Personality Is a Multilevel Phenomenon

A key component of our neosocioanalytic perspective on personality is that the domains of traits, motives, abilities, and narratives can be differentiated in hierarchical terms (see Hooker, 2002; Hooker & McAdams, 2003; Mayer, 1995; Roberts & Pomerantz, in press). For example, at the broadest level of the trait domain one finds the personality traits found in standard omnibus personality inventories. These are often the traits that make up the now ubiquitous measures of the Big Five. The midlevel of the continuum can be conceptualized by narrow traits, such as the subfacets of the Big Five (Roberts, Bogg, Walton, Chernyshenko, & Stark, 2004). These constructs are broader than discrete behaviors but less broad than traits, as they are often constrained to specific roles and interpersonal contexts (e.g., relationships, work, and friendships). Presumably, these midlevel constructs are more stable than discrete behaviors and less stable than broad traits (e.g., Conley, 1984). At the most narrow level, we find the constituent elements of traits: thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. So, for example, one can be a depressed person, indicating a broad generalizable pattern of depressed affect across time and situation, yet experience different daily moods or states that do not correspond directly to one's trait level.

The hierarchical structuring of each domain of personality adds another layer of methods on top of the methods typically identified within personality psychology (see following). So, not only can one assess personality through global ratings of personality traits, but also through daily mood ratings or frequencies of behaviors. Or, similarly, one could assess a person's motivations through broad ratings of values and interests or the relevant actions they take in their lives, such as exercising and eating well as manifestations of valuing health. The information gleaned from these different levels constitutes different methods that are partially overlapping, yet distinct in important ways.

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