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Individual Differences & Psychological Impairment

United States Psychologist Dr Toshihiko Maruta of the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota observed that individuals who process an optimistic disposition to live are, on average likely to live longer compared to negative or pessimistic individuals. Noticeably, this conclusion by Maruta was reinforced 30 years later as participants who were labelled as optimist within the original group were found to have lived 19 per cent longer. Many psychologists attribute this Safety 1st Smooth Ride Travel System with OnBoard 35 LT Infant Car Seat, Monument 2result to one’s social skills, namely, one’s ability to implement effective problem-solving techniques within any given social situation.

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It might also account for one’s success in life as such individuals experience greater social acceptance and popularity due to their positive outlook on life. With this in mind, optimistic individuals are therefore less subjective to mental health problems, like depression as their self-esteem is considered to be higher than a pessimistic, negative individual. Knowing of this psychologists, therefore, are interested in the processes that are involved in determining one’s level of optimism. Let’s look at two influential theories on optimism, namely, ‘learned optimism’ and ‘dispositional optimism.’

Learned Optimism

Professor of Psychology Martin. E. Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania in the United States has been acknowledged as the individual who developed and defined what is meant by ‘learned optimism.’ Moreover, Seligman’s theory was conceptualised after his involvement in the development of the ‘attributional reformation of the learned helplessness model’ (1978) which referred to one’s ability to learn how to be helpless. It was at this point in time when Seligman theorised that if a person can learn to be helpless then they might also be able to learn how to be optimistic. Let’s look at the influences of contributing factors that make up ‘learned helplessness’ and ‘learned optimism.’

In Seligman’s opinion ‘helplessness’ is one’s inability to control or react in a manner that will help ones-self in a given situation. Furthermore, according to Seligman (1978), a person who has experienced such an event has effectively ‘learned helplessness.’ Moreover, according to Seligman individuals might attribute their inability to react to internal personal contributing factors. These factors in their view are stable and enduring in all aspects of their lives. For example; when a relationship has ended a person who has learned helplessness might attribute this outcome to internal, stable and global factors.

Internal Factors – meaning, that one’s self-worth is not deserving of such a relationship be it on a personal or intimate level. For example;

“It’s just who I am, I’m unable to maintain a relationship with anyone.”

Stable Factors – In other words, one’s core belief that their personality is the cause of the problem and is why blame is often placed upon themselves. For example;

“Nothing will change, it’s my entire fault.”

Global Factors – For example;

“If you know I’m like this then everyone must know, that’s why I’m unable to maintain a relationship, nobody likes me.”

Seligman (1991) expanded on his initial concept by suggesting that it’s one’s ‘Explanatory Style,’ that is, one’s positive or negative accountability of an event to solve a problem that’s based on one’s perception and interpretation can influence one’s level of optimism. For example; when someone applies for a position within a company and is overlooked by management. A positive response might be, “although hundreds of people applied I only just missed out.” Whereas, a negative individuals response might be, “as if I would work for such a person, we just didn’t see eye to eye.”

Moreover, as previously mentioned Seligman related one’s helplessness to one’s perception of being unable to control certain aspects of one’s life. Knowing of this Seligman argued that it’s easier to be pessimistic than it is to be optimistic as it’s difficult to sustain a level of positive mental attitude towards life. Noticeably, this analysis was derived from a research project that was conceptualised by Overmier & Seligman (1967) which yielded unexpected results.

During a ‘learned helplessness’ experiment dogs were subjected to a negative stimulus, namely an electric shock just after hearing a tone, it was hypothesised that all dogs would become submissive, passive after learning that all attempts to change the situation would fail. However, a percentage of dogs never learned to be helpless as previous experiences enable them to continue to look for solutions. In addition, it was found that dogs once instructed could also resolve situations after a while, therefore, optimism in Seligman’s view could be learned. This hypothesis was reinforced by Seligman et al. in 1988 when 33 per cent of dogs and humans during an ‘Optimistic’ sound experiment were unable to learn ‘helplessness.’ Seligman attributed this result to one’s ability to explain the situation to ones-self, that is, one’s ‘explanatory style.’

Seligman’s (1998) ABC model, Seligman theorised that a person can learn optimism by assessing one’s ABC’s. See below

a) Represents one’s ability to be ‘adverse’ in a situation

b) Represents one’s ‘actions taken’ after one’s initial interpretation of a ‘negative thought, event’ or ‘misfortune,’ that’s also based on one’s ‘core beliefs’ according to Seligman. c) Represents the consequences of the outcome of an event which is directly correlated to a person’s ability to be adverse.

Consider the following situation and how Seligman’s ABC approach might influence one’s behavioural patterns during an event.

Example 1 – Optimistic Alex

Alex arrived early at his local Transport & Licensing Centre to undertake his driver’s licence test for the first time. Upon waiting Alex found himself in a positive mood after reflecting on all of his hard work, in preparation for the test ahead. Alex’s thoughts were momentarily interrupted as his examiner arrived and instructed him to proceed outside to the car. It’s also at this point in time when Alex noticed that this examiner appeared too distracted and annoyed about something. However, this observation by Alex did not affect his focus or state of mind going into the test as Alex was convinced that his ability to drive the car will be rewarded at the end of the day when he receives his driver’s licence.

The examination begins, during the course of the test Alex acknowledged that he had made some fundamental errors, however, Alex accounted for his mistakes based on his circumstances and that all test are inherently stressful to some degree. Therefore, with this in mind, he decided to remain calm and focused on the task at hand. The outcome of the event, as Alex drives into the car park of his local Transport & Licensing Centre he found himself pleased with his effort that he had made. This calm analytic approach to driving was rewarded as the examiner informed Alex that he just acquired his driver’s licence.

Let’s review this example with Seligman’s (1998) ABC model in mind. As previously mentioned the key to Seligman’s model is one’s ability to take ‘action’ and to be ‘adverse’ when faced with a negative thought, event or misfortune. It also refers to one’s ability to explain the situation to ones-self, that is, a person’s ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ ‘explanatory style’ that is based on one’s core beliefs. Knowing of this it’s clear that Alex explanatory style and ability to be adverse is self-evident as Alex did not believe that his presence or mannerisms were the sources of his examiner’s distraction or annoyance. This was also the case when Alex referred to his mistakes as being ‘circumstantial’ and ‘temporary.’ In addition, according to Seligman this rational objective observation is typical of an optimistic positive individual and is in contrast to a positive pessimistic person’s explanation of an event.

Colin Cooper (1998) argued that individualism is the variance of one’s psychological development that has been affected by one’s daily personal, inter-personal experiences within one’s environment. Moreover, that one’s behavioural patterns can be influenced by one’s construct of the world. These constructs according to Cooper are based on multiple overlapping and interrelated psychological theories. With this premised in mind, Cooper labelled his process as one’s ‘structural model’ of individual differences. Noticeable, this model is different from Cooper’s ‘process’ model which was focused on and related to ‘when, where and why’ individuals differ. Therefore, Cooper’s (1998) ‘Individual Difference Theory’ was based on the employment of both his ‘process’ and ‘structural’ models. As a result, Cooper was able to gain a greater perspective on ‘how’ individualism occurs. But before we continue to look at Cooper’s research methodology which includes the implementation of multiple factor analysis, let’s first look at what is meant by individual differences.

Consider the following, compare your own confidence level with that of others, moreover, conceptualise why there are degrees or variances in one’s ability to forgive. These two simplistic examples can allow us to understand our own individuality on both a personal, interpersonal level. But how do we measure these degrees or variance? Cooper acknowledged that his theoretical framework of individual differences can be accepted and validated by the observation of individuals within a clinical and social setting. Therefore, Cooper like many other researchers had applied multiple factor analysis to his approach to individuality. Let’s now look at the following example on how individualism can be measured and quantified by overlapping statistical analysis.

One’s belief in ‘Good Luck’

By comparing different theories within the field of Psychology Day & Maltby (2008) identified multiple variables that might act as predictors in determining a person’s belief in good luck. These variables or factors included optimism, one’s attribution style, neuroticism, self-esteem and one’s irrational belief system. As a result, Day & Maltby’s statistical analysis indicated that there is a strong correlation with one’s level of optimism and one’s belief in good luck. Moreover, it also demonstrated to other researchers within the field of individual differences in the effectiveness of overlapping existing theories. However, a theory might comprise multiple factors with many variables attributed to each factor. With this in mind, researchers like Cooper implemented multiple factor analysis to determine which correlation of variables in relation to each factor will result in the strongest correlation coefficient or Pearson’s r. This results in the researcher gaining a greater insight into the psychology of a population within a geographical location and culture.

Social Attitudes – Right winged attitudes within our society

American psychologist Theodore Adomo and his fellow colleagues Frenkel Brunswik, Levinson & Sanford (1950) referred to the three concepts of right-wing attitudes within our society as ‘authoritarianism,’ ‘conservatism,’ and ‘social dominance.’ In addition, Adomo et al. also argued that ‘authoritarianism’ refers to the conformity of individuals who process a unique set of behavioural patterns. Such individuals in Adomo’s view are also unable to tolerate those who follow inflexible rigid stereotypical thoughts or patterns. Furthermore, that this uniqueness in attitude is influenced by and stems from the authoritarian style of parenting on a conscious, unconscious level during the developmental stage. As a result, individuals who are authoritative in nature often transfer their insecurities by trying to dominate other individuals and groups which might include racial minorities. In contrast, Canadian psychologist Robert Altemeyer criticised the research methodology within the Berkeley School, Adomo et al Project as Altemeyer (1996) defined ‘authoritarianism’ as right-wing authoritarianism.

Altemeyer’s (1996) right-wing authoritarianism model

Altemeyer’s right-wing authoritarianism model provides a psychological insight into a person’s personality, namely, their right-wing core beliefs, traits attitudes towards others. Such individuals according to Altemeyer are ‘self-righteous, dogmatic’ and often ‘conformed to the opinion of others.’ In addition, that they ‘accept insufficient evidence to support their’ own ‘core beliefs.’ These beliefs in Altemeyer’s view might include that ‘they have no personal failings’ and that ‘the world is a dangerous place’ to live in. Moreover, that they often ‘trust authorities too much’ and as a result, they are willing to ‘accept the unfair abuse of power by the government.’ Furthermore, Altemeyer’s suggested that they ‘tend to be hypocritical’ as they only ‘trust people who tell them what they want to believe.’ If we compare Adomo’s approach to authoritarianism with Altemeyer’s right-wing authoritarianism, then it’s that Altemeyer was focused on the strategies or cognitive processes related to authoritarianism. Whereas, Adomo’s et al. research project did not as it refers to one’s upbringing during the developmental stage.

As previously mentioned, Adomo’s (1950) right-wing attitudes within our society are based on authoritarianism, conservatism and social dominance. With this in mind, we will now define ‘conservationism’ as outlined by United Kingdom psychologist Glenn D. Wilson and his colleague Patterson during the early 1970’s conceptualised that a collection of attitude once identified and grouped would represent a typical or ‘ideal’ conservative. These attitudes or beliefs in Wilson’s view would include their tolerance towards minority groups as well as their opinions on pro-establishment politics. In addition, it also includes their opposition to scientific progression and religious fundamentalism. Wilson’s concept of an ‘ideal-conservative’ lay the foundation towards the formulation of the Wilson & Patterson (1968) ‘Attitude Inventory Scale’ which was comprised of 50 questions.

Noticeably, each question was based on the topics previously mentioned. For example; Questions that relate to one’s standing on religion or their attitude towards sexual activity. Furthermore, Wilson’s research into conservatism evolved during 1985 with the development of his ‘Conservation versus Liberalism model.’ A model which focused on one main dimension, namely, conservatism and the four sub-dimensions, that is, ‘ReligionPuritanism,’ ‘Anti-hedonism,’ ‘Ethnocentrism-intolerance’ and ‘Militarism-Puritanism.’ Noticeably, each sub-dimension has a unique definition, therefore, before we can continue it would be prudent to expand on each one in more detail.

Religion – Puritanism

Religion-puritanism refers to the strict adherence to the teachings found within the ‘Bible’ and the belief in the Church’s authority in modern times.

Ethnocentrism – Intolerance

Ethnocentrism – intolerance relates to a ‘conservative’ racist beliefs of one’s social Ethnic superiority over other social groups.’

Militarism Puritanism

Militarism puritanism is a pro-active approach by individuals to define a nation’s Sovereignty and values on an international level.

G. Wilson’s Four Theoretical Descriptions of Conservatism

Wilson, unlike Altemeyer, concentrated on the social aspect of conservatism which resulted in Wilson formulating his 1973 four theoretical perspectives on conservatism. Namely, one’s ‘tendency to play-safe’ which referred to one’s cautious moderate approach to life and one’s ability to avoid risks on a daily basis. Wilson’s second descriptive included how ‘distinction between generations’ can occur between children and their parents as parents become increasingly tolerant and more conservative later on in life. Moreover, that ‘resistance to change’ relates to one’s conservative attitude and beliefs towards social change. Such individuals according to Wilson (1973) prefer the stability of institutions and resist the advancement of technology. Wilson also conceptualised conservation as one’s ‘internalisation of parental values,’ meaning, that children often adopt what is socially acceptable by their parents, peers and social groups.

Social Dominance

Leading United States social dominance theorist Jim Sidanius & Felicia Pratto (1999) argued that social dominance refers to the right-wing hierarchical nature of our society. That is, one’s personal, inter-personal, oppression or prejudices towards individuals or groups. With this in mind, the social psychologist believes ‘in-group’ and ‘out-groups’ are formed as a way of explaining what’s involved in the dynamics in determining social dominance. Moreover, that ‘aggregated individual discrimination,’ ‘aggregated institutional discrimination’ and ‘behavioural asymmetry’ are the three processes required to form and maintain a group-based social hierarchy or social categorisation. However, before we continue let us look at these three processes in more detail.

Aggregated Institutional Discrimination

Aggregated institutional discrimination refers to social based institutes that often perpetuate and maintain a hierarchical framework within a community, for example; individuals who attend University are often placed in a different social class than that of others. Moreover, higher-ranking officers within the Police force have a greater social status both at work and in the community. Noticeably, social categorisation is not limited to these two examples as the armed forces, the Church and political parties all subscribe to a hierarchical model within their profession. In addition, that this form of social dominance is also maintained by advertisement. The Church enforces its morality, judgement over others,

the armed forces promote how to become a better person, which implies a separation of superiority over others within the community. With this in mind, such practices, therefore, have become socially acceptable as they continue to influence each generation.

Aggregated Individual Discrimination & Behavioural Asymmetry

Aggregated individual discrimination refers to an act of discrimination that occurs on a daily basis by an individual towards another person regardless of one’s social setting. Such acts might include the employment of an individual that has been based on their looks and not on their qualifications. Or comments made by a person that suggests a racist undertone towards someone else. Behavioural asymmetry is the distinctive difference in behavioural patterns between dominant and subordinate groups under identical or social situations. It also refers to the symbiotic relationship of each group and the acts undertaken by each group that perpetuates their own dominate or subordinate status within the community.

Religion Gordon William Allport (1966) suggested that one’s approach towards religion is divided into two religious orientations, namely, one’s ‘intrinsic’ orientation towards religion and one’s ‘extrinsic’ orientation towards religion. Allport explained how intrinsic orientated individuals are committed to their beliefs as it affects them on a deeply personal level. Such individuals according to Allport also frequently think about their religion, be it at work or when they are socialising. Transversely, others who are extrinsically orientated use religion in the following way. As an instrument that will ‘protect’ them, ‘consolidate’ them against the injustices and realities of the world. Moreover, it offers them membership and social status within the community. This acceptance by religious groups allows the individual social access to interpersonal relationships. It is clear then that these individuals who are intrinsic or extrinsically orientated towards religion approach religion in two distinctive ways.

The Correlation between Religions, Coping and Mental Health

United States psychologist and author Kenneth Pargament pioneered the research in the field of religious coping. Namely, the ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ approach religious individuals take during times of great stress. For example; during the course of bereavement individuals might attribute their loss to God’s plan. This accountability by the individual demonstrates a ‘positive’ religious coping mechanism. Whereas, other individuals in Pargament’s view who question God might employ a ‘negative’ coping mechanism by assigning blame onto one’s self as a form of punishment by God.

Mental Health

Research undertaken by Baker & Gorsuch (1982) revealed a significant negative and positive correlation between one’s ‘intrinsic, extrinsic’ religious orientation and one’s level of anxiety respectively. In addition, researchers like Watson, Morris & Hood (1988) had found a significant positive correlation between a person’s extrinsic religious orientation and one’s level of depression. Moreover, that Watson et al. findings also demonstrated a significant negative correlation between one’s intrinsic religious orientation and one’s level of depression. Knowing of this, it’s clear that one’s ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ state of mind is a reflection of one’s level of mental health. Other factors that might also contribute to one’s mental health is one’s ability to cope. Namely, one’s ‘Problem-focused coping style’ which relates to one’s ability to recognise and deal with stressful situations. This approach to coping often yields a positive result and is in contrast to a person’s ‘Emotion-focused coping style’ that relates to a person who reacts to stress on an emotional level by verbally expressing themselves to others without taking any course of action to resolve the stressful situation.

Religion & the Five Factor Model of Personality

As previously mentioned in Chapter ( ), the Five-Factor Model of Personality is comprised of five personality types, namely, Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. Knowing of this, French psychologist Vasilis Saroglou (2002) correlated each personality type and their associated personality traits with one’s intrinsic, extrinsic religious orientation. Saroglou’s results indicated that individuals who process a ‘conscientious’ and ‘agreeable’ personality have a significant ‘positive’ correlation with one’s ‘intrinsic’ religious orientation. Whereas, ‘extreme’ religious orientated individuals according to Saroglou have a significant ‘positive’ correlation with ‘neuroticism.’ Therefore, if we reflect upon what has been mentioned so far we can identify the overlapping relationship between one’s mental health, personality and religion?

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