AC4P with Dr. Scott Geller 014 | Personality, States vs. Traits Part 1

Nature vs. Nurture.

Often, as Behavioral Scientists we focus mainly on Nurture, but it is important that we don't forget about Nature. There are many factors that go into creating who we are. Many Behavioral Scientists talk about this - Anthony Biglan & Susan Schnieder - and many others that also take environment into consideration - Eva Jablonka. So, as Behavioral Scientists, what factors should we be taking into consideration? How does the environment work in conjunction with our genetics, and vice versa?


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Dr. Scott Geller (00:02):

Well, let's talk about personality. Behavior analysts or Behavioral scientists, we don't talk too much about personality, but we can't deny it. We have a personality. I mean, we have dispositions inherited perhaps, or maybe it's nurture, but it's there and it influences our behavior. Let's talk about one we can all relate to type a, are you a type A? Now you know if you're type A. Type A's, we gotta go, we gotta move, we're concerned, we get frustrated when people are holding us back. And you know, if you're type a, if you go to the grocery store and you look for the shortest line and you don't only count the people, we can count the number of groceries in their carts, you know? And if the other line that you didn't choose is going a little faster, you get a little bit upset, a little bit frustrated. That's type a. Well, how about when you're driving along and you're driving in a left-hand lane, following the cars in a car on the right-hand pulls ahead and then it turns and pulls it. Does that upset you a bit? I mean, are you always trying to go places, go, go, go. That's type A. Now years ago when I started at Virginia Tech over 50 years ago, I know I'm type A and I'm running here and running there and my colleagues would stop me and say, Scott, slow down. Slow down you're going to have a heart attack. And in those days, that's what they said, type a heart attack. Of course, my mom told me, stop and smell the roses and you know, again, got places to go people to beat people to see, and so on. Bottom line is type a alone does not cause a heart attack. It used, they used to think that, but follow-up research and shown that you have to be hostile if you're a type a and you're hostile. So if you have that emotional connection with your type a go, go go, then maybe you are at risk for heart attack or for heart disease.

Dr. Scott Geller (02:32):

And so the point is, is it challenges if you're type A, can you still talk to yourself? You know, covert behavior, can you talk to yourself to calm yourself down? You know, or, and I must admit sometimes I get angry and my verbal behavior in my car is not necessarily positive when somebody cuts in front of me and go, why? Cause I'm type a. Type B you know how to, you know how to relax. And by the way, we're talking about personality and my question to you right now, is it a trait? Were you born that way? Or is it a state? Is it nature or nurture? Now I believe with type A, I was born that way. I mean, I've been that way all my life. And so that makes it a trait. So interesting discussion. When you talk about personality, the distinction between trait and state is important because state means I have a certain disposition, but it can change.

Dr. Scott Geller (03:38):

Environmental conditions can change it. Now, as long as we're on to type a and heart attack, let's talk about another personality characteristic that leads to heart disease, and that is pessimism. Individuals who are pessimistic, always looking on the dark side, are more likely the research says to suffer heart disease. Now, my question for you to think about is pessimism a state or a trait. The opposite of pessimism of course is optimism. And that connects to our other presentation that we talked about positive psychology. So optimists are happier and they're healthier. And again, pessimists are not. Now, I personally believe that optimism and pessimism is strongly influenced by the context. That we can change people that we can change our personality with regard to be an optimistic looking on the bright side or looking on the adult side, pessimistic.

Shauna Costello (04:46):

Well, and I like talking about all of this too because I know when we were planning, we were both, you even guessed. You're like Sean, I'm guessing you're a type A, that yes, I am a type A100%. And I think that when we do talk about this and when we talk, you know, bring in behavioral science with it is that this isn't something that is novel to the field of behavioral science. It's not it's talked about, I mean, Skinner talks about nature versus nurture and the things you're born with. There's Susan Schneider that talks about it as well. There's another book called evolution in four dimensions. And that one talks about how genetics, your genetic makeup, your epigenetic changes behavioral and all of these different things, how they're intertwined. And just like you had mentioned that the traits or the nature that we're born with, those can be changed or turned on and turned off depending on the environment.

Dr. Scott Geller (05:58):


Shauna Costello (06:01):

As well.

Dr. Scott Geller (06:02):

Yes. And of course, again, the bottom line is these dispositions influence our behavior. Now, the term radical behaviorism, it's radical because Skinner said it's more than behavior as opposed to methodological behaviorism. So of course, behaviorists are willing to consider personality. Now, when you talk personality, I'm in the field of industrial-organizational psychology, and you talk to any IO psychologist, and they want to talk about the big five. The big five. Now the big five personality traits, I'm not convinced they're all traits, but you talk to a personality person and they use the word trait. Now these five personality traits, I'm going to use the word trait. They came from a content analysis of all the personality characteristics, and they came up with five that essentially represented all of them.

Dr. Scott Geller (07:07):

So let's talk about these five. They, they spell OCEAN. So you can remember these five by thinking of ocean. So the first one, first one is O for openness. Now, as I talk about these things you ought to think are these traits, do you know people in your life, for example, who are always open, open to change, open to consider new things? Is that a trait or have you seen that change depending upon the situation? Now, openness does not really predict behavior very well, but the second one does the C for ocean is conscientiousness.

Dr. Scott Geller (07:57):

A conscientious person, and Shauna you're certainly conscientious. Conscientious means I'm organized. I got it all together and it is predictive of success. People who score higher on conscientiousness are typically more successful in whatever they're doing again, is it a trait? I kind of think that I have two daughters and one is clearly more organized and more conscientious than the other. And they've been that way all their lives. And so as I observe, as a dad, I observe kids' behavior, and I think constant as a hangout, conscientiousness is pretty much a trait. However, I also believe that you can help people become more conscientious, right? You can help them become more organized. If they have a topic that they're really interested in, we talked about self-motivation, if they like this topic and they get intrinsic consequences from it that can perhaps make them more conscientious about that topic. So while people tend to call it a trait, and I just made the comment that I watched my daughters, but I really hope that there's a state aspect that indeed we can influence conscientiousness because that's an important one.

Dr. Scott Geller (09:20):

So, O C the next one, here's one E stands for extrovert. Extrovert introvert. Then I ask you and you ask yourself, have you always been one or the other? I know that I've always been on the introvert side, not extreme. When I was a kid, I thought I was just shy. I wasn't the first one to start a conversation. I wasn't the first one, once the conversation got going, I felt comfortable, but I wasn't the person to get out there and interact. I did not get energy by talking to people. People did not give me energy. However, when I tell my students that I'm more of an introvert, they don't believe me because they see me performing on a stage in front of 600 students screaming and shouting. And they said, how can that be an introvert? Well, that's a state situation. That's a situation. That's a performance, I'm performing. It's not the same thing as being an introvert or an extrovert means that you truly seek out or don't seek out interactions with people. Now, if you're an extrovert, the kinds of professions you want to consider are those professions where you do interact with people.

Dr. Scott Geller (10:42):

So that's O C E. Now the A of OCEAN is agreeableness. Are you agreeable? Are you socially connected? Again, this I really do believe is more of a state and a trait. But again, you talk to people about the big five and they say, these are traits. The last one, N for neuroticism. Now they use neuroticism because it's easy to go with OCEAN, to spell it. But neuroticism simply means you're not abnormal. You're just high-strung. It's simply it connects, I think the type A, you just got things to do. If you watch the person sitting down and their knee is going, the leg is going like mine is right now is just going up. That's, that's kind of high strung. Got things to do, connects to type a, so if you're type a and also a bit neurotic you need to understand that and realize that that, that you're gonna, that's going to influence your behavior in a big way.

Shauna Costello (11:52):

Yeah. And I can, can fully agree with, you know what I mean, just from my personal experience with this and with other people it's something that I always like to do is compare me and my siblings. To me, it's the easiest comparison to make, because we have an entire spectrum with the three of us. There's me, who came into this world by forcing myself out and who really hasn't stopped since. And then there's my sister. Who's somewhere in the middle. Like just, she's kind of in the middle of both sides. And then there's, my little brother was the baby who was weeks late, had to be, he had to be forced out. And he's just so nonchalant about everything still to this day. So that's something that I've always like to compare because we're so different, one thing I like to say too, is that my little brother is actually much more naturally smart than me. He doesn't have to try, things just come very easily to him, but I have a higher work ethic and motivation. So it actually seems like it's interesting how those, they can weigh out how different States or different traits, like how they can weigh out and play a completely different role.

Dr. Scott Geller (13:26):

Exactly. Right. And again, when you talk about your siblings, your brother and your sister and you see they're very different. That would suggest that maybe they're not inborn. I mean, at least it's not hereditary, but at the same time you look at, you've seen that it's very consistent. Your brother's always been this way and you've always been conscientious, you know? So in a sense, it is a disposition that stays with you. And so that's why they would call it a trait even though you're in your same family, you've got three different personalities but it's consistent. And the question is, do you change? Does that disposition change as a function of the situation you're in? And my guess is Shauna, not for you. You're conscientious whatever you're trying to do, you want to be the best you can be. Now, some of that is because you were the firstborn, the firstborn is more into approval from others. And the latter later-born like your brother. He seems that he's more independent, less dependent on approval. So there's a lot of factors here, but let's face it. We're talking about behavioral science. And to what extent does attention does support or feedback influence behavior. And as we're saying right here, that could depend on your personality.

Shauna Costello (14:52):

Well, and one thing too, that I know that I've been asked before and comes up in classes that people take about behavioral science is they like to say, "well, me and my siblings are raised in the same environment why are we so different then?" It's like, well, that wasn't the same environment.

Dr. Scott Geller (15:12):

There you go.

New Speaker (15:12):

By the time, like you said, I was the first board and how parents act with their firstborns is usually a lot different than they act with their third. It's almost completely different. And so the learning histories of the parents have changed and the environment is not actually the same, just because you may have the same parents, whether they're adoptive parents or your birth parents, it, it doesn't really matter if you have the same parents that doesn't necessarily mean that you have that exact same environment with all of the exact same learning contingencies that played out through your entire life.

Dr. Scott Geller (16:00):

Exactly you were nurtured differently than your sister and your brother. And that's the environment too. And the fact that you were the firstborn and you got all that love and attention as the firstborn, and then your sister comes along, and all of a sudden, there's less time for you. And that's the situation has changed. So you're absolutely right. It's tough to think of the same people. It is tough to think that their situation is the same and it varies every day. So the bottom line here is that, yeah, we focus on behavior, but we do understand that dispositions might influence that behavior and might influence the impact of a consequence, the impact of an intervention to change that behavior. So I do think as behavioral scientists, we have to realize yeah there are big five personalities and the thing one to end on this conscientiousness is the one personality characteristic that's predictive of success. That's the one, but then introvert extrovert predicts the kind of profession you might want to go into. Okay. So those are the two of the five that had the most research evidence that they influence behavior.

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