Eric Shiraev, Ph.D. Books, Publications, Research, Teaching, and Collaborative Projects
Work in Progress: Personality Theories (Publisher: Sage)

Broader support of a new text is based on at least two factors. The first one is the degree to which it strikes the right balance of tradition and novelty.  The second one is the presentation of materials that could make the textbook to be distinct and stand out. Today’s student has an unprecedented access to global information. Statistics, video clips, tweets, maps, eyewitness reports, theoretical articles, and biographies--all are just a click away. Ten years ago, it would have taken many hours to locate an article that today’s reader “googles” in seconds. I try to bank on this opportunity by presenting ideas and theories from different angles, paying special attention to the way the information is structured in the book, and by critical evaluation of facts and theories. I seek to focus on critical fact-analysis which I have tried to apply in my other books and which is in my view is a major task in teaching psychology today. What are the most identifiable features of this book?  A distinct feature of the proposed book is its structure. The book is organized around three general questions about personality theories:   Where did they come from? How did they study facts? How do we apply them now?

By answering the first question, I focus on the social contexts in which personality theories occurred and developed. The availability of resources such as money, laboratories, equipment, and, educational and training facilities is important for the development of any academic discipline. Science-based psychological knowledge developed rapidly in countries and regions with substantial resources invested in education and research. Some researchers, of course, did not need generous help from big universities or resourceful authorities to run their experiments or create theories. Yet the vast majority of scientists were recipients of financial and organizational support from either government or private sources.

Money and big lecture halls alone will not necessarily move science forward. Science always needs a favorable social climate. Psychology’s prominent theories are difficult to separate from specific social conditions within which they developed. There were favorable and unfavorable conditions. One hundred years ago, for instance, many educated people believed that the intellectual development of the people from remote tribes in Africa, Indonesia, or South America was primitive, their behavior immature, and their cultures backward. Most scholars did little to discourage these attitudes. Non-European personality “types” were commonly presented in simplistic and condescending terms. Only gradually, a growing number of studies began to challenge these one-dimensional popular perceptions of other cultures. This shift, however, did not take place overnight.

By answering the second question—How did they study facts?—I focus on interdisciplinary science behind personality theories. The book’s goal is to present a balanced “blend” of (1) basic science and (2) social science with additions from the fields of (3) humanities, liberal arts, and other relevant disciplines. The proposed text emphasizes a multidisciplinary scientific foundation of personality theories.

At least four major sources provide multidisciplinary knowledge about personality. The first type is scientific knowledge. This type of knowledge is a product of systematic empirical observation, measurement, and evaluation of a wide range of psychological phenomena. These observations are generalized in the forms of scientific concepts and theories. Theories are tested by further empirical observations and, when it is possible, experimentation. Scientific psychological knowledge is the main focus of the proposed textbook. A new and distinct feature of this textbook is that a traditional analysis of scientific knowledge is accompanied by a critical evaluation of other sources of knowledge.

The second source is popular beliefs--often called folk theories--assumptions about human personality. Some popular beliefs tend to be volatile and change without serious opposition from people. In contrast, other folk theories¾even when they are challenged by science--become inseparable elements of culture (consider, for example gender and ethnic stereotypes or beliefs in the “inborn” nature of criminality.) The proposed textbook using a number of examples and cases will demonstrate both co-existence and competition of scientific and folk theories for the minds of people.

The third source is value-based knowledge. In contrast to folk beliefs, this type of knowledge stems from a cohesive and stable set of attitudes about the world, the nature of good and evil, and purpose of human life. This knowledge does not need empirical scrutiny. In a way, value-based knowledge is dogmatic. Religion, for example, is one of the most prominent sources of value-based knowledge. Ideology is another. The textbook will provide information about the inspirational power of values contributing to several personality theories. On the other hand, the book will show how ideology affected the social construction of “superior” and “inferior” types of people to justify discrimination and persecution (for example, dissidents in communist countries or the mentally ill in Germany under the Nazis).

Finally, the fourth source is legal knowledge. This source includes the rules and principles, which exist in the form of the law and can be used by authorities to pass judgments about human beings. Legal knowledge provides arguments for important decisions about us as individuals. The book will feature discussions between legal scholars and psychologists about concepts such as sanity, mental illness, maturity, educability, and personal responsibility.

A cautionary statement: Although additional facts about the sources of psychological knowledge should make the coverage not only comprehensive but also engaging, the main focus of the book is scientific knowledge.

By answering the third question, the book appeals to various applications of the student’s diverse experience. I emphasize three key levels of their experience: global, local, and individual.

On the global level, I refer to diverse cross-cultural issues involving race, ethnicity, gender, and religion. Referring to the local level, I emphasize the importance of daily experiences of students on campus and in local communities. Referring to the individual level, I emphasize the theme of psychology as a profession and suggest how the students can pursue their advanced degrees and professional training in psychology. Specifically, the students can relate to familiar topics such as global job market and travel, migration and immigration, cultural adjustment, ethnic identity, and cultural values of today.  For example, students always respond positively in the classroom to topics such as self-growth, “traditional” and modern views of gender roles, social status, marrying outside one’s religion, or ethnic stereotypes. Furthermore, there is always an enthusiastic response to class discussions about how to apply psychological knowledge obtained in class in addressing lingering social problems in local communities in this country and all over the world. Thus, in the classroom, this focus allows to address several topics at once: psychological diversity, validity of psychological knowledge, and volunteerism.