A new paper published in the journal The Humanistic Psychologist articulates the clinical utility of individualizing psychological assessment by making use of the Enactivist Big-5 Theory of Personality, an approach that is grounded in the enactivist perspective of human cognition. The authors argue for a mutual synthesis of enactivist cognitive science and individualized psychological assessment.
“Theoretically, I believe it can be very rewarding to see the ways in which theories in scientific psychology, like the Big Five, can become more humanized by dialoguing them with phenomenology,” said Garri Hovhannisyan (@GarriHovha), a doctoral candidate at Duquesne University and clinical psychology resident at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships in Toronto, Ontario.
“Clinically, this allows us to apply such theories in new ways toward understanding the lives of clinical patients as they are uniquely lived.”
EB5T allows for the assessment of psychological symptoms by articulating how traits predispose individuals to an optimal grip of their world. Through this view, a mismatch between the world one’s traits are fit for and the world in which they occupy ought to manifest as psychological distress. Thus, EB5T posits that clinicians should consider the relationship between an individual’s traits and the way they navigate in the world in trying to understand and predict how similar scenarios might unravel in the future.
“The average person should take away at least the following three points from our work. First, that all people can be reliably compared along the five major dimensions of personality as outlined by the Big Five (i.e., Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism). Second, that these differences reflect fundamental differences in how people perceive and come to interact with reality,” said Hovhannisyan.
“For example, when confronted with a cluttered room, someone who is high in Conscientiousness will perceive things that are out of place and urgently need to be returned to where they belong. Moreover, their perception will likely be accompanied with visceral feelings of restlessness and anxiety. On the other hand, for someone who is low in Conscientiousness, none of these personal responses might come to life and sway their attentional and cognitive resources.”
He added, “Simply put, they will not care about the clutter in the same way and will go about their business as usual. And finally, as for the third point, understanding how our traits shape our personal experiences in the world might in some scenarios be indispensable for being able to properly empathize with what it’s like to be someone else. This is especially true with couples where the partners differ significantly from each other on these five dimensions. Individualized assessment using the Big Five has the potential to elicit greater empathy for interpersonal differences where it’s been lacking.”
EB5T considers both the individual and the world they occupy in explaining mental distress. This mutual consideration of both the self and world is rooted in phenomenological philosophy. In doing this, it views the loss of optimal grip—as in, the ideal way of relating to the world for a given individual’s personality structure—as “the criterion of psychological dysfunction.”
For example, a person who scores high in Extraversion sees the world as a playground of possibilities to explore. Such a person would undoubtedly experience psychological distress if their circumstances required them to stay put where they are, closing off opportunities to explore the world.
“No two individuals are the same. For this reason, the main goal of this line of research is ultimately to develop a system to allow us to create individualized interpretations of individuals’ experiences using the Big Five model,” Hovhannisyan told PsyPost. “Although the present article demonstrated one possible way this can be done through a case vignette, the procedures it implemented still need to be sufficiently formalized and systematized.”
“Fortunately, recent research has already begun the process of formalizing this process interpretation using the Big Five. Though tentative, the findings have been promising and have nicely set the stage for running replication studies with larger samples in the future.”
The paper, “Individualizing psychological assessment using the five-factor model: A phenomenological, enactivist approach”, was authored by Garri Hovhannisyan and Jessie Goicoechea.