William (Bill) Seeberger
Education: Bachelor of Science in philosophy and psychology (May 1997)
McNair Project: Personality Multiplicities: Variations in Personality Characteristics Due to Age and Stress (1996)
Mentor: Leon Rappoport, Ph.D.
Recent personality research and theoretical discussions (e.g., Rowan 1990, Markus and Nurius 1986, Deaux and Wrightsman 1988) have focused on personality multiplicities, the idea that an individual can possess two (or more) distinct self-concepts. The suggestion from these discussions is that normal individuals in the general population may have multiple self-concepts. Although multiple personality disorder (MPD) has been recognized as a pathological condition for a long time by clinical psychologists, it is now believed that a moderate level of personality multiplicities can serve people as a useful adjustment mechanism. Personality multiplicities and MPD can be confused because in each case the individual can have two or more self- concepts, and each concept may stand alone. However, unlike MPD, personality multiplicities are not associated with pathological behaviors.
Based on research by Boone (1995) which provided evidence of multiplicities occurring in the normal population, the present study focused on two questions: 1) whether or not there were age differences in the occurrence of multiplicity in the general population, and 2) if the stress experiences reported by individuals with high multiplicity differed significantly from those with low multiplicity. It was hypothesized that younger persons (age 25 and below) would show higher measures of multiplicity and childhood stress than older (26 and above) persons. Furthermore, it was expected that reports on stress experience would differ significantly between low multiplicity individuals and high multiplicity individuals.
Eighty-six individuals (47 females and 39 males) completed two questionnaires: the Dale Lifestyle Inventory (DLI), which measures an individual's tendency towards multiplicity, and the Childhood Stress Inventory, a measure found to relate significantly with multiplicity. Following this stage of the study, a subsample of respondents were interviewed to determine whether low and high multiplicity individuals differed in the way they responded to stressful experiences.
The results obtained include a significant correlation of .51 (p<.001) between the DLI and Childhood Stress scores for all subjects. Also, a high correlation between childhood stress and multiplicity was found for the younger group (.64), but not for the older group (.25). When older (26 and above) and younger (25 and below) subjects' scores were compared, the younger group's scores were substantially higher than those of the older group. In the second stage of the study, eleven high multiplicity individuals and seven low multiplicity individuals participated in the stress/multiplicity interview. Frequency comparisons indicated that high multiplicity subjects were more likely than low multiplicity subjects to report handling stress better than most people, that their stress experiences were typically physical, and that stress lowered their self- esteem.
In conclusion, the results of the study supported the initial hypothesis concerning differences in the inclination towards multiplicity and childhood stress in older and younger subjects. Younger individuals had higher scores for multiplicity and childhood stress. Additionally, there was a stronger relationship between multiplicity and childhood stress for the younger individuals. On the other hand, the results were inconclusive with respect to the hypothesis that reports of stress experience would differ significantly between high and low multiplicity individuals. Some of the trends in responses by low and high multiplicity individuals indicated potentially important differences between the two groups. Future research with a larger high and low multiplicity subject sample would help to determine more conclusively if there are significant differences in their reactions to stress. In general, the findings support the view that younger individuals may benefit from a sense of multiplicity, and that further research is needed to investigate the relationship between multiplicity and stress.