Are You More of a Social Psychologist or a Personality Psychologist?


ManayMind Are You More of a Social Psychologist or a Personality Psychologist?I never cease to be amazed by how different people are. We’re all human. We all rejoice when troubadors come calling, love our children desperately, and secretly believe we’re going to live forever.

But then we’re all so different. And the most primary difference (according to personality psychologists) is our orientation to the world — do we tend to face outward or inward, to approach or withdraw? Are our most profound journeys through the outer world or inner space? Of course, we all do a little of both, but most of us tend to lean in one direction or the other.

These two quotes say it all.

“In mature years I have always been gregarious, a lover of my kind, dependent upon the company of friends for the very pulse of moral life.  To be marooned, to be shut up in a solitary cell, to inhabit a lighthouse, or to camp alone in a forest, these have always seemed to me afflictions too heavy to be borne, even in imagination.  A state in which conversation exists not, is for me an air too empty of oxygen for my lungs to breathe it.”

-Edmund Gosse, Father and Son

“It is good that you will soon be entering a profession that will make you independent and will put you completely on your own, in every sense….your solitude will be a support and a home for you, even in the midst of very unfamiliar circumstances, and from it you will find all your paths. All my good wishes are ready to accompany you, and my faith is with you.”

-Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Your reaction to these quotes probably depends on whether you’re more of a social psychologist or a personality psychologist. Social psychology is the study of what all humans have in common, and personality psychology is the study of what makes each human unique. (That’s my own personal definition, not an official one.)

Looking at Gosse and Rilke, a social psychologist might focus on how loving they both are. A personality psychologist would be more interested in how differently they express that love.

I’m obsessed with both fields, but my heart is with the latter. I’ve noticed, though, that some writers and thinkers I admire seem to lean more in the former direction.

Which way do you lean?


(*Thanks to David Noller for sending me the quote from Gosse.)

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  1. Rachel on 13.09.2011 at 13:48 (Reply)

    Interesting distinction that you make between a social psychologist and a personality psychologist. As a psychology major in college (and an introvert), I enjoyed both subjects. It’s cognitive psychology that had to grow on me!

    1. Susan Cain on 13.09.2011 at 13:51 (Reply)

      Oh, yes, I can see that. Notice that I didn’t even mention cognitive psychology! That subject comes less easily to me.

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