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Hans Eysenck's Structure of Personality

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Hans Eysenck's structure of personality is overviewed. Supplemented with two articles that expands on Eysenk's theory.

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Eysenck's theory is based primarily on physiology and genetics. Although he is a behaviorist who considers learned habits of great importance, he considers personality differences as growing out of our genetic inheritance. He is, therefore, primarily interested in what is usually called temperament.

Eysenck is also primarily a research psychologist. His methods involve a statistical technique called factor analysis. This technique extracts a number of "dimensions" from large masses of data. For example, if you give long lists of adjectives to a large number of people for them to rate themselves on, you have prime raw material for factor analysis.

Imagine, for example, a test that included words like "shy," "introverted," "outgoing," "wild," and so on. Obviously, shy people are likely to rate themselves high on the first two words, and low on the second two. Outgoing people are likely to do the reverse. Factor analysis extracts dimensions -- factors -- such as shy-outgoing from the mass of information. The researcher then examines the data and gives the factor a name such as "introversion-extraversion." There are other techniques that will find the "best fit" of the data to various possible dimension, and others still that will find "higher level" dimensions -- factors that organize the factors, like big headings organize little headings.

Eysenck's original research found two main dimensions of temperament: neuroticism and extraversion-introversion. Let's look at each one:.

1. Neuroticism

Neuroticism is the name Eysenck gave to a dimension that ranges from normal, fairly calm and collected people to one's that tend to be quite "nervous." His research showed that these nervous people tended to suffer more frequently from a variety of "nervous disorders" we call neuroses, hence the name of the dimension. But understand that he was not saying that people who score high on the neuroticism scale are necessarily neurotics -- only that they are more susceptible to neurotic problems.

Eysenck was convinced that, since everyone in his data-pool fit somewhere on this dimension of normality-to-neuroticism, this was a true temperament, i.e. that this was a genetically-based, physiologically-supported dimension of personality. He therefore went to the physiological research to find possible explanations.

The most obvious place to look was at the sympathetic nervous system. This is a part of the autonomic nervous system that functions separately from the central nervous system and controls ...

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