Personality Traits & Loneliness

I want to find someone like me, living in my own world, to my own degree - Cypress Hill, Illusions

Psychologists draw a sharp contrast between solitude and loneliness, maintaining that loneliness implies a sense of dissatisfaction with one’s aloneness, while solitude means contentment with one’s state. Along the same lines, while most people enjoy social interactions, particularly with close and loved ones, needing one’s own space and moments of reflection, and peace and quiet are likewise commonplace.

As stated elsewhere, mental health professionals use the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, several publications since its inception) to diagnose and treat patients. Interestingly enough, not all mental illnesses and disorders may be cured. For instance, personality disorders (Axis II of the DSM), such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder (also known as psychopathy or sociopathy), Borderline Personality Disorder and others, lack any corresponding medications or even a clearly defined line of treatment. Likewise, some scientists view them as simple extremes of the personality continuum or normal distribution, also known as the bell curve. Other conditions, such as ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or phobias are circumvented with medication and/or therapy. Further, in relation to the introductory paragraph, one of the most currently cited symptoms of mental affliction constitutes social withdrawal, present in diseases such as Major Depressive Disorder (MDD, commonly known simply as depression) and schizophrenia. Other conditions, such as Asperger’s Disorder or Autism may likewise predispose one to avoid social contact and human interaction, to an extent.

Nonetheless, perfectly healthy human beings differ greatly in their willingness and ability to socialize. Indeed, as economists define supply and demand, both concepts imply a willingness coupled with an ability to produce and buy, respectively. Thus, in psychological terms, introverts differ greatly from extroverts. While our culture places greater emphasis on the benefits of extraversion, praising team work and the ability to get along with others, (peaceful) introversion is fine as well. Extraversion and introversion are one of the Big Five personality descriptors, along with neuroticism, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness and extraversion.

By the same token, social psychologists, the researchers most directly interested in interpersonal relations and interactions, define social competence as the ability to obtain what one wants in relationships, while continuing to maintain positive relationships with them. Communication is key, so many employers stress the importance of written and verbal communication skills. While verbal communication is probably the most common, many mediums may used to convey a message. In general, communication may be defined as involving a sender, a message, transmission, potential interfering noise, and a receiver. In other words, the sender encodes the message, while the receiver decodes it. Notwithstanding, breakdowns in communication may occur, resulting in misunderstandings. Many guidelines exist to shed light on the elusive art of communicating efficiently, but as with most subjects in behavioural science, arguments remain debated. For instance, some suggest using first person personal pronouns is clearer, while others argue that shifting attention by using second person alternatives may be preferable. Still, messages are likewise communicated by social cues, such as facial expression, tone of voice and body language. In addition, psychologists have consistently replicated results that peoples around the world recognize the same basic emotions through facial expressions. Theory of mind, the mental array of schemas representing other people’s thoughts, emotions and intentions also involve other clues, such as vocabulary content.

Other forms of communication include, but are not limited to, signalling, such as morse code or maritime signaling. On such occasions, similar to language, the comprehension of the message relies on both parties attributing the same meaning to symbols. Linguistics is the study of human communication, and Noam Chomsky is often credited with being the most famous linguist, or at least a very prominent figure in the field.

Furthermore, bonding is mostly seen in familial and romantic relationships, and is believed to be associated with vasopressin and oxytocin release. For instance, the mountain vole and its close cousin, the prairie vole, differ significantly in their attachment styles and the formation of life long monogamous versus short lived polyamourous ties.

Friendship rests on sharing common interests, likeness and proximity. Indeed, experimenters have documented that we tend to like those who like us, form ties and relationships with those who are close to us physically (students became friends with roommates and those living in the same dorm in one study) and also based on similarity and affinities. To illustrate, studies have shown, that marriage partners are often similar in intelligence, educational background and other attributes. However, several gender differences have been depicted in the literature when it comes to traits considered desirable in potential mates. Also, attraction has been attributed to facial symmetry, waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) in women, and clear complexion, all attributes signalling good health and reproductive capacity to others.

Finally, a Canadian researcher, Mary Ainsworth, examined attachment styles using the strange situation paradigm, a topic explored in child or developmental psychology, the brach of the social science concentrating on the development of the individual across the life span. She found that attachment could be categorized as secure and insecure, with the latter further subdivided into anxious, ambiguous and dismissive.

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Children are socialized by their parents, and later by extended family, friends, and the larger community they live in. Image: Copyright © Megan Jorgensen

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