conformity, compliance, and obedience?

This essay looks at the concepts of conformity, compliance, and obedience and lays out the similiarities and differences between them by looking at the factors that influence each. It concludes that conformity stands apart from compliance and obedience, which share more similarities than differences. The reasons for this may be evolutionary in nature.

Conformity, compliance, and obedience are forms of social influence which strongly affect our behaviour is social situations, from following fashions and unwritten social norms which organise our behaviour, to committing immoral acts because we are commanded to by someone who appears to be in a position of authority. This essay looks at the similarities and differences between the three, looking specifically at the factors that influence each three. In conclusion we find that two of the forms of social influence are very similar, almost interchangeable, while the third stands alone with influencing factors different from the other two.

1. Conformity

Conformity is the tendency for people to change their behaviour and paradigm to fit social norms. Experiments (Asch, 1951; Aarts & Dijksterhuis, 2003) have shown that when confronted by social norms individuals will often adjust their paradigm and behaviour to closer approximate the perceived norm. The Asch (1951) experiment involved subjects performing a perception task, saying which of a selection of lines matched a control line in length. Unbeknown to the subject the other participants in the room were all confederates, and the seating was arranged so that the confederates would each give their answer to the trial in turn, with the subject giving their answer last. On critical trials the confederates would all give the same incorrect answer to the question. The experiment showed that around 76% of the subjects would conform to the incorrect answer at least once. In the Aarts & Dijksterhuis (2003) experiment participants who were exposed to pictures of a situation where there is a social expectation of silence, a library, were later quieter on a pronunciation task than the participants who were shown pictures of a normally noisy situation, a railway station. This showed that the normative behaviour of being silent had been unconsciously activated in those subjects who saw the library picture.

There seem to be three main reasons for conformity: a need to be accepted into the societal group, an aversion to conflict, and informational social influence. Each of these could be argued to have ethological roots: improving the accuracy of an individual’s perception of the world, allowing them to assess threats more accurately for the latter reason, and improving an individual’s chances of being accepted into, and protected by, a “tribe” for the former two reasons.

2. Compliance

Compliance is one person yielding to the requests of another. Much research has been carried out into what influences compliance. After participating in training programs of various professions which depend on the professional’s ability to elicit compliance, such as sales and marketing, Cialdini (as cited in Baron, Branscombe, and Byrne 2006) established a list of six main factors that impact compliance rate: friendship / liking, commitment / concistency, scarcity, reciprocity, social validation, and authority.

3. Obedience

Obedience is defined as being “Simply, acting in accordance with rules or orders” (Reber, Reber, & Allen, 2004). Conformity has been studied most famously by Milgram (2010). In his experiment a subject was told to apply electric shocks of increasing strength to a learner, actually a confederate, whenever they made mistakes on a memory task. If the subjects expressed concern the experimenter responded simply with pre-arranged stock sentences such as “The experiment must continue”. Around 65% of participants showed obedience up to the level of administering shocks they believed to be highly dangerous.

4. Similarities

The three concepts of conformity, compliance, and obedience are interrelated and share a number of similarities.
Both compliance and conformity have been shown to be improved by positive inter-personal attitudes. Ingratiation and flattery has been shown to correlate with improved compliance, as has performing small favours for the subject and a positive self-presentation (Gordon, 1996). Drawing attention to incidental similarities between the requestor and the requestee has likewise been shown to improve compliance (Burger et al., 2004) by improving the “friendship” between the two. Similarly cohesiveness of the group has been shown to affect conformity (Crandall, 1988).

Compliance and obedience also have a similarity in the foot-in-the-door approach. Studies have shown that having the participant commit to a small act, such as accepting a taster at a supermarket, can improve later compliance to request (Freedman & Fraser, 1966). This is reflected in the Milgram (2010) experiments on obedience where the subject built up from smaller shocks to larger ones.

Conformity, compliance, and obedience are all subject to the effects of informational social influence. Conformity is obviously based on informational social influence and studies (Cialdini, Kallgren, & Reno, 1990; 2000) have further provided evidence for the normative focus theory; that the saliency of the social norm has a significant correlation to conformity. Compliance is subject to informational social influence under Cialdini’s category of social validation (as cited in Baron, Branscombe, and Byrne 2006), which draws on the subject’s desire to fit with the actions and expectations of society. Studies have also shown that the rate of obedience to destructive commands drops sharply if the participants are reminded that the weight of responsibility falls on their shoulders (Hamilton, 1978), i.e. that they are stepping outside the socially expected behaviour.
Finally obedience and compliance can, for the sake of much of the above, be considered the same thing as while compliance is a request and obedience is an order, both are requesting that the subject comply with the demand.

5. Differences

Compliance and obedience have one main difference: one is a request, a question, and the other is a direct command. While one invites the subject to decline, a command carries with it the social expectations of obedience.
Conformity is strongly affected by whether the culture in question is orientated to individualism or collectivism (Bond & Smith, 1996), however compliance and obedience are less likely to be affected by this particular factor.
Conformity is generally an internalising of the social norms, where the subject takes these and incorporates them into their own paradigm. Conformed behaviour can be shown to become “automatic”, i.e. unconscious, such as in the experiment by Aarts & Dijkersterhuis (2003). However public compliance and obedience do not necessarily belie private attitudes and beliefs.
While compliance and obedience are the result of social expectations, self-gain, and fear of conflict or punishment, conformity also has a stronger ethological cause: The perceptions and behaviours of the majority are likely to be more accurate and conducive to survival than those of the individual or minority.

6. Conclusion

Conformity, compliance and obedience have many aspects in common, however there are more similarities specific to compliance and obedience than those shared by conformity. Most of the differences identified above are between conformity on one side and compliance and obedience on the other.
Conformity is usually internalised by the individual (Aarts & Dijkersterhuis, 2003), whereas compliance and obedience can occur even in the presence of cognitive dissonance. Ethologically conformity can be considered a survival instinct, and may well have preceded our ability to communicate and thus compliance and obedience may be relatively new to us.
Finally obedience is a submission to power, however conformity and compliance are based on more positive driving forces of survival and coherence of the social group.

Aarts, H., & Dijksterhuis, A. (2003). The Silence of the Library:Environment, Situational Norm, and Social Behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 84 (1), 18-28.
Asch, S. E. (1951). Effects of group pressure on the modification and distortion of judgments. In H. Guetzkow (Ed.), Groups, leadership and men (pp. 177-190). Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Press.
Baron, R., Byrne, D., Branscombe, N. (2006), Social Psychology 11th Ed, Pearson Education
Bond, R., & Smith, P. (1996). Culture and Conformity: A Meta-Analysis of Studies Using Asch’s (1952b, 1956) Line Judgment Task. 119 (1), 111-137.
Burger, J., Messian, N., Patel, S., Prado, A. d., & Anderson, C. (2004). What a Coincidence! The Effects of Incidental Similarity on Compliance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin , 30, 35-43.
Cialdini, R., Kallgren, C., & Reno, R. (1990). A Focus Theory of Normative Conduct: Recycling the Concept of Norms to Reduce Littering in Public Places. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 58 (6), 1015-1026.
Cialdini, R., Kallgren, C., & Reno, R. (2000). A Focus Theory of Normative Conduct: When Norms Do and Do Not Affect Behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (26), 1002-1012.
Crandall, C. (1988). Social Contagion of Binge Eating. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 55 (4), 588-598.
Freedman, J., & Fraser, S. (1966). Compliance Without Pressure: The Foot-In-The-Door Technique. Journal ol Personality and Social Psychology , 4 (2), 195-202.
Gordon, R. (1996). Impact of Ingratiation on Judgments and Evaluations: A Meta-Analytic Investigation. Journal or Personality and Social Psychology , 71 (1), 54-70.
Hamilton, V. (1978). Obedience and Responsibility: A Jury Simulation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 36 (2), 126-146.
Milgram, S. (2010). Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View. Pinter & Martin Ltd.
Reber, E., Reber, A., & Allen, R. (2004). Dictionary of Psychology (3rd Edition ed.). Penguin.

A brief history of Attachment Theory

What is attachment theory? Generally when we speak of attachment theory these days we are referring not just to the work of one individual, but the culmination of work by a number of theorists and researchers, each building on the work of those who came before them. While Bowlby is credited as the father of Attachment Theory, really we must go a bit further back to understand where he came from and really understand the relevance of his theory.

Please note that this is a very short, very surface level overview of attachment theory. For a detailed and thorough overview of Bowlby and Ainsworth’s attachement theory I recommend Bretherton (1992).

Melanie Klein (1927)

Building on the earlier work of S. Freud, Klein’s Object-Relations theory puts an emphasis on the mother-child relationship, and dropped S. Freud’s Oedipus/Elektra complexes thus de-emphasising the Eros instinct. Klein also embraced (although never credited) the theory of Hug Helmuth (1912) who believed that children’s behaviour could provide evidence of the role of instincts in children. She combined these in her belief that Thanatos can be revealed in the destructiveness of children’s play, which she believed reflected the unconscious phantasy of the child.

Klein believed that the id and the super-ego of the child were constantly in conflict. On one side they felt hatred toward the mother driven by the id, and coming up against this on the other hand was the super-ego messages that they should love the mother.

Klein is credited with expanding the realm of child psychoanalysis beyond free association and dream analysis, but at the same time she is criticized for her assumption that children are as robust as adults in undergoing psychoanalysis.

Quality of Object Relations Scale (QORS)

The QORS was developed by Piper et al. (1984) and is used as a measure of the quality of object-relations in adults, but not children.

It is completed by the therapist based on their obsevations and reflections on the contents of the therapy sessions.

the most recent version of the QORS (Azim & Piper, 1991) emphasises patterns of interpersonal relationships.

John Bowlby (1958, 1959, 1960)

Psychology is full of battles and conflicts between psychologists, and often between mentor and student (Freud and Jung being the classic example), and this is no exception. Bowlby was trained by Klein and originally viewed himself as an object-relations theorist, however he came to conflict with Klein over how useful children’s phantasy is as data for psychoanalysis.

Unlike S. Freud, Bowlby distinguished between emotional and sexual intimacy, and thus emotional intimacy formed the foundation of his theory. Bowlby’s attachment theory is based on the premise that everyone needs emotional intimacy and this is most commonly provided by the interactions of carer (e.g. mother) and child.

Bowlby described two attachment styles:

  • Secure attachment – Results when the emotional needs of the child are met on a consistent basis, and results in relationship-maintaing behaviours in childhood and adult life.
  • Insecure attachment – Results when the emotional needs of the child are met inconsistently or not at all, and results in relationship-threatening behaviours in childhood and adult life.

Mary Ainsworth (1978)

Mary Ainsworth first started working with Bowlby in one of his research units, and collaborated with him extensively on his attachment theory. Although she has made many contributions to the theory, including some excellent observational studies, she is perhaps best known for her introduction of the two insecure attachment styles: anxious-ambivalent and avoidant.

Ainsworth developed the Strange Situation procedure originally to explore the attachments of children in a general sense, however she was soon struck by particular patterns of behaviour she noticed at different stages of the procedure. The procedure lasts roughly twenty minutes in total, with the infant being seperated from and reunited with their mother in the following stages:

1. Parent and infant alone.
2. Stranger joins parent and infant.
3. Parent leaves infant and stranger alone.
4. Parent returns and stranger leaves.
5. Parent leaves; infant left completely alone.
6. Stranger returns.
7. Parent returns and stranger leaves.

Using this procedure Ainsworth was able to evaluate the infant’s seperation anxiety (the distress of the infant at the absence of their mother), their fear of strangers, their willingness to explore a new environment, and their reunion behaviours (the behaviours shown when the mother returned).

Securely attached children are said to use their attachment figure (AF) as a “secure base”, from which they can explore, but return to in times of distress. In the reunion phase securely attached children are easily comforted and will soon return to play and exploration.

Children who are said to have an anxious-ambivalent attachment style display dependent and clingy behaviour, however will reject their AF’s attempts at interaction. They lack the sense of “secure base” which is manifested as a difficulty in moving away and exploring the environment. They are also difficult to console at the reunion stage. Confusingly people sometimes call the anxious-ambivalent style “resistant style”. These are the same thing.

Finally children exhibiting an insecure avoidant attachment style tend to seem oblivious to the presence of their “attachment figure”, not seeking them out when distressed, showing little or no separation anxiety, and showing a lack of response upon the AF’s return.

For a more visual explanation, have a look at this video:

Main & Solomon (1990)

Faced with a number of children that defied categorisation into the existing attachment styles that Ainsworth defined, her colleague Mary Main proposed a new category called disorganised attachment (Main & Solomon, 1990). These children would cry during the separation phase of the Strange Situation, however when the caregiver returned the child would avoid or ignore them completely, and sometimes showed stereotyped behaviour (rocking, self hitting).

Bartholomew & Horowitz (1991)

Bartholomew & Horowitz contributed to the field when they distinguished between two different avoidant styles: fearful-avoidant and dismissing-avoidant. The fearful-avoidant style is seen in individuals who want emotional intimacy but are unable to trust their partners, and this can often result in relationship-threatening behaviours.

The dismissing-avoidant style is seen in individuals who deny their need for emotional intimacy. As a result of this they may avoid close attachments entirely and see them as unimportant.

Experience in Close Relationships Survey

As the above has made clear, attachment research is ongoing, continually improving and refining our understanding. Since the major developments outlined above, attachment research has moved away from discrete categories like “anxious-ambivalent” toward continuous scales based on the dimensions of attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance. Based on this the 36-item self-report Experiences in Close Relationships Scale was developed (ECR; Brennan et al., 1998), which was then revised in 2001 (ECR-R; Fraley et al. 2000)

It is also being increasingly recognised that people can display different attachment models in different relationships and the ECR-R has been adapted recently to reflect this, giving the Experiences in Close Relationships—Relationship Structures (ECR-RS; Fraley et al. 2011) questionnaire.

The ECR-R has also been adapted into a version for children, the ECR-RC (Brenning, 2011)

You can take an online version of the ECR-R provided by the authors at (I got an attachment-anxiety score of 5.27 and an attachment-avoidance score of 2.11). You can also find more information about the scale on the authors website.


Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. ( 1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Bowlby, J. ( 1958). The nature of the child’s tie to his mother. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, XXXIX, 1– 23.

Bowlby, J. ( 1959). Separation anxiety. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, XLI, 1– 25.

Bowlby, J. ( 1960). Grief and mourning in infancy and early childhood. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, VX, 3– 39.

Brennan, K.A., Clark, C.L., & Shaver, P. (1998). Self-report measures of adult romantic attachment. In J.A. Simpson & W.S. Rholes (Eds.), Attachment Theory and Close Relationships. pp. 46-76. New York: Guilford Press.

Bretherton, I., 1992. The Origins of Attachment Theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Developmental Psychology, (5), pp.759-775.

Brenning, K. et al., 2011. An adaptation of the Experiences in Close Relationships Scale-Revised for use with children and adolescents. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 28(8), pp.1048-1072.

Fraley, R.C., Waller, N.G., & Brennan, K.A. (2000). An item response theory analysis of self-report measures of adult attachment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 350-365.

Fraley, R.C. et al., 2011. The Experiences in Close Relationships-Relationship Structures questionnaire: a method for assessing attachment orientations across relationships. Psychological assessment, 23(3), pp.615-25.

Main, M and Solomon, J (1990). “Procedures for identifying infants as disorganised/disoriented during the Ainsworth Strange Situation”. M.T. Greenberg, D. Cicchetti and E.M. Cummings (eds) Attachment in the Preschool Years. Chicago, University of Chicago Press. pp. 121–160.

Personality Traits

We’ve all heard of “personality types” and “personality traits”, many of us have heard of the Big Five personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) and many of us have taken personality tests on facebook, websites and so on. Such tests range from the mildy amusing to the scientifically supported and thorough. But what does it all mean, and where did it all come from?

Something I love with studying psychology is looking at how theories have developed, how theorists have worked together, against each other, and even occasionally stolen ideas or had big arguments. I love tracing the evolution of our modern understanding through time, and looking at Trait Theory of personality psychology is a great example of that.

What are Personality Traits?

Trait theories of personality describe individuals personality and behaviour as driven by underlying dispositions or traits that are bipolar in nature (have two opposites, e.g. introvert/extravert), and consistent and stable over time. Individuals are said to have different combinations of traits, or strengths of those traits.

The trait theory of personality goes back as far as the likes of Aristotle and Hippocrates.

Francis Galton

Francis Galton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sir Francis Galton (1884)

Although the factor analysis approach to personality traits is sometimes credited as starting with Allport and Odbert’s (1936) work, it actually goes back almost a century before that to Francis Galton (1884). Galton made the first investigations into what has become known as the lexical hypothesis – the idea that

  1. Important individual differences in personality will become encoded in the language of the culture
  2. The more important that difference is, the more likely it is to be captured in a single word

“I tried to gain an idea of the number of the more conspicuous aspects of the character by counting in an appropriate dictionary the words used to express them…”

—Francis Galton, Measurement of Character, 1884

Gordon Allport

Gordon Allport, American psychologist. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Allport and Odbert (1936)

Allport and Odberd went through Webster’s New International Dictionary and picked out just under 18,000 words that they believed to describe personality and mental states. From this they around 4,500 selected words which fit their definition of traits as “generalized and personalized
determining tendencies—consistent and stable modes of an individual’s adjustment to his environment”.

Allport also split traits into three categories:

  1. Cardinal Traits – those traits that are core to the way a person behaves, the most defining traits of a certain individual
  2. Central Traits – those traits that are found in everyone and shape and influence the way we behave, but not in the overriding manner of cardinal traits
  3. Secondary Traits – traits that are only exhibited in certain circumstances or situations

This alphabetised trait list was provided as a resource for other psychologists…

, British-American psychologist

Raymond Cattell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Raymond Cattell (1943, 1957)

Cattell (1943) started with Allport’s trait list, however he felt it was insufficient and added to it “the substance of all syndromes and types which psychologists have observed and described in the past century or so” (Cattell, 1943 as cited in Block, 1995). Based on his own understanding and decisions Cattell organised the list into 161 trait “clusters” (largely by dropping synonyms and combining synonym/antonym pairs into a single measure), to which he added a further 21 based on his readings of intelligence and values, and at some point he must have also dropped some to end at 171 – however how this came about was not documented.

Factor Analysis Aside

Factor analysis looks at the correlations between variables and attempts to identify underlying elements called factors. For example Charles Spearman, credited with the invention of factor analysis, found that children’s performance in a variety of unrelated subjects seemed to be correlated, which led him to the conclusion that an underlying mental ability drove performance in all those areas. This was the start of intelligence research!

Next Cattell asked two colleagues to rate 100 target persons on the 171 clusters of trait terms, which aquaintances of the target persons were also asked to do. Analysing the correlations (a set of 14,535 correlations laid out on 14 square feet of paper) Cattell identified around 67 ’empirical’ clusters of traits. Based on this, combined with analysis of twelve other ratings studies, he drilled down further to 35 clusters. Finally with these 35 traits a number of ratings studies were carried out similar to the first one, which, using factor analysis, led him to 12 factors, which are the foundation of his Sixteen Personality Factors Questionnaire (16PF) (the remaining four being specific to the self-rating model of questionnaires). Those sixteen traits are:

Warmth, Reasoning, Emotional Stability, Dominance, Liveliness, Rule-Consciousness, Social Boldness, Sensitivity, Vigilance, Abstractedness, Privateness, Apprehension, Openness to Change, Self-Reliance, Perfectionism, Tension

You can take a version of the 16PF online free, although I cannot vouch for its accuracy.

And if you thought that was complicated, you should read the full story! (See: John & Angleitner, 1988).
five second order or global factors

In later work Cattell factor-analysed the 16 traits and found five global or “second order” categories, which can be likened to the Big Five Personality Traits that are popular today.

As an aside, Cattell, like Galton before him and Eysenck after him, believed in the inheritability of traits (that personality traits were passed genetically from one generation to the next), and was an active supporter of Eugenics – which caused controversy for all of them and lead to Cattell missing out on a lifetime achievement Gold Medal Award from the American Psychological Foundation (part of the APA).

Raymond Christal

Raymond Christal

Ernest Tupes and Raymond Christal (1961, 1992)

Despite Cattell’s overlooked five second-order factors, Tupes and Christal are credited with the “discovery” of the Big Five personality traits. Using factor analyses on various samples, five strong dimensions kept appearing:

Surgency, Agreeableness, Dependability, Emotional Stability, Culture.

Cattell saw this as an attack on his Sixteen Personality Factor model, and openly criticised “the five factor heresy”.

Tupes and Christal’s work, partly due to not being published in an archived journal for some years combined with a shift in attitude towards trait theories at the time, passed largely without major impact.

Warren Norman (1967)

Norman compiled an exhaustive list of personality descriptive terms that he considered suitably precise, well structured, and exhaustive for use in constructing personality theory. He started with Webster’s Third New International Dictionary and added 171 new terms to Allport’s list, giving a new set of 18,125 words. Norman split the words into four categories: Biophysical traits (e.g. calm, chirpy, pedantic); Temporary States and Activities (e.g. hesitant, sad, smitten, bickering); Social Roles, Relationships, and Effects (e.g. leader, droll, repellant); and Excluded Categories (evaluative terms, physical traits, ambiguous and vague terms, and obscure terms). From the almost 2,800 trait terms in the Biophysical traits category Norman was able to draw out 1,566 trait terms by analysing ratings of 100 students. He was then able to categorise these words into ten clusters, one cluster for each end of the bipolar measures of the Big Five.

Lewis Goldberg (1971)

Building on the work of Norman, Goldberg brought trait psychology back into vogue and coined the term “the Big-Five” in a 1982 paper. Goldberg worked with the lexical hypothesis and produced a list of 1,710 trait terms to use. Based on the self-ratings of 187 college students and 75 categories Goldberg had identified in his list, he extracted the now famous Big-Five traits. These same five traits appeared across a number of different analysis methods. Interestingly, however, and currently unpublished, when Goldberg rotated six or seven factors rather than five, he found that the five split out. In particular on a six-factor rotation Norman’s Factor V split into an ability factor and a culture factor; additionally in a seven-factor rotation categories related to religiosity formed a factor of their own (John & Angleitner, 1988). These findings have paralells in studies by other psychologists.

This photograph is being given to Wiipedia for...

Hans Eysenck (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hans Eysenck (1968)

Eysenck moved away from the lexical approach that had thus far dominated trait theory toward a questionnaire approach. This approach examines people’s responses to personality questionnaires rather than trait lists, which allows for more complex personality factors to be captured than the single words of the lexical approach.

Unlike Cattell, Eysenck viewed personality as seperate from intelligence. He also was heavily influenced by Carl Jung’s introversion / extraversion concept, however he saw them as a trait rather than a type as Jung had. Neuroticism (emotional instability) formed the second core trait of Eysenck’s trait model, and for a while these were the only two traits that Eysenck believed underpinned human personality. The Eysenck Personality Inventory (1968) reflected these two traits, however a revision of the survey entitled the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (1975) added psychoticism as a third trait. This inclusion of psychoticism proved to be a step backwards in the theory in many ways as it wasn’t well empirically supported, particularly with creative personalities like artists and musicians scoring highly on this measure.

Eysenck tied his traits to biological sources, hypothesising that differences in extraversion were down to individual differences in the Ascending Reticular Activating System (ARAS) of the cortex, and differences in neuroticism were linked to individual differences in the limbic system. He provided some evidence for the former, but was unable to provide any for the latter. He also never tied a biological cause to his psychoticism trait, further fuelling the criticism against it’s inclusion.

Cattell and Eysenck argued publicly over the optimal number of traits that should be used in a trait theory model of personality, as did Eysenck and Costa& McCrae.

Costa & McCrae (1993)

Costa & McCrae were driven by the goal of showing that the apparently dissimilar personality schemes at the time were in fact measuring the same things, and they made large efforts to integrate their model with these other schemes.
Costa & McCrae’s model defines five personality traits that can be remembered with the acronym OCEAN:

Neuroticism (N)
Extraversion (E)
Openness (O)
Agreeableness (A)
Conscientiousness (C)

Costa & McCrae’s model formed the basis for what is now one of the most widely used measurement scales: NEO-Personality Inventory-Revised (NEO-PI-R; Costa and McCrae, 1992)

Rodin's The Thinker

Rodin's The Thinker
(Picture credit: Wikipedia)

Food For Thought

As you can see it has been a long and interesting journey in all, and there is quite a lot I have left out for my own sanity as much as yours (I only actually need to know about two of the above for my upcoming exam!). But take a moment to consider these questions:

  • Do you think Trait Theory can capture a person’s personality and predict their behaviour?
  • How useful is it to reduce behaviours and personality to these few dimensions?
  • What criticisms and weaknesses can you think of for the research and theories described above?
  • Should someone’s beliefs in one area (e.g. eugenics) shadow their achievements in another (e.g. trait theory)?

Have a think, and leave a comment!


Block, J., 1995. A contrarian view of the five-factor approach to personality description. Psychological bulletin, 117(2), pp.187-215.

Costa & McCrae, 1992, NEO PI-R Professional Manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment

John, O. & Angleitner, A., 1988. The lexical approach to personality: A historical review of trait taxonomic research. journal of Personality.

Expecting to Fail, Expecting to Succeed

Exams are starting in a couple of days, and I have found myself saying over and over again “I’m going to fail. I’m sure I’m going to fail.” It’s hard not to feel that way right now, with the pressure that is on from five exams, all of which count for 100% of the mark of their respective modules (the exams alone decide if we pass or fail each module, which in turn decides if we pass or fail the year). And of course I have high demands on myself – wanting to get a First class degree. But I am aware that sitting here telling myself I am going to fail is a very bad thing…it could even be a self-fulfilling prophecy…

Expectation is a powerful thing, both consciously and unconsciously. An experiment by Aronson (1962) looked at expectations of participants by setting some up to expect to do poorly on a task, and some to expect to do well. The participants then completed the task and half from each group were told that they did well, and half that they didn’t do well, thus confirming or denying their expectations. A “fault” then occured (actually part of the experiment) which mean the participants had to repeat the task but were allowed to change their answers if they desired. What is most interesting is that the participants in the low expectation group who actually performed well conterintuitively changed a lot of their choices. These participants expressed surprise when they were shown that they changed so many of their choices, and blamed this behaviour either on “faulty memory” or “shifting criteria of judgment.”

There has been quite a bit of research into the power of expectation on performance, even going so far as to show improved muscle efficiency in runners in a high expectation group (Stoate et al. 2012) and motor performance in high pressure tasks (McKay, 2012)! The more certain your expectancy, the more persistent you will be in your task and the better your performance (Dickhäuser et al., 2011) And you don’t even need to believe that you will ace your task; moderate and high expectations have equal benefit (Marshall & Brown, 2004).

So with all that in mind I will pass on this lovely poem that my sister sent to me. I believe this is by C. W. Longenecker.

The Victor

If you think you’ll lose, you’ve lost,
For out in the world you’ll find
Success begins with a person’s will;
It’s all in the state of mind.

For many a game is lost
Before even a step is run
And many a coward fails
Before his work is begun.

Think big and your deed will grow;
Think small and you will fall behind.
Think that you can and you will;
It’s all in the state of mind and belief.

If you think that you are out-classed, you are;
You’ve got to think high to rise.
You’ve got to be sure of yourself
Before you can win the prize.

Life’s battles don’t always go
To the strongest or fastest man
But sooner or later the person who wins
Is the person who thinks he or she can.



You can do it.

I can do it.

We can all do it.

Good luck to all students who are sitting or preparing to sit exams at the moment!






Aronson, E., 1962. Performance expectancy as a determinant of actual performance. The Journal of Abnormal and Social, 65(3), pp.178-182.

Dickhäuser, O., Reinhard, M.-A. & Englert, C., 2011. “Of course I will …”: The combined effect of certainty and level of expectancies on persistence and performance. Social Psychology of Education, 14(4), pp.519-528.

Marshall, M. a. & Brown, J.D., 2004. Expectations and Realizations: The Role of Expectancies in Achievement Settings. Motivation and Emotion, 28(4), pp.347-361.

McKay, B., Lewthwaite, R. & Wulf, G., 2012. Enhanced expectancies improve performance under pressure. Frontiers in psychology, 3(January), p.8.

Stoate, I., Wulf, G. & Lewthwaite, R., 2012, Enhanced expectancies improve movement efficiency in runners Enhanced expectancies improve movement efficiency in runners., pp.37-41.

Revision Tips #1 – Memory

A big part of studying is about remembering. Of course you have to then be critical, evaluate the arguments, and so on, but if you can’t remember any of the arguments or the evidence you are pretty stuck! So I’ve put together this post with lots of empirically supported information about memory to help you tackle your revision. I hope you find this useful, and if you do please rate the article using the stars at the bottom, and maybe leave a comment with some tips of your own!

Can remembering make you forget?
If we repeatedly attempt to retrieve a memory we improve our ability to do so in the long term. This is called the testing effect. However it has a side effect that you may not know about – it can actually reduce our ability to recall those things that we have not “tested” ourselves on (Anderson et al., 1994). However in contrast it has also been found to improve recall of non-tested material in certain instances (). Chan (2009) conducted some experiments to determine under which conditions each of these occured, and although I will not go into the detailed description (which would require explaining the van Dijk & Kintsch (1983) text processing model, which I am not convinced I really understand myself!) the summary seems to be that the more we can integrate what we are learning with existing knowledge the better we will be at remembering it. However learning independent facts that are unrelated and difficult to integrate into our existing knowledge can lead to the forgetting effect.
So what do we do with that?
When you are revising, remember to link things together as much as possible. Do not learn things individually, but relate them to each other. For example when learning about the van Dijk & Kintsch (1983) text processing model I could compare it to other models, and think about how it fits into the wider context of our ability to read.

Despite many claims in both directions, Nehlig (2010) reported that caffeine has inconcistent effects on memory and attention, with no benefits being seen from intentionally learned data. Mednick et al. (2008) also reported that caffeine had minimal impact on memory and motor performance tasks compared to napping.
It should also be noted that the impact of caffeine on sleep may have a subsequent impact on memory and recall. The general advice seems to be that you should only consume caffeine first thing in the morning, if at all.

Van Der Werf et al. (2009) found that it isn’t just the amount of sleep you get that is important for good memory and recall, but also the type. Shallow sleep (caused by disrupted sleep) leeds to weaker subsequent hippocampal activation compared to participants who experienced deep sleep.
So it is important not only to get enough sleep (and ignore what people say about a minimum of 8 hours, everyone is different and requires a different amount of sleep), it is also important to ensure you get good quality sleep. This means avoiding stimulants like caffiene and nicotine before you sleep, avoiding eating just before bed, and having a quiet place to sleep among other things. Have a look at this page on Sleep Hygiene for more information.

Cue-Dependent Memory
Everyone has heard that you remember things better in the same environment that you learned them in. This is called reinstatement effect (as in, the learning environment is reinstated at recall) or cue-dependent memory). This theory has a long history, perhaps most famously demonstrated by Godden and Baddeley (1975) who had participants memorise word lists underwater then found that they recalled those lists better underwater than on land. There is a long controversy around these findings, with many studies failing to replicate the results in a variety of environmental conditions, however an in-depth meta-analysis by Smith & Vela (2001) has shown reliable results so maybe there is something in it after all.
However it has also been claimed (Carey, 2010) that varying your learning environment improves subsequent recall, possibly by building more associations in your memory.
So what do we do with this?
You should ideally keep environmental distractors to a minimum anyway as things like music, TV, etc. draw your attention away from what you are learning and studies have shown that divided attention leads to poorer memory encoding. However there may be an added benefit here to matching the environment to your test condition (the quiet of an exam hall for example). I have also seen suggestions that wearing a specific perfume or cologne while revising then wearing that same one in the exams may help – however I have not seen any empirical evidence of this!

Spaced Learning
Screenshot of the Mnemosyne softwareA long long time ago, Ebbinghaus (1913) discovered that learning could be significantly improved by correctly spacing practice sessions, however his techniques failed to gain the popularity they deserve. More recently Piotr Wozniak performed research into finding the optimal spacing for retention, and developed an algorithm which he built into his software SuperMemo. The algorithm has also been adapted and included in the free software Mnemosyne which is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Using this software you can test yourself regularly in a way that is evidence-based to give you the best recall. Mnemosyne is very simple to use, and you can even get an add on which works on Android phones so you can test yourself any time.

Related to this Taylor (2010) also found that practicing different skills in an interwoven spaced approach rather than as one block improved performance. So rather than spending a whole day learning one topic, you are better off mixing things up a bit!

Anderson, M. C., Bjork, R. A., & Bjork, E. L. (1994). Remembering can cause forgetting: Retrieval dynamics in long-term memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 20, 1063–1087.

Carey, B., 2010 Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits. New York Times. Accessed: 20-Apr-2012

Chan, J.C.K., 2009. When does retrieval induce forgetting and when does it induce facilitation? Implications for retrieval inhibition, testing effect, and text processing. Journal of Memory and Language, 61(2), pp.153-170.

Ebbinghaus, H., Ruger, H. Alford. (1913). Memory: a contribution to experimental psychology. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.

Godden,D. R., & Baddeley,A. D. (1975). Context-dependent memory in two natural environments: Land and underwater. British Journal of Psychology, 66, 325-331.

Mednick, S.C. et al., 2008. Comparing the benefits of caffeine, naps and placebo on verbal, motor and perceptual memory. Behavioural brain research, 193(1), pp.79-86.

Nehlig, A., 2010. Is caffeine a cognitive enhancer? Journal of Alzheimer’s disease : JAD, 20 Suppl 1, pp.S85-94.

Smith, S.M. & Vela, E., 2001. Environmental context-dependent memory: a review and meta-analysis. Psychonomic bulletin & review, 8(2), pp.203-20.

Taylor, K. & Rohrer, D., 2010. The effects of interleaved practice. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24, pp.837-848.

Van Der Werf, Y.D. et al., 2009. Sleep benefits subsequent hippocampal functioning. Nature neuroscience, 12(2), pp.122-3.

van Dijk, T. A., & Kintsch, W. (1983). Strategies of discourse comprehension. New York: Academic Press.

Remembering Parts of the Brain

As promised, here are the videos that help memorise parts of the brain 🙂

Part 1

Part 2

Freud pt.1

Its interesting that despite my long interest in psychotherapy I have never read or studied Freud. To be honest I have always been put off by the overemphasis of sexual and aggressive drives, and now I’ve read more about Freud’s theories I still feel the same about it. However I do now appreciate more just how much he is to be thanked for; I can see how many other schools of psychoanalysis have drawn from and adapted his ideas. So I will attempt to summarise Freud’s theories very briefly here.

Freudian psychoanalysis is built around three models: The topographic, the structural, and the developmental.

The first model splits the mind into the Conscious, the Pre-conscious, and the Unconscious. The Conscious contains those things that you are aware of and attend to (pay attention to). The Pre-conscious contains those things that you could be aware of, if you attended to them (a physical example would be someone standing on the edge of your vision). Finally Freud’s major and vital contribution: the Unconscious. Here lie things that you are not aware of, and cannot become aware of simply by attending to them. Freud believed that everything in our Unconscious has an innate force pushing it towards consciousness, but anything that could be threatening or objectionable to our conscious selves (such as certain sexual fantasies) is pushed back into our unconscious through a process called repression. However if this objectionable material is mutated and disguised, perhaps as a joke, a dream, or a slip of the tongue (often called a Freudian slip) it may be let through into our consciousness.
This conflict between consciousness and unconsciousness forms, Freud believed, our personalities, behaviours, and mental disorders.

Some time after the above theory, which is the only of Freud’s theories to stand up to empirical testing, Freud proposed the structural model. Here he proposed three collections of thought types (they were never meant to be taken as individual entities or personalities the way they have often been mis-interpreted today): the Id, the Ego, and the Super Ego.

The Id houses all our desires and fantasies, which Freud believed all came from sexual or aggressive drives. It is concerned primarily with immediate gratification and avoiding a state of unpleasure.

The Super Ego contains all the commands and rules of society. It is the aspect of our minds that deals with deciding what is appropriate in different contexts, and tries to control the chaotic Id.

The Ego mediates between these two, helping us balance desires against societal restrictions, resolving the conflict.

The final model Freud proposed is the developmental model, however I will save that for my next post 😉

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