I have written two previous posts regarding the relationship between emotions and personality. This is the third part focusing on the relationship between emotions and personality. Regular readers will note my evolutionary leanings and this post too is inspired in part from evolutionary ideas.
Four domains or spheres in which evolutionary principles are demonstrated have been labeled by Millon as Existence, Adaptation, Replication, and Abstraction. The first relates the serendipitous transformation of random or less organized states into those possessing distinct structures of greater organization; the second refers to homeostatic processes employed to sustain survival in open ecosystems; the third pertains to reproductive styles that maximize the diversification and selection of ecologically effective attributes; and the fourth concerns the emergence of competencies that foster anticipatory planning and reasoned decision-making. Polarities from the first three phases have been used by Millon to construct a theoretically-derived classification system of personality disorders.
Let us simplify the above a bit:
Existence is simply the survival of an individual organism and all the factors that come to play there. For evolution to work, there has to be stable organisms. Ultimately genes are selected, but proximally individuals , which are the vehicles of genes, are selected. The first important function that an organism faces is to maintain and enhance the integrity of its body.
Adaptation is the next problem the creature faces once it has a stable constitution- how its define its relationship with the environment. One can take a passive approach and be dependent on a particular given environment niche; or one can take an active role and mold the environment as per ones needs. In any case an adaptation to ones environment (give/ chosen.actively constructed) is essential for ensuring that one lives a long life, especially a life long enough to reach the reproductive stage. Plants and animals are two prototypical examples of two diametrically opposed adaptation strategy- passive vs active.
Replication is the next task the organism faces. Its not enough just to live- one needs to pass on ones copies – in either original or modified forms- for posterity. The capacity for replication is an important aspect of the evolutionary theory and how evolution works over an extended time. thus the organism needs to reproduce- either clones or children of oneself that can live post the death of the organism and thus enable his genes to live on. One can choose to be self propagating or other -nurturing while ensuring reproductive success. Males and female genders are prototypical examples here.
Abstraction is the next challenge- this time in use of symbolic representation, their manipulations, transmissions etc to achieve lasting effects on potentially unborn and unrelated kins via generativity and memetic transmissions. This is how I see it , not as Millon see its, but this domain is not relevant for either personality or emotions for now.
Lets us see how Millon delineates the polarities inherent in these domain as a human goes about his business of life.
Existence: The Pleasure-Pain Polarity.
The first phase, existence, concerns the maintenance of integrative phenomena, whether nuclear particle, virus, or human being, against the background of entropic decompensation. Evolutionary mechanisms derived from this stage regard life-enhancement and life-preservation. The former are concerned with orienting individuals toward enhancing survival and improvement in the quality of life; the latter with orienting individuals away from actions or environments that decrease the quality of life, or jeopardize existence itself. These may be called existential aims. At the human level of functioning such aims form, phenomenologically or metaphorically , a pleasure-pain polarity.
Adaptation: The Active-Passive Polarity
To exist is but an initial survival phase. Once an integrative structure exists, it must maintain its existence through exchanges of energy and information with its environment. The second evolutionary stage relates to what is termed Modes of Adaptation; it is also framed as a two-part polarity, a passive orientation, that is a tendency to accommodate to one’s ecological niche, versus an active orientation, that is a tendency to modify or intervene in one’s surrounds. These modes of adaptation differ from the first phase of evolution, in that they relate to how that which exists is able to endure or continue to survive in its environment.
Replication: The Self-Other Polarity.
Although organisms may be well-adapted to their environments, the existence of all life-forms is time-limited. To circumvent this limitation, organisms have developed Replication Strategies, that is, ways in which to leave progeny. These strategies reflect what biologists have referred to as r- or self-propagating strategy, at one polar extreme, and K- or other-nurturing strategy, at the other extreme. Psychologically, the former strategy is disposed toward actions which maximize self-reproduction;; here, organisms are egotistic, insensitive, inconsiderate, and socially uncaring; while the latter strategy is disposed toward protecting and sustaining kin or progeny; this leads to actions which are socially affiliative, intimate, caring, and solicitous.
As per Millon an unbalanced leaning towards one or more polarities or a reversal of polarities leads to unhealthy personality styles and personality disorders. How-ever, I’ll lave the discussion of personality disorders for another day.
For now, I’ll like to focus on emotions instead and a popular dimensional theory of emotion developed by Mehrabian amongst others. this the PAD theory that posits that there are three underlying dimensions that characterize all emotions- a Pleasure dimension, an Arousal dimension and a dominance dimension.
As emotions have evolved to solve the same kind of evolutionary problems as personality – though emotions solve the problem in a ‘state’ manner in the ‘here and now’ – it would be self-evident that emotions should also be related to the three domains as outlined above by Millon.
The correspondence can be easily seen. The Pleasure dimension of emotions documents whether the affective valence- whether the affect is subjectively felt as positive and pleasurable or negative and distressing. One can easily see how this is related to the pleasure-pain polarity of Millon.
The Arousal dimension of emotions describes whether the emotion involves feelings of being energetic and ready to act ; or are associated with feelings of relaxation and lessened arousal and passivity. This can be easily seen to correspond to the active-passive polarity of Millon.
The Dominance dimension of emotions describes whether one feels in control and in power over the situation or one feels overwhelmed and subjugated by it. It is related to the powerfulness or dominance felt by the person experiencing the emotion. One can reasonably associate this with the replication self-propagating and other-nurturing polarity. Some states and traits make us more self -focused while others make us more caring towards others.
Now the above PAD model has been found to be valid using factor analytical solutions. In an analysis of positive emotions by M Argyle et al, they found that the structure of positive emotions was best explained by a four dimensional structure.
The grouping data obtained in part 1 were submitted to multidimensional scaling (MDS) and returned a four-dimensional solution. Canonical correlations between the four MDS dimensions and the 13 emotion scales revealed that dimension 1 is best explained by ‘absorption’, dimension 2 by ‘potency’, dimension 3 by ‘altruistic’ and dimension 4 by ‘spiritual’. These correlations were then married to an interpretation of the situations falling high and low on each of the four dimensions, with the following results. Dimension 1 distinguishes internal or private situations from social situations, dimension 2, achievement from leisure situations, dimension 3, social demands from self-indulgence, and dimension 4, serious from trivial situations.
One can easily see that dimension 2 is related to arousal and active-emissivity polarity while dimension 3 is related to the self-propagating/ other-nurturing polarity. Dimension 1 may just be the dimension for valence while dimension 4 may be related to abstraction. In my subsequent posts , I’ll touch upon why I think abstraction domain may also be relevant to emotions and personality.