What Makes Us Individuals?

What accounts for the differences in personality among the people you know? For example, why are some people cautious while others are risk takers? Why are some individuals competitive but others are cooperative?

Although previous theorists spoke in general terms about motivation and personality, Professor Steven Reiss was the first to devise a conceptual platform that connects motives to specific traits. According to Reiss, intensity of motivation is central to understanding the development of personality. In other words, although everybody embraces the 16 basic desires, how we prioritize them makes us individuals.

In Reiss’s theory, each desire is viewed as a continuum of motivation, and each individual is postulated to have an optimal level of happiness with regard to the continuum. For the motive of Social Contact, for example, the continuum ranges from wanting to be alone all of the time to wanting to socialize for all of one’s waking hours. To achieve an optimal level of social contact, the individual develops habits to regulate his experiences toward his desired amount of socialization with peers.

Professor Reiss assumed that it is relatively easy to satisfy average-intensity desires because society is geared to meet our average needs. In the example of the motive for Social Contact, a person with an average striving for this basic desire does not need to develop special habits to regulate his experiences toward an average amount of socialization. Individuals with either a strong or a weak desire for Social Contact, however, must acquire habits that will help them to satisfy their extreme needs. Someone who wants to spend a lot of time with peers will need to develop such habits as hosting frequent parties and actively participating in several clubs – behavior that becomes associated with the personality traits of friendly and outgoing. Someone who wants to spend a lot of time alone will need to develop such habits as declining party invitations and engaging in solitary hobbies – behavior that becomes associated with the personality traits of serious and private.

An individual’s prioritization of the basic desires on the Reiss Motivation Profile® determines his values, predicts his behavior, and influences the development of his personality traits. In short, how much we want of each of the basic desires makes us individuals.

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