Miller, Allen - A Synthesis of Personality Typologies

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.

Alan Miller has undertaken a systematic and comprehensive review of personality typologies and cognitive style typologies, developing a synthetic typology to capture the essence of most of them while avoiding the failings of some (Miller, 1991). He selects three dimensions for the analysis of these frameworks: cognitive, affective and conative (motivational).

The cognitive dimension is structured between an analytic pole and a holistic one. The analytic style clusters together perceptual analysis, field independence, verbal and analytic representation, conceptual differentiation, convergent memory retrieval, serial mental classification, tight associations and an actuarial judgment style. Holistic processes are more synthetic, field-dependent, visually structured, with divergent memory access, loose associations and an intuitive judgment style.

Along the conative/motivational dimension, Miller reviews various models of motivation and goal-directedness, including drive theories, volitional theories and intrapsychic conflict theories in the tradition of Angyal and Bakan. Favouring the latter, he reviews Maddi’s ‘autonomy/agency – surrender/communion’ conflict paradigm (Maddi, 1999) among others, and suggests an objectivity-subjectivity distinction to summarize them all. Objective intentions are instrumental, externally grounded and geared towards seeking advantage or power. Subjective purposes are more affiliative, internally grounded and empathic.

Miller’s affective dimension covers psychological research into Negative Emotionality, Positive Emotionality and Affect Intensity. He isolates the distinction between emotional stability and instability as the most relevant for personality typing, and he places this dimension orthogonal to the other two. This creates a structure of concern model that recognizes varying degrees of emotional stability in each quadrant. I set aside this dimension, since it does not change the structure that concerns me.

An interesting aspect of Miller’s work is that his original research goal was to understand professional behaviours and interactions among scientists and academics. Thus his typology, while serving to describe general personality dynamics, is labelled with terms that describe academic theoretical preferences or investigative biases. Crossing his cognitive (analytic-holistic) and conative/motivational (objective-subjective) dimensions thus gives us the following four type descriptions in PAEI order:

P – Reductionist (Objective, Analytic): Focused on agency, achievement and control over self, others and environment. Emotionally detached and externally focused with a mechanistic worldview. Intellectualizes and rationalizes problems, seeking detailed factual knowledge.

A – Schematist (Objective, Holistic): Objective and impersonal, achieves an illusion of control by developing schemes, theories and systems of thought. When these are threatened, global defences such as denial or repression are used to suppress awareness of the discrepancies. Emotionally detached and externally oriented, judgmental.

E – Gnostic (Subjective, Analytic): Seeks communion with the world through understanding and knowledge. Rejects objective, impersonal outlook in favour of cognitive empathy and introspection. Can become lost within a reflective, narrowly preoccupied world, but has few defences against intrusions by objective obstacles. Absent-minded prisoner of psychological honesty.

I – Romantic (Subjective, Holistic): Seeks communion through intimate, nurturing relationships. Aims to empower others and improve their surroundings. Empathic and grounded in the inner experiences of self and others, but not probingly introspective or self-analysing. Impressionistic, subjective, evaluative and imaginative, touched by personal anecdote and raw accounts of experiences.

1. Miller, A. (1991). Personality Types: A modern synthesis. Calgary: University of Calgary Press.
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