Unified Theory

As sciences mature, they develop integrated theories. There have been many calls for the development of a multilevel unified theory that incorporates the various levels of explanation that personality psychologists have explored (e.g., biological, cognitive, and social). Arthur Staats (1981, 1991, 1996) argues that the time has come for psychology to develop a unified theory. In his view, all sciences progress from disunity to unity, as seen, for example, in physics. He says that it is time for psychology to search for links among phenomena that are now explained by diverse theories and he urges greater respect for alternative points of view to encourage the discoveiy of conceptual bridges.

Several attempts to integrate theories have been made. Dollard and Miller, for example, combined psychoanalysis with learning theory, and many behaviorists since have advocated behaviorism as the unifying paradigm for all of personality theory (cf. Ardila, 1992). Convergence has also been explored between psychoanalysis and personal construct theory (B. Warren, 1990), between Adlerian individual psychology and behaviorism (Pratt, 1985), and between the theories of Erikson and Kelly (G. J. Neimeyer & Rareshide, 1991). Modern psychodynamic theory, which describes unconscious aspects of interpersonal relationships, has untapped implications for currently popular social cognitive theories (Westen, 1991) and many findings in laboratory studies of memoiy and emotion converge with clinical insights expressed by Freud and other psychoanalytic theorists (Westen, 1998b). These convergences are still far from the vision of an integrated psychological theory, but such explorations are moving the field in that direction, and increasing numbers of personality researchers are venturing beyond narrower paradigms and asking larger questions: about emotion, about early experience, about people's self-concept, and so on.

One way to make sense of the diversity of theories is to recognize that they explain different phenomena, often at different levels. A unified theory will then be a multilevel theory (e.g., Hyland, 1985; Staats & Eifert, 1990). It is not unusual for important phenomena to be explained from diverse levels of explanation. In tiying to understand why parents sometimes neglect and abuse their children, theorists have offered explanations at the historical level (e.g., attitudes toward privacy in families), at the current sociological level (e.g., poverty), and at the psychological level (e.g., the characteristics of the abusers), among others. Focusing on traits, such as neuroticism, and states, such as emotional reactions to the stresses of parenting, are two different levels of analysis for understanding parental abuse (Belsky, 1993). People simultaneously exist at several levels: as biological beings, as conscious and thinking humans, as behaving organisms, and so on. A theory may be more precise if it restricts consideration to only one level of explanation, but this restriction limits the comprehensiveness of the theory. Perhaps, though, a restricted one-level theory can be merged into a more comprehensive framework (much as Newtonian physics was incorporated into Einstein's more comprehensive theory).

LTltimately, personality theorists may be able to develop theories that include various levels of explanation. In the abstract, such an aspiration is not too difficult to imagine. Consider, for example, the humanistic idea of self-actualization. This high-level concept seems remote from a biological explanation, but at least one hypothetical model of brain functioning has been proposed: that the brain has two modules of neurons, one evaluating the present state and another evaluating an imagined alternative. If the imagined alternative is better, this discrepancy activates motivation to strive for that improved condition, and this motivation is parallel to self-actualization motivation (Levine, 1997). It is, however, a long way from this suggestion to a fully developed model that would offer detailed descriptions of all the processes involved.

Recall from Chapter 1 the criteria of a good theory: verifiability, comprehensiveness, and applied value. Often, there are trade-offs among these requirements. Psychoanalytic, social psychoanalytic, and humanistic approaches attempt to explain a broad range of behaviors (comprehensiveness) but have concepts (e.g., libido and self-actualization) that are imprecise and not readily verified. Rogers's description of conditions of effective therapy, however, is phrased precisely and has stimulated research. Behavioral and cognitive behavioral theories have also engendered considerable research.

Besides the criteria generally accepted for evaluating theories, other standards are sometimes applied. For example, cognitive social learning approaches stand up well when evaluated for verifiability and applied value. Yet they have been criticized by humanistic psychologists for continuing a scientific model that objectifies people rather than enabling them to achieve their full potential. This criticism is directed at the ideological or philosophical implications of a theory and does not correspond to any of the criteria defining a sound scientific theory. This does not necessarily invalidate the criticism, but makes it a matter of professional values.

Perhaps personality theory is not well served by the traditional model of science. Science is supposed to be objective and value-free. Maslow questioned this assumption with his proposal of a Taoist Science. Others also question whether such a value-free stance is desirable, or even possible, for personality theory (Kukla, 1982; Sampson, 1977, 1978). Could it be that our traditional understanding of scientific objectivity is inadequate?

If a scientific theory modeled after the physical sciences could be devised for personality, would people be dehumanized? Perhaps the physical sciences provide the wrong metaphor for the scientific study of personality. We often express our thoughts by using metaphors (figures of speech that imply comparisons). For example, we may refer to the elderly as experiencing the "sunset of their years" or to bad news as a "bitter pill." Scientific theories can also be understood as metaphors. A root metaphor, according to Stephen Pepper (1942), provides a model for understanding phenomena, and it is often unconscious. He suggests six world views, each based on a different root metaphor (see Table 16.1). The concept of root metaphor provides another basis for comparing theories, besides the scientific criteria discussed earlier. It also helps to explain why some of the theories seem so incompatible with one another. If two theories are based on different root metaphors, their unstated assumptions will be incompatible. Personality theories are based on some of the metaphors suggested by Pepper, as well as others.

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