Traits, Goals, and Stories

People’s life stories may be viewed as one aspect of the large constellation of internalized constructs that comprise human personality. Dan McAdams has argued that personality itself may be viewed as a loose confederation of three constructs at three different levels of functioning: (1) dispositional traits (such as extraversion, neuroticism), (2) characteristic adaptations (such as motives, goals, values, schemas, and the like), and (3) integrative life stories. In simple terms, traits sketch a dispositional outline for human individuality, adaptations fill in the details, and life narratives provide an overall sense of life meaning and purpose. A full explication of this idea may be found in the fifth edition of McAdams’s personality textbook, The Person: An Introduction to the Science of Personality Psychology (5th Ed., John Wiley, 2009).

A major research thrust at the Foley Center involves documenting relations among constructs at these three different levels of personality. Former Foley postdoctoral fellow Ian McGregor (currently at York University) has examined the extent to which traits, goals, and stories are consistent or inconsistent in a person’s life. Jack Bauer examines the meaning and manifestations of growth goals – personal strivings stemming from intrinsically motivating needs and aimed to enhance self-actualization. Growth goals appear to be positively linked to both psychological well-being and ego development, and they also play important roles in redemptive life narratives. In 2000, McAdams, Bauer, and their associates at the Foley Center launched a longitudinal study of traits, goals, and stories among college freshmen and seniors. They have examined patterns of continuity and change in the three levels of personality over a three-year period in young adulthood.

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