Evolution of the Theory of Personality

Although it has been more than a century since Freud proposed his theory of personality, it “remains the framework for the study of personality” (Schultz & Schultz, 2013, p 41). While Freud and other early theorists used their own life experiences and case studies to create their theories, modern theorists rely heavily on scientific research that is supported with empirical evidence. This paper will describe the evolution of personality theory from Freud to the present day. It will explore how Freud influenced the development of other significant theories including those of Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, and Erik Erickson. In addition, this paper will contrast Freud’s theory of personality with the feminist theory of Karen Horney, and then consider the contemporary theories of Julian Rotter, Martin Zuckerman, and Martin Seligman. Finally, this paper will postulate on the impact of social media on the development of personality.
Sigmund Freud has influenced the development of personality theory more than any other individual. In the late 1800’s, he introduced his theory of psychoanalysis. Freud’s psychoanalysis involved dream analysis to uncover repressed memories and free association. Free association allowed patients to talk freely about whatever thoughts or memories came to mind. Even as other theorists developed their own views, Freud “remained the dominant figure – victor, leader, and proprietor” (Eisold, 2002). Freud’s theory focuses on early childhood experiences, before age five, and how these experiences are consciously and unconsciously processed within distinct psychosexual developmental stages. He believed that human motivation is entirely sexual and that neurotic behavior is caused by traumatic events or unresolved frustrations during a stage of development that have been repressed into the unconscious mind. However, he also believed that if the patient could remember these repressed experiences and work through them, they could be cured and could then progress to the next stage of development (Fagiana, 2015).
Although Freud, Carl Jung and Alfred Adler were good friends for many years, both Jung and Adler drifted away from Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis in the early 1900’s and developed their own theories. Jung’s theory, which he called analytical psychology, focuses on the “inner growth of the individual” (Schultz & Schultz, 2013, p 89) rather than on relationships with others like Freud’s theory. Jung also emphasized how the development of personality affects behavior with the concepts of introverted and extroverted personality types. Jung believed that the human psyche was comprised of opposites and a balance was necessary for the individual to continue to grow and be happy and this growth “in all respects [continued] right up to the moment of death” (Eisold, 2002). The purpose of life, according to Jung, was individuation – a process that involves realizing one’s fullest potential as a human being. Freud would say one is a product of one’s childhood; Jung would say one is a product of their life (Fagiana, 2015).
In marked contrast to Freud, Alfred Adler did not believe that the personality was a product of uncontrollable subconscious drives or parental relationships. Instead, he proposed that personality is “shaped by [the] unique social environments and interactions” (Schultz & Schultz, 2013, p 113) of the individual. Thus, individual psychology. Adler proposed that birth order is the single most influential social aspect faced in childhood and he alleged that motivation to overcome feelings of inferiority during childhood was the driving force in personality development.
Trained in Freudian theory and a self-proclaimed loyal Freudian, Erik Erikson “broadened the scope of Freud’s work while maintaining its core” (Schultz & Schultz, 2013, p 161) by dividing the development of personality into eight psychosocial stages. Each stage is characterized by a psychosocial crisis between two opposing forces of personality. However, unlike Freud, the individual does not get stuck in a stage if they do not successfully complete the challenge faced in the stage. Furthermore, according to Erikson’s eight psychosocial stages, the development of personality spans the life of the individual and each stage is shaped by external cultural and historical forces. In addition, whereas Freud believed that personality was solely developed during childhood, Erikson considered childhood as “only one aspect of the whole life cycle” although “the environment in which a child lived was crucial to providing growth, adjustment, a source of self-awareness and identity”(Wallerstein & Goldberger, 2000).
There is no doubt that Freud, Jung, Adler and Erikson all made lasting contributions to the field of psychology but by the early 1900’s psychological research began to move away from personal testimonies and case studies and towards more scientific research that was backed by empirical evidence. Furthermore, it didn’t appear that any of these men had considered ethnic, cultural, or gender differences when they were formulating their ideas and many theorists were beginning to question the “nineteenth century science… [of] determinism” (Smith, 2006). Karen Horney, one of the first female psychologists, was one such individual.
Karen Horney challenged traditional Freudian views, especially the instinct orientation of psychoanalysis. Horney believed that rather than being driven by the pleasure principle as Freud claimed, people were instead driven by the need for safety and that neurotic behavior developed as a way of coping with an environment lacking in safety. This is in complete opposition to Freud’s stance that attributed neurotic behavior to subconscious drives and “conflict between the id, the ego, and the superego” (Smith, 2006). Horney also passionately disagreed with Freud’s theory that the differences in the psychology of men and women were simply biological. She believed the differences between men and women were societal and cultural and outlined by men. Opposing the classical analytic portrait of women that Freud promoted – one of women as passive, compliant, and dependent, Horney is credited with founding feminist psychology and her views on women have been staples in feminist literature for several decades (Smith, 2006).
According to an article by Stephanie Shields, contemporary feminist psychology began in 1968 with Naomi Weisstein’s “Kinder, Küche, Kirche as Scientific Law: Psychology Constructs of the Female”. Members of the feminist movement realized that the experiences of individual women were minute parts of a broad, “complex political story played out in individual lives” (Shields, 2015, p 146). Since that time, feminist psychologists concerned by the lack of women included in the history of psychology have worked to document important turning points in feminist psychology and to provide a positive model that will inspire future feminist psychologists to continue challenging the status quo by reshaping the “typical” way of doing things.
A theory is a “set of analytic statements that explain a set of phenomena” (Taylor, 2014, p 8) and consequently early theorists attempted to provide the framework for the entire concept of personality. However, “contemporary personality psychologists have concluded that no single theory can offer a comprehensive explanation for all aspects of personality and behavior” (Schultz & Schultz, 2013 p 355). As a result, contemporary theorists such as Julian Rotter, Marvin Zuckerman, and Martin Seligman, focused on one specific aspect of personality and each created mini-theories that have added to the wealth of knowledge about personality development.
In 1954, Julian Rotter presented a social learning theory of personality that integrated behavioral approaches with then-current personality and clinical psychology. Acknowledging the impact of Alfred Adler’s individual psychology theory, Rotter alleged that “new experiences [are] filtered through a system of generalized expectations developed in earlier interactions” (Mosher, 1968) causing the personality to change throughout the lifespan.
Cited as one of the most prominent psychologists of the 20th century, Rotter is most often recognized for his concept called locus of control Locus of control consists of “internal cognitive processes and external reinforcements that explain behavior and personality” (Schultz & Schultz, 2013, p. 358) and Rotter believed that people fall along a continuum from very internal to very external rather than on an either/or dichotomy of one or the other. Together, Rotter’s social learning theory and locus of control concept blend specific and general constructs with generalized expectancies to explain how personality is developed by the interaction of the individual and their environment. Thus, Rotter’s theory is invaluable to researchers because it enables them to measure specific variables and to make a large number of accurate predictions from these variables (Mearns, 2015).
Marvin Zuckerman began his career as a clinical psychologist but quickly lost faith in psychoanalytic theory. As a result, Zuckerman turned to research on sensory deprivation and personality traits. In the early 1970’s he introduced a “limited-domain aspect of personality called sensation seeking” (Schultz & Schultz, 2013, p 362). Sensation seeking is a personality trait with a biological basis defined by the “seeking of varied, novel, complex, and intense sensations and experiences, and the willingness to take physical, social, legal, and financials risks for the sake of such experience” (Zuckerman, 1994, p. 27). Personality traits are relatively consistent patterns of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and oneself that influence behavior and are exhibited in a wide range of social and personal contexts (Personality Psychology, 2015).
In his decades of research, Zuckerman has seen his theory on sensation seeking and the psychobiology of personality used to empirically establish a connection between sensation seeking behavior and monoamine oxidase (Zuckerman, 2004). Monoamine oxidase is an enzyme that regulates monoamine neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine in the brain (MAO, n.d.). Additionally, a theory was developed by a college that linked these neurotransmitters to motivational mechanisms that control sensitivity to signals of punishment and reward. Furthermore, research as proven that motivational mechanisms affect basic personality traits of anxiety, impulsivity and aggression (Zuckerman, 2004).
Finally, in the mid-1960’s Martin Seligman began research on an aspect of personality he calls learned helplessness. Learned helplessness, according to Seligman’s theory, is a concept that describes behavior in which an individual believes they have no control over their situation and that there is nothing they can do to change their circumstances. This type of behavior is seen in battered women and with several psychological disorders such as phobias, anxiety, and depression (Cherry, 2014).
Later, Seligman expanded his concept of learned helplessness to include the concept of explanatory style. Explanatory style is the way that people explain to themselves why certain events occur in their lives, both good and bad. An individual with optimistic explanatory style tends to expect good things to happen to them but when things do go wrong they look on the bright side and realize that there are sometimes external influences beyond their control. In contrast, individuals who have pessimistic explanatory style blame themselves when bad things happen and attribute it to luck when good things happen (Schultz & Schultz, 2013).
During his research into learned helplessness, Seligman discovered that some individuals are resistant to helplessness conditioning due to their level of optimism. Consequently, he found that it is possible for individuals to change from pessimistic to optimistic explanatory style by learning how to be optimistic. Learned optimism is a concept in positive psychology that involves practicing being optimistic and by replacing negative self-talk, such as “I’m no good to anyone”, with positive, optimistic statements like “I am valued by my family” (Schultz & Schultz, 2013).
Billions of people around the world access social media websites on a daily basis. According to a study conducted in 2012 by Marketing Türkiye, 9 out of 10 adolescents are members of social media forums and spend between four and six hours per day on social networking websites. In addition, the study discovered that these adolescents “communicated with more people via social media than they do in their real life, having an average of 415 online friends” (Özgüven & Mucan, 2013).
Does this mean that the current generation has or will have notable personality differences from prior generations? Does social media create personality deficits that lead to social deviancy because users interact with others virtually rather than physically? Perhaps, perhaps not. Research into the subject shows that social behavior, whether virtual or physical, depends on the personality of the individual to begin with. Some individuals have just as many physical relationships as they do virtual relationships and others may have a plethora of virtual relationships but few physical ones. However, the quantity of relationships, virtual or physical, does not appear to be as important as the quality of the relationships. Individuals high in emotional intelligence focus on nurturing genuine and meaningful relationships and thus report a high level of life satisfaction. In contrast, individuals who are motivated to “collect” friends because they may be useful one day often report lower levels of life satisfaction (Chamorro-Premuzic, 2010).
From a personal perspective, I think that the up-and-coming generation has been affected by social media in several areas. First, there does not seem to be any kind of filter about what is appropriate to share and what is not. Many social media users do not appear to understand the concept of over-sharing – as if every tiny action the individual takes is share-worthy. I believe this may breed individuals with an overinflated sense of self-importance. Second, because is so easy to live life hiding behind a computer or cell phone screen, people may feel awkward, anxious, and uncomfortable when it becomes necessary to have a face-to-face conversation. Last, information on the internet is instantaneous, easily accessible and available to nearly anyone with internet access. This immediacy only serves to create impatient, easily frustrated individuals.
In conclusion, although many of Sigmund Freud’s methodologies, techniques, and conclusions have been highly controversial and his theory marginalized as biological and behavioral approaches gained recognition, Freud’s ideas are central in many therapies today. Many psychologists still practice some variation of Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis although there may be no mention of the “id”, “ego”, or “superego”. Still, examining the unconscious mind and connecting the past to the present remains at the core of treatment that many patients continue to find helpful in coping with their everyday life (Landau, 2010).


Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2010, January 26). The psychology of social networking | Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mr-personality/201001/the-psychology-social-networking

Cherry, K. (2014, December 16). Learned helplessness (What it is and why it happens). Retrieved from http://psychology.about.com/od/lindex/f/earned-helplessness.htm

Eisold, K. (2002). Jung, Jungians, and psychoanalysis. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 19(3), 501-524. doi:10.1037/0736-9735.19.3.501

Fagiana, C. (2015). Perceptions of personality – A short paper. Unpublished manuscript, School of Psychology, Southern New Hampshire University.

Landau, E. (2010, July 8). Do psychologists still listen to Freud? Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/06/07/freud.psychology.psychoanalysis/

MAO. (n.d.) Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. (2003). Retrieved December 15 2015 from http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/MAO

Mearns, J. (2015, December 1). The social learning theory of Julian B. Rotter [Webpage]. Retrieved from http://psych.fullerton.edu/jmearns/rotter.htm

Mosher, D. L. (1968). The influence of Adler on Rotter’s Social Learning Theory of Personality. Journal of Individual Psychology, 24(1), 33. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1303447553?accountid=3783

Özgüven, N., & Mucan, B. (2013). The relationship between personality traits and social media use. Social Behavior and Personality, 41(3), 517-528. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1504174048?accountid=3783

Schultz, D. P., & Schultz, S. E. (2013). Theories of personality (10th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Shields, S. A. (2015). The legacy of transformational moments in feminist psychology. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 39(2), 143. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1686462854?accountid=3783

Smith, W. B. (2006). Karen Horney and psychotherapy in the 21st century. Clinical Social Work Journal, 35(1), 57-66. doi:10.1007/s10615-006-0060-6

Taylor, S.E. (2014). Health psychology (9th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill Education.

Wallerstein, R. S., & Goldberger, L. (2000). Ideas and identities: The life work of Erik Erikson. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 17(2), 437-442. doi:10.1037/0736-9735.17.2.437

Personality Psychology. (2015). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved December 10, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personality_psychology

Zuckerman, M. (1994). Behavioral expressions and biosocial bases of sensation seeking. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Zuckerman, M. (2004). The shaping of personality: Genes, environments, and chance encounters. Journal of Personality Assessment, 82(1), 11-22. doi:10.1207/s15327752jpa8201_3


The Biopsychological Basis of Religion and Spirituality

It is the opinion of this author and of many other professionals who have performed research in the field religion and psychology that most human beings have little choice but to adhere to a religious paradigm. Religion allows humans a sense of control over a capricious environment through contractual agreements with gods, spirits and other personalized, personified power sources. The creation of religious myths provide explanations the world around them and helps orient them within the universe. These myths make up the foundations of religion and provide guidance towards experiencing religious and/or spiritual phenomena – altered states of consciousness that generate a sense of unity with another enigmatic realm or being that is perceived as superior and divinely perfect. The human brain is hardwired with cortical functions that allow humans to solve abstract problems and determine causality. However, these higher cortical functions also enable humans to transcend their immediate perceptual field. This ability makes humans terribly aware of their mortality and of the contingency of their existence. The result is an existential anxiety that must be reconciled. Therefore, God.
Although it has been more than a century since Sigmund Freud published his first article on the psychoanalytic psychology of religion, not much changed in the discussion. Considered a significant contributor to the literature on the subject, Freud has been inaccurately accredited with the theory of religion as a demonstration of projection or as a neurosis. However, Ludwig Feuerbach proposed the theory of religion as a manifestation of projection in 1840 – nearly 70 years before Freud published his first article. Feuerbach alleged that God was “an objectified externalization of the essence of human nature” and projection “a mental operation in which the subject denies something of [themselves] (qualities, feelings, wishes) and ascribes it to someone or something else” (Belzen, 2010, p 7).
While Freud held a very negative opinion of religion, believing that it affirmed things about reality that science had shown to be untrue, he did not regard it as projection. He did agree, however, that projection played a big part in religion. Freud believed that religion was archaic – part of a stage in humanity’s development that should be left behind. He thought that the origin and role of religion were understandable and that “being religious may support a person’s individual mental functioning [and] may help prohibit neurosis” (p 4) by helping individuals cope with life.
In 1956, Fokke Sierksma published a book of “exceptional scientific quality” (p 11) based largely on the assertions of novelist Simon Vestdijk. Sierksma’s book, titled The Religious Projection: An Anthropological and Psychological Study of the Phenomena of Projection in the Various Religions, proposed a functional definition of religion in which religious projection is a normal defense mechanism resulting from human limitations and inadequacy. He argued that human beings are searching to pinpoint that fine line between what is real and unreal because of the ability to recognize that perception does not always reflect reality as it truly is.
Kenneth Pargament, one of the best known present researchers in the field, agreed with Freud on the many points but challenged psychoanalysts with the question “How helpful or harmful are particular forms of religious expression for particular people dealing with particular situations in particular social contexts according to particular criteria of helpfulness or harmfulness?” (Pargament, 2002, p 168). He also agreed with Freud that being spiritual or religious could impact an individual’s mental functioning by helping them cope with their life. Pargament suggested that the stress-vulnerability model uses the relationship between biological and psychosocial factors to determine the onset and course of mental illness. He also believed that religious and/or spiritual coping can work as a positive or negative resource. Pargament suggested religious coping serves “five purposes:

• Spiritual (meaning, purpose, hope)
• Self-development (positive identity)
• Resolve (self-efficacy, comfort)
• Sharing (closeness, connectedness to a community)
• Restraint (helps keep emotions and behavior under control)

Positive coping can help control symptoms while negative coping may be related to symptoms and outcome of mental disorders” (Hughlett & Mohr, 2013, p 2).
While there does not appear to be any new progress towards answering the fundamental psychological questions regarding religion, the discussion has sparked insights in other areas of science including neurobiology, cognitive science, and evolutionary psychology.
Although these other disciplines do not put to rest the questions regarding religion, they enhance and expand on an understanding of the biopsychology of religion and religious concepts that cannot be achieved by studying the psychology of religion alone. For example, in 1936, Heije Faber’s neurobiological research justified the attention psychoanalysts give to early childhood. Faber found that the structural foundation of neural synapses in the brain responsible for perception and religious expression are formed during childhood (Belzen, 2010, p. 10). Also, an American anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist known for his work in the cognitive science of religion, Pascal Boyer, studies the cognitive mechanisms that predispose the human brain towards religious and spiritual themes. The cognitive science of religion states that the endurance of any form of religion depends on the ability of the human mind to process and facilitate the concepts held by that religion and that said religion will never be able to be anything other than what can be processed by the human mind. Boyer himself claims that “the way the human mind has been prepared to take in certain types of information and treat them in a certain way; evolution as it were has equipped the mind with predispositions about the existence and causal powers of non-observable entities and agencies (Boyer, 2001). Finally, while the evolutionary standpoint in and of itself does not appear to be psychological, it provides a framework to which psychological explanations can be applied. Evolutionary psychologist Stewart Guthrie stated that humans are genetically “biased… to interpret ambiguous things and events as if they were of great importance” (Belzen, 2010, p 24). Thus, evolutionary psychology promotes the thought that the neuropsychological mechanisms that inspire spiritual and religious behaviors are “thoroughly ingrained in the human gene pool (d’Aquili & Newbert, 1998, p 187).
Research from multiple fields of psychology are at the forefront of recent advances in the investigation of the mental processes and neuropsychological mechanisms of religious and spiritual experiences. Biologically, there are several specific neural mechanisms within the human brain that activate when an individual participates in religious or spiritual practices. These mechanisms, in the words of Andrew Newbert and Eugene d’Aquili, are called the causal operator, the binary operator, the emotional value operator and the holistic operator. These operators are cognitive networks of nerve tissue in the brain that interpret human perceptions of reality including the abstract concepts of time and space, the dichotomy of opposites, cause and effect, and the logical ordering of elements into causal chains which result in both scientific and non-scientific explanations of their external world; the emotional value operator provides an emotional response to the information.
Therefore, in nearly any given situation if the initial cause is not or cannot be realized by human senses the binary operator recognizes the incongruity between what is known and what is unknown. This results in the emotional value operator initiating a feeling of disquiet and unease that the mind is compelled to reconcile. So, the causal operator postulates an origin that enables humans to perceive causality in the form of “Gods, powers, spirits, demons or in general what we have come to call personalized power sources” (d’Aquili & Newbert, 1998, p 191).
Finally, the holistic operator creates a feeling of wholeness or unity of reality that is greater than the typical perception of unity in everyday life. In other words, the holistic operator puts forth a revised understanding of reality that enables the individual to perceive themselves as one with their god and their universe. It should also be noted that religious lore almost always involve opposites, right and wrong or good and evil, that are in conflict with each other; The conflict is subsequently resolved by way of the myth.
According to the psychology of religion, religion serves two major functions: it is a system of self-maintenance and a system of self-transcendence. Psychological self-maintenance is the process by which humans seek answers to the question “Who am I?” Alternatively, psychological self-transcendence answers the question “What is my purpose?” while allowing and encouraging an individual to fully focus on someone or something other than themselves. Yet, before one can fully understand the functions of religion, one must understand the function of the human body, brain, and mind.
To begin with, think of the brain as the structure that performs all of the functions and the mind is the product of these functions. The brain is constantly receiving sensory input from the body via the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and it uses this input to regulate various body functions in order to maintain homeostasis. There are two divisions of the ANS: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system stimulates, organizes, and mobilizes energy resources in threatening situations, whereas the parasympathetic nervous system acts to conserve energy (Pinel, 2014, p 53). Basically, these two systems work together to balance the other’s activity and thus provides the mind’s general emotional state. However, if one system is overstimulated to maximum activity, the opposite system actually becomes more active rather than being suppressed as is typical. This activation of the opposite system is referred to as “spillover, because it is as if there is a spillover of activity from the overstimulated system into the other system” (d’Aquini & Newbert, 2000, p 55).
Considering how the sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system interact with each other, there are five basic emotional states that result when the activity of either one or both systems is very high. The first four states – profound calm, hyper-arousal, active bliss and tranquility (p 56) may be routinely experienced by individuals who meditate or those that run marathons. However, the fifth state occurs when the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic system are both fully activated and spilling over into each other at the same time. This state is rare and is associated with “spontaneous mystical states such as near-death experiences” (p 56). During this experience, the individual may have visual and auditory hallucinations while feeling a “deep and profound quiescence with a sense of extreme alertness, awareness… and unity” (p 56).
The human brain operates to deliver two basic versions of reality: one of distinct, individual beings and another of unity with an absolute being. The complex interactions between perceptions, memories, cognitive judgments, and physiology determine which reality will presented. Key components of these complex interactions, and thus responsible for the creation of reality, are the limbic system, cerebral cortex, hypothalamus, amygdala, and the autonomic nervous system.
The cerebral cortex, which is involved in higher order thinking and behavior, functions to analyze the external world. It contains several association areas that produce an integrated understanding for each individual and the world in which they live using the input received by the senses. The frontal lobes are home to the prefrontal cortex and the attention association area. They are also the location of part of the causal operator. The remainder of the causal operator is located in the parietal lobes and includes the extensive neural connections between the lobes.
The temporal lobes are involved in object recognition and linking emotional reactions to the objects (Livingston, 2005, p 83). Not surprisingly, the limbic system is located in the temporal lobes. The limbic system is responsible for the regulation of emotion and survival-motivated behaviors including fight or flight, feeding, and sex. Within the limbic system, the amygdala controls aggression and emotional experience, recognition and regulation. Not surprisingly, the emotional value operator discussed previously is located within the limbic system. Crucial for the emotional response involved in religious and spiritual experiences, the emotional value operator connects the limbic system to all of the other operators and provides an emotional response to all input the brain receives.
In addition, the hippocampus is located in the medial temporal lobes and is part of the limbic system. The hippocampus is part of the circuitry of the orientation association area (OAA) which interprets audio, visual, and somatosensory input to create a three-dimensional perception of “body” and enables the individual to judge between the two categories of reality mentioned above. The OAA is divided between the left and right hemispheres. The OAA within the right hemisphere defines the physical space in which the three-dimensional body can exist while the OAA within the left hemisphere creates an understanding of a limited, physically-defined body. The holistic operator discussed earlier can be found in the hippocampus.
While the function of religious and spiritual experiences involve neurobiological factors, psychological processes [of the mind] are also fundamentally involved in the experiences (Fayard, Pereau, & Ciovica, 2009, p. 168). The Theory of Mind posits that the circuitry involved in the development and maintenance of attachment connects to “higher cortical areas where cognitive processes categorize and organize systems of belief. Theory of mind is the cognitive foundation for a personal spirituality” (p. 176) which causes an unconscious and conscious need for God. Attachment Theory is a psychological model that describes the dynamic of interpersonal relationships, typically between humans (Santrock, 2009). It is a motivational and behavioral system that directs the individual to strive for closeness with a trusted caregiver with the expectation of receiving emotional support and protection. Studies indicate there is a complex connection between childhood attachment patterns and adult attachment to a God or other omnipresence; if the individual is securely attached, they display a secure attachment to God, if the individual is insecurely attached, they either display an insecure attachment to God or do not consider God as a source of security, support or protection.
In addition, the seeking system, which activates during religious or spiritual experiences, appears to play a role in the search for a relationship with God, positive existential meaning, and spiritual or philosophical insights. The seeking system is a basically a motivational engine that drives complex mental operations and has its roots in early childhood development. This system is a dopamine neurotransmission system that responds to positive incentives but also to emotional challenges and stressful conditions in which the individual is persistently compelled to find a solution. The seeking system initiates whenever the individual becomes overwhelmed by the sensory stimulation received from their world. This influences the individual to explore options for attaining the security, support, and protection they deem as necessary. Over time, the seeking system creates a distinctive, salient landscape within the mind that details the emotional implication of everything in the individual’s personal reality using input from their stored knowledge (Santrock, 2009). It is important to remember, however, that these psychological processes only function in the context of the individual’s ability to make choices and impose these choices on their personal reality.
For decades researchers relied on the human electroencephalogram (EEG) to discover what was happening in the brains of religious or spiritual individuals. EEGs measure the electromagnetic field near the scalp that is produced by brain activity. Activity within the brain produces electromagnetic fields large enough to be measured because the cells in the cerebral cortex are consistently aligned and oriented in columns. An enormous amount of research has been dedicated to measuring EEG under normal conditions as well as during neurological and psychiatric disorders. Normal EEG has well-defined characteristics during sleep, during the onset of sleep, during quiet moments with eyes closed and when awake/alert, therefore, it is easy to identify abnormalities. Abnormal brain activity, such as failure of normal regulation and inhibition in complex neural circuits, are identified by high-voltage spikes that disrupt typical sensorimotor and cognitive control patterns. Mild anomalies may cause the individual to experience a vague sense of disorientation or déjà vu. Serious disturbances can result in vivid sensory experiences in which God, demons, and angels are perceived and clearly remembered afterward. Individual subjective reports of being in the presence of a God who was outside of ordinary time and space yet who spoke to them and inspired strong feelings of awe are quite common. Validation studies provide “direct empirical evidence that there are correlation and causal connections… [between major EEG anomalies and]… experiences of mystical or divine encounters” (Livingston, 2005, p. 85).
Current neuroscience research has greatly expanded an understanding of how the human brain functions during the most profound spiritual and religious experiences. Imaging studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), and positron emission tomography (PET) illustrate specific neurophysiological events that are linked to religious and spiritual experiences. These techniques provide a functional map of the brain by measuring blood flow, metabolism, and neurotransmitter activity within specific brain structures. For instance, researchers have assessed the changes in cerebra activity during glossolalia (speaking in tongues) using SPECT and discovered that the decreased activity in the prefrontal cortices are consistent with the altered emotional state described by individuals singing religious songs or hymns. Studies using fMRI found that activation of the frontal lobes explain the intrinsically fulfilling quality of spiritual experiences. PET studies found that different types of prayer are associated with specific brain regions.
In fact, the connection between religious ritual such as meditating or prayer and mystical experiences has been documented. Researchers discovered that ritualistic behavior “produces changes in brain areas associated with sense of self, focus of attention, and contents of consciousness” (Livingston, 2005, p. 91). EEG data showing increased alpha-frequency activity suggests “a decrease in brain activity, but the SPECT data indicate an increase in activation, a pattern observed in positron emission tomography (PET) studies of meditators as well” (Livingston, 2005, p. 91). These results are reconciled if it is recognized that meditation results in a decrease in the orientation association area and hyperactivity in the attention association area, which explains the absence of abstract complex thinking, a reduction in self-awareness, and an expanded sense of time and space accompanied by heightened awareness of external sensory input. Consequently “these changes appear to be the direct consequence of engaging in a ritualized activity” (Livingston, 2005, p. 99) and thus provide evidence supporting the core beliefs of the religious doctrine.
Interestingly, research has also found that experiences such as those described above can be induced by a procedure called transient temporal lobe spiking creating the argument that “religious systems tend to promote practices that increase the likelihood of religious experiences that are easily interpreted as evidence in support of core beliefs of the tradition (Livingston, 2005, p. 75). Still others believe that defining correlates for specific behaviors or experiences provide “few, if any, insights into causative factors. Even if a certain brain structure were strongly associated with religious experience, this says nothing about whether the structure generates that experience” (Jones, 2010, p. 125). The methods discussed may ascertain which parts of the brain are associated with religion and religious experiences but these “correlations do not point unequivocally to the neural basis of morality or consciousness, [because] their overtones are mechanistic in nature (Jones, 2010, p. 123).
Therefore, further investigation of the connection between neurobiological, affective and cognitive processes involved in the human experience of God is warranted to delve into the question of causality. Do the structures of the brain generate the experience or do the affective and/or cognitive processes of the mind during the experience elicit the changes in the brain? In other words, which comes first – the chicken or the egg?
Another possible area of future research concerns the connections between symptoms of psychosis and/or mental health diagnoses and spirituality or religiosity that leads to undesirable behaviors such as intolerance and fanaticism. This paper and the resource literature have described spirituality and religiosity as protective factors against alcohol abuse, drug use, and suicide by promoting a positive sense of self, a healthy lifestyle and by providing a supportive social network. This author would be interested in research that delves into the dark side of religion, religious practices and spiritual experiences because “religion can be anything in connection with mental health and psychopathology: a cause of mental illness, but also a prophylactic, a therapy, a medium through which a disorder becomes manifest” (Belzen, 2010, p 29).
“It is a common assertion that there is a fundamental epistemological divide between religious and secular ways of knowing. The claim is that knowledge of the sacred rests on faith, while knowledge of the natural world rests on the evidence of our senses (Livingston, 2005, p. 75) but a review of the literature concerning the biopsychological basis of religion, religious experiences and spirituality indicate there are still reasons to believe in the supernatural. Religion and spirituality including mystical experiences are complex phenomenon that cannot be explained by any one psychological perspective and biology does not provide all the answers either. The fact is that “religion is human reality” (Belzen, 2010, p 28). So, does that mean that God is real? Well, yes – if one perceives that God is real, then God is real to them because as humans we do create our reality.


Belzen, J. (2010). Beyond Freud in psychoanalytic psychology of religion? On the discussion of religion as projection. Journal of Religion in Europe, 3(1), 1-33. doi:10.1163/187489210X12597396698708

Boyer, P. (2001). Religion Explained: The evolutionary origins of religious thought. New York: Basic Books.

D’Aquili, E. G., & Newberg, A. B. (1998). The neuropsychological basis of religions, or why God won’t go away. Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science, 33(2), 187. doi:10.1111/0591-2385.00140

D’Aquili, E. G., & Newberg, A. B. (March 2000) The creative brain / The creative mind. Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science, 35(1), 53 – 68

Fayard, C., Pereau, M., & Ciovica, A. (2009). ‘Love the Lord with all your mind’: Explorations on a possible neurobiology of the experience of God and some implications for the practice of psychotherapy. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 28(2), 167 – 181.

Huguelet, P. & Mohr, S. (15 March 2013). Religion, spirituality, and psychiatry. Psychiatric Times, 30(4). Retrieved from http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/vol-30-no-4

Jones, D. G. (June 2010). Peering into People’s Brains: Neuroscience’s Intrusion into Our Inner Sanctum. Perspectives of Science and Christian Faith, 62(2), 122 – 132.

Livingston, K. (2005). Religious practice, brain, and belief. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 5.1(2), 75 – 117

Pargament, K.I., “The bitter and the sweet: an evaluation of the costs and benefits of religiousness,” Psychological Inquiry 13 (2002), 168 – 181

Pinel, J. (2014). Biopsychology. (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson

Santrock, J. W. (2009). Life-span development. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Why I want to be a nurse…

When I was 14 years old my Grandmother, my favorite person in the whole world, died of a massive stroke and I was devastated when she passed. My Gram had her first stroke when she was only 49 years old but after therapy, she was able to walk with the help of a walker and remained independent and in her own home. After a fall in which she broke her hip, she was afraid no try walking again and no one pushed her. Therefore, she was confined to a wheelchair and this is how I remember her. But it didn’t stop her from being a funny, loving, and amazing woman. However, as her health declined over the years, my mother was forced to place my Gram in a nursing facility where she could receive round-the-clock care. Five to six days a week my mother and I would visit her at the nursing home and it was wonderful to see her but it wasn’t the same as when we visited her at her home. She was no longer the happy, silly woman I remembered. I believe it was because although this was an excellent facility with wonderful staff, it was a very sad place. Many of the residents seemed to have been forgotten by their families and loved-ones. I believe this sadness was contagious and that’s why my Gram always seemed so down.

It was during this time that I decided to become a nurse. I want to help individuals stay healthy, active and as independent as possible throughout the course of their lives. I want to help those who feel helpless and give hope to those who feel hopeless. I believe that with the right care, the right thereapy, and the right nurse, my Grandmother could have remained independent much longer and would have enjoyed a better quality of life those last few years.

I understand that there are circumstances where people will need the 24 hour care of a nursing facility but as a nurse, I believe I can make a difference!

On Death….

     The greatest freedom we have in life is our right to choose. Regardless of the country we live in, the religion we are taught, or our socioeconomic circumstances, we always have choices. They may be difficult choices or unappealing choices yet as individuals, as humans, we do have a choice about everything, including death. I’m not saying that we can choose not to die but that we can choose how we die. Death is inevitable – there is no way to avoid it. However, we can choose to rail against it, deny it, or to accept it and die with dignity. The death with dignity forum is a movement that is fighting to give individuals more control over their own end-of-life options when all options for cure or recovery have been exhausted.

    Historically, a person was considered dead when their heart stopped beating or they stopped breathing. However, with today’s technology, both of these functions are often considered reversible or even negligible. Therefore, society has moved toward defining death based on the functioning of the brain but even then there is still controversy depending on which part of or how much of the brain is damaged. These distinctions are important because regardless of how much damage is done to the cerebrum, if the brain stem is unharmed, heartbeat, respiration and other involuntary functions can continue unaided by artificial means. The cerebrum is the large, wrinkly, gray matter most of us consider the “brain”. It controls voluntary movements, the senses, and most important to many people, the cerebrum is where the personality, consciousness, and awareness comes from.

     What are we without these things? In my opinion, nothing – we might as well be a plant. I believe that awareness of our surroundings and the ability to make conscious decisions are what makes us distinctly human. Personality is what makes us individuals. Without these, our bodies may still be alive but what defines our human-ness is absent. In fact, when the cerebrum is damaged to the point that personality, consciousness, and awareness are gone, the diagnosis is Persistent Vegetative State (PVS). Cases such as those of Terri Shiavo, Karen Quinlan, and Nancy Cruzan are tragic examples of PVS. Sadly, the families of these women had to fight in court for years to gain the right to terminate the advanced life support of their loved ones, allowing their bodies to die. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to see your wife or daughter day after day lying in a hospital bed, knowing that they are really gone and that this is only a shell before you? I can’t and hope I never find out.

     The study that I reviewed looked at the gender differences in discussing death and dying among 195 terminally ill patients over a period of three years. It found that men were much more reluctant than women to bring up the topic of their impending death. However, the study concluded that both men and women were more likely to participate in death talk if the interviewer approached the subject in a non-provocative manner, asking open ended, neutral questions. The increase in death talk was more substantial in men. One point the authors made that caught my eye was that practitioners hesitate to discuss death, dying, and end-of-life preferences with patients until death is imminent. Also, because of HIPPA laws, clinicians cannot discuss patient care with family members without the patient’s consent. This leaves the field open to tragedies such as those of Shiavo, Quinlan, and Cruzan. However, situations such as those can be avoided with living wills and advanced directives. Also, discussion with close family members and physicians about end-of-life treatment is essential.

     I believe that doctors and nurses should be educated in communication techniques to encourage patients to discuss their end-of-life preferences before death is imminent. However, they must understand that religious and/or philosophical beliefs must be taken into consideration. Basically, there seems to be three schools of thought on death and what happens after: resurrection, reincarnation, and oblivion. Abrahamic religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam believe that a human contains a soul that is separated from the body at death and resurrected into a heavenly state of existence. Dharmic religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism share the concept of the soul being reincarnated over and over until it reaches Moksha, or release from an earthly existence. In contrast to these beliefs of some sort of life after death, is the belief that the individual self permanently ceases to exist after death. This is called eternal oblivion and is often associated with Atheism.

     While not an Atheist, I find the thought of oblivion rather comforting. Before doing this research, the thought of there being nothing after death was unsettling. However, after reading exerts from The Apology, Plato account of the speech given by Socrates when he was sentenced to death in 339 BC, I have found peace with the possibility of eternal oblivion. Socrates believed that death was one of two things, either the continuation of consciousness or the complete cessation of consciousness. He said that if consciousness continued in some form after death then there is no reason to fear dying. I agree. In addition, he also stated that if after death there is eternal oblivion, then he would be unaware of it, unable to feel, free from misery and pain. Therefore, there was no reason to fear that result either. I also agree. So, how should one view their own mortality? I do not believe that it either positive or negative – it is what it is. There is no need to rage against it. Live your life fully. Be joyful. Practice being present in each moment so you don’t miss anything because you never know exactly how much time you have left.

The Apology 

Rethinking the Inevitable

The Temptation to Exist

The Power of Purpose

Throughout my teens and twenties, I often asked myself “Why am I here? Why was I born?”. I had no direction. I felt that I was just existing. Getting out of bed each morning was often pretty tough and I thought about suicide more than once – attempted it twice. By my late twenties I was living one day at a time, complacently accepting whatever life threw at me, sucking down anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications just to get through each day. Then, I met Jennifer. I’m not sure how it happened because I was incredibly introverted and anti-social back then, but we quickly became best friends. One day she asked me what I wanted out of my life and of course I told her that I just wanted to be happy. Her next question stopped me in my tracks. She said, “Well, what does happy look like for you?”. I had no idea but it got me thinking. Over the next few months, I worked hard to identify what was most important to me, to clarify what I truly wanted out of life and to format a plan on how to shape my life to achieve these ideals. I found my purpose and it was empowering. Today when my feet hit the floor each morning, I no longer wonder what I’m going to do with myself. Life seems easier, less complicated and much less stressful. Most importantly, however, working towards a purpose that is engaging and meaningful has enabled me to find joy and beauty in each day – even the not-so-lovely ones.


I’m stalking the mailman.

So I ordered my books last week. Now I’m staking out the mailbox…. checking my email a dozen times a day…. and burning up the UPS/USPS tracking websites. I received one package today – 3 DVD’s. Nine books, one pair of shoes, four pair of compression socks, and one watch to go!  I can’t wait!  I love books… and shoes… and jewelry!  *insert squeal of delight*

I am beside myself with excitement about classes starting next month. I have heard from so many people that nursing school is HELL…. and I wonder….??? I want this so bad – I have struggled so much to get to this point. I don’t think it will be Hell. I’m not saying that it won’t be difficult. I’m not saying that I won’t have to study until my eyeballs fall out. I’m just saying that nothing worth having is easy or simple or without some struggle or sacrifice. I’m ready. Bring it on!

Moving, moving, moving, get that birdie moving…..



Just thinking about moving fills me equally with anticipation and trepidation. I have moved several times in my life for various reasons. Some moves were awesome and some were nightmares. The last time I moved, I simply relocated from one side of town to the other. I say “simply” with more than a hint of sarcasm. The idea to move started out well. I was excited, the kids were excited, even the dogs seemed excited. I brought home a few boxes from work and the kids started packing their stuff. At this time, I worked full-time, I went to school full-time, and I was taxi to three kids that played three different sports. I was busy! So, before I knew it, moving day had arrived! Yay… NOT.

First of all, I had a mountain of laundry that needed to be washed. I hate taking dirty clothes to a new place, so if possible, I recommend you wash all your clothes before you move – dishes too. I use paper plates about a week before a move so that I only have a few dishes to wash.

Next, I really didn’t have anything packed and I certainly did not have enough boxes. I recommend that you begin packing unnecessary items several weeks in advance, rather than waiting until the day of, like I did. Just do a little bit at a time so it’s not so overwhelming. Also, pack like items together and label the box! There is nothing worse than trying to figure out which box out of a hundred has the calamine lotion in it when your kid is covered in poison ivy.

In addition, whether you are moving everything yourself or paying someone to do it for you, make your reservation as soon as you know your moving date! I waited until the last minute and when moving day came, I could not find a rental truck. It seems every U-Haul, Penske, and Budget truck in the city was reserved! Also, if money is tight, it tends to be cheaper if you move during the week instead of the weekends.

Furthermore, figure out in advance how you’re going to transport your pets. Because I didn’t plan ahead and reserve a rental truck, I coerced a friend with a truck and open trailer to help me move. It was no problem to put the dogs in my car for the ride to the new place but my daughter’s cockatiel, Sonny, was a different matter. You see, Sonny’s cage is too big to fit in my car and Sonny hates me. He takes every opportunity to bite me so there was no way I was taking him out of the cage. The only solution I could come up with at the time was to put him on the trailer in his cage. He was not a happy bird. He squawked so loudly that I could hear him in my car with the windows up. He caused such a commotion that it caught the attention of a police officer and yes, we got pulled over. The officer was busy giving me a lecture about animal cruelty and blah, blah, blah, when Sonny blurts out a**hole. I stopped breathing and prayed that the officer did not understand what Sonny had said. Of course, I was not that lucky. The officer’s eyes drilled into me and he asked, “Did that bird just call me an a**hole?”. I mumbled a soft “Yes sir, he did”, just knowing I was going to get a huge citation or even arrested! Thankfully, the officer burst out laughing and decided to let me go!

Lastly, pack an “emergency kit”. Have a go-to suitcase, bag, or box that has the necessities you need to get by for at least a week. Include items like a couple changes of clothes, toothbrush and toothpaste, a bit of laundry detergent, medications, and toilet paper! I don’t know about you but I can pack everything and move it in a day but it takes me weeks to unpack. To be honest, I still have boxes in the storage building out back from when we moved in here almost 4 years ago. I guess it’s not too important, huh?


“If you think you are beaten, you are;
If you think you dare not, you don’t.
If you’d like to win, but think you can’t
It’s almost a cinch you won’t.
If you think you’ll lose, you’ve lost,
For out in the world we find
Success being with a fellow’s will;
It’s all in the state of mind.

If you think you’re outclassed, you are:
You’ve got to think high to rise.
You’ve got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize.
Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man,
But soon or late the man who wins
Is the one who thinks he can.”

― Walter D. Wintle

New Look Laser Tattoo Removal Scholarship

So you want to get a tattoo. A big one with lots of color? How do you think that’s going to go over when you try to get a job? Laser tattoo removal you say? Well, you’ve thought of everything haven’t you? Maybe, maybe not.

First of all, getting a tattoo may be dangerous to your health. Did you know that tattoo ink is not regulated by the FDA and tattoo artists can put pretty much whatever they want to in their ink, including formaldehyde? (Yes, that is the stuff used to embalm dead people.) Also, while state and local authorities have established safety regulations, if the tattoo shop doesn’t adhere to them, you could end up with Hepatitis C or HIV! Talk about getting something that won’t wash off!

Still determined to get a tattoo? Well, then take my advice…. Research tattoo parlors and artists in your area. Make sure they use sterile products. This means they should autoclave their tools and provide new ink cups with unused ink for each client. Also, ask your friends who they recommend. The most popular place in town that has a waiting list is probably worth the wait. There really is no rush because you’re going to have this beautiful work of art forever – unless you opt to have it removed one day.

New Look Laser Tattoo Removal in Houston, TX offers a fabulous resource for potential patients who are considering laser tattoo removal – a Tattoo Removal Guide. It offers very relevant information about the process and risks of having a tattoo removed. I recommend you read over it BEFORE you run out and get that tattoo because, personally, it doesn’t seem like a very pleasant procedure. Not that having an electrically-powered tattoo gun puncture your skin between 50 and 3,000 times per minute is a pleasant experience. (I should know, I have five tattoos myself.)

Have I considered laser tattoo removal? As a matter of fact, yes. I love my ink but as you get older, you will realize that not everyone is as appreciative, particularly future employers who have a company image to maintain. While some would say these people are shallow and judgmental, I will just say that I would rather get the job paying the big bucks than work in fast food with band aids stuck all over me. How about you?