Personality-based Theories and Occupation

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In this article we will consider the viewpoints proposed by two widely respected theorists, Anne Roe and John Holland. Both suggest that the appropriateness of an occupation for an individual depends upon that individual's personality, which in turn is primarily a product of earlier experience.

Roe bases her theory heavily upon the earlier writing of Maslow (1954), who proposed the concept of a hierarchy of psychological need. This idea says that lower-order needs, those necessary for maintaining life, are so strong that they take precedence over the other needs and prevent their appearance until the lower-order needs are reasonably satisfied. Maslow says each person has eight basic needs. Arranged in hierarchical or from lowest to highest they are:
  1. Physiological needs

  2. Safety needs

  3. Need for belongingness and love

  4. Need for importance, respect, self-esteem, independence

  5. Need for self-actualization

  6. Need for information

  7. Need for understanding

  8. Need for beauty
Roe's study of the personality characteristics of several groups of scientists led her to conclude that experiences occurring in early childhood a most influential in reinforcing or weakening higher-order needs and the experiences ultimately influence career development. In 1957, she presented a series of hypotheses concerning early determinants of vocational choice. These hypotheses were expanded and refined in a monograph by Roe and Siegelman (1964). Roe's position can be seen from the following quotation from the 1964 monograph:

Proposition 1: Genetic inheritance sets limits to the potential development of all characteristics, but specificity of the genetic control and the extent of the nature of the limitations are different for different characteristics.

It is probable that the genetic element is more specific and stronger in what we call intellectual abilities and temperament than it is in some other variables as interests and attitudes.

Proposition 2: The degrees and avenues of development of inherited characteristics are affected not only by experience unique to the individual, but also by all aspects of the general cultural background and the socio-economic position of the family.

Proposition 3: The pattern of development of interests, attitudes, and other personality variables with relatively little or nonspecific genetic control is primarily determined by individual experiences through which involuntary attention becomes channeled in particular directions.

Dynamics of Behavior

The important word here is involuntary. The elements in any situation to which one gives automatic or effortless attention are keys to the dynamics of behavior. This proposition is clearly related to hypotheses concerning the relations between personality and perception.
  • These directions are determined in the first place by the patterning of early satisfaction and frustrations.

  • This patterning is affected by the relative strengths of various needs and the forms and relative degrees of satisfaction which they receive. The two latter aspects are environmental variables.

  • The modes and degrees of need satisfaction determine which needs are to be the strongest motivators. The nature of the motivation may be quite unconscious.
Possible variations are:
  1. Needs satisfied routinely as they appear do not become unconscious motivators.

  2. Needs, for which even minimum satisfaction is rarely achieved, will, if higher order (as used by Maslow, 1954), become expunged or will, if lower order, prevent the appearance of higher order needs and will become dominant and restricting motivators.

  3. Needs, the satisfaction of which is delayed but eventually accomplished, will become (unconscious) motivators, depending largely upon the degree of satisfaction felt. Behavior that has received irregular reinforcement is notably difficult to extinguish (C. B. Ferster and B. F. Skinner, 1957).
The degree of satisfaction felt will depend, among other things, upon the strengths of the basic need in the given individual, the length of time elapsing between arousal and satisfaction, and the values ascribed to the satisfaction of this need in the immediate environment.

Proposition 4: The eventual pattern of psychic energies, in terms of attention directedness, is the major determinant of interests.

Proposition 5: The intensity of these needs and of their satisfaction (perhaps particularly as they have remained unconscious) and their organization are the major determinants of the degree of motivation that reaches expression in accomplishment.

Roe proposed that the relationship between parent and child--the emotional climate of the home--produces these early influences that shape the individual's personality. She saw three types of emotional climate: emotional concentration on the child, avoidance of the child, or acceptance of the child. She visualized these relationships in a circular pattern with each type of climate shading into the other two types. Further, each climate type was pictured as having two subtypes which also shaded into one another and into the adjacent subcategory of the other types.

Emotional concentration on the child includes subdivisions of over-protecting parents and over-demanding ones. The over-protecting parents encourage dependency in the child and restrict exploratory behavior. They are often indulgent, allow social privileges, and show affection. They limit and select the child's friendships, and protect the youngster from other children. They intrude into the child's life and expect to be told all thoughts and experiences. The over-demanding parents set very high standards for the child, and require conformity to that standard. They expect the child to be constructively busy and they select friends for the child who meet the standards they set. They dominate and direct the child's thoughts and feelings.

Types of Parents

The avoidance climate includes both rejection and neglect. Rejecting type parents are more extreme in behavior than demanding parents. Their attitude toward the child is one of coldness, hostility, derogation, and ridicule. They leave the child alone and also prevent contact with other children. They set up household rules to protect themselves from intrusions by the child into their lives. Neglecting parents, on the other hand, do not express hostility or ridicule; they simply ignore the child. They provide minimal physical care and no affection. They make neither effort to avoid the child nor to establish contact or care.

The climate of acceptance can be either casual or loving. The casually accepting parents pay some attention to the child and are mildly affectionate. They accept the child as part of their general situation and are responsive to the child if not occupied with other matters. They tend to be easygoing, making few rules or exerting little effort to train the child, and usually do not enforce rules or exert training efforts. The lovingly accepting parents give the child warmth and affection. They help the child with things that are important without taking control. They usually reason with the child rather than punish. They give praise appropriately and try to help with problems. They invite the child's friends to the home, encourage independence, and allow the child to take reasonable chances in growing up.

These six types of parental behavior produce two broad types of behavior in the child. The categories of loving, over-protecting, or over-demanding attitudes produce a major orientation toward persons. The areas of casual acceptance, neglect, or rejection produce a major orientation away from persons. Both of these behaviors range from a non-defensive extreme to defensive extreme. Occupations also are oriented toward persons or away from persons. Person-oriented areas include service, business contact, organizations, general culture, and the arts and entertainment. Non-person-oriented areas include technology, the outdoors, and science. Thus an individual whose family provided an accepting or protective environment is likely to seek an occupation working with others in service or business contact activities while the person whose parents were casual or neglectful is likely to move toward technical or outdoor occupations. Roe further suggests levels based upon responsibility or educational requirements within each of her six areas of primary focus.

Support for Roe's hypotheses has been found in subsequent research only rarely. Several problems contribute to this lack of research support. First, the emotional climate of the home, in most research to date, has been determined by recall of the research subject long after early childhood, or identified by elementary age children on the basis of very simple criteria. Second, emotional climate may be inconsistent and variable. Third, many of the propositions are somewhat vague and difficult to state in specific, re-searchable terms. Finally, children are subjected to many other influences even within the earliest years of childhood. This lack of research support does not justify writing off Roe's proposals. Most of us can recognize within our own childhood experience the influence of family and home and its continuing impact on our lives.

Influence Factors

Holland, unlike Roe, spends little time considering how people became the way they are. He does suggest that earlier life history, self-perceptions, and values are among factors that have been influential. Like Roe, Holland assumes that people have developed a set of behaviors, or personality that is characteristic, persistent, and relatively permanent. This typology is perhaps most representative of Holland's viewpoint.

Holland (1966, 1973) describes the central thrust of his theory in four basic assumptions, as follows:
  1. In our culture, most persons can be categorized as one of six types: realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising or conventional.

  2. There are six kinds of environments: realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising and conventional.

  3. People search for environments that will let them exercise their ski and abilities, express their attitudes and values, and take on agreeable problems and roles.

  4. A person's behavior is determined by an interaction between his personality and the characteristics of his environment.
Holland assumes that a person expresses personality through choice of a vocation, and that the instruments we usually describe as interne inventories are really personality inventories. Further, each person thought to hold stereotypical views of various occupations that have psychological and sociological relevance for the individual. Thus, Holland saying that work is an expression of personality that reflects the basic nature of the individual as that person sees himself or herself. Let us consider briefly each of the six personality types.

Realistic persons deal with environment in an objective, concrete, and physically manipulative manner. They avoid goals and tasks that demand subjectivity, intellectual or artistic expressions, or social abilities. They are described as masculine, unsociable, emotionally stable, and materialists. They prefer agricultural, technical, skilled trade, or engineering occupations. They like activities that involve motor skills, such as athletics, scouting, crafts, shop work, and the like. They avoid supervisory and leadership roles, social situations in which one would be the center of attention, and intellectual or verbal tasks that require abstract thinking. They have a single outlook, more mathematical ability than verbal, and the operation of machines, tools, and vehicles increases their sense of well-being and power.

Investigative individuals deal with environment by the use of intelligence, manipulating ideas, words, and symbols. They prefer scientific vocations, theoretical tasks, reading, collecting, algebra, foreign languages, and such creative activities as art, music, and sculpture. They avoid social situations and see themselves as unsociable, masculine, persistent, scholarly, and introverted. They achieve primarily in academic and scientific areas and usually do poorly as leaders. They have a complex outlook and score high in both verbal and mathematical aptitudes. Investigative types are more scholarly, original, independent, and self-confident, but less practical, emotionally stable, and conventional than realistic individuals.

Art Forms

Artistic people deal with their environment by creating art forms and products. They rely on subjective impressions and fantasies when seeking solutions to problems. They prefer musical, artistic, literary, and dramatic occupations, and activities that are creative in nature. They dislike masculine activities and roles such as auto repair and athletics. They see themselves as unsociable, feminine, submissive, introspective, sensitive, impulsive, and flexible. They are usually more original than the members of any other type and have higher verbal aptitude than mathematical.

Social types control their environment by using skills for handling and dealing with other people. They typically possess social skills and need social interactions. They prefer educational, therapeutic, and religious occupations, and such activities as church, government, community services, music, reading, and dramatics. They see themselves as sociable, cheerful, conservative, responsible, achieving, and self-accepting. They have positive self-image and consider themselves to be leaders, good speakers, popular, and aggressive. They tend to have high verbal but low mathematical aptitudes. They have much concern for human welfare and for helping dependent individuals.

Enterprising persons cope with their environment with choices that express adventurous, dominant, enthusiastic, and impulsive qualities. They are characterized as persuasive, verbal, extroverted, self-accepting, self-confident, aggressive, and exhibitionistic. They prefer sales, supervisory, and leadership positions, and activities that satisfy a need for dominance, verbal expression, recognition, and power. They like athletics, dramatics, public speaking, and interviewing. They dislike confining, manual, nonsocial activities. They see themselves as dominant, sociable, cheerful, adventurous, impulsive, and emotionally stable. They assert themselves by struggling for power, developing athletic abilities, acquiring possessions, and exploiting others. They differ from the conventional person by being more sociable, aggressive, dominant, original, and adventurous, and less responsible, dependent, and conservative.

Conventional people deal with the environment by choosing goals and activities that carry social approval. Their approach to problems is stereotyped, correct, and unoriginal. They create a good impression by being neat, sociable, and conservative. They prefer clerical and computational tasks, identify with business, and put a high value on economic matters. They see themselves as masculine, shrewd, dominant, controlled, rigid, and stable. They have more mathematical aptitude than verbal. They reduce stress by social conformity and by ingratiating themselves with others. They differ from social types by possessing greater self-control and being more hard-headed and less dominant and nurturant.

According to Holland, a person can be typed into one of these categories by expressed or demonstrated vocational or educational interests, by employment, or by scores obtained on such instruments as the Kuder General Interest Survey, the Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory, or the Self-Directed Search. The last instrument, developed by Holland, consists of occupational titles and activities that can be divided among the six types. The Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory scoring system includes direct translation into Holland's types.

Holland proposes that the six personality types are related to personal needs as described by Murray (1938). In other words, the various types are indicative of the needs felt by the individual. Murray was concerned not only with psychological needs but also with what he termed "environmental presses." Holland accounts for these environmental factors by identifying set of environmental models (Assumption 2, above) that he defines as the situation or atmosphere created by the people who dominate a given environment. These environmental models reflect the personality attributes of those in control of the six types described above. Let us consider briefly each of these six environments.

The realistic environment involves concrete, physical tasks requiring mechanical skill, persistence, and physical movement. Only minimal intelligent personal skills are needed. Typical realistic settings include a filling station machine shop, farm, construction site, or barber shop.

Creative Abilities

The investigative environment requires the use of abstract and creative abilities rather than personal perceptiveness. Satisfactory performance demands imagination and intelligence; achievement usually requires a considerable time span. Problems encountered may vary in level of difficulty but they will usually be solved by the application of intellectual skills and tools the work is with ideas and things rather than with people. Typical setting includes a research laboratory, diagnostic case conference, library, working group of scientists, mathematics, and research engineering.

The artistic environment demands the creative and interpretive use o artistic forms. One must be able to draw on knowledge, intuition, and emotional life in solving typical problems. Information is judged against personal, subjective criteria. The work usually requires intense involvement for prolonged periods. Typical settings include a play rehearsal, concert hall, dance studio, study, library, or an art or music studio.

The social environment demands ability to interpret and modify human behavior and an interest in caring for and dealing with others. The work requires frequent and prolonged personal relationships. The work hazards are primarily emotional. Typical work situations include a school or college classroom, a counseling office, mental hospital, church, educational office, and recreational center.

The enterprising environment requires verbal skill in directing or persuading other people. The work requires directing, controlling, or planning activities of others, and an interest in others at a more superficial level than in the social environment. Typical settings include a car lot, real-estate office, political rally, and an advertising agency.

The conventional environment involves systematic, concrete, routine processing of verbal and mathematical information. The tasks frequently call for repetitive, short-cycle operations according to an established procedure. Minimal skill in interpersonal relations is required since the work is mostly with things and materials. Typical settings include a bank, accounting firm, post office, file room, and a business office.

Holland suggests that each model environment is sought by individuals whose personality type is similar to those controlling the environment. It is assumed that they will be comfortable and happy in a compatible environment and uneasy in one that consists of different personality types. Since it is unlikely that an individual would demonstrate a pure expression of one of the six types, one can be expected to show primary (highest score) and secondary (other high scores) types. Consistency between primary and secondary areas usually indicates stability, whereas inconsistency (opposite types) usually produces change from one category to another. Similarly, a person who demonstrates congruence between self and environment presumably can expect a more stable vocational choice, higher vocational achievement, higher academic achievement, better maintenance of personal stability, and greater satisfaction.

Holland demonstrates the concept of consistency by using a hexagonal model. Each of the six types is placed at one corner of the hexagon in the sequence of closest interrelationship. Thus adjacent corners are most alike, opposite corners are least alike, and the intermediate corners have intermediate relationships with the base corner.

Model Environment

Holland has developed an occupational classification system related to the model environment construct. Thus occupations have been identified that are purported to be representative of each of the major combinations of primary and secondary types. These primary and secondary types are often referred to as "Holland Codes." For example, a code of RIA means a primary area of realistic and secondary areas of investigative and artistic. Such a combination would be considered consistent, as reflected by close proximity on the hexagon. On the other hand, a code of RSE would be considered inconsistent because realistic and social areas are opposites.

Holland's theory has been criticized frequently in the professional literature. Major criticisms focus on the contention that a typology approach is too simplistic, that the model tends to be sexist and thus fails to recognize social changes of recent years, and that the theory doesn't deal adequately with how people develop their personality type. Nevertheless, the Holland theory has had great impact upon the field. One visible demonstration of this impact is shown by the numerous research projects stimulated by the theory.

One example of the numerous research studies relating to Holland's theory is a recent article by Warren, Winer, and Dailey (1981). The authors report a project in which sixty-five men and women, between fifty and eighty-eight years of age, were asked to complete Holland's Vocational Preference Inventory (VPI) and to report their first full-time job, their longest full-time job, their last job (if retired), their present job (if still employed), and hobbies. Holland one-letter codes were assigned on the basis of reported data and matched against codes obtained on the instrument. In general, those individuals assigned specific codes on the basis of their work record tended to score highest on the VPI on the appropriate scale related to that code.

The theories we have considered should probably be labeled theories of career or vocational choice because they either assume or imply that the choice is an event that occurs at a specific time. Roe, to a large extent, and Holland, to a lesser degree, consider the influence of early events upon later actions, but neither seems to recognize any cumulative process.
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