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The Personality Puzzle: Book Review

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Biology 202
2006 Book Commentaries
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The Personality Puzzle: Book Review

Fatu Badiane

The Personality Puzzle by David C. Funder is a well written and entertaining book on personality. The book goes through the history of personality research, the biology of personality, and how personality is related to behavior in a very clear and informative manner. Funder does a very good job of organizing the book and presenting the world of personality to others.

I found the second section of the book, "How People Differ: The Trait Approach," to be very interesting. In this section he discusses how personality traits are assessed and how they influence behavior. He starts this section off with a look at the differing theories that have revolved around personality research. The main conflict when it comes to the theories surrounding personality research is consistency. Many people believe that personality is consistent from one situation to the next, while others believe that it can change based on situation.

The author introduced this point very well in this sentence found on page 60: "Every man is in certain respects (a) like all other men, (b) like some other men, (c) like no other man." This statement looks at how all men (and women) are alike in their basic needs for food and shelter. We are like some other men (and women) in our interests and other commonalities, but we are also unlike any other men (and women) in the traits that make us who we are, such as personality. This quote also ties into how are brains in certain respects are like other brains, are like some brains, and are also like no other brains. All brains are physically set up in the same way with the same structures. But our brains can also be like some other brains when looking at areas involved with certain disorders, for example. It can be said that the brains of depressed people will more likely than not have neurotransmitter concentrations that vary from those of non-depressed people. Finally, our brains are like no other brains in the ways in which individuals can perform differently in academic tasks, social situations, or athletics. All of these factors are in some ways controlled by the brain, but they are different for everyone.

Next Funder discusses personality tests. These tests which can easily be found on the internet or even used in marketing, have their real function in classifying the personalities of subjects. They are especially important in looking at the structure of society and how society affects the individual. They can also be found in the job market where potential employees will be asked to take certain tests so that their traits can be assessed for their potential position.

The last segment found in this section of the book discusses personality judgments of the self and others. Funder starts off by introducing how what we think of ourselves and what others think of us can differ. He states, "To some degree, the judgments of personality rendered of you by the people who know you not only reflect what you are like, but can lead you to be what you are like." (103). This means that one's personality is not so much their own as it is highly influenced by their environment and others. One may be nice because they are genuinely nice, or as a result of others describing them as nice. The only problem with relying on self-judgment and that of others in describing personality is accuracy.

Here, Funder brings up the views of constructivism. He states that this attitude "is widespread throughout modern intellectual life. This attitude, slightly simplified – is that reality, as a concrete entity, does not exist. All that does exist is human ideas or constructions of reality." (105). Constructivism or ones construction of reality in the study of personality is problematic in that it questions the accuracy of personality judgments. How can one know if a personality judgment is actually right or wrong? How can one be sure that all people have the same criteria or definition of "nice" when it comes to describing another? Our personalities, like our view of the world, are not a reality, as was discussed in class. They are interpretations of the surrounding world that make sense within our navigation of our environment and people.

I found the views of constructivism the most interesting. I have never considered what would happen "if a tree fell in the woods and nobody was there to hear it, would it make a sound?". Part of what makes personality advantageous is that we learn how to form valuable relationships. But, if no one else existed on this earth, just we cannot be sure the tree will make a sound, would we have a personality? Would we know to be nice if we never had to be put into a situation with another where our brains constructed the environment that encouraged sharing? I do not think any of these questions will ever be answered. However, it is perplexing to think about personality as a construction of the brain and as a result of interacts with other brains.

Overall, I found the book to be very informative and well written. Fuller has a great way of keeping the viewer interested with his sarcastic and humerus comments. The book is also not filled with personality research jargon that would make it difficult for others to understand. It is a great book for an introduction to personality, research and the world surrounding it.

Works Cited

Funder, David C. (1997). The Personality Puzzle. United States of America: Norton and Company, Inc.