Personality is centered on the individual person and focuses heavily on individual differences. Personality tests, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, determine how people differ on various dimensions or factors of personality. The popular Big Five trait model, or, Five Factor Model, has five dimensions by which to compare dimensions of personality. The fundamental debate in personality psychology centers on whether personality is determined from within (rationalism or nativism) or from without (empiricism or behaviorism). It is the mind-body conundrum, dating back to Socrates.
Developmental psychology studies the changes people go through over time and identifies patterns that characterize their development. Jean Piaget and Erik Erikson are good examples of psychologists working from a developmental perspective. Developmental theories are based on the nativist philosophic tradition and assume we come into this world with blueprints for development already built in.
Social psychology is a field that combines psychology and sociology. It features psychology’s interest in the individual but studies a person’s behavior as it affects a group and group behavior as it affects individuals.
Social psychology has produced some imaginative and controversial research, including Milgram‘s research on obedience and Zimbardo‘s research on the impact of a prison setting on both the prisoners and guards. In these studies and in the reactions to them, we see one of the major dilemmas facing researchers, especially social psychology researchers: can what you find out by putting participants through a harrowing experience justify the effects on the participants? Such a question takes us to the heart of ethics in psychological research, where answers do not come easily and must always be open to revision.
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