Personality researchers increasingly address causal mechanisms underlying proximal and distal changes in behavior. These mechanisms operate on a within-person level, through transactions between situational and person-related variables. Over the last few decades, most personality psychology research has been focused on assessing personality via scores on a few broad traits and investigating how these scores predict various behaviours and outcomes. This approach does not seek to explain the causal mechanisms underlying human personality and thus falls short of explaining the proximal sources of traits as well as the variation of individuals’ behaviour over time and across situations. Accordingly, to understand personality in a broader sense, it is necessary to address how processes such as motivation, needs, affect, cognition, and volition causally interact, and how they are instigated by situational affordances. Process-oriented personality theories can be subsumed under the so-called Dynamics of Personality Approach (DPA; Quirin, Robinson, Rauthmann, Kuhl, Read, Tops & DeYoung, 2020). The DPA relies heavily on theoretical principles applicable to complex adaptive systems that self-regulate via feedback mechanisms, and it parses the sources of personality in terms of various psychological functions relevant in different phases of self-regulation. We layed out 20 tenets for the DPA that may serve as a guideline for integrative, future-oriented research in personality science (Quirin et al., 2020).
One specific DPA theory is Personality-Systems-Interactions (PSI) theory (Kuhl, 2000a; Kuhl & Baumann, 2019; Quirin & Kuhl, 2009; Quirin & Kuhl, 2022). PSI theory integrates (e.g., behavioristic, psychoanalytic, humanistic, and cognitivistic paradigms by assigning some of their key processes to different layers of personality functioning. These personality levels are considered to correspond with different neural layers and networks of brain organization, which have differentially been evolved throughout human phylogenesis and ontogenesis. Based on a large array of evidence (incl. neuroscientific: Tops, Boksem, Quirin, & Kent, 2015; Tops & Quirin, 2014), personality layers and networks are assumed to interact in a particular way to compose human personality, motivation, and behavior. With this research, we hope to establish a more interdisciplinary thinking linking personality psychology with the psychology of motivation, emotion, and cognition.
PSI theory suggests that these levels and their subsystems interact in a particular way to compose human personality, motivation, and behavior. These interactions have been postulated on the basis of enormous empirical evidence. On the basis of recent neuroscientific research (e.g. reviewed in Tops, Boksem, Quirin, & Kent, 2015; Tops & Quirin, 2014), we are currently engaged in more closely elaborating on the relevant brain mechanisms and networks postulated to underlie personality systems and their interactions.
How and under which conditions do individuals bring their intentions and explicit goals in line with their deeper needs and wishes? How do they bring their behavior in line with their needs or intended goals? What are the neural and endocrine mechanisms of self-congruent or “self-determined” as compared to heteronomous goals and decisions? While trying to find answers to these questions we consider a number of different variables as potential moderators, such as affect, emotion regulation abilities, and self-access (e.g., self-awareness, emotional awareness vs. alexithymia) (Kuhl, Koole, & Quirin, 2014).
The degree to which individuals are aware of their emotions varies between and within individuals. Here, we investigate the degree to which individuals have a broad overview of their subtle affective reactions (incl. preferences and resentments) and whether they use them for making decisions and pursuing goals. We have referred to this type of intuitive, broad self-awareness as self-access (as compared to deliberative, focused self-awareness). Individual differences in the level of self-access can be measured by the so-called self-access form (Quirin & Kuhl, 2018), values of which predicted self-integration (in a card-sort procedure), the distinction of self-chosen and imposed goals in memory (see also Jais et al., 2021), heart-rate variability under stress (Quirin et al., 2021), as well as adaptive personality traits and psychological-health indicators in general. Much research suggests that a crucial factor that inhibits states of self-access is negative affect and stress (for overviews, see Baumann et al., 2017; Quirin & Kuhl, 2022; Quirin, Tops et al., 2018). Accordingly, self-access can be deemed an important state diurnal variations of which may be investigated to predict psychological health, motivation, decision-making, and performance in the future.
Self-reports are biased by a number of subjective factors such as social desirability or low self-awareness (Malekzad et al., 2021). Therefore, we developed the so-called Implicit Positive and Negative Affect Test (IPANAT; Quirin, Kazén, & Kuhl, 2009) – a standardized, reliable, association-based indirect measure of emotions. Since its development, the IPANAT has broadly been applied in within and across psychological disciplines and published in more than fifteen language versions (e.g., Quirin, Wróbel et al., 2018). Previous studies showed that the IPANAT predicted stress-related physical parameters such as cortisol levels (e.g., Quirin, Kazén, Rohrmann et al., 2009), blood pressure (Brosschot et al., 2014), activity in stress-relevant brain areas (Suslow et al., 2015), and clinical conditions (Lichev et al., 2015; Suslow et al., 2019) over and above self-reports of affect. In our lab or in cooperation with other labs we also use emotional face recognition, eye-tracking, and behavioral analyses to validate the IPANAT and variations thereof.
Individuals often suffer difficulties attaining their goals in professional or private life, which often enough is related to dysfunctionalities in self-regulation such as decision-making, taking initiative, or timely goal disengagement when goal become unpleasant or nearly unattainable). Sometimes, individuals need to change strategies and habitual patterns to better attain their goals (“Coaching”), yet other times “going the long path” of thoroughly transforming personality aspects and related schemata is more meaningful (“Personality Growth”; also a major aspect of spiritual teachings). In this branch of our research, we apply the Dynamics of Personality approach as a theoretical foundation of coaching and personality growth. We make much use of Personality Systems Interactions theory as a specific DPA model that has broadly been used for coaching previously. DPA coaching is based on several important pillars:
1. It is based on an action-psychological rationale
2. It is neuroscientifically informed
3. It focuses on the individual by using personalized interventions
4. It includes dimensional diagnostics of personal and situational resources
5. It considers and endorses effectiveness research
In cooperation with Munich School of Philosophy, and funded by John Templeton Foundation (870k), the „Personality Growth Project“ aims to answer the following major questions: What are the factors facilitating Personality Growth? What are its underlying cognitive and affective mechanisms? Can adverse experiences help individuals grow as a person? In which way and to what degree can individuals grow from a relationship breakup? How does Personality Growth relate to religious and spiritual doctrines?
My colleagues and I were among the first to find that the need for power is predominantly supported by left brain circuits,
whereas the need for affiliation (“love” in a broader sense) is predominantly supported by right brain circuits
(Quirin, Gruber, Kuhl, & Düsing, 2013; Quirin et al., 2013).
This compartmentalization of the two needs into opposite hemispheres can be assumed to be far-reaching. For instance, it probably constitutes a major reason for the difficulty to integrate both needs in everyday life. It also might influences societal issues: For example, a relative dominance of the power motive might make capitalistic and pro-war decisions more likely, whereas a relative dominance of the affiliation motive might make prosocial and pro-peace decisions more likely.
The usefulness of theories such as dynamics of personality models can be measured according to its applicability. Cooperating with Impulse AI (Bonn) and Deutsche Telekom AG (Bonn) we develop and improve management softwares for educational institutions that include assessments of competencies in employees, teachers, and students, with a particular focus on digital media. We gather large-scale longitudinal data to continuously adapt effectiveness of the software, to improve competence development and, finally, dynamic of personality models. The software makes automated suggestions for personalized training programs, which warrants long-term quality supervision of companies and educational institutions.
My colleagues and I were one of the first to investigate neural mechanisms of death thought awareness (Quirin et al., 2011);
in the media, for example:
By doing so, we bridged a gap between experimental neuroscience and the philosophical school of existentialism. Since the publication of our first manuscript, several articles have appeared that used the expression “existential neuroscience”. A review of research on Existential Neuroscience (Quirin, Klackl & Jonas, 2019) will be published in a volume of the series of books entitled Frontiers of Social Psychology (see also Jonas et al., 2014).