Thursday, July 31, 2014

Introvert or Extrovert, Normal or Abnormal: The Problem With Personality Types

Published by the American Psychiatric Associat...
Published by the American Psychiatric Association, the DSM-IV-TR provides a common language and standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Nick Haslam, University of Melbourne

The idea that people can be classified into types has a long history.

Writing 23 centuries ago, the Greek philosopher Theophrastus sketched 30 characters that are instantly recognisable to this day.

They include the chatterbox, the back-biter, the ungrateful grumbler, the penny-pincher and the patron of rascals.

This ancient attempt to sort people into types reflects the enduring challenge of understanding psychological diversity. As Theophrastus put it:
why is it that, while all Greece lies under the same sky and all the Greeks are educated alike, it has befallen on us to have characters so variously constituted?
More recently, psychologists have proposed an assortment of types. Best known is Carl Jung, who introduced us to the introvert and the extrovert. “The two types are so essentially different,“ he wrote, "presenting so striking a contrast, that their existence, even to the uninitiated in psychological matters, becomes an obvious fact.”

Jung’s work inspired the well-known Myers-Briggs typology, beloved of many consultants but belittled by most researchers. Cleaving humankind with four dichotomies - introverted or extroverted, intuiting or sensing, thinking or feeling, perceiving or judging - it lays out 16 types, each with a unique personality style.

For Theophrastus, the tapestry of human variation was woven from dark threads, his types each defined by a character flaw. For the Myers-Briggs the palette is bright. Each type represents a distinct gift that suits people for positive roles. There is the teacher type, the healer, the performer, the architect, the provider, the mastermind and so on.

Many other types have been proposed. There are physique-based “somatotypes”, such as scrawny, intellectual ectomorphs, and jovial, big-boned endomorphs. There are attachment types that capture differences in how children relate to caregivers, or adults to their romantic partners. There are angry type A and inhibited type C personalities, supposedly at risk of heart disease and cancer.

Non-psychologists have also got in on the act. Muhammad Ali proposed a fruit and nut-based typology, classifying people as pomegranates (hard on the outside and inside), walnuts (hard on the outside, soft on the inside), prunes (soft outside, hard inside) and grapes (soft inside and out).

Muhammad Ali: pomegranate or prune? Cliff/Flickr, CC BY

The trouble with these proposed personality types is that there is scant evidence that they are, indeed, types.

Personality types are kinds of people who differ categorically from one another, just as cats and dogs are kinds of animal. Cats and dogs don’t differ by degrees: there is no continuum from one to the other composed of intermediate cat-dogs. If extroverts and introverts are truly types, like cats and dogs, then any person is either one or the other.

In a review of almost 200 studies examining possible psychological types, my colleagues and I found no compelling evidence that any personality characteristic is type-like. Instead, these characteristics are dimensions along which people vary by degree alone. Extroverts and introverts are not distinct types of person. They merely represent the fiery red and cool blue ends of a personality spectrum.

If personality “types” are not true types then what are they? They are probably best seen as arbitrary regions on an underlying continuum. We can arbitrarily define “tall” as exceeding 1.83m (six feet) in height without believing that tall people are a distinct type. Similarly, an “introvert” is someone who falls towards one end of the introversion-extroversion spectrum.

How we think about personality makes a difference. If we think in terms of types, we place people in categories and use noun labels. The person is “an introvert”, a fact that defines the kind of person they are. If we think in terms of dimensions we use adjectives. The person is “introverted”, an attribute they possess, not an identity that defines them.

Studies have shown that people draw different implications from noun labels and adjectives. When they hear someone labelled with a noun they are more likely to see the characteristic as a fundamental, unchanging aspect of the person. Thinking of someone as “an introvert” rather than as “introverted” leads us to expect them to act in introverted ways always and evermore.

So much for personality type. Might psychological types exist in the realm of mental illness? Many diseases are clearly types: measles is essentially different from mumps, gout and swine flu. Is this also true of mental disorders such as schizophrenia and depression?

Most mental disorders fall on a continuum from normality at one end to severe disturbance at the other. Boris Bulychev/Shutterstock

Our review found that categorical types are vanishingly rare in psychiatry. Very few mental disorders are “cat”-like categories. Most fall on a continuum that extends from normality at one end to severe disturbance at the other. A spectrum of milder variants falls in between.

Freud wrote that psychoanalysis aimed to turn neurotic misery into everyday unhappiness, and our findings suggest this is just a difference of degree.

Several implications follow if most mental disorders fall on a continuum with normality. First, these disorders tend to be diagnosed as either/or categories, and as if a bright line could be drawn between those who have a disorder and those who do not.

If this assumption is often incorrect, then psychiatric diagnosis should perhaps be done differently, in ways that recognise degrees of severity. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, introduced in 2013, made moves in this direction.

A second implication is that deciding who has a particular disorder is bound to be contentious. If there is no objective category boundary separating normality from abnormality we should not be surprised if people draw a boundary in different or shifting ways.

Just as lowering the arbitrary threshold of “tallness” would increase the prevalence of tall people, lowering the threshold for defining disorder can inflate the diagnosis.

This issue also matters for what everyday people think about mental disorder. People who see the mentally ill as categorically different tend to hold more stigmatising attitudes than those who place mental illness on a continuum with normality.

Similarly, those who use noun labels such as “schizophrenics” to refer to people with mental disorders tend to have less empathy towards them, see them as defined by their condition, and view that condition as less alterable.

Despite its long history and continuing appeal, the idea of psychological types is problematic. Evidence for types is lacking and thinking typologically has a significant downside. We need to replace “either/or” with “more or less”.
The Conversation

Nick Haslam receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Poor Don’t Need a Life Coach: America’s Poor Need Bigger Checks, Not a “Life Plan”

by ,  

Poverty (Photo credit: Michelle Brea)
Jamelle Bouie is a Slate staff writer covering politics, policy, and race.

What if the poor need more than disposable income to escape poverty? What if they need a life coach?

That’s the position of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, who in his new anti-poverty plan wants poor families to work with government agencies or charitable nonprofits to craft “life plans” as a condition of receiving federal assistance under his proposed “opportunity grants.”

“In the envisioned scenario providers would work with families to design a customized life plan to provide a structured roadmap out of poverty,” Ryan writes.

At a minimum, these life plans would include “a contract outlining specific and measurable benchmarks for success,” a “timeline” for meeting them, “sanctions” for breaking them, “incentives for exceeding the terms of the contract,” and “time limits” - presumably independent of actual program limits - for “remaining on cash assistance.”

The idea that life skills are necessary to climb out of poverty doesn’t jibe with the facts on the ground.

Even for conservatives - who champion welfare drug tests and robust work requirements - this is breathtakingly paternalistic.

As Annie Lowrey notes for New York magazine, “[I]t isolates the poor. Middle-class families don’t need to justify and prostrate themselves for tax credits. Businesses aren’t required to submit an ‘action plan’ to let the government know when they’ll stop sucking the oxygen provided by federal grant programs.”

What’s more, as she also points out, it treats the poor as if they want to stay that way and all but punishes “the poorest and most unstable families for their poverty and instability.”

As with other measures that tie aid to “accountability” - like family caps for welfare - a sanction can spark a downward spiral to deeper poverty.

Still, this approach has defenders. Here at Slate, my colleague Reihan Salam defends the paternalism in Ryan’s plan as a necessary response to the diversity of the poor and the idiosyncrasy of American poverty:
People with low or no earnings, in contrast, face diverse obstacles. Some need short-term help to, say, fix their car, which will allow them to commute to work, or to make a deposit on a rental apartment. Others don’t have the skills they need to earn enough to support themselves and, for whatever reason, will have a very hard time acquiring them. Sure, you could give both kinds of people food stamps and call it a day. Or you could recognize that one-size-fits-all programs don’t do justice to the ways in which individual circumstances vary.
“The theory behind having smart, dedicated caseworkers working on behalf of people who are down on their luck,” Salam continues, “is that spending a bit more time and money now could help save time and money later.”

It’s a noble and compassionate approach to anti-poverty efforts. It’s also wrongheaded. The idea that life skills are necessary to climb out of poverty - that the poor are plagued by low income and bad habits - doesn’t jibe with the facts on the ground.

Mandatory life coaching makes sense if most poverty is persistent and generational. Even with federal assistance, adults with little-to-no market income - and little experience in the workforce - are at a long-term disadvantage and likely to pass those barriers on to their children.

But poverty in America is fluid; depending on the season, the unstable nature of market work may force a period of personal retrenchment.

The research bears this out. According to the latest Survey of Income and Program Participation, which draws from three years of interviews from a representative sample of American households, almost one-third of Americans were poor for two months or more during 2009, 2010, and 2011.

More importantly, 44% of those poverty “spells” ended within four months and only 15.2% lasted more than two years. By contrast, just 3.5% of the population was poor for all three years - a tiny constituency for the kind of generational poverty that needs a Ryan-esque intervention.

At the left-leaning think tank Demos, Matt Bruenig crunches the numbers of the Census Bureau’s 2012 social and economic supplement to its annual population survey and identifies the “officially poor” as “35% children, 8% elderly, 9% disabled, 8% students, 18% working, and 21% everyone else.”

He concludes: “The adult, able-bodied, non-student poor who lack personal market income comprise 3% of the population.” It’s just a snapshot, but it tells us there aren’t many Americans who need the intense paternalism recommended by Ryan and others.

In his response to Ryan’s anti-poverty plan, Jared Bernstein - former chief economist for Vice President Joe Biden - writes, “The main problem faced by the American poor is not that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the safety net. It’s that they lack the employment and earnings opportunities necessary to work their way out of poverty.”

Bingo. At some point in their lives, millions of Americans will experience a short spell of poverty. Not because they don’t have a plan to fix their lives or lack the skills to move forward, but because our economy isn’t run to create demand for labor, isn’t equipped to deliver stable work to everyone who wants it, and wasn’t built to address the distributive needs of everyone who works.

The best way to confront this problem for most people is to just address those needs.

Yes, on the margins, there will be Americans who need an intensive approach, and I endorse government support for voluntary life coaching (for example, look at the Center for Urban Families in Baltimore).

But by and large, the easiest solution is to mail larger checks to more people. In other words, we need more solutions like Ryan’s expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit - the best part of his plan - and fewer life coaches for the poor.

Why? Pourquoi? ¿Por qué - The Universal Question That Makes Us THINK

by , Co-Creating, Communicating, IGNITING Change! Conversation Media Producer/ Host, Linked In:é-the-universal-question-that-makes-us-think

WHY is my favorite word. WHY is where everything starts.

As a young mom, I loved my toddlers’ ‘WHY Phase’:
“Why is the sky blue, Mommy?”
“Why are the ants having a parade?”
“Why?” “Why?” “Why?”

While some parents may think this is annoying, I see it as the beginnings of these little folks’ thinking process really kicking in, and an opportunity for them to actually begin to explore meaning and their place in this world.

It opens up the opportunity for real communication; not that we have to give answers, but that we can explore thought and the world with them, as they discover meaning for themselves.

During their teens, my sons would ask:
“WHY do I have to do my homework, NOW?”
“WHY can’t we live in a mansion in the hills like ‘'So-and-So’?”

Hmmm, yet another opportunity to help them develop that thinking muscle. My response:
“Why do YOU think it might be a good idea to do it now, rather than wait until later tonight?”
“Why is it important to you, to live there?”

The WHY questions become a place for these young people to start thinking, for us to really listen and ask more questions, and for them to explore meaning a bit more; to practice identifying and expressing their beliefs and core values .

Now, professionally, I find the WHY question continues to be the place to start and to exercise our own ‘thinking, muscles’, too.

It is the first question to ask, and to drill down on real meaning, in just about every situation - and definitely when it comes to developing and running our businesses, and communicating our messages to the world.

I believe this so strongly that we made sure it was integrated into the framework of The Co-Creation Community, and I’ve made it the first step in my own consulting program, 9 Steps To Marketing Success’.

Simon Sinek, author, TED Talker, optimist, has made a career of this question, and has also written a book about it. On the website, he asks:

Do you know your Why? The purpose, cause, or belief that inspires you to do what you do.”

He goes on to say:

“Very few people or companies can articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. By ‘WHY’, I mean your purpose, cause, or belief. –
WHY does your company exist?
WHY do you get out of bed every morning?
And WHY should anyone care?”

Food for thought, don’t you think? And a good place to start!

Do you ever wonder what The Right Questions’ to ask might be, when it comes to your business? MamaRed Knight and I have been having some fun playing around with this idea, and will be having a conversation about it on an open, live call to Tame the BizBeastie™ on August 5. Won’t you join us, and share your own answers - or questions?

Share some questions YOU believe are The Right Questions’. We want to listen to you, drill down, and help you get to what's meaningful for you. You'll be surprised how getting this clarity leads to success in all sorts of ways!

And please share them here, too.

Get the conversation going - it’s the place to START to discover meaning in both your life and your biz - and to tame those BizBeasties, too!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Resilience: The Ultimate Art of Living Well

butterfly silvery blue gray bakgroundby Cynthia Howard, Vibrant Radiant Health:

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from challenges or adversity.

We are all capable of it. It is something some people can access more readily however you can develop your ability to activate resilience.

I believe it is required to live a happier and more fulfilled life in the face of the demands, changes and uncertainty life presents today.

Resilience is also an art and may be the ultimate art of living well. At the heart of resilience is a belief in oneself as well as a belief in something greater, like goals, dreams pursuit of something meaningful.

As a Coach, working with scores of amazing people who have triumphed over their own challenges, I found resilient people did not let their problems define who they are.

Resilient people experience a sense of purpose and meaning in moving toward their goals and transcending the pain, struggle and challenge. Sometimes resilience is the only choice available and it is in this act of pushing forward, you are able to experience the belief in yourself.

Too often today, complaints of boredom, short circuit the development of resilience. Boredom happens when you do not stretch yourself or the standards for your life are too low. Resilience is the result of

I believe Resilience is the new paradigm and framework for productivity. More is required while less is available. It is no secret that when people have a sense of meaning they are more engaged and energized in their work.

One reason resilience is difficult is there are elements of our culture that focus on victimhood. There are entire industries that want you to feel weak and powerless by dwelling on your frailties, your past, your traumas. While it is important to acknowledge your experiences, setting up a home in the midst of your troubles is only going to bring your further down.

Resilience is the ability to recognize that while these challenges may have cost you, they are not going to stop you.

Cynthia Howard RN, CNC, PhD, works with individuals and organizations to activate resilience and build emotional intelligence. Schedule your complimentary Discovery session to learn more about the power tools available to help you and your team achieve success.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Survey Says American Dream Isn't What You Think

by Kelly McCartney, Shareable:

Above is a summary of key findings. Credit: Center for a New American Dream

The Center for a New American Dream and PolicyInteractive recently release the results of a national survey about, that's right, the American Dream.  The upshot of the research is that quality of life is significantly more important to Americans than simply acquiring wealth.

Today, the American Dream is primarily about personal freedom, meeting basic needs, and achieving one's potential. The survey of 1,800 U.S. citizens over the age of 18 asked the following questions:
  • What does the “American Dream” mean today?
  • How - and how successfully - are Americans achieving this dream?
  • And how willing are Americans to share?
Other key findings:

1. Nearly 80 percent of survey participants feel that high healthcare and education costs combined with low wages, among other drivers, have made the American Dream less attainable than it was 10 years ago. That's a notable increase over the 64 percent who felt that way in 2004 - before the recession.

2. One third of the respondents said they would like to share more things because it saves money, builds relationships, and decreases environmental impact. Digging a little deeper, non-white Americans showed more interest in sharing than did their white neighbors, and Millenials use sharing services more than twice as much as Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.

3. About 40 percent of respondents voluntarily chose to work fewer hours - and make less money - in the past five years, and most of them are happy about the decision due to the increase in quality of life they have experienced.

4. On environmental issues, about 70 percent of those surveyed cited waste and over-consumption as key problems (up from 64 percent in 2004), and some 85 percent believe we need to "make major changes" in order to protect the environment.

5. A majority of participants favored reducing advertising, particularly ads aimed at children.