Cloninger, C. Robert - Biosocial Theory of Personality

The Structure of Concern Project compares many theoretical models from many disciplines to the Adizes PAEI model, arguing that they must all be reflecting the same underlying phenomenon. One concern structure model is described below.

Cloninger is a major personality theorist, who during the mid-1980’s produced a model of personality dimensions with three core personality characteristics which he argued were heritable and biologically based (Cloninger 1986a; 1986b). He later added a fourth element to this set. (Cloninger, 1994; Stallings et al., 1996). The fourth element had been a facet of one of the previous three factors that did not prove to be correlated to the other facets of that factor. This four-factor model gave a satisfactory account of the heritable cognitive, perceptual and affective differences underlying temperamental differences.

However, Cloninger felt that this four-factor model ignored the developmental aspect of personality. It obscured the differences between two people of similar temperaments, one of whom was self-actualized and one of whom was not. This reduced its clinical value. He thus later combined his four factors with three additional factors based partly on concepts of self-actualization from humanistic psychology (Cloninger, 1994; Cloninger et al., 1993). These three new factors measured “character” rather than temperament. I leave them aside to focus on Cloninger’s four temperamental dimensions, listed below:

P – Persistence (or Happiness Seeking): Determination and tenacity to achieve a goal, industrious, stable and resolute in the face of frustration or fatigue. Low persistence leads to underachievement.

A – Harm Avoidance: Intense response to signs of impending aversive stimuli, resulting in learned tactics for minimize behaviors that may expose them to punishment, loss or novelty. Cautious, tense, inhibited, easily fatigued, shy and apprehensive. Low harm avoidance implies people who are optimistic, open to experience, outgoing, trusting and energetic. Associated with the 5-HT system.

E – Novelty Seeking: Excited and exhilarated responses to stimuli that are novel or that signal potential reward or escape from punishment. Frequent exploration to obtain rewards and avoid structure and monotony. Bases decisions on vague impressions. Low novelty-seeking implies preference for routine, order, details, frugality and social stability. This behavioral trait is related to the DA system.

I - Reward Dependence (or Security-Seeking): Responds to stimuli that suggest a reward is forthcoming, particularly verbal indications of social succour, approval or sympathy. More able to maintain behaviors that have been socially acknowledged and reinforced in the past. Low reward dependence implies introversion, self-reliance and self-directedness. Associated with the noradrenergic system.

1. Cloninger, C. R. (1986a). “A systematic method for clinical description and classification of personality variants: A proposal.” Archives of General Psychiatry, 44, 573-588.
2. Cloninger, C. R. (1986b). “A unified biosocial theory of personality and its role in the development of anxiety states.” Psychiatric Developments, 3, 167-226.
: Cloninger3 :Cloninger, C. R. (1994). The Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI): a guide to its development and use. Washington University, St Louis,Missouri: Centre for Psychobiology of Personality.
3. Cloninger, C. R., Svrakic, D. M., & Przybeck, T. R. (1993). “A psychobiological model of temperament and character.” Archives of General Psychiatry, 50, 975-990.
4. Stallings, M. C., Hewitt, J. K., Cloninger, C. R., Heath, A. C., & Eaves, L. J. (1996). “Genetic and Environmental Structure of the Tridimensional Personality Questionnaire: Three or Four Temperament Dimensions?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70(1), 127-140.
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