Alternative futures for the study of human individuality

Dan P. McAdams*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


The future of personality psychology may be viewed from three different vantage points, each representing a relatively distinct level or domain within which human individuality may be described and explained. From the first vantage point of dispositional traits, the significant conceptual and empirical advances of the 1980s should lead to continued consolidation of the trait concept in the years to come and the vigorous expansion of the application of trait schemes, especially the Big Five, to a wide range of fields and phenomena. It is possible, however, to envision a less optimistic alternative future for the trait concept, should trait researchers fall prey to the kind of parochialism that has sometimes characterized personality research in years past. Beyond traits, personal concerns encompass many motivational, developmental, and strategic constructs of personality that are contextualized in time, place, and/or social role. The recent upsurge of interest in such constructs as personal strivings, life tasks, and so on suggests that the study of human individuality from this second vantage point should witness considerable proliferation in construct development during the next few years as well as integrative attempts to map the geography of this vast and variegated personality domain. The third vantage point is that of identity as a life story, a perspective articulated in a number of relatively new personality theories. According to this perspective, most adults living in modern societies seek to provide their lives with unity and purpose by constructing internalized and evolving life narratives complete with settings, scenes, characters, plots, and themes. Personality psychologists have just begun to consider individuality from this third vantage point. It is hoped that future years will witness a significant research effort to collect, interpret, categorize, and analyze life stories and to explore their structure, function, and development in order to better understand their role and their position within the complexity of personality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)374-388
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Research in Personality
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Psychology(all)


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