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Fr. 680

November 9, 2015

Brit Brogaard took time in a recent post to consider whether changing our personalities has any empirical basis. In accordance with that empirical basis, the post dealt mainly in clinical and medicinal terms and began by recalling that:

Clinicians often seem to think that therapy and medication can change people’s behavior for the better and perhaps even change the patterns of their thoughts and how people feel about themselves but they cannot seem to shake the old belief that the most basic personality traits are unchangeable.

This falls in line with the folk psychology belief in a persistent, substantive self which stands over against consciousness as a given. Whether the person deems the self available as an object of cognition for consciousness, self retains this quality of givenness and calls not for change but acceptance. Insofar as self dictates certain aspects of personality, these aspects likewise take on the quality of givenness as befits their dependence on self qua given. Certainly, a person can alter the second-order properties relative to the first-order properties’ manifestation in their thought, speech and deeds, but this would in no way get at the root of the problem.

To this effect, Brogaard notes:

If you have a tendency to be anxious and neurotic, you will always have that tendency, even if you learn to act with confidence and self-esteem. Or to take a different example: if you are introverted, you can learn to socialize and be a people person but you will never be able to get rid of your basic need for alone time.

This fixity or entrenchedness of personality seems rather difficult to countenance given its biological substrate. If the organism and supporting organs are capable of change, then the properties deriving from the biological substrate will similarly prove capable of change. The author suggests as much:

This lingering belief, however, seems rather far-fetched. Personality is rooted in the brain. It would be strange if virtually every part of the brain can change, except those parts that are responsible for your personality traits.

Where does the truth of the matter then lie? Do personality and its first-order properties stem solely from their biological substrate? If so, is this biological substrate capable of changes in such a way that we might see resultant changes in the second-order properties generated?

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