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Do Mental Processes Guide Behaviour?

Yesterday, we looked at how temperament acts as a platform on which personalities are built on. However, there is an alternate perspective that mental processes actively shape people's personalities. These theories believe that there are different forces at work in the formation of personality, with it being the result of both internal mental processes and social interactions.

There are three prevailing viewpoints to explore which are namely psychodynamic, humanistic and social-cognitive theories. Each theory focuses on a number of factors that work in conjunction with each other

Psycho-dynamic Theory

It may seem like a loaded word but rest assured "Psycho-dynamic" simply refers to a clinical study of personality. The theory emphasises the role of motivation especially our unconscious motives and how our past experiences influences our mental health.

It states that our unconscious mind plays a vital role in our personality and behaviour, that our subconscious is fuelled by our secret motives, drives and desires. This basically means that we are motivated by things that we are not even aware of! So what you think is motivating you, may not actually be the true source.

This was a theory that came from the renowned Sigmund Freud, who claimed that our main unconscious desire was sex. Now, he did not mean this in the literal sense but rather that everything we did had some sort of link back to sexual desires.

Just to give you an idea of the activities that Freud considered to be sexual: Cooking, drawing and studying were all deemed to be sexual by the man himself. For example, he believed for aspects of life like career progression and academic success to be driven by our unconscious sexual desires.

You may not agree with his view but it certainly is an interesting albeit perhaps outdated perspective. Bear in mind that Freud first came up with this in the late 1800s where mankind was more primitive. Nevertheless, Freud was one of the pioneers of psychology and his perspective should still be carefully considered.

Humanistic Theories

These group of theories look at consciousness and examine our present, subjective reality. It emphasises what the individual believes to be important now and how they think of themselves in relation to others.

Humanistic psychologists believe that personality is not driven by unconscious conflict but rather by positive needs to adapt, learn, grow and thrive. They maintain that motivation is at the heart of personality and have emphasised the importance of esteem and self-actualisation in keeping one healthy.

They believe the lack of such aspects in one's life is the cause of mental disorders, that they come from unhealthy situations rather than unhealthy individuals. Once people are freed from unhealthy situations such as abusive relationships and negative self-evaluations, they will once again be mentally healthy. Humans are thought to be innately healthy and the escape from such terminal scenarios will allow them to feel free once again. The famous Maslow Hierarchy of Needs falls under this category in which self-actualisation is emphasised, where once an individual has met their basic needs, is then able to go on and fulfil their potential. This is a state whereby we feel free to explore our full potential, to aspire and grow.

It relates back to organizations being able to provide such growth opportunities to all their workers, no matter how senior or junior. It is key in not only retaining one's motivation but also in their general outlook on life. Organizations must allow their staff to feel like their potential is being somewhat fulfilled and that they are not in a dead end job simply collecting a paycheck. That is the challenge that organizations face and must accept.

Social-cognitive theories

These namely focuses on the influence that learning, perception and social interaction has on behaviour. It zeroes it on social learning, whereby humans essentially base their personalities on that of others. This can be done through primarily observational learning which is when people learn new responses by observing the behaviour of others and noting its consequence.

Observational learning can also be described as mimicking the action of others. This is especially prevalent in corporate settings whereby a new recruit is unsure of how to act on their first day of work, thus attempts to follows the cue set by the existing employees and simply blending in.

This is why corporate culture is such an important aspect of an organization. It dictates how the team acts, how they approach work, how they view tasks and how they colloborate with one another. Successful organizations need to implement a collaborative, democratic and empowering corporate culture. One that motivates the ground troops to go above and beyond for the common goal.

Organizations need to create an environment whereby new recruits or individuals who are not wedded to the cause change their attitudes for fear of missing out. Many a times, individuals conform to the general group consensus in an attempt to fit in.

Organizations must make use of this human trait, they must create an environment where everyone feels compelled to get onboard or risk feeling left out. They need to create a herd mentality where people conform based on what they observe. People would be fearful of going against the grain, appearing like a dissident member of the organization and risk being alienating by the group.


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