Personality, Social Psychology, and Psychopathology: Reflections on a Lewinian Vision

Book Section

In this chapter, we first consider the historical and conceptual roots of the tripartite, but at times rocky, marriage of the fields of personality, social, and abnormal psychology. After briefly describing the hopes of early 20th-century scholars to array the study of normal and abnormal behavior, thought, and feeling on the same conceptual continua, we call for the rekindling of these conjunctive hopes. Indeed, we argue that with the advent of current cross-cutting developments in cognitive, socioemotional, and biological perspectives in the broader domain of the behavioral sciences, that the time is ripe for rearranging the marriage among these fields. In order to provide a conceptual frame for such a conjunctive effort, we return to Lewinian field theory and its definition of forces of locomotion in the life space as a particularly notable way to put the examination of normal and abnormal psychology in the same theoretical space. By addressing some critical ideational themes in the domains of personality and social psychology, we attempt to illustrate the overlap of these themes with the ideas and questions of scholars of abnormal behavior. Of course, in deploying a Lewinian model our analyses turn to the dynamics of person x environment interactions in the regions of the life space. In doing so we define the phenomena of meaning-making and the multiple "worldview" existential models in social and personality psychology as the forces constituting the primary dynamics defining the permeability of adaptive regions of the "life space" or phenomenal field. We illustrate these dynamics by detailed consideration of human adaptation in two critical regions or domains of life experience in the behavioral field: the domain of regulatory transactions and the domain of acceptance, social affection, and relationships. While these domains certainly do not exhaust all regions of the life space, we argue that they are particularly pertinent for parsing continua of normal-to-abnormal adaptation and conjoining the nature of psychopathology with the everyday struggles of personal and social significance to all humans. We conclude our analysis by rather unabashed advocacy, not specifically for the model we explore, but for scholarship that is aimed at developing models that link the normal to what we refer to as the abnormal or psychopathological. As humans, the cloths of our selves and our environments are made from common as well as individually unique fibers. We conclude that to disambiguate how such fibers are woven together to frame the forces driving our travels from blissful adaptation to painful maladjustment should be a primary agenda for our interconnected sciences of human behavior.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Costanzo, PR; Hoyle, RH; Leary, MR

Published Date

  • September 18, 2012

Book Title

  • The Oxford Handbook of Personality and Social Psychology

International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)

  • 9780195398991

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195398991.013.0023

Citation Source

  • Scopus