Spring 2007


Professor:  Joan Ostrove

                        Olin-Rice 325




Office Hours :  Wednesdays, 1-4 p.m.,

                                    and by appointment


Course Overview and Goals :

            There are lots of ways to describe and explain why people are the way they are.  This course is a survey of the major theories and research strategies that the field of psychology has developed for understanding human personality.   Every theory 1) has a different set of assumptions that underlie it; 2) was developed in a different historical and cultural context; and 3) is – you will probably find – more or less successful at explaining or describing the lives and personalities of people you know or are intrigued by.  Prominent personality researcher (and author of our textbook) Dan McAdams uses the concept of the “life story” to talk about studying and understanding personality.  We will all read one “life story,” Barack Obama’s first memoir, Dreams from My Father.  We will read it at the beginning of the semester so that we can see how the theories presented later in the class might be used to explain Obama’s personality and behavior.  Obama’s life, as well as your own and that of other people you know or read about, will provide “data” that we will analyze using the theories we learn about in the course. 

            Throughout the course, you will be expected to read, think critically about, absorb, understand, and question all of the course material.  This will be a participatory class in which we’ll hopefully have lots to discuss and I will ask you to reflect on and share your ideas about the course material in both written and oral formats (no, there won’t be oral exams, just opportunities for you to share your ideas out loud in the course of class discussion!).  Because who we are (our “personality”) is shaped by where and when we were born; our gender, race, class, religion, culture, etc.; and our own individual and personal experiences, there will be times during the class when we all might want to reflect on the ways in which these factors have shaped us – the members of the class.  You will be under no obligation to share any information about yourself that you don’t want to share, but you can expect that the course material will encourage you to reflect on your own life and the lives of people you know, and will stimulate you to think about these more “personal” issues.



            It is your primary responsibility to come to class prepared, having read and thought about the readings for the day.  Class participation will account for 10% of your course grade.  Participation may mean a lot of different things – showing up prepared for class; sharing your ideas and thoughts; listening well to others’ ideas; asking questions; connecting the course material to issues in your life or the lives of other people you know, and/or to issues on campus and in the world, etc. 

In addition, the course has the following requirements:

·        Eight reaction papers over the course of the semester (due dates are on the syllabus).  This 1-2 page paper is an opportunity for you to think “on paper” about one or more of the readings for that day.  Among other possibilities, you may compare two readings to each other, agree or disagree (explaining why for either reaction) to the ideas presented in any of the week’s readings, write about a current event or person you know that is relevant to the readings.  You’re welcome to use a standard essay format, but need not feel constrained by that.  Reaction papers will account for 15% of your course grade (see grading guidelines on the last page of the syllabus). 

·        Hour exams.  There will be four, non-cumulative hour exams throughout the semester.  Each exam will count for 12% of your final grade for a total of 48% .

·        A final project.  I’ll provide a lot more explanation of the project later in the semester, but it will be a case report paper (about 10-12 pages in length) in which you will choose a person (fictional or real, living or dead), whose life you will analyze based on some of the principles and theories and perspectives from this course.  I strongly recommend starting to think about whom you’ll write about early in the semester.  This project will account for 27% of your course grade.  It will be due no later than 5 p.m. on Friday, May 4th.  You will be asked to turn in a proposal for your final project (that is, who you will study and what approaches you plan to take to study that person) on March 26th.  Five points will be deducted from your final paper if you do not hand this in. 


Readings :


McAdams, D. P. (2006). The person:  A new introduction to personality psychology (Fourth Edition).  Hoboken, NJ:  John Wiley & Sons. 


Obama, B. (1995/2004).  Dreams from my father:  A story of race and inheritance.  NY: Three Rivers Press.


            Books are available at the campus book store.  All other readings listed below will be available as a packet that you must purchase from the psychology department.


Course policies :


·        Academic integrity:  I expect all of you to follow the college’s guidelines regarding academic integrity, outlined in the Student Handbook.  Please talk to me if you are not clear how these guidelines apply to the course.  I will report any suspicion of academic dishonesty to the Dean of Academic Programs.  Academic dishonesty will result in at least a failing grade on the assignment, and a second instance of dishonesty will usually result in a failing grade in the course.

·        Late work:  You may not receive extensions on work in the class, except in the most extraordinary circumstances (in which you will need documentation from the Dean’s Office or Health Services).  Reaction papers will receive a “check-minus” if they are turned in late (but it’s a lot better to turn it in late than to get a “0” factored into your grade!).  Final papers that are turned in late for any reason (besides an extraordinary circumstance) will have a third of a grade taken off for each day that it is late (e.g., a B+ would become a B if you hand in work any time after the exact time that it is due – the “day late” begins immediately after the time the assignment is due).  The exams may not be made up (or taken early) except under extraordinary circumstances.

·        Incompletes:  I will only grant incompletes under extraordinary circumstances that occur in the second part of the semester.  This will not include being really busy at the end of the semester.

·        Written assignments:  Please type, double-spaced with 12-point font, all of your written assignments for this course.  Please do not use margins that are larger than 1 inch – all around.  Don’t use smaller margins, or smaller font, either – length is not necessarily strength, but when I expect you to write at least a page on a topic, I’d like it to be a full page!

·        Grades:  Grading policies are explained on the last page of the syllabus.

·        Accommodations for students with disabilities:  I will provide any reasonable accommodation for students with disabilities that will assist in making this course accessible and will provide an optimal educational experience for everyone. Please speak to me at the beginning of the semester so that we can make an effective plan.  Assistant Dean of Students Irene Kao is responsible for Disability Services at Macalester and is an excellent resource.

Class/Assignment Schedule : 


PLEASE NOTE:  Readings are assigned on the day that they are DUE to be read.  That is, please come to class having already read the reading assigned for that day.  Thank you!




Mon, Jan 22:  Introduction to the course and each other


Wed, Jan 24:  What does it mean to understand lives and personalities?


  • McAdams, Chapter 1
  • Remen, R. N. (1996).  Kitchen table wisdom:  Stories that heal.  NY:  Riverhead Books, pp. xxi-xxxii.
  • Start reading Obama’s memoir any time now…


Fri, Jan 26:  Personality research:  Measuring, assessing and interpreting personality


  • Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (2000).  Perspectives on personality (Chapters 2 and 3), Boston:  Allyn and Bacon.




Mon, Jan 29:  Psychoanalytic perspective


  • McAdams, pp. 249-265
  • Freud, S. (1920/1966). Lecture XIX:  Resistance and repression.  In Introductory lectures in psychoanalysis.  NY:  W. W. Norton, pp. 286-302.


Wed, Jan 31:  Testing psychoanalytic concepts empirically

Reaction paper due today


  • Patton, C. J. (1992).  Fear of abandonment and binge eating:  A subliminal psychodynamic activation investigation.  Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 180, 484-490.


Fri, Feb 2:  Can the psychoanalytic perspective help us understand Barack Obama?


  • Finish Obama memoir by today!


Mon, Feb 5:  Motives and motivation


  • McAdams, pp. 275-295


Wed, Feb 7:  Motives and Motivation, continued

Reaction paper due today


  • Winter, D. G. (1998). A motivational analysis of the Clinton first term and the 1996 presidential campaign.  Leadership Quarterly, 9, 367-376.


Fri, Feb 9:  Measuring motives – The Thematic Apperception Test; Analyzing “running text” in Obama’s memoir


Mon, Feb 12:  EXAM 1


Wed, Feb 14:  Existential approaches


  • Sartre, J-P. (1965/2004).  from The Humanism of Existentialism, excerpted in Funder & Ozer (2004).  Pieces of the personality puzzle (pp. 302-312). NY:  W.W. Norton.
  • Zika, & Chamberlain, K. (1992).  On the relation between meaning in life and psychological well-being.  British Journal of Psychology, 83, 133-145.


Fri, Feb 16:  Existential and humanistic approaches

Reaction paper due today on Maslow reading only


  • McAdams, pp. 266-274
  • Maslow, A. (1968).  Some educational implications of the humanistic psychologies.  Harvard Educational Review, 38, 685-696.


Mon, Feb 19:  Humanistic approaches, continued (including assessment)


Wed, Feb 21:  Cognition and the Self


  • McAdams, Chapter 8


Fri, Feb 23:  Cognition and the Self

Reaction paper due today


  • Seligman, M. E. P., Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Thornton, N., & Thornton, K. M. (1990).  Explanatory style as a mechanism of disappointing athletic performance.  Psychological Science, 1, 143-146.


Mon, Feb 26:  EXAM 2


Wed, Feb 28:  Traits


  • McAdams, Chapter 4 (only to p. 138)


Fri, Mar 2:  Traits, continued (including assessing traits)


  • McAdams, Chapter 5


Mon, Mar 5:  Traits, continued – The person or the situation?


  • McAdams, pp. 138-150


Wed, Mar 7:  An introduction to biological approaches to personality – Research on twins


  • McAdams, pp. 215-230

Film (in class):    “Body Doubles:  The Twin Experience”


Fri, Mar 9:  Biological approaches to personality – Genetics

Reaction paper due today


  • Kato, K., & Pedersen, N. L. (2005).  Personality and coping:  A study of twins reared apart and twins reared together.  Behavior Genetics, 35, 147-158.
    • You may skim the results section, and focus mainly on their introduction, method, and discussion.  The analyses involved here are hard to follow without a pretty sophisticated knowledge of statistics.
  • Smith, J. D. (1988).  Heredity, environment, and more.  From J. D. Smith, Psychological profiles of conjoined twins, NY:  Praeger.




Mon, Mar 19:  Biological approaches to personality – Evolution and biology


  • McAdams, Chapter 2


Wed, Mar 21:  EXAM 3


Fri, Mar 23:  Contextual approaches to personality


  • McAdams, Chapter 3


Mon, Mar 26:  Contextual approaches to personality – Personal and social identities


  • McAdams, Chapter 9




Wed, Mar 28:  Contextual approaches to personality – Personal and social identities, continued

Reaction paper due today


  • Deaux, K., Reid, A., Mizrahi, K., Ethier, K. A. (1995).  Parameters of social identity.  Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 68, 280-291.
  • Sellers, R. M., Smith, M. A., Shelton, J. N., Rowley, S.A. J., & Chavous, T. M.  (1998). Multidimensional model of racial identity: A reconceptualization of African American racial identity.  Personality & Social Psychology Review, 2, 18-39.


Fri, Mar 30:  Contextual approaches to personality – Personal and social identities, continued


Film (in class):  Just Black? (plus discussion of Obama)


Mon, Apr 2:   Contextual approaches to personality – Culture and personality

Reaction paper due today


  • Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1998).  The cultural psychology of personality.  Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 29, 63-87.


Wed, Apr 4:  Contextual approaches to personality – Social structure and personality


  • Ryff, C. D. (1987).  The place of personality and social structure research in psychology.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 1192-1202.


Fri, Apr 6 – NO CLASS


Mon, Apr 9:  Contextual approaches to personality – Gender and personality


  • Hyde, J. S. (2004).  Chapter 3 (Gender stereotypes and gender differences) of Half the human experience:  The psychology of women (pp. 82-114).  Boston, MA:  Houghton-Mifflin.


Wed, Apr 11:  Contextual approaches to personality – Gender and personality, continued

Reaction paper due today


  • Stewart, A. J., & Salt, P. (1983).  Changing sex roles:  College graduates of the 1960s and 1970s.  In M. Horner, C. Nadelson, & M. Notman (Eds.).  The challenge of change.  NY:  Plenum.


Fri, Apr 13:  Contextual approaches to personality – Can they help us understand Obama?




Mon, Apr 16:  Does personality change?


  • McAdams, pp. 202-215, 230-243
  • Helson, R., & Stewart, A. J. (1994). Personality change in adulthood.  In T. F. Heatherton, J. L. Weinberger, et al. (Eds.). Can personality change? (pp. 201-225). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.


Wed, Apr 18:  Assessing personality over time


Fri, Apr 20:  Pulling it all together – Personality as life story


  • McAdams, Chapter 10


Mon, Apr 23:  Life stories continued


  • McAdams, Chapter 12


Wed, Apr 25:  EXAM 4


Fri, Apr 27:  Presentation of final papers


Mon, Apr 30:  Presentation of final papers




Grading Guidelines


I will use the following guidelines when I assign marks to your reaction papers:  In general, a reaction paper that is turned in on time, is thoughtfully and clearly written, and is related to the assigned reading(s) for the day will receive a “check” (which translates roughly to a “B”).  I mostly just want to know what you think and want to give you a chance to express your views in this kind of informal but regular format.  I will reserve “check plus” (roughly an “A”) for the occasional reaction paper that is particularly outstanding – super thoughtful, provocative, particularly well-written…  Papers that do not relate at all to the readings will receive a “check minus” (“C”), as will late reaction papers.  It is much better to turn in a reaction paper late, however, than not to turn it in at all…


Below are the guidelines I follow when assigning grades to final papers.  I use plusses and minuses when the work falls in between the qualities associated with each letter grade.  Grades are based both on content and on writing style.  I encourage you to ask for help from me, the MAXX Center, or any other reasonable source if you’d like assistance with writing.  Please acknowledge resources you use in a footnote to your paper.


“A” grades are assigned to outstanding papers.  These papers reflect a deep engagement with the person you are writing about as well as with the application of concepts from personality.  These papers also include insightful analysis, and excellent mastery of the material from the course.  The paper addresses all aspects of the assignment fully and clearly.  Finally, these “A” papers are well-written with respect to style and grammar.


“B” grades are assigned to papers that demonstrate a good understanding of the person you are writing about as well as good mastery of the material from the course, are coherently written, and that contain some insightful ideas.  Sometimes “B” papers contain some really good ideas, but do not carry out arguments as elegantly as they could.  Other times all of the aspects of the assignment are there, but the ideas are not particularly innovative.


“C” grades are given to papers that do not adequately cover the assignment, demonstrate that the material was not fully understood, and/or have problems with writing style.  Sometimes “C” papers have some really good parts, mixed in with some parts that seem like they were not well-thought out.  Papers with consistent grammatical or stylistic problems may receive a “C.”


“D” grades are assigned to papers that have serious problems – parts of the assignment are totally missing or are really incomplete, the writing is full of errors, the material was seriously misunderstood and/or misapplied. 


“NC” grades are hardly ever given if a student has put even some work into the paper.  However, if the content is totally irrelevant, or the writing is such that it is simply impossible for me to follow the arguments, then I would assign a failing grade.