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  • Andrew Scott

More on psychology...

I have blogged before (here) about some of the psychology underpinning the ManyStory approach. However, I have recently finished reading Daniel Nettle's excellent book Personality: what makes you who you are. It is mainly about the Big Five personality traits (and is very good on them, too); but it also speaks to the ManyStory Approach.

Having established that heredity and genetics accounts for about half our personality, and early childhood experiences, and other factors harder to pin down account for the rest, the author goes on to address the big question: can we change? It is of the nature of personality traits that they are stable; that and the fact that they have some predictive power are two of the things that make them useful and validate them. So we cannot change our traits. But he goes on to distinguish between three levels of specificity when considering how individuals function (drawing on work by Dan McAdams). The first level is the personality traits; and the second level is characteristic behaviour patterns: that is how, over time, an individual develops personal ways of expressing these traits. Thus one person who scores high on Extraversion may express it by being a polar explorer, whilst another might be a sky-diver, for example (and that is why there are not hundreds of Daniel Nettles, all writing books on Personality, as he explains...)

But the point at which I was both pleased and delighted was when I read: 'The third level is the most idiosyncratic of all, namely the personal life story. This is not the objective events of the life, which belong to level two, but rather the subjective story the person tells themselves about who they are, what they are doing, and why they are doing it. Humans are undeniably narrative creatures. Constructing a personal story is something that we all do, and in all cases, the stories go beyond mere objective behaviours into interpretations, purposes, significances, values, and goals. Once again, there is a one-to-many mapping. The very same objective events could be construed as belonging to myriad different narratives.'

Later in the chapter, he asserts that we have a great deal of latitude in this regard. This, of course, sits perfectly with the ManyStory Approach. Whilst he does not address the central hypothesis of the ManyStory Approach, that is, we all have multiple stories available to us about the same reality, his understanding does allow for that: 'If you have little money, whether you see this as a failing or a virtue is to a significant extent up to you. You can construe its meaning in many different ways.'

Of course, had I done a proper literature search before writing Shifting Stories, I might have come across Nettle's, and indeed McAdams') work earlier. But then, had I felt the need to do a proper literature search, the book might never have been written...

Nonetheless, it is both heartening and validating to find that my approach sits well with the serious academic work of scholars such as Nettle and McAdams. If anyone knows of other work in this field, I would be most interested.

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