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?

  • numbers Examine the five key traits that best help scientists understand an individual's personality.
  • numbers 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.
  • numbers Learn why people who live in different environments may develop different personalities.
  • numbers 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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  • 288-page printed course guidebook
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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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Why You Are Who You Are: Investigations into Human Personality is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 52.
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Promises way more than it delivers Uninformative and revoltingly left-wing presentation. Way too much relevant data left out.
Date published: 2019-06-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best courses I've ever taken! I can't say enough good things about this course. The content was so substantive and well organized, and the delivery by Professor Leary was outstanding! I highly recommend this course to anyone interested in better understanding their own cognitive processes, emotions, and behavior, and those of their friends and colleagues.
Date published: 2019-05-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A useful course marred by bias This course has a great deal of information that will be extremely useful for me and for my kids as they navigate through life. Knowing what makes others tick is an essential skill that I hope this course will impart to them. This course outlines a lot of research in an accessible and engaging format. Those words said, I think I have to mention something about Lecture 10 in the series. I have listened to close to 300 courses from The Great Courses. Lecture 10 is quite possibly the single worst lecture I've heard from this company. It insulted me as a person and it insulted my intelligence. That execrable lecture discusses the Authoritarian Personality. It's worth mentioning in the very beginning that the first major book on that topic was written by a Marxist by the name of Theodor Adorno. That critically important fact goes unmentioned in the lecture. It seems as if the lecture was based on Adorno's work. Let's check some of the material from the course guidebook: "The characteristic that seems most central to authoritarianism involves rigid adherence to conventional, mainline, usually middle-class attitudes and values. People who score high in authoritarianism 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." The professor goes on to explain that such Authoritarian attitudes are associated with fervent patriotism and fundamentalist religious beliefs. I'm both a patriot and a religious man. But that description doesn't apply to me or anybody I know on the Right. Further, can we identify people on the left who believe that those who don't live and believe as they do are not just wrong but evil? Like people harassing others in MAGA hats? Like network news corporations who expose children to ridicule for wearing a MAGA hat? How about Antifa rioters? How about people ruining others' lives because they depart from left-wing orthodoxy. None of this is to suggest that the typical leftist is an authoritarian. The point is that we can all observe that Authoritarianism is a trait that characterizes people of all political stripes and religious values, not just those of us on the Right. It seems to me that a lot of psychological research has been done to demonstrate that those of us on the right are somehow defective and evil. Ironically, the course guide book suggests the work of Robert Altemeyer on right wing authoritarianism, without noting that the same researcher has published work on left-wing authoritarianism as well. The New Yorker (no right wing rag this!) published an article in 2018 entitled "How Social Science Might Be Misunderstanding Conservatives." Shame on the Great Courses for allowing a lecture that gratuitously smears a large percentage of its customers! Shame on this professor for his sloppy work in this lecture!
Date published: 2019-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So informative and helpful. So glad I bought this course. It has helped me to understand myself as well as others behavior.
Date published: 2019-02-18
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Must return it Catalog, website, and package all state CC [closed captioning for hearing impaired]. I am hearing impaired, and this DVD is NOT CC'd
Date published: 2019-02-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I bought this a while back in order to expand on other courses I have purchased over the years.
Date published: 2019-02-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Human Personality Deeply Introspective. Interesting. Better understanding of self.
Date published: 2019-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Archaeology I love, love, love this. I've always had a passion for learning and this answers that craving in the comfort of my own home and is there for me whenever my busy life permits. I'll be a lifelong customer!
Date published: 2019-01-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from welcome addition I have viewed most of The Great Courses that deal with the human brain and human behavior. This new course which emphasizes traits is a welcome addition.Its emphasis on the variety of traits provides an additional way of understanding the diversity of human personalities and why.
Date published: 2019-01-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Personality described succinctly and simply. This course is an important update for my previous studies. It helps me understand myself and others based on characteristic traits. Good for work. Good for friends and family to understand each other more.
Date published: 2019-01-14
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Why you are who you are I bought this several weeks ago and am still unable to have access to it on line....so: I'd love to review it, if only I had access to it.
Date published: 2019-01-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Gereat Foundational Course and Presentation I do not have a college background in psychology other than the basics long ago. I found this course to be a fresh update explaining new ideas and theories that have emerged. I also found it easy to follow and presented in a logical orderly way. You won't find lots about any 1 subject in personality studies here but what you will get is the information background you need to appreciate the way the field is moving.
Date published: 2018-12-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This course is why they call theses the Great Cour The entire presentation was perfect. From the personality of the professor, tone of voice, and easy explanations of all the concepts. One might suspect it would be a dry course, but it was everything but dry. It is one of the very few courses I wanted to be sure to watch one lecture per day without skipping any days.
Date published: 2018-12-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Billy Bob Thornton ROCKS! Great course! Outstanding presenter with a balanced approach. He does a fantastic job of making clear when studies are lacking and caveats findings when necessary. The lectures are very thought provoking and has helped me understand better the people I work with and myself. You were great in Sling Blade! :) Just kidding but I couldn't help thinking Billy Bob Thornton was teaching this lecture. Great professor and I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2018-12-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great information, useful, to the point. I am happy to recommend this lecture series. I think it is pitched at the right level with plenty of useful points. It flows logically and I like the lecturer and his voice, pacing and style. I will be re-listening.
Date published: 2018-12-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I think Dr. Leary is a fine lecturer. I’ve been enjoying this so much I have gotten several more classes.
Date published: 2018-11-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent insights into Our Personality! Outstanding course loaded with thought provoking insights about how we become who we are. I am currently writing a personal memoir at age 71. As I look back at how I became the person I am, in addition to childhood friends/groups I transitioned through time with and their impact on me, this course provided many aha moments to aid in my understanding. Professor Leary is excellent in guiding the listener through The Big 5 personality traits and their establishment in our essence, in addition to many other impacts . I listen to some courses early in the morning (4:30 a.m.) with my coffee, and this lecture set was perfect. I did the video option which is my preference, but audio version would be good also. Excellent course and Professor! I look forward to other sets from Professor Leary. I have purchased well over 250 lecture sets and am addicted the The Great Courses. As an adjunct professor since 1993 (undergrad - Ph.D), I continually get the comment on student evaluations: "How do you know so much about so many things?. Thank You, The Great Courses!!
Date published: 2018-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting class, masterfully delivered I really enjoy this class. It is full of information in each class and delivered in such an interesting way, it is easy to 'binge watch'!
Date published: 2018-10-23
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 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
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Title conveys accurately course content Clear explanations of a complex field, without a lot of psychobabble. Probably best for the student who wants more understanding of what makes him/her and others tick: the presentation lends itself to this type of reflection. Caution: After finishing this course I started another course by the same professor: Understanding the mysteries of human behavior. There is a lot of overlap, some verbatim. I think the present course is the better of the two, probably no need to take both.
Date published: 2018-05-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Learned a lot! Prof. Leary is easy to listen to as he explains the psychology of personality. I especially appreciated his description of behavior that seems to conflict with what we think we want. His discussion of personality disorders was very clear and helpful.
Date published: 2018-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from a truly great course This is a wonderful course; it was a great fun and learning experience. I recommended it to my daughter the other day, and I would highly recommend it for everyone. It is an eye opener; it explains in very interesting and riveting lectures the quirks and behaviors of oneself and others. Professor Leary is an excellent teacher and lecturer.
Date published: 2018-04-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the most important courses I've been thinking and writing about the mysteries of how personalities are formed because of the philossophical and spiritual implications. Leary does a 10-star job of explaining clearly for the layman the experiments that have been done to find out deep and startling truths about genetics and environmental influences on people. No reader will come away seeing themselves and others in a new light, with all kinds of useful information about how to relate to and communicate with people are are different.
Date published: 2018-04-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fun to Watch I like the style of the instructor and the variety of the course material. He makes it easy to think through relationships with others as well as yourself.
Date published: 2018-04-01
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