Why You Are Who You Are: Investigations into Human Personality

Course No. 1648
Professor Mark Leary, Ph.D.
Duke University
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Course No. 1648
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What Will You Learn?

  • Examine the five key traits that best help scientists understand an individual's personality.
  • Explore why people's tendency to experience specific emotions like anger and joy help explain why different people respond to the same event in different ways.
  • Learn why people who live in different environments may develop different personalities.
  • Investigate how culture, evolution, and learning influence personality development.

Course Overview

Why does a simple incident like a traffic jam affect you the way it does? What makes you act the way you do around your friends and family? Why do you often see the world so differently from the way other people see it? The answer to these questions and more really comes down to one thing: your personality.

Wherever you go in life, you carry with you a large, complex set of traits, beliefs, emotional tendencies, motivations, and values that predispose you to respond to the world in certain ways. Some of these you share with virtually all other human beings; they’re part of human nature. Others, however, differ greatly between one person and another, and they help create the kind of person you are—and the kind of life you lead.

  • Are you outgoing and highly social, or quiet and more inclined to spend time alone?
  • Do you consider yourself organized or disorganized?
  • Do you have more energy in the mornings or in the evenings?
  • How much self-control would you say you have?

To understand the roots of personality is to understand motivations and influences that shape behavior, which in turn reflect how you deal with the opportunities and challenges of everyday life. Exploring the science of personality is also a chance to gain new insights that might help you better understand both yourself and the other people around you.

According to award-winning Professor Mark R. Leary of Duke University, “the quality of our lives depends in part on how well we can figure out what’s going on with other people.” And that’s the focus of his intriguing 24-lecture course, Why You Are Who You Are: Investigations into Human Personality, in which you examine the differences in people’s personalities, where these differences come from, and how they shape our everyday lives. Drawing on research in psychology, neuroscience, and genetics, Professor Leary opens the door to understanding how personality works and why. Designed as a fascinating, accessible scientific inquiry, these lectures will have you thinking about personality—your own, and that of the people around you—in a way that’s more informed and that reveals what makes you the kind of person that you are.

What Makes a Personality?

We currently understand more about how our brains work than we ever have before. But understanding personality requires more than knowing what goes on in the brain. Combining information gleaned from psychology, neuroscience, and genetics, Why You Are Who You Are will open your eyes to the myriad ways our traits, emotions, beliefs, values, and behaviors are shaped by many different influences, including the genes were inherited, how we were raised, our environment, early evolutionary processes, and more.

Professor Leary has two overarching goals for Why You Are Who You Are:

  • Understanding personality characteristics. You’ll learn about the most important personality variables that make people different from one another. These characteristics help to account for the variability we see among people—those traits, motives, values, beliefs, and emotional tendencies that make you, you.
  • Exploring the roots of personality. Why do people end up with the personalities they have? To answer this question, multiple lectures reveal where these personality characteristics come from. You’ll start with the basic biological processes that underlie personality, then go on to the roles played by culture, learning, environment, and personal experiences.

Throughout Professor Leary’s illuminating lectures, five important personality traits come into focus, traits that form the foundation of how psychologists and neuroscientists approach the topic of personality:

  • Extraversion. The central characteristic of this trait is sociability. People high in extraversion tend to be more gregarious and enjoy large social gatherings. (They also find it difficult to go for a long time without other people to talk to.)
  • Neuroticism. People higher in neuroticism tend to experience negative emotions that are more intense and long-lasting, including anxiety, sadness, anger, guilt, and regret. Some researchers call this trait “negative emotionality.”
  • Agreeableness. This trait involves the degree to which people generally have a positive or negative orientation toward others. At the low end are people who are unpleasant and hostile; at the high end are people who tend to be kind and sympathetic.
  • Conscientiousness. To what degree are you responsible and dependable? Conscientiousness comes down to whether or not you usually do what you should. Conscientious people are organized and hard-working, and exercise good self-control.
  • Openness. The last of the “big five” personality traits, openness reflects the degree to which people are open to new experiences and receptive to new ideas.

Why Do You Act the Way You Do?

Professor Leary expands on notions you may be familiar with (such as the nature-versus-nurture debate), shatters some commonly held myths (that self-esteem causes people to be successful and happy), and introduces you to some of the problems psychologists and other behavioral scientists obsess over as they try to understand personality (such as disentangling the vast variety of biological, social, and psychological processes that affect personality).

Here are just a few of the many ideas and topics you’ll probe throughout the lectures:

  • Some aspects of your personality are situation-specific, meaning you consistently behave the same way in the same sorts of situations—but you don’t necessarily behave consistently across different situations.
  • The fact that much of our personality operates outside our awareness, and that we can never be privy to these nonconscious influences, explains why it’s often so hard to change our behavior.
  • Two foundations of moral judgments—whether or not an action helps or harms another person and whether or not an action involves fairness—are nearly universal across cultures.
  • While people can change throughout their lives, in general, personality becomes more stable as people get older (with stability peaking somewhere between age 55 and 65).

An Engaging, Accessible Investigation

Throughout his career, Professor Leary has studied and explored the science behind our emotions, behaviors, and self-views. The author of 14 books and more than 200 scholarly articles and chapters, he has a breadth of experience he brings to every minute of Why You Are Who You Are. Throughout this course, you’ll find yourself in the company of an expert who doesn’t just know the complex science about personality—but who knows how to explain it to you in a way that makes sense.

“Sometimes, it’s really hard to see a difficult person’s redeeming qualities, no matter how hard we try,” Professor Leary says. “But the fact is, whether or not it really ‘takes all kinds,’ they’re all here anyway—us included. And the more we know about all these different kinds of people, including ourselves, the better off we’ll all be.”

The overarching goal of Why You Are Who You Are is to present the concept of personality as a vast, fascinating spectrum that offers a host of different perspectives on the nature and causes of our individual experiences of the world.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 32 minutes each
  • 1
    What Is Personality?
    In this introductory lecture, ground your understanding of personality in the concept of “proportion-of-variability,” which tells us how strongly related a particular personality characteristic is to behaviors, emotions, or other characteristics. As an example, you’ll consider a case study of the causes of delinquent behavior in teenage boys. x
  • 2
    Key Traits: Extraversion and Neuroticism
    There are five key traits that best help us understand a person's behavior. Here, explore the two traits that give you the broadest picture of what a person is like. The first: extraversion, or your level of sociability. The second: neuroticism, the degree to which you experience negative emotions. x
  • 3
    Are You Agreeable? Conscientious? Open?
    Examine the three remaining building blocks of personality. You'll learn about agreeableness, the degree to which you have a positive or negative orientation toward others; conscientiousness, the degree to which you're responsible; and openness, or your receptivity to new experiences and idea. Plus, consider a sixth personality trait that's starting to get attention. x
  • 4
    Basic Motives Underlying Behavior
    What motivates you to do the things you do each and every day? Professor Leary explores three motives that instigate and energize people's behavior: the motive to interact with other people, the motive to achieve and be successful, and the motive to influence other people. x
  • 5
    Intrapersonal Motives
    There are other motives that underlie behavior—ones that don’t involve getting anything from the outside world. What are the benefits of these motives? After considering the Freudian roots of the subject, learn about three fascinating intrapersonal motives: for psychological consistency, for self-esteem, and for authenticity. x
  • 6
    Positive and Negative Emotionality
    A large part of who you are as a person depends on the kinds of emotions you experience as you walk through life. In this lecture, look at our general tendencies to experience positive and negative emotions. What, exactly, are emotions? What leads some people to have more positive – or negative – emotions than others? x
  • 7
    Differences in Emotional Experiences
    In addition to the general tendency to feel good and bad, we also differ in the degree to which we experience specific emotions such as anger, joy, guilt, and sadness. These tendencies, too, are an important part of your personality. As you'll learn, they help explain why different people respond to the same event in different ways. x
  • 8
    Values and Moral Character
    When we talk about someone's character, we're referring to the degree to which that person tends to behave in ethical (or unethical) ways. In this illuminating lecture, take a look at moral aspects of personality from four critical angles: values, moral foundations, virtues, and character strengths. x
  • 9
    Traits That Shape How You Think
    Turn your attention to cognitive aspects of personality: characteristics related to people's styles of thinking. Here, Professor Leary focuses on four cognitive characteristics that involve differences in the degree to which people are curious, make decisions quickly, critically evaluate their beliefs, and enjoy thinking. x
  • 10
    Beliefs about the World and Other People
    You are who you are partly because of the beliefs that you hold. Discover several big, broad beliefs that function like personality traits. These include people's beliefs about human nature, fairness, and the beliefs and attitudes that underlie authoritarianism. x
  • 11
    Beliefs about Yourself
    Your beliefs about yourself have a dramatic impact on how you feel and behave. Take a closer look at four types of self-related beliefs: identity (who you think you are), self-efficacy (what you're capable of doing), self-esteem (your evaluation of yourself), and self-compassion (how you think about yourself when bad things happen). x
  • 12
    Personality and Social Relationships
    Some of the most important differences among people involve their ways of relating to others. First, examine the differences in people's attachment styles. Then, consider the tactics people use to persuade and influence others (with a focus on Machiavellians). Finally, explore three aspects of empathy: cognitive empathy, emotional empathy, and empathic concern. x
  • 13
    Consistency and Stability of Personality
    People obviously don't act the same way all the time, and personalities do change over the course of a life (at least within limits). Yet people do show stability in how they tend to think, feel, and behave. In this lecture, learn about the complexities that make personality both stable and changeable. x
  • 14
    Evolution and Human Nature
    The fact that certain personality characteristics can be seen in almost everybody probably reflects evolutionary processes. Learn why some aspects of behavior became part of a shared human personality; how some personality features evolved differently for men and women; and why people who live in different environments may develop different personalities. x
  • 15
    Personality and the Brain
    All differences we see in people's personalities are based on differences in what's happening somewhere in their brains. Unpack research being done on the neuroscience of personality, with a focus on four aspects of anatomy and physiology that involve brain regions, neurotransmitters, hormones, and bodily rhythms. x
  • 16
    Genetic Influences on Personality
    Take a closer look at the ways in which the genes you inherited from your parents have contributed to your personality. Topics in this lecture include heritability studies; the role genes play in people's attitudes; and how genes can change our environment in ways that then affect our personality. x
  • 17
    Learning to Be Who You Are
    Professor Leary explains four learning processes that influence how people's personalities turn out: classical conditioning, operant conditioning, observational learning, and personal experience. It's a lecture that'll change how you think about the ways learning has helped make you who you are. x
  • 18
    How Culture Influences Personality
    How might your personality have turned out differently if you'd grown up in a culture different from the one you grew up in? Explore this question by looking at several dimensions on which cultures differ: individualism versus collectivism, power distance, agentic versus communal orientations, and uncertainty avoidance. x
  • 19
    Nonconscious Aspects of Personality
    Freud believed that much of what influences our behaviors occurs outside our conscious awareness. To understand people’s personalities, we have to consider unconscious processes—the topic of this lecture. What is our nonconscious? How can we determine someone’s nonconscious motives? How does this idea relate to behaviors like procrastination? x
  • 20
    Personality and Self-Control
    People differ in self-control, so understanding how we self-regulate is critical to understanding personality. After learning about the nature of self-regulation, examine the characteristics and skills that affect how well people control themselves. Then, learn important findings from studies of self-regulation in childhood and explore the relationship between self-regulation and impulsivity. x
  • 21
    When Personalities Become Toxic
    In the first of two lectures on the three broad clusters of personality disorders, consider the dramatic-emotional-erratic cluster, which includes the antisocial, borderline, histrionic, and narcissistic personality disorders. As you'll learn, these disorders all involve problems with emotional regulation and impulse control. x
  • 22
    Avoidance, Paranoia, and Other Disorders
    First, learn about a cluster of three personality disorders that involve excessive anxiety: the avoidant, dependent, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Then, explore a cluster that involves eccentric behaviors and distorted thinking: the paranoid personality disorder, the schizoid personality disorder, and the schizotypical personality disorder. x
  • 23
    The Enigma of Being Yourself
    Should you try to always be yourself? Can you tell when you’re not being yourself? Professor Leary considers the possibility that authenticity has some serious problems as a psychological construct—that it’s either not what we assume it is, or that it’s not as important as we typically think. x
  • 24
    The Well-Adjusted Personality
    Conclude the course by drawing on much of what you've learned in the preceding lectures to look at the relationship between personality and healthy psychological adjustment. You'll learn the five key ingredients of adjustment, traits that are associated with good adjustment, and more. x

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Your professor

Mark Leary

About Your Professor

Mark Leary, Ph.D.
Duke University
Professor Mark Leary is Garonzik Family Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University, where he heads the program in Social Psychology and is faculty director of the Duke Interdisciplinary Initiative in Social Psychology. He earned his bachelor's degree in Psychology from West Virginia Wesleyan College and his master's and doctoral degrees in Social Psychology from the University of Florida. He has taught...
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Reviews

Why You Are Who You Are: Investigations into Human Personality is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 24.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Great Course from Dr. Leary! Dr. Kevin Leary gives another great course, this time in Investigations into Human Personality. I took a Psych of Personality course in college over 20 years ago, and enjoyed it. This was not only a good reminder, but a great update on all of the current research on personality. A lot has happened in 20 years! It's not just factual, but insightful as well, as you see these concepts applied every day and every where. I also enjoy Dr. Leary's courses, and wish I had him as a professor in college! I highly recommend this. Great research, great examples, great presentation. All in all, this one knocks it out of the park.
Date published: 2018-09-27
Rated 2 out of 5 by from I was hoping for much more I thought for awhile how to rate this course, anywhere from a 1 to a 4. I am a retired engineer who worked in a high volume semiconductor manufacturing company, so I have had quite a bit of exposure to experiments (or studies) and statistics. You can probably guess where this is going-I believe that studies in human behavior are inherently problematic, especially when most of them depend on surveys and interviews. Throughout the years, I have taken these classes at work where you to take a survey which is then used to put you into buckets. The criteria and buckets varied depending on the type of course taken (manager, group performance, etc.) The rest of the class is spent talking about people in these different buckets. So, here is another class using yet a different set of criteria with even more buckets to sort people. It is somewhat funny when the professor states that psychologists hate to do this, that behaviors tend to run on a continuous scale. Yet, it seems that grouping people into buckets is what they do best. So, why did I take this course? When I reread the topics listed on the course site, two main areas drew my interest: genetics and personality disorders. Both of these discussions were disappointing. I was hoping for more than twin studies in genetics, and I had previously read articles with more detail on personality disorders. My biggest problem with this course, though, links to my concerns with the underlying studies in human behavior, even in the area of genetics. I’ll just sum it up as skepticism. As I tried to look up some of these studies online, I found that the problem was worse than I expected due to issues with what I will just call sloppy science-lack of replication, publication bias, selection of sensational topics to research, etc. I even accidentally ran into the marshmallow study mentioned in this course. A more recent study has shown quite a different result than was discussed in this course. Why? A much better sampling method and adding controls. The issue is not that the study was debunked-that is the nature of the beast. Science should always question where we are today, look at things from different angles, and run more studies that lead us to better answers. My concern is that it has taken decades to discover (or at least publicize) that the sample used in the original study was, well, sloppy. Why was the study not scrutinized before giving it so much credibility? While I can’t hold the professor solely responsible for these issues, I think he oversells the confidence level of these studies, while other professors, in one way or another, get the point across that there may be some controversy or more work needed before solid conclusions can be drawn for various studies. And while meta studies can be useful and powerful, they are not magic erasers for all underlying problems. Why worry? For casual conversation, it’s not much of a big deal, but these things tend to drive public policy, interfere with teaching and parenting, impact patient treatments, create cottage industries that sell ineffective products, etc. The other problem I had with this course came in chapter 10 (and maybe in some more subtle references elsewhere) when talking about authoritarianism, which appears to me to be created to target a very specific group of people, the conservatives, and then apply negative attributes to them. I have to ask why? I see similar traits in non-conservatives. For example, the phrase “...believe that their own conventional beliefs, values, and lifestyles are the only right ones and that people who don’t share their cultural beliefs and values and who don’t live like they do are wrong, if not somehow evil” can be applied to a heck of a lot more people than conservatives. Replace patriotism and country in “...associated with fervent patriotism-the kind of patriotism that recoils at any suggestion that one’s own country isn’t the best in the world. Authoritarians tend not to tolerate any criticisms of their country” with references to any political party, any activist group, and even sports fans and you tend to get the same kind of behaviors. I could pick on the rest of the discussion, but I’ll stop there and ask, again, why target one group? Most of the rest of the course isn’t so specific, other than describing some traits with only positive or negative words, which I think can also be misleading, but not as obvious as this one topic. On a more positive note, the professor does well with his presentation style and it was easy to follow on audio only. As to the question of whether or not I would recommend this course, it really depends on their expectations.
Date published: 2018-09-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is one of the most cogent courses I've taken. The speaker is outstanding with the ability to make difficult topics clear and easy to understand. I have purchased a second course with him as the instructor.
Date published: 2018-08-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I learned so much about people. There is quite a bit of material in this course. But Dr. Leary presents in such an engaging manner that you look forward to the next lecture. Consider this an upper-division course in behavioral psychology, without having to write papers or take tests.
Date published: 2018-08-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enlightening; Thought Provoking Psychology has always been somewhat of a puzzle to me - and it still is. But this course did clear up areas of confusion for me especially updating my understanding of certain topics within the scope of the broad subject. Did I learn more about myself (or at least see different possibilities defining parts of me)? Of course I did, and that expands the possible conclusions I must consider. These I'll ponder over time. The course also opened up other possibilities to me for viewing past relationships for which I thought my conclusions were final. Maybe that is an advance for me in maturation and a broadening of the understanding of life and myself. I'll reserve any final conclusion for now. I do recommend this course if for no other reason than it offers fodder for future ideas and contemplation, not only about oneself but also about ones personal interactions with others. I enjoyed the Professor's lectures and delivery.
Date published: 2018-07-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Modern Evidence answers ancient questions I've seen several lecture series on YouTube and read a few textbook about personality but most limit themselves to old Jungian and Freudian ideas. This is focused on the modern big 5, describing how the theory came to be and why it's better than type theories in the first lecture (which also outlines factor analysis and heritability without any mathematics - an impressive feat!). Key experiments are described and the links between personality and other aspects of psychology like cognition are clearly outlined. The lecturer is an engaging presenter, who sometimes presents his own view on a controversial topic (the nature of internal motivations for example) but he fairly outlines the alternative views beforehand so telling us where his biases lie is just treating us like adults. He gets a bit philosophical in the last 2 lectures but he earns that with how informative the other 90% of the course is.
Date published: 2018-07-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have enjoyed this course. I have had a lot of clinical medical experience but I have vastly underestimated the importance of personality traits and personality disorders. I thought the professor excellent.
Date published: 2018-06-25
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Ideological bordering on dishonesty Throughout many of the lectures, this professor distorts the literature to fit his political biases (in many places he even seems somewhat unaware of how dishonest and lacking in self-insight his presentations are). This is particularly true of his lectures on intrapersonal and beliefs about the world and social psychology. This is very dangerous presentation since his biases are so extreme (multiculturalism always good, traditional values as mental disease and societal evil) that it becomes impossible to trust him at some point. Although the professor is a very fluid presenter, this is one of the most dishonest courses TC has ever produced. Truly antithetical to the values of learning and open-mindedness.
Date published: 2018-06-24
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