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One of the most interesting topics in personality is whether our personality stays consistent over time or stays the same. Additionally, as you saw in your readings personality change is not just studied over a person’s lifetime but also how our personality adjusts in different situations.

I would like you to make an argument for how much personality changes or stays consistent either across the lifespan or across different situations. You can include your opinion but also please cite information that you have read. I would like you in making your argument to include a new source ourside of your textbook or course readings for the week. Do a search online to find some research that backs up your opinion. Share with the class what that research states, and how they came to that conclusion. Please cite it in APA style. I want you to try to work on stating an idea/opinion but then backing it up by your readings/research you did.


C H A P T E R 1

The Emergence of Personality

Dan P. McAdams

How do we become who we are? This is the
question of personality development. If there is
a more compelling question in all of psychologi-
cal science, I cannot think of it.

The phrase “who we are” pertains to person-
ality itself, which may be conceived as those
socially consequential features of a person’s
psychological makeup that distinguish him or
her from other human beings—the psychologi-
cal differences that make the biggest difference
in adaptation to human life. The phrase “how do
we become” pertains to development. How does
a person’s characteristic psychological makeup
come to be? How does it emerge, how does it
change, and in what ways does it—personality
itself—demonstrate continuity over develop-
mental time?

In this opening chapter for the Handbook of
Personality Development, I consider the emer-
gence of personality in two very different sens-
es. The first is signaled by my opening question,
the developmental question around which the
Handbook is constructed. I argue that person-
ality development may be usefully construed
from three different standpoints. These are the
standpoints of the person as (1) a social actor,
(2) a motivated agent, and (3) an autobiographi-
cal author (McAdams, 2015a, 2015b; McAdams
& Olson, 2010). Each standpoint corresponds
to a line of personality development running
across the human life course, from infancy

through old age. This tripartite conception of
personality development provides an organiz-
ing framework for the Handbook.

The second sense of emergence refers to the
emergence of personality studies as a legitimate
and powerful intellectual movement in psy-
chological science. Personality psychology has
endured a conflicted history within the broad
discipline of psychology. While all fields of
study are shaped by their history, personality
psychology has an especially notable story to
tell, I think, for the field has struggled mightily
over the past 40 years to emerge from a difficult
past. Let’s just say that, beginning in the 1960s,
personality psychology went through a tumul-
tuous adolescence, filled with Sturm und Drang
(Barenbaum & Winter, 2008; McAdams, 1997).
And the field still bears the psychological scars
to prove it. While some observers of this his-
tory argue that trauma ultimately produced re-
silience (Kenrick & Funder, 1988), the insecuri-
ties and confusions that plagued the field during
its protracted adolescence for decades made it
nearly impossible to address seriously the topic
of personality development. In a nutshell, it was
extraordinarily difficult to think systematical-
ly about how personality itself might develop
when it was not clear what personality itself
was, or even if such a thing existed.

Personality psychology finally emerged as
a mature and confident scientific discipline

4 I . P e r s o n a l I t y D e v e l o P m e n t a n D H u m a n n a t u r e

over the past two decades. Its emergence en-
ables us now to consider the question of how
indeed the phenomenon of personality itself
emerges, and how it develops over the human
life course. Therefore, current developmental
conceptions derive from a historical legacy.
In what follows, I consider both senses of the
word emergence as applied to personality,
then I end with a case example of personality
development in one life of substantial histori-
cal significance: the life of former U.S. Presi-
dent Barack Obama. Our understanding of the
emergence and development of personality
across the human life course, shaped as it is
by the history of our science, comes fully alive
in the close examination of a real human being
developing over time.

Struggling to Emerge as a Field:
A Brief (and Troubled) History
Early Promise

The future looked bright when Gordon Allport
and Henry Murray first carved out an intellec-
tual space for the field of personality psychol-
ogy in the mid-1930s. In the field’s first au-
thoritative text, Personality: A Psychological
Interpretation, Allport (1937) brought together
British and American research on individual
differences, German studies of character, and
investigations into abnormal psychology and
mental hygiene to create a new subdiscipline
in psychology. In Explorations in Personality,
Murray (1938) took a slightly different tack,
drawing more from the psychoanalytic tradition
(Freud and Jung, mainly), cultural anthropol-
ogy, and the case studies he and his colleagues
assembled at the Harvard Psychological Clinic;
but his take-home message was very similar
to Allport’s. Both men envisioned an integra-
tive field of psychological study aimed at un-
derstanding the whole person. Whereas 1930s
experimental psychology dissected persons into
their component pieces (sensation, perception,
habit, and conditioning) in order to generate
universal laws of animal behavior, personality
psychology should aim instead to synthesize
the psychological pieces, Allport and Murray
argued, and to bring inquiry to bear upon the
individual human life.

Allport (1937, 1961) was especially sensitive
to the tension inherent in such an enterprise,
for personality psychology would need to
launch nomothetic investigations to examine

psychological variation across different human
beings, while also conducting idiographic
studies that aimed to examine personality
structure, dynamics, and development within
the single case. In Allport’s view, the central
construct to be employed in this endeavor was
the dispositional personality trait—a position
that anticipated the seminal contributions of
Cattell (1943), Eysenck (1952), Guilford (1959),
and the many personality psychologists who
contributed to the formulation of the Big Five
trait taxonomy (e.g., Goldberg, 1993; McCrae &
Costa, 1987). For Murray (1938), motivational
constructs (needs, motives, goals, complexes),
rather than traits per se, were deemed to be the
most important variables for conceptualizing
psychological variation between persons, and the
key to understanding the individual life. As such,
Murray’s perspective anticipated the seminal
contributions of McClelland (1961) on need for
achievement, Winter (1973) on the power motive,
Deci and Ryan (1991) on intrinsic motivation and
self-determination, and motivational approaches
espoused by Cantor (1990), Emmons (1986), and
Sheldon (2004), among others.

The early promise of the field was also
captured in the grand theories of personality
proposed in the first half of the 20th century,
systematized and collated in personality
textbooks, such as that of Hall and Lindzey
(1957). Broad theoretical conceptions offered
by Freud, Jung, Adler, Rogers, Maslow, Kelly,
and others, as well as by Allport and Murray
themselves, provided integrative conceptual
frameworks for understanding the whole
person, and for specifying the most important
individual differences to be studied. In the years
immediately following World War II, personality
researchers mined these theories for their most
valuable constructs, launching innovative
research programs to assess and elaborate
phenomena such as authoritarianism (Adorno,
Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, & Sanford, 1950),
achievement motivation (McClelland, 1961),
anxiety (Taylor, 1953), extraversion (Eysenck,
1952), and identity (Marcia, 1966). During
the same period, methodologists published
a series of classic papers that extended and
refined the science of personality measurement
(e.g, Campbell & Fiske, 1959; Cronbach &
Meehl, 1955; Loevinger, 1957). Blessed with
integrative theories, provocative constructs,
and increasingly sophisticated assessment
methods, postwar personality psychology
seemed destined for success.

1. the emergence of Personality 5


But rumblings of discontent could be heard by
the early 1960s. A surprisingly contentious de-
bate arose regarding the meaning of self-report
items commonly used on personality scales.
Many items held a social desirability bias, crit-
ics observed. Regardless of the content of the
item, some respondents may simply rate them-
selves in an especially positive and socially de-
sirable manner (Crowne & Marlow, 1960), po-
tentially undermining the validity of self-report
scales. Similarly, some respondents may tend
to agree with nearly any statement about the
self (yea-sayers), while others may tend to dis-
agree (nay-sayers), suggesting that test-taking
styles (rather than trait-specific content) may
ultimately determine people’s scores on trait
scales. After the publication of hundreds of ar-
ticles and monographs on the subject, personal-
ity psychologists seemed to exhaust the issue,
ultimately concluding the following: (1) The
problem of test-taking styles is technically real,
but mainly trivial and (2) minor tweaks to ex-
isting scales can resolve the issue well enough
(Block, 1965).

The decade-long debate over response styles
foreshadowed the course of future controversies
in the field of personality psychology: First, a
plausible critique is levied, but in exaggerated
terms; second, those who perceive themselves
to be targets of the critique respond with fierce
counterattack; third, a protracted battle ensues,
filling up countless pages in journals and books
while spreading a sense of discord and confu-
sion; and fourth, the combatants finally run out
of energy, or others run out of patience, and rea-
sonable people conclude that the original critics
may have had a point, but they took it way too

The 1960s and 1970s witnessed a number of
trends, both in science and in society, that chal-
lenged basic assumptions of personality psy-
chology. The dramatic, and sometimes coun-
terintuitive, findings of experimental social
psychology (e.g., iconic studies by Asch [1955]
and Milgram [1974] on conformity and on obe-
dience to authority) illustrated the power of
situational variables to shape behavior, over and
against individual differences in personality.
Social upheavals cast serious doubt on the ade-
quacy of frameworks for identifying “types” or
“kinds” of people and stable individual differ-
ences. Both in clinical work and in the study of
normal persons, personality diagnosis and as-

sessment came to be viewed in some circles as
nothing more than “labeling,” promulgated by
an establishment interested in retaining its own
power, or by small-minded observers under the
sway of stereotypes (Goffman, 1961; Rosen-
hahn, 1973). The antiwar, civil rights, and wom-
en’s movements all sensitized Americans to the
pervasive influence of culture and environment
on human behavior and experience—influence
experienced in the contexts of family, class, eth-
nicity, race, and nation-state. The implicit mes-
sage was this: The person is a product—even a
victim—of social context; therefore, one should
focus on context rather than the person—on
social influence rather than individuality. In
addition, some came to see personality psy-
chology as dominated by an Anglo-masculine
viewpoint. One could reasonably argue in 1970
that the only whole persons whom personality
psychologists ever studied anyway were upper-
middle-class white males.

The field of personality psychology endured
a number of devastating critiques around this
time: Carlson (1971) chastised the field for ig-
noring Allport’s original call for idiographic
studies; Fiske (1974) despaired that personal-
ity constructs were hopelessly imprecise, im-
possible to pin down with concrete behaviors;
Shweder (1975) suggested that behavioral scien-
tists abandon all efforts to study stable individ-
ual differences; and Sechrest (1976) wondered
whether there was really a “there” there when
it came to the so-called “field” of personality
psychology, joking that there are two ways to
spell it: c-l-i-n-i-c-a-l and s-o-c-i-a-l.

But the strongest critique came from Mischel
(1968), who best captured the cultural ethos of
the late 1960s. Based on a highly selective re-
view of the empirical literature, Mischel con-
cluded that personality dispositions, typically
measured via paper-and-pencil questionnaires,
account for very little of the variance in human
behavior. For the most part, there is little cross-
situational generality for human thought, feel-
ing, and action, Mischel argued. Instead, what
human beings do (and feel and think) tends to
be dictated mainly by factors specific to the
given situational context. Individual differ-
ences in situations are more effective predictors
of behavior than are individual differences in
personality variables (e.g., traits), which are es-
sentially nothing more than stereotypic labels.
Mischel suggested that the only place traits
may truly exist is in the minds of personality
psychologists. Thus, personality psychologists

6 I . P e r s o n a l I t y D e v e l o P m e n t a n D H u m a n n a t u r e

may be guilty of committing a fundamental
attribution error by invoking broad categories
concerning internal dispositions to explain (and
predict) the behavior of others, labels that they
are probably loath to apply to themselves.

Mischel’s critique ignited an internecine feud
in personality psychology—what came to be
called the person–situation debate. Which is
more important in the prediction of behavior:
the person (e.g., his or her traits) or the situa-
tion? Defenders of the trait position viewed the
situationist critique as an indictment on the en-
tire field of personality psychology. They had a
point: If psychologists could not even concede
that individual differences in basic traits pre-
dicted, or at least were associated with, cor-
responding behavioral trends, then the very
existence of personality itself must be called
into question (Hogan, DeSoto, & Solano, 1977).
From the beginning, the trait advocates were on
the defensive.

Following Mischel (1968, 1973), the advanc-
ing forces for situationism found intellectual
sustenance in social learning theory (Bandura,
1971), and they found ideological allies among
many social psychologists who tended then to
be (by either training or disposition) suspicious
of dispositional explanations in psychology. In
an ironic turn, the term trait psychologist be-
came a label of ill repute in many circles of psy-
chological science during the 1970s and early
1980s. Jackson and Paunonen (1980) wryly ob-
served that “trait psychologists” seemed then to
be viewed “like witches of 300 years ago. . . .
[T]here is confidence in their existence, and
even possibly their sinister properties, although
one is hard pressed to find one in the flesh or
even meet someone who has” (p. 523). As if to
save the field’s founder from eternal damnation,
Zuroff (1986) went to great lengths to prove
that Allport himself was not a trait psycholo-
gist. Allport never claimed that behavior was
perfectly consistent from one situation to the
next, Zuroff showed. Nor did he ever claim that
individual differences in trait scores perfectly
predict individual differences in behavior. But
of course, no credible personality psychologist
had ever claimed these things!

The debate raged on for at least 15 years,
dominating the discourse in journals and
books published in personality psychology. The
controversy produced important conceptual
papers, and it led to refinements in research
methodology. Nonetheless, it is difficult to argue
with Rorer and Widiger’s (1983) assessment,
when they concluded, “a great deal of nonsense

has been written on the trait–situation topic”
(p. 446). By the mid-1980s, both sides in the
conflict seemed to settle on the compromise
position of interactionism—behavior is a
function of the interaction of the person and
the situation, a position that each side claimed
it had held all along (Maddi, 1984).


When the dust finally settled on the person–sit-
uation debate, the field of personality psychol-
ogy began to make notable progress in fulfill-
ing some of the promise that Allport (1937) and
Murray (1938) envisioned half a century earlier.
By the mid-1990s, signs of the field’s vigorous
(re-)emergence were everywhere to be seen.

Most important, the field’s cardinal con-
struct—the idea of a basic personality trait—
began to receive overwhelming empirical sup-
port. For example, longitudinal studies began to
show that individual differences in disposition-
al personality traits are highly stable over long
periods of time (Roberts & DelVecchio, 2000).
Studies of twins suggested substantial heritabil-
ity for personality traits (Tellegen et al., 1988).
In light of such findings, it is difficult now to
argue that traits are merely attributional fictions
residing in the heads of personality psycholo-

Importantly, studies wherein behavior is ag-
gregated across many situations and over time
show again and again that individual differ-
ences on trait scores are significantly, and often
robustly, associated with summary behavioral
trends (Fleeson & Gallagher, 2009), even as it
remains difficult to predict exactly what a per-
son will do in any single situation. Trait scores,
moreover, are powerful predictors of many of
the most consequential outcomes in human
life, including psychological well-being, occu-
pational success, marital stability, health, and
mortality (Ozer & Benet-Martinez, 2006; Rob-
erts, Kuncel, Shiner, Caspi, & Goldberg, 2007).
Forging a much-needed consensus in the 1980s,
the Big Five framework now provides an elegant
and heuristically powerful scheme for organiz-
ing the many dispositional traits that might be
invoked to describe and explain variation in
human behavior (McCrae & Costa, 1987), and
a few rival schemes have also enjoyed signifi-
cant notice (Ashton et al., 2004). And neurosci-
entists have made important advances in iden-
tifying the cortical reward circuits and control
systems that constitute the biological bases of
traits (DeYoung et al., 2010).

1. the emergence of Personality 7

With the consolidation of the trait concept,
personality psychologists have moved vigor-
ously into other important domains to explore
features of psychological individuality that go
well beyond traits. In the tradition of Murray
(1938), motivational approaches to personality
have flourished in the past few decades. Draw-
ing from theoretical sources as diverse as evolu-
tionary theory, lifespan developmental psychol-
ogy, self-determination theory, Maslow’s (1968)
theory of needs, McClelland’s (1961) theory of
social motives, and many other sources, person-
ality psychologists have examined the manifes-
tations, dynamics, and development of people’s
life goals and strivings, generally conceiving of
this domain as separate from but complemen-
tary to the domain of dispositional personality
traits (e.g., Freund & Riediger, 2006; Hofer &
Bush, 2011; Kenrick, Griskevicius, Neuberg, &
Schaller, 2011; Sheldon & Schuler, 2011). Re-
searchers have also redoubled their efforts to
understand the role of ideological beliefs and
values in personality (Graham, Haidt, & Nosek,
2009; Schwartz, 2009).

Over the past two decades, narrative perspec-
tives on human lives have gained increasing
favor among personality psychologists (McAd-
ams & Manczak, 2015). In terms of methodol-
ogy, researchers have demonstrated growing
interest in assessing features of human person-
ality as they are revealed in autobiographical
memories and other storied accounts of human
experience (Baddeley & Singer, 2007). With
respect to theory, McAdams (1996) and others
(e.g., McLean, Pasupathi, & Pals, 2007) have
formulated new conceptions of personality that
feature the role of life stories in the construction
of the self. A central concept in this literature is
narrative identity, which refers to a person’s in-
ternalized story of his or her reconstructed past
and imagined future, the narrative of how “I
came to be the person I am becoming” (McAd-
ams & McLean, 2013). Variations in structural
and content features of life narratives constitute
important individual differences in personal-
ity itself, separate from dispositional traits and
predictive of important life outcomes above and
beyond traits (Adler, Lodi-Smith, Philippe, &
Houle, 2016).

In the Meantime . . .

During the decades of crisis and revival in per-
sonality psychology, researchers in develop-
mental psychology were articulating new theo-
retical frameworks and empirical agendas for

the study of meaningful and orderly psychologi-
cal change over time. Just a year after Mischel
(1968) threw the field of personality psychology
into turmoil, Bowlby (1969) published one of
the game-changing psychological books of the
20th century: Attachment and Loss, Volume 1.
Almost half a century later, attachment theory
continues to stimulate exciting research in de-
velopmental psychology, much of which would
seem to have direct bearing on the issue of per-
sonality development. Surprisingly few explicit
connections have been made, however, between
personality psychology and the traditions of re-
search that have grown up around attachment
theory—often grouped by developmentalists
under the rubric of socioemotional develop-

Going back to Thomas, Chess, and Birch
(1970), developmental scientists have examined
the early-emerging trends in behavior, emo-
tion, and attention that fall under the category
of infant temperament. Important advances in
this research domain were made throughout
the 1980s and 1990s, but it is only within the
last decade or so that researchers have system-
atically considered the relationship between
early temperament and adult personality traits
(Rothbart, 2007; Shiner & DeYoung, 2013).
Many other important trends in developmental
psychology have, until quite recently, barely
registered a signal in the mainstream literature
on personality psychology. These include the
study of childhood agency and the development
of competence (Walls & Kollat, 2006), emotion
regulation in the family (Thompson & Meyer,
2007), moral development (Narvaez & Laps-
ley, 2009), the dynamics of emerging adult-
hood (Arnett, 2000), parenting and caregiving
through midlife (Lachman, 2001), and the ar-
chitecture of development in old age (Baltes,
1997). Moreover, personality psychologists are
just beginning to take seriously the lessons of
the life-course developmental tradition (Elder,
1995), with its emphasis on linked lives, social
convoys, social class, and the exigencies of the
historical moment within which a developing
human life is situated.

Links between the study of personality and
the study of human development should have
been made decades ago, I would argue. But for
their part, personality psychologists were unable
to make them. They were unable to make them
because for many years the concept of personal-
ity itself was not secure enough to warrant ex-
pansion into the developmental domain. During
the dark days of the person–situation debate,

8 I . P e r s o n a l I t y D e v e l o P m e n t a n D H u m a n n a t u r e

situationists constructed an image of human life
that privileged the influences of short-term ef-
fects and constantly changing environments.
Therefore, it was incumbent on personality psy-
chologists to show that dispositional traits were
stable enough and efficacious enough to resist
the forces of instability, change, and flux. Sure,
contexts change by the moment, but personality
perseveres, to some extent at least. Yet the study
of human development is fundamentally about
change—change over the long haul, rather than
from one situation to the next, but change nev-
ertheless. Personality psychologists were unable
to embrace fully this kind of change—the kind
of change that goes under the title of personality
development—until they had achieved a suitable
level of confidence in the solidity and stability of
their own pet constructs and, by extension, the
legitimacy of the very idea of human personality.

After an extended adolescence, personality
psychology has finally emerged as a confident
and mature discipline, well positioned to pursue
generative collaborations with many different
fields in psychology and the behavioral scienc-
es. At this moment in history, then, one of the
brightest prospects on the horizon is the pursuit
of a rich scientific understanding of personality
development over the human life course.

Personality Development: A Conceptual Itinerary

If every human being on the planet were exactly
the same, psychological science could still ex-
amine fundamental laws of human sensation,
perception, emotion, cognition, and social rela-
tions. But there would be no field of personal-
ity psychology, for personality is fundamentally
about difference. Going back to Allport (1937)
and Murray (1938), personality psychologists
have typically focused less on human nature
per se and rather more on variations on the
broad theme of human nature—how one person
is demonstrably and consequentially different
from another. Thus, the fact that human beings
evolved to live in social groups is a feature of
human nature; the fact that some human beings
are more sociable than others, by contrast, is a
feature of personality. Personality is about the
psychological differences that make the biggest
difference for adaptation to social life. Person-
ality development, then, is about the temporal
course of emergence, growth, change, and con-
tinuity as it pertains to these consequential psy-
chological differences.

In what follows, I briefly sketch a conceptual
itinerary for the development of personality
over the human life course. An itinerary is like
a schedule or guidebook; it labels the main top-
ics that will be addressed, and it organizes them
into a meaningful sequence. Synthesizing tradi-
tional and emerging trends in personality psy-
chology and the study of human development,
the itinerary I propose identifies three lines of
personality development in human beings, each
following a sequence from infancy or childhood
through late life (McAdams, 2015a, 2015b; Mc-
Adams & Olson, 2010).

Describing the sense in which a person de-
velops as a social actor, the first traces the line
of development running from the emergence
of temperament differences in infancy to the
maturation of dispositional personality traits
in the adult years. Depicting a related but dif-
ferent sense whereby a person becomes a mo-
tivated agent over time, the second line runs
from the childhood apprehension of intention-
ality through the establishment of life goals and
values. Finally, a third line—tracking the de-
velopment of the person as an autobiographical
author—runs from the emergence of autobio-
graphical memory to the construction of a self-
defining life story in the adult years.

Each of the three lines, then, tracks the de-
velopment of characteristic differences among
human beings—differences in traits, goals (and
values), and narratives, respectively (McAdams
& Pals, 2006). Moreover, there is a sense in
which the features of the developing social actor
emerge first in developmental time, apparent
even in temperament dimensions of infancy,
whereas features of motivated agency become
psychologically apparent later on, and features
of autobiographical authorship after that. In
other words, the rough contours of traits may
emerge first, followed next by goals and values,
and finally by the stories people create to make
sense of their lives. As suggested in Figure 1.1,
the author’s developing stories layer over the
agent’s developing goals and values, which in
turn layer over the actor’s developing traits. Per-
sonality thickens over time.

Becoming a Social Actor: From Temperament
to Traits

The primal arena wherein consequential psy-
chological differences between human be-
ings are expressed and observed is the group.
Human beings evolved to live in complex social

1. the emergence of Personality 9

groups, striving to get along and to get ahead
so as to garner the resources that are needed for
survival and reproduction. Within the group,
each individual is like an actor on the theatri-
cal stage, performing roles in ways that reflect
both situational demands and dispositional ten-
dencies. In all human groups, social actors ob-
serve each other and observe themselves. Over
time, observations coalesce into social reputa-
tions (Hogan, 1982): Actor A comes to be seen
(by others and by the self) as an especially co-
operative person on whom group members can
count; Actor B exudes energy and confidence;
Actor C avoids the limelight; and Actor D is
perceived to be unreliable and even malicious,
and comes to occupy a marginalized status in
the group.

Personality begins, then, with the differ-
ent reputational signatures that social actors
achieve as they jockey for status and acceptance
in the group. Reputational signatures are the
shorthand mental representations that observers
formulate in their minds regarding the disposi-
tional traits of the social actors they observe, in-
cluding even their own. While people’s disposi-
tional traits arise from genetic and experiential
factors that reside within the actor, there is still
a basic human sense in which the traits live in
the group, and are dependent on the group’s im-
primatur for their very psychological existence.
If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears
it, we still must concede that the tree fell. But
personality traits, like extraversion and consci-
entiousness, have no meaning outside a social
context. Not only do other actors need to be
present on stage to take part in the performanc-
es wherein these traits are expressed, but oth-

ers need to observe the performance if the traits
are to become known to the group, and thereby
captured in social reputations. Ultimately, repu-
tational advantages lead to greater acceptance
and status in the group, which promote survival
and reproductive success. There are few things
more important in life than developing person-
ality traits that promote the kind of social repu-
tations that maximize the chances for success in
human groups.

Young children first recognize themselves
in mirrors and other reflecting objects around
age 2 years (Povinelli, 2001). What they liter-
ally see is an actor who moves through physical
and social space. However, infants are viewed
to be social actors by others long before they
recognize themselves as such—from the first
few weeks of life onward. Like audience mem-
bers in the front row of the theater, parents and
other observers watch the baby’s every move,
ready to assign initial reputational signatures
based on the infant’s characteristic emotional
and behavioral displays. Here we have a fussy
baby. There we have a smiley baby. Here is one
who seems to be afraid of people. Formalized
in observational protocols and rating scales,
developmental psychologists call these differ-
ences temperament.

Temperament refers mainly to broad indi-
vidual differences in behavioral and emotional
style, and in emotion regulation, manifest
early on in human development. Assumed by
some researchers to be inborn or (at minimum)
strongly driven by constitutional factors, and
assumed by others to be a product of interac-
tions between genes and early experience even
at this early age, temperament establishes an

FIGURE 1.1. Three layers of personality development.

Actor: Dispositional Traits

Agent: Goals and Values

Author: Life Stories






Age (in years)

0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50 55 60 65 70+

10 I . P e r s o n a l I t y D e v e l o P m e n t a n D H u m a n n a t u r e

early style of attending, feeling, and behav-
ing, through which observers come to recog-
nize the young child as a particular kind of
social actor. For example, the temperament
dimension of positive affectivity captures
differences in the extent to which the young
child exhibits joy, excitement, enthusiasm,
positive approach, and other indices of social
and emotional surgency. Negative affectivity
tracks differences in fearfulness, behavioral
inhibition, avoidance, irritability, and nega-
tive response to frustration. Effortful control
refers to the child’s voluntary capacity to over-
ride momentary impulse in order to attend to
the environment in a sustained manner and to
enact a more deliberate and reasoned response
to situational demands (Rothbart, 2007; Shiner
& DeYoung, 2013).

Personality and developmental psychologists
have recently found common cause in the re-
alization that early temperament provides some
of the socioemotional material out of which the
full-fledged dispositional traits comprising the
Big Five framework are formed. Indeed, Shiner
(2015) has concluded that temperament and
personality traits should “be seen as the same
basic set of traits, one manifested early in the
life and thus somewhat more limited in scope
(temperament) and one manifested a little later
in life and broader in scope” (p. 87). A grow-
ing number of longitudinal studies document
significant continuities between childhood tem-
perament dimensions and dispositional features
of personality that social actors display later in
life (e.g., Moffitt et al., 2011).

Still, the road from early temperament to the
dispositional traits of adulthood is not smooth
and perfectly predictable (e.g., Hampson &
Goldberg, 2006). Even though temperament
differences may predispose a person to exhibit a
particular style of socioemotional performance,
a wide range of external factors—from acci-
dents to family dynamics to the macro effects
of culture and history—will invariably shape
the actor’s development (Bleidorn, Kandler, &
Caspi, 2014). For example, research shows that
the influence of social roles becomes increas-
ingly important in the development of personal-
ity traits as social actors move into and through
adulthood (Specht et al., 2014). Studies have
shown that taking on normative roles in fam-
ily life, work, and community appears in some
cases to promote (and partially mediate) the
well-documented developmental trend toward
increasing conscientiousness and agreeableness

and declining neuroticism across the adult life
course. Becoming a parent or a paid employee
may require that the social actor demonstrate
instrumental competence, commitment, social
responsibility, self-control, cooperation, and
other signs of psychosocial maturity, indexed
by increasing scores on conscientiousness and
agreeableness and decreasing scores on the trait
of neuroticism in the adult years (Donnellan,
Hill, & Roberts, 2015).

Becoming a Motivated Agent: From Intentionality
to Life Goals

Going back to Murray (1938), many personal-
ity psychologists have made a sharp distinction
between personality traits and motives. If traits
pertain to the means people employ in thought,
feeling, and behavior, motives typically refer to
the ends—the valued goals and strivings peo-
ple pursue (Winter, John, Stewart, Klohnen, &
Duncan, 1998). According to some theorists,
basic motives and goals derive from fundamen-
tal human needs (Sheldon & Schuler, 2011).
Motivation, then, refers to what people want in
life, what they desire, what they hope and plan
to attain, as well as what they do not want and
thereby seek to avoid. While some personal-
ity psychologists argue that traits themselves
hold motivational power (Allport, 1961) and
that traits imply certain social (and nonsocial)
goals (DeYoung, 2015), there exists in person-
ality psychology a vast array of constructs that
are fundamentally not about how social actors
perform their roles (traits) but instead address
specifically what valued goals human beings
aim to achieve in life. As such, constructs re-
lated to human goals, strivings, and values ex-
plicitly conceive of the human being as a moti-
vated agent—a forward-looking decision maker
who articulates plans in order to achieve valued
ends (Martin, Sugarman, & Thompson, 2003;
Mischel, 1973).

How do a person’s characteristic motives,
goals, strivings, and values come to be? Some
clues may reside in studies of how young chil-
dren apprehend and come to understand the
issue of human intentionality. By age 1 year,
children show a marked interest in intentional,
goal-directed action (Woodward, 2009). They
turn their attention toward, and sometimes
seek to imitate, goal-directed behaviors of oth-
ers, more so than random behaviors. They even
adjust their own activities and reactions to take
into consideration what they perceive to be an-

1. the emergence of Personality 11

other agent’s intentionality. But it is not until the
third or fourth year of life that most children
develop an explicit understanding of their own
and others’ motivated agency. With the consoli-
dation of what developmental psychologists call
theory of mind, prekindergarten children come
to understand that human agents have desires
and beliefs in their minds, and that they act
upon these desires and beliefs in a goal-directed
manner (Apperly, 2012). This developmental
landmark paves the way for the explicit articu-
lation of personal goals and plans in the minds
of young agents. The effects of parents, school-
ing, and other socializing factors strongly shape
the nature of children’s developing motivational

Variation in the kinds of motivational agen-
das children develop in their daily lives—the
characteristic suites of short-term and long-
term goals and plans that children articulate in
their minds, and the strategies they develop to
achieve their goals—marks the emergence of a
second layer of personality development. The
child’s motivational agenda eventually layers
over his or her dispositional traits. The person-
ality of a 10-year-old, therefore, is thicker than
the personality of a 3-year-old. The younger
child is mainly a social actor whose tempera-
ment traits comprise the main stuff of personal-
ity. The older child is both a social actor and a
motivated agent, revealing two different layers
or lines of personality development. To compre-
hend how the 10-year-old is psychosocially sim-
ilar to and different from other 10-year-olds, the
psychologist must consider constructs that are
drawn from both the trait and the motivational
domains. Three-year-old Sally is endowed with
high levels of positive affectivity and shows
moderate levels of effortful control. Ten-year-
old Maria is also endowed with high levels of
positive affectivity (we are starting to call it ex-
traversion at this point) and shows moderate lev-
els of conscientiousness and agreeableness. But
Maria also wants to be the best math student in
her class, hopes that her divorcing parents will
reconcile, plans to quit attending her mother’s
church as soon as she is confirmed, fears she
will never be popular with the other Latina girls
because her skin is darker, and values domestic
harmony in her life (“Why do my parents have
to fight so much?!”) more than nearly anything
else. More so than Sally, furthermore, Maria is
a moral agent (Gray, Young, & Waytz, 2012).
She has an explicit understanding of what is
right and wrong, she has a developing moral

ideology or value system, and other people hold
her accountable for her moral choices.

How do people’s motivational agendas de-
velop over the course of life? Research from
lifespan developmental psychology documents
important shifts in the kinds of goals people set
forth and their modes of goal engagement. In
young adulthood, promotion goals (approach-
ing rewards) may prevail over prevention goals
(avoiding punishments) as motivated agents
vigorously pursue competence (achievement)
and relatedness (affiliation) agendas that pri-
oritize education, job training, friendship, love,
and marriage (Freund & Riediger, 2006). Goals
in early adulthood often focus on expanding the
self and gaining new information. Young adults
are often comfortable with motivational agen-
das that contain variegated and even conflicting
aims. They frequently employ primary control
strategies (Heckhausen, 2011), actively striving
to change their environments to fit their goal

By midlife, however, motivated agents seek
to manage their goals so as to minimize con-
flict. What Baltes (1997) described as the pro-
cesses of selection, optimization, and compen-
sation come into major play in the management
of goal agendas. Midlife adults pursue a wide
range of goals, from running a household to
passing on cultural traditions. Goals aimed at
making positive contributions to the next gen-
eration become more pronounced (McAdams,
de St. Aubin, & Logan, 1993). In later adult-
hood, prevention focused goals may come to
predominate. With increasing age, adults rely
more and more on secondary control strategies
in goal pursuit, which involve adjusting expec-
tations and changing the self in order to adapt
to mounting constraints. There is also some
evidence to suggest that older adults may invest
more heavily in intrinsically valued ends, while
pulling back from goals that promote future re-
wards, fame, money, and the like (Morgan &
Robinson, 2013).

Throughout the life course, individual differ-
ences in goal pursuit are contoured by gender,
race, social class, and other demographic vari-
ables (Elder, 1995). Goals and values may also
relate in interesting ways to individual differ-
ences in dispositional personality traits (Rob-
erts & Robins, 2000). As such, lines of person-
ality development may run together at times. It
is one integrated person, after all, even if that
one person operates both as a social actor and a
motivated agent.

12 I . P e r s o n a l I t y D e v e l o P m e n t a n D H u m a n n a t u r e

Becoming an Autobiographical Author:
From Episodic Memory to Narrative Identity

The past two decades have witnessed an up-
surge of interest among social and behavioral
scientists in the role of narrative in human be-
havior and development. Within personality
and developmental psychology, research and
theory have identified a third line of personal-
ity development, running from the emergence
of episodic autobiographical memory in early
childhood to the development of a full life story
in adulthood (Fivush & Haden, 2003; McAd-
ams & McLean, 2013). Early on, children en-
code, store, and retrieve memories of particular
episodes in their lives. Encouraged by parents
at first and later by peers, children tell stories
about these events to others. By the time they
are 5 or 6 years of age, children implicitly un-
derstand that such stories conform to a narrative
grammar (Mandler, 1984). Story plots begin in
a particular time and place, and involve charac-
ters (agents) who act on their desires and beliefs
over time. Children expect stories to evoke sus-
pense and curiosity, and sometimes humor, and
they dismiss as “boring” a narrative account
that fails to live up to these emotional standards.

It is one thing to tell personal stories about
discrete episodes in life—a day at the zoo, a
visit to Grandma’s house, a mishap on the play-
ground. It is quite another to fashion a narra-
tive for one’s life in full. Narrative identity is
the story that a person composes about how he
or she came to be the person he or she is becom-
ing—a selective reconstruction of the past inte-
grated with the imagined future, providing a life
in full, with some sense of meaning, purpose,
and temporal continuity (McAdams, 1996; Mc-
Adams & McLean, 2013). In adolescence and
the emerging adult years, people typically take
on the psychological perspective of an autobio-
graphical author, endeavoring to tell and inter-
nalize an evolving story for their lives in full.
The stories they create and continue to work on
throughout the adult years ultimately become
an integral part of personality itself. Personal-
ity, therefore, thickens again in adolescence and
emerging adulthood as the autobiographical
author’s narrative identity layers over the goals
and values of the motivated agent, which layer
over the social actor’s dispositional traits. In a
temporal sense, personality also broadens: Dis-
positional traits speak mainly to the performa-
tive present; goals and values project the agent
from the present into the future; and life stories

ideally integrate the reconstructed past, experi-
enced present, and imagined future into a co-
herent narrative identity.

Building on memory and storytelling skills
developed in childhood, the cognitive aptitudes
and personal experiences required for the devel-
opment of a full narrative identity begin to come
online in adolescence. A key factor is the emer-
gence of autobiographical reasoning, which
refers to a wide set of interpretive operations
through which people derive personal mean-
ings from their own autobiographical memories
(Habermas & Bluck, 2000). Through autobio-
graphical reasoning, people may derive an or-
ganizing theme to summarize an important fea-
ture of their life experience, or string together
multiple events from the past in order to explain
the development of a particular self characteris-
tic, or derive lessons and insights from negative
scenes in life, searching for redemptive mean-
ings in suffering (McAdams, 2013; McLean &
Pratt, 2006). From the early teens through the
20s, furthermore, autobiographical authors de-
velop a more detailed understanding of the typi-
cal or expected events and transitions that mark
the human life course as it plays out in their own
culture—when, for example, a person leaves
home, how schooling and work are sequenced,
the expected progressions of marriage and fam-
ily formation, how careers develop, what peo-
ple do when they retire, and so on (Thomsen
& Berntsen, 2008). These expectations provide
an overall developmental/cultural script for the
life story, within which—or sometimes against
which—the author may construct his or her
own personalized narrative identity.

Authoring a self-defining life narrative is
a process embedded in the social ecology of
everyday life (McLean et al., 2007). Narra-
tive identity emerges gradually through daily
conversations and social interactions, through
introspection, through decisions young people
make regarding work and love, and through
normative and serendipitous passages in life,
such as when a student meets with a vocational
counselor to discuss “What do I want to do with
my life?” or a young couple sits down to write
wedding vows. The story continues to develop
across the lifespan, incorporating expected
developmental milestones and the many unex-
pected turns that a life may take.

Life stories are profoundly shaped by his-
tory and culture. Culture provides a menu of
plots, images, characters, and themes for liv-
ing a human life, and autobiographical authors

1. the emergence of Personality 13

appropriate those features from the menu that
seem best to convey their own lived experi-
ence (McAdams, 2013). Culture, moreover,
may exert more hegemonic and marginalizing
effects on the construction of narrative identity
as authors run up against the constraints to self-
definition that societal institutions and cultural
meaning systems apply to particular demo-
graphic groups—to women as opposed to men,
for example, to ethnic minorities, or to those
who deviate in some way from the favored nar-
ratives for living a good life (Hammack, 2008).
As such, a life story sometimes says as much
about the culture within which a person’s life
is embedded as it does about the person’s life

A growing body of research examines age
differences in life narration (e.g., Baddeley &
Singer, 2007; McAdams & Olson, 2010; Pasu-
pathi & Mansour, 2006). Overall, middle-aged
adults tend to construct life stories that show
more sophisticated forms of autobiographical
reasoning compared to younger adults. Their
stories may be more complex, more coherent,
and more psychologically nuanced. Life stories
also seem to warm up as people age. Older nar-
rators give more emphasis to positive events
and tend to downplay the conflicts and strug-
gles they have experienced, at least through
late midlife. As autobiographical authors grow
older, their life stories show a warmer glow,
even as the vivid details of what they have ex-
perienced in their lives begin to fade.

Three Lines of Personality Development
in a Single Human Life

Ever since Allport (1937) set forth the distinc-
tion between nomothetic and idiographic ap-
proaches to research, personality psychologists
have struggled to reconcile investigations of in-
dividual differences with the intensive exami-
nation of the single case (Barenbaum & Win-
ter, 2008). Although the respective demands of
nomothetic and idiographic approaches seem to
compete with each other (Holt, 1962), the two
derive from a common wellspring: the need to
understand variation among persons. Nomo-
thetic research examines variation on personal-
ity dimensions—dispositional traits, goals and
values, and life stories, for example—across
many different persons. Idiographic case stud-
ies take the idea of variation to the extreme,
treating an individual human life as a unique

variant on the general design of human na-
ture. The intensive study of the individual case
can serve many functions (McAdams & West,
1997). In the scientific context of discovery, for
example, case studies can generate new ideas
and insights that subsequently may be exam-
ined in more systematic ways through hypoth-
esis-testing, nomothetic research. Cases may
also serve the purpose of exemplification—il-
lustrating how principles and ideas examined in
nomothetic studies manifest themselves in the
individual human life, or how they don’t.

In this last section of the chapter, my brief
commentary on the life and personality of
Barack Obama, 44th President of the United
States, serves the purpose of exemplification.
The idiographic examination of the individual
life illustrates the utility of conceiving of per-
sonality development from the three stand-
points of the social actor, motivated agent, and
autobiographical author. How, then, might the
three lines of personality development play out
in Obama’s life?

The Actor’s Developing Traits

Psychological portraits of notable lives often
begin with broad trait attributions regarding a
person’s unique style of socioemotional perfor-
mance. Among U.S. presidents, for example,
historians routinely remark upon Abraham’s
Lincoln’s “melancholy,” John F. Kennedy’s
“charm” and “wit,” Richard M. Nixon’s “in-
security,” and Ronald Reagan’s “sunny opti-
mism.” While each of these men exhibited a
complex psychological makeup, simple trait
attributions are often the first things that come
to mind in characterizing the broad contours of
their social reputations.

Reading through representative sources in
the historical record, teams of psychologists and
historians have rated all of the U.S. chief execu-
tives on the Big Five personality traits (Ruben-
zer & Faschingbauer, 2004; Simonton, 2006).
The scores turn out to exhibit strong interrater
reliability, suggesting substantial consensus
among independent observers. The rank-order
list for the broad trait of extraversion runs from
Theodore Roosevelt at the top (followed closely
by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) to Calvin
Coolidge at the bottom. (In the 1920s, it was re-
ported that a woman seated at a dinner party
next to the introverted President Coolidge said
to him, “Mr. Coolidge, I’ve made a bet against
a fellow who said it was impossible to get more

14 I . P e r s o n a l I t y D e v e l o P m e n t a n D H u m a n n a t u r e

than two words out of you.” His famous reply:
“You lose.”)

In a psychological biography I wrote on Presi-
dent George W. Bush, I argued that his high rat-
ings on extraversion and his very low standing
on the trait of openness to experience were con-
sistent with his general decision-making style,
as somebody willing to take big risks for posi-
tive emotion payoffs while remaining steadfast
in the belief that the decisions he did make were
categorically right and justified (McAdams,
2011). In the case of Barack Obama, by contrast,
ratings on extraversion would surely be much
lower than those for Bush, and ratings on open-
ness to experience much higher. The one Big
Five trait that stands out the clearest for Obama,
however, may be neuroticism. Known for his
legendary “cool,” even as a teenager, Barack
Obama appears to exhibit an emotional and be-
havioral style suggestive of unusually low lev-
els of neuroticism (N), when compared to other
U.S. presidents, and probably when compared
as well to today’s American adult population.
As evidenced in biographical sources (e.g.,
Remnick, 2011) and his own autobiographical
writings (Obama, 1995), Obama has been con-
sistently described as especially calm, emo-
tionally tranquil, even-keeled, deliberate, and
dispassionate. His friends and supporters view
these characteristics as indications of emotional
stability, which they are. But his detractors may
also have a point when they suggest that his
dispositional style of social and emotional per-
formance can seem overly detached and even

Tracking the development of any disposi-
tional trait over the life course entails (1) weigh-
ing evidence for the trait attribution in the first
place (Is Obama really low on N?), (2) searching
for temperament precursors early in life (Where
did his low N come from?), and (3) tracing the
idiographic path whereby the early form or
manifestation gradually morphed into the rec-
ognizable disposition of the adult social actor
(How did his low N develop over time? What
were the experiences, environments, and social
roles that ultimately contributed to the develop-
ment of his low N?). A full analysis of Barack
Obama’s personality from the standpoint of
a social actor would therefore call upon fam-
ily members’ and teachers’ descriptions of the
young Barry Obama as an especially even-tem-
pered child, rarely subject to strong emotions of
anxiety, sadness, or shame. It would examine
his mother’s, stepfather’s, and grandparents’ ef-

forts to regulate and socialize the young boy’s
temperament. It might also pay special atten-
tion to Obama’s own strategies of emotion reg-
ulation, especially during periods of emotional
turmoil surrounding his conflicted relationship
with his absent father and his struggles to rec-
oncile his mixed racial heritage.

The Agent’s Goals and Values

As do many children, Barry Obama began to
develop explicit goals for his life in the elemen-
tary school years. In an essay he wrote in the
third grade, he announced that he planned to be
President of the United States one day. But most
of his goals were rather more humble and mun-
dane. For example, when he switched schools at
age 10, he worried about fitting into the new en-
vironment, and he developed plans to make new
friends. Throughout middle childhood and into
his adolescence, the young boy experienced
strong desires regarding the biological father
who had abandoned him and his mother shortly
after Barry was born. He peppered his mother
with questions about the man, whom he came to
imagine as a great scholar and statesman. When
Barack Obama, Sr. did indeed return to Hawaii,
ever so briefly, to meet his son for the first and
only time, Barry reacted with profound disap-
pointment and confusion. His father did not
seem to be the great man that he had imagined.
Yet he held on to the goal to learn more about
his father—a goal he eventually achieved as a
young adult when he visited his (now deceased)
father’s homeland. Barry Obama’s motivation-
al agenda changed substantially as he moved
through high school. The issue of his mixed-
race heritage became especially fraught. “Am
I black or am I white?” he asked. Finding an
answer became a salient personal goal:

I learned to slip back and forth between my black
and white worlds, understanding that each pos-
sessed its own language and customs and struc-
tures of meaning, convinced that with a bit of
translation on my part the two worlds would even-
tually cohere. Still, the feeling that something
wasn’t quite right stayed with me, a warning that
sounded whenever a white girl mentioned in the
middle of a conversation how much she liked Ste-
vie Wonder; or when a woman in the supermar-
ket asked me if I played basketball; or when the
school principal told me that I was cool. I did like
Stevie Wonder, I did love basketball, and I tried
my best to be cool at all times. So why did such
comments set me on edge? (Obama, 1995, p. 82)

1. the emergence of Personality 15

Obama’s goal to integrate the two sides of
his racial nature dovetailed with his develop-
ing personal ideology. A young man who lived
in two different worlds and who experienced
the stark contrasts of a mixed heritage came to
prioritize the values of tolerance, diversity, and
personal exploration. Adopting a thoroughly
humanistic ideological perspective (Tomkins,
1987), Obama came to believe that human be-
ings should continue to grow and learn and to
strive to actualize their potential. And he came
to believe that he himself possessed tremendous
potential, and that he was destined to achieve
great things.

The Author’s Story

When he enrolled in Occidental College,
Obama took classes in politics, history, and lit-
erature mainly, and he made friends with the
more politically active black students on cam-
pus. He wore leather jackets, drank beer, and
smoked marijuana. He began to use the name
“Barack” to signify a stronger identification
with his mythic father and a newfound sense of
worldliness and sophistication. After 2 years,
he transferred to Columbia University, embark-
ing on an especially intense period of social iso-
lation, introspection, and identity search. In an
interview with Remnick (2011), a middle-aged
Obama looks back on this critical period in his

[At Columbia] a whole bunch of stuff that had
been inside of me—questions of identity, ques-
tions of purpose, questions of, not just race, but
also the international nature of my upbringing—
all those things [were] converging in some way.
And so there’s this period of time when I move
to New York and go to Columbia where I pull in
and wrestle with that stuff, and do a lot of writing
and a lot of reading and a lot of thinking and a
lot of walking through Central Park. And some-
how I emerge on the other side to that ready and
eager to take a chance in what was a pretty un-
likely venture: moving to Chicago and becoming
an organizer. So I would say that’s a moment in
which I gain a seriousness of purpose that I had
lacked before. Now, whether it is just a matter of,
you know, me hitting a certain age when people
start getting a little more serious—whether it was
some combination of factors—my father dying,
me realizing I had never known him, me mov-
ing from Hawaii to a place like New York that
stimulates a lot of new ideas—you know, it’s hard
to say what exactly prompted that. (in Remnick,
2011, p. 114)

At age 24, Obama moved to Chicago to take
a position as a community organizer. After 3
years in Chicago, he enrolled in law school, at
Harvard. Upon completion of his legal studies,
he returned to Chicago, where he worked brief-
ly as a lawyer, taught classes at University of
Chicago law school, met and married Michelle
Robinson, and launched a political career. In
Dreams from My Father, Obama (1995) tells
the story of his personal development from his
early years in Hawaii to the consolidation of his
vocation in his early 30s. The book explores
his developing understanding of his father, his
choice of black over white in developing a racial
identity (solidified in his marriage to an African
American woman from the South Side of Chi-
cago), and his ultimate embrace of community
organizing as an arena for actualizing his val-
ues and as a launching pad for a political career.
The book is essentially a testament of narrative
identity—one man’s story (written down and
published to wide acclaim) of how he came to
be the person he is becoming.

As conveyed in Dreams, Obama’s (1995)
story is a narrative of ascent and redemption
(McAdams, 2013; Remnick, 2011). On a per-
sonal level, the story tracks the protagonist’s
development from relatively humble begin-
nings, and through a protracted period of con-
fusion and identity search, to the realization of
a generative vocation in life. A growing body
of nomothetic research on narrative identity
shows that redemptive stories like these tend to
be associated with high levels of psychological
well-being and generativity, especially among
midlife American adults (McAdams, 2013; Mc-
Adams & Guo, 2015).

In Obama’s case, furthermore, the narrative
appropriates a strong line of African American
storytelling, both personal and cultural, that
chronicles the liberation of the oppressed and
the hope for a more just society. The story’s
theme is captured in the hallowed words of Mar-
tin Luther King, Jr.: The arc of history is long,
but it bends toward justice. Although Obama
never experienced the horrors of slavery and the
indignities of Jim Crow racism, he identified
strongly with those who have and with those
heroes who dedicated their lives to liberation.
In the narrative identity he constructed for his
own life, Obama plays the Old Testament role
of Joshua to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Moses.
King famously proclaimed, “I might not see the
Promised Land,” referencing the biblical story
of Moses, who led the Israelites for decades but

16 I . P e r s o n a l I t y D e v e l o P m e n t a n D H u m a n n a t u r e

died before they reached the Promised Land.
Joshua was his successor.

But Obama’s story suggests that he might in-
deed see it, as Joshua did, or at least move things
forward such that a full sighting might be not
too far in the future. Given the ambiguities of
history, we may never know whether Obama’s
presidency helped moved the country forward
in the way he imagined. But it is nonetheless
rather remarkable that Barack Obama authored
this audacious and quintessentially redemptive
life story when he was in his mid-30s, long be-
fore anybody (except Obama himself) imagined
he might become President of the United States.


The emergence of personality may be con-
strued in both historical and developmental
terms. With respect to history, how did the field
of personality psychology come to be? On the
topic of development, how does personality it-
self emerge and develop across the human life

As the scientific study of psychological in-
dividuality, the field of personality psychology
has experienced a difficult and conflicted histo-
ry, reaching something of a nadir in the 1970s.
During that decade, many psychologists came
to question the scientific credibility of the very
concept of personality, focusing their critique
mainly on the legitimacy of dispositional per-
sonality traits. The protracted crisis in the field
delayed for decades any serious consideration of
how personality itself develops. Until relatively
recently, therefore, the fields of personality psy-
chology and developmental psychology traveled
on separate tracks. With the reemergence of a
revitalized and robust science of personality
psychology over the past couple of decades, the
time is now right for a systematic examination
of personality development.

How, then, should personality development
be conceived? I offer a conceptual itinerary for
approaching the topic of personality develop-
ment. My central thesis is that personality de-
velops along three separate but related lines: (1)
from infant temperament to the articulation of
adult personality traits (personality from the
standpoint of the social actor), (2) from child-
hood intentionality to the development of life
goals and values (personality from the stand-
point of the motivated agent), and (3) from the
emergence of episodic memory in childhood to

the construction of narrative identity (personal-
ity from the standpoint of the autobiographical
author). Over the course of human development,
people’s life stories layer over their character-
istic goals and values, which in turn layer over
their developing dispositional traits. The tri-
partite framework helps to organize and make
sense of the many different programs of re-
search and theory that prevail today in the bur-
geoning field of personality development, much
of which is featured in the chapters to follow.
And it provides a powerful heuristic, I believe,
for tracing lines of personality development in
the individual human life, as briefly illustrated
in the case of Barack Obama.


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