Can People Change Their Behavior?

Can People Change Their Behavior?

One of the first questions asked by people receiving their Golden Personality Profiler results is “can’t people change their behavior and be both extraverted and Introverted or Rational and Empathetic?” The answer, from my experience and my study of normal personality is (which most people hate to hear), “yes and no”. Understanding why that is will help you and your clients understand this news better.

Carl Jung suggested that we all possess all behavioral capabilities within us. We have the complete range of behavior and through conscious and unconscious mechanisms we engage the world with all the potential faculties. Jung and Gordon Allport also tell us that we have preferred behaviors and approaches that we tend to rely and and develop from a very early age. We learn to trust these approaches and react with them when called up. When we are conscious about our behavior we can alter our behaviors and select behaviors that may not be natural. In this case, I like to think of these behavioral selections as “skilled” behaviors as opposed to “natural” behaviors. As an executive and life coach, I try to get my clients to develop these alternate behaviors. Life circumstances call for them. Some people are more capable than others at adapting and adopting new behaviors, but we all have the potential to develop them. As we age I think this process happens naturally to all of us. Allport called this capability to develop behaviors to the extent that skilled behaviors are indistinguishable from innate behaviors “Functional Autonomy”. Allport gave us all the hope that any behavior is possible if we work on it. I prefer to think of this as development as opposed to change. We all can develop, but we don’t change.

From a typological perspective each type has a range of adaptiveness. Each profile can change or develop within its own range. ENFAs have the broadest range of adaptiveness. I refer to the ENFA as “the chameleon.” They can adopt most any role for short periods of time, and they try many new activities and manifest many new behaviors. When they see a behavior they haven’t seen before they sometime copy the behavior without realizing they are doing so. On the downside ENFAs, if they stay with behaviors that are not their own long enough, can lose their own sense of self-identity and experience forms of depression. Marking changes in an ENFA’s behavior is a difficult task because they are always changing and rechanging.

Behavioral changes are easier to recognize in other personality profiles. Knowing how to observe and recognize change is critical to our role as professionals. Read on to the next blog entry for more in-depth discussion of how change in social behavior can signify brain dysfunction.

When Social Signs Point to Brain Dysfunction

When Social Signs Point to Brain Dysfunction

In an article in The Wall Street Journal , Shirley S. Wang addressed “When Social Skills Are a Warning” (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323398204578489542660099544.html?KEYWORDS=Brain+Disease). In this article, she points out that significant change in social behavior can be a foreshadowing of something going terribly wrong in the brain. The article reports that neurological dysfunction might onset after subtle changes in behavior related to the expression of empathy, sincerity, listening and the inability to identify sarcasm. These subtle changes may be warning signs of future more serious changes related to dementia.

This can really scare people. When they observe behavior that is not familiar, they can’t understand the change and seek answers about the behavior of those they know and love well. Fortunately or not, most of us don’t notice our own behaviors and the changes well. Although most of us do not notice changes in our own behavior, we do notice changes in other’s behavioral patterns. To identify changes in behavior with those around us is likely an evolutionary skill developed to aid us in survival. I tend to agree with the article’s general premise that small abrupt and unexplained differences in behavior of others changes are not normal and should be monitored over time to see if they are consistently presented. If they are, then deeper diagnostic consultation may be warranted.

For example, a person with the ISTZ profile, is the most uniform in role and behavior. They adapt the least. Abrupt changes in their behavior are very noticeable.

I experienced this first hand with my mother, an ISTZ. In her 50s, she started to experience periods of manic and depressive episodes. These periods were brought out by overexertion in social settings. The first time I noticed these changes was in 1979 when our family took the lead role in hosting and planning the first international association meeting for professionals interested in psychological type assessments like the MBTI and the Kiersey Temperament Sorter. My mother was so engaged that she over-extraverted to the point that she became mentally exhausted. Unlike typical exhaustion, she went into hyper mode. She socialized to the point of wearing herself down. After the conference at which the Association of Psychological Type was formed, it took her months to recover. As family members, we noted that her behavior was somewhat embarrassingly flamboyant, overly dramatic and self focused. This was very atypical of her normal ISTZ traditional and practical nature. Later in life she was diagnosed as manic/depressive and towards the end of her life experienced several severe, although brief, psychotic episodes that required hospitalizations.

As Wang’s article suggests, her early out-of-character behaviors foretold future brain dysfunctions. We assumed that my mother’s late life behavioral changes, broadly and inaccurately diagnosed as dementia, were more likely the result of small mini-strokes in the frontal lobes of the brain called Peck’s Disease. Interestingly, an autopsy of her brain showed neither Peck’s Disease or dementia. Something was going wrong inside her that medical science could not explain.

In the case reported by Wang, dysfunctions typically described as antisocial and related to the frontal lobe, are those that affect executive comportment related behaviors, as well as those associated with planning, organizing, social relations, and following social and cultural norms. These behaviors and the frontal lobe itself are developed last, particularly in boys. I know that because I have a 17-year-old son who isn’t crazy, but instead drives me crazy with his lack of developed frontal lobe activities. As they are developed last, following the logic of last developed- first lost, it would not be surprising to learn that signs of changes in behaviors governed by the frontal lobe, namely poor application of executive life comportment behaviors, would signal greater loss of functioning later in life.

As it relates back to the Golden, I conclude with the idea that the greatest value in the assessment itself is the building of consciousness about personality itself and the need to develop both your innate and your learned behaviors. The greater the development and the stronger all sides of the personality, the more sustainable your healthy behavior is, and the more durable one’s brain functioning is, as the natural effects of aging and decline take their toll. Without such insight into ourselves, we are just left to the natural and circumstantial events and course of existence.

Personality Testing Goes Disney

Personality Testing Goes Disney

On a “research based field trip” at Disney’s EPCOT park, the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow in Orlando FL on a ride called Spaceship Earth I found evidence of just how popular personality testing has become and how important a tool it is in understanding our human experience here on planet earth. Riders travel up through the history of man starting with cave painters and mammoth hunters all the way through the most critical events in man’s history finishing with the creation of personal computers in Steve Job’s garage. During  the slow gradual decent riders answer an on-screen test made of a few interest and four personality questions that look remarkably similar to the kind of items presented in the Golden. While not in the Golden’s advanced item format the questions are clearly formed from the most reliable items measuring Extraversion/Introversion, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling and Organizing/Adapting scales. One question for example, asked “would you prefer to live in the country or in the city”, an extraversion/introversion item. When finished riders view a visual cartoon depiction of what their unique future looks like. Ironically, a technology glitch prevented me from seeing my cartoon future. Nonetheless, the outcome was entertaining and, while not a reliable or valid assessment of personality, it was fascinating.    It’s great to see Jung’s ideas and modern personality assessment techniques being used in such an entertaining and mainstream fashion. Twenty years ago Jungian ideas, first described in 1911, were hardly excepted by academics, let alone mainstream society. How far we’ve come!  Every day now, tens of thousands of visitors at Disney’s EPCOT park take a personality assessment based on Jung’s constructs and Golden global scale like items.

I was grateful to find the personality assessment at the end of my ride, because it eased my NF guilt for not being at work and by providing the ingredients for a new blog which I wrote while on a break from my “research” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  Seriously, Some might see this as trivializing an important tool, but I see Disney’s entertaining assessment as a good thing for personality assessments like the Golden. What do you think?