Interview with Luke & Nick

Luke Smillie and Nick Haslam have just edited a special issue of the Australian Journal of Psychology devoted to the study of personality in Australia. To celebrate its publication, they sat down to interview one another.

Nick: Luke, why do you think the time is ripe for an exploration of the state of personality psychology in Australia?

Luke: There are two main reasons, Nick. First, it has been an awfully long time since anyone took stock of the field in this country. The last special issue of the journal dedicated to personality was published 36 years ago, in 1983. So we're well overdue for a status update. Second, a lot of academic and practicing psychologists today seem to hold a number of misconceptions about the field—even on the most basic questions like "what is personality?" My hope was that the special issue might help to dispel some of those misunderstandings. What about you, Nick, what were your goals for the special issue.

Nick: Well, I think this country has made very significant contributions to the field of personality psychology that should be celebrated, and thought a special issue in the Australian Journal of Psychology would be the perfect place to showcase some of those contributions. I don't think the range and value of work done within the field in Australia receives the recognition it deserves, so hopefully the special issue can help to change that. I also share your view about popular misconceptions that need to be dispelled—let's dig into that a bit more: What do you think some of the main misconceptions are?

Luke: Oh, there are so many! For instance, I think many people mistakenly think that personality refers to some kind of mysterious, fixed psychological essence, usually with an (entirely) genetic basis. This is implicit in the kinds of questions I'm often asked, such as "do you think X reflects a person's personality, or is it instead a result of their early life experiences?" These aren't different things—early life experiences are likely crucial to personality development! Fiona Barlow's article on the fatuousness of the nature/nurture distinction does a fantastic job of tackling this kind of confusion head on. Another recurring issue is the misconception that personality is synonymous with the famous "Big Five" traits, and that anything that is not one of the Big Five is not part of personality. Now, the Big Five provide a really useful framework for organising the many dozens of personality constructs that psychologists work with but... as I just said... there are many dozens of such constructs! There's more to personality than the Big Five, and this is something that Jeromy Anglim and Peter O'Connor's article will hopefully help to clarify.

Nick: Those are some great ones. Perhaps another example of the latter point is your article with Erin Lawn, Kun Zhao, Ryan Perry and Simon Laham on how personality psychology illuminates human morality and prosociality? Many people view these topics as falling solely within social psychology, or perhaps political psychology, but there is a lot of important and innovative work being done in this space by personality psychologists!

Luke: Well, maybe I'm biased on that one, Nick, but I of course agree! What are some of the other high points of the special issue in your opinion?

Nick: Well, the editors' introduction is superb, or course! But seriously, I think Simon Boag's masterful overview of the history of personality psychology in Australia is a standout. Micaela Bucich and Carolyn MacCann's article on emotional intelligence tells the rarely told story of how Australian researchers were absolutely front and centre in developing this very influential idea and giving it a solid research footing. And I've always found work on the 'dark side' of personality fascinating, so it's great to have Monica Koehn, Ceylan Okan, and Peter Jonason's primer on the Dark Triad included in the issue.

Luke: I think you're forgetting one brilliant piece, Nick, your much-needed review of personality structure! This will hopefully demonstrate for once and for all that there are no meaningful personality types. We all differ by degree, not by simple discrete categories, so it's time to retire the entire notion of personality types. Have I missed any key points?

Nick: Well, one other thing I'd like this special issue to do is take a step towards developing a greater connection between personality and social psychology in this country. For historical reasons that we explore in our editorial, the two subdisciplines have been somewhat alienated and I think that's regrettable. It's time for greater collaboration and for joining forces, I think. A large proportion of talks at our local social psychology conference examine personality traits and other individual differences, and a lot of the content at our national personality conference would be of great interest to social psychologists. So perhaps the connections are already forming, but there is more to be done and I hope our special issue helps to do it.

Luke: I couldn't agree more.

Nick: Thank you, Luke.

Luke: And thank you.