Innate Good Perceived in Personality Theories

According to Miller (2004), innate good is referred to as the kind human nature, often observed as the positive or prosocial characters and behaviors that are intrinsic and herniated. For example, innate good is demonstrated when nature born altruistic people do good deeds “involving helping, social inclusion, assistance, support, volunteerism, and empathy” (Miller, 2004, p. 4). Thus, the discussion of innate good must address some of the essential questions: Is there such a thing as human nature? Are people fundamentally good, bad, both, or neither? Are good deeds such as altruism due to the innate good or contingent to the environment? In this paper, innate good is discussed from perspectives of trait theories, biological theories, humanistic theories, and behavioral theories, and an argument is made that the concept of innate good is supported in most personality theories.

Trait Theories

In trait theories, personality is defined and classified in specific and precise terms called traits; people’s traits are their specific and stable characters and dispositions which are reflected in people’s behaviors (Ryckman, 2013). Personality traits are often studied in the Big Five factors: “Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism, and Openness to Experience” (Ryckman, 2013, p. 458). Among them, conscientiousness represents diligence, responsibility, self-discipline, and self-motivation; agreeableness demonstrates cooperative, considerate, empathic, generous, polite, and kind characters (Capsi, Roberts, & Shiner, 2005). Thus people high in conscientiousness and agreeableness traits are likely to act for the well-being of themselves and the societies; such prosocial and helpful behaviors could be considered as the evidence of innate good if the traits are innate.

According to Brooks (1998), personality traits are indeed innate and inherited although the personality development embraces environmental factors, which means that a person is likely born with innate good but it may not been seen in his or her behavior due to the environmental influence. A study by Eisenberg, Duckworth, Spinrad, and Valiente (2014) reveals that elements of conscientiousness are evident by early childhood, and these elements such as dutifulness, compliance, and responsibility are heritable. Studies above indicate that innate good is embedded in personality traits as inheritable and stable dispositions. Therefore trait theories agree with the ideal that innate good is the human nature that drives people’s prosocial, empathic, and responsible behaviors.

Biological Theories

Biological theories attribute biological factors such as genetics, brain structures, and neuro functions to personality development. From biological perspectives, human beings are born with certain innate predispositions which respond to the environment in particular ways (Eysenck as cited in Ryckman, 2013), thus innate good could be part of the predispositions necessary for social demands. Studies by Blonigen, Carlson, Hicks, Krueger, and Iacono (2008) and Bukh, Bock, and Kessing (2014) indicate that people’s psychological characters, behaviors, and mental issues are largely determined by genetic factors, implying that the human nature, either good or bad, is carried on in people’s genes.

Research has found that good behaviors such as altruism are linked to genes, which is an approval of innate good. According to Rushton (1991), human altruism originates from genetic purpose; specifically, empathy as a disposition of innate good is most likely evolved from parental care. Findings by Rushton (1991) conclude that genes not only influence general tendencies of kindness, they also provide direction for behavior. For example, people typically react kindly to babies and feel sympathy to others’ suffering. Such behaviors are not necessarily cultivated by social standards but are intrinsically driven by innate good. Therefore, the concept of innate good is supported by biological theories. Without consideration of moral meanings, innate good is simply a set of genetic properties heritable from generation to generation according biological theories.

Humanistic Theories

Humanistic theories focus on the innate good of human nature. Abraham Maslow, a humanistic theorist, assumes that each individual has an intrinsic nature that is mostly good, and this innate good motivates people to pursue the purpose of life (Ryckman, 2013). Carl Rogers, a pioneer of the humanistic psychology movement, also states that in each personality there is an intrinsic drive toward achieving its full potential. Furthermore, Rogers emphasizes that such intrinsic drive is the innate good because it manifests good intentions and good behaviors when people naturally seek to “become more authentic, to form and express their own values and beliefs” (Rogers as cited in McDonald & Wearing, 2013). Also, both Maslow and Rogers indicate that an enabling environment is necessary to support and nurturance for the individual’s inborn psychological needs (McDonald & Wearing, 2013).

Maslow’s theory states that the need for self-actualization is universal among the human species, and innate good is the natural drive towards self-actualization (Farmer, 1984). Because of innate good, people do not stay satisfied with food, shelter, and safety, but strive to self-actualize, which means that people are determined to realize creativity, morality, and justice for themselves and others (Newman & Newman, 2012). Rogers’ humanistic theory encourages people to explore the hidden self to discover their values, beliefs, attitudes, interests, passions, and talents. Self-discovery and self-improvement lead to the ultimate autonomy and mastery of life, called self-actualization (McDonald & Wearing, 2013). Therefore, the concept of innate good is an important principle in humanistic theories.

Behavioral Theories

Instead of considering genetic traits or innate good, behavioral theories focus on the cause and effect of behaviors influenced by the environment and consequences. According to Skinner’s operant conditioning model, behaviors are made by reinforcing or punishing consequences: if an individual conducts a behavior, and the behavior results in good outcomes (reinforcement), then the behavior becomes more likely; if the behavior is followed by a punishment, it becomes less likely (Funder, 2013). Therefore, one’s good deeds could not be a result of his or her so-called innate good but rather a consequence of reinforcement such as public recognition or monetary reward.

Although innate good is not recognized in behavioral theories, it is not denied or rejected either. As addressed in Skinner’s theory, the relationships between an individual’s behavior and its reinforcing or punishing consequences could pertain to the person’s unique genetic background, thus the study of personality should consider “the organism’s genetic capacity to respond to events in the environment” (Skinner as cited in Ryckman, 2013, p. 364). Here the genetic capacity could be the altruistic genes inherited from one’s innate good. Therefore, with the same reinforcement and consequences on certain people, some of them may be reinforced more easily for helpful behaviors because of their generic background of innate good.

Summary

Innate good is an individual’s inborn endeavor to strive for physical and mental growth towards higher achievements. Trait theories support the concept of innate good; the characters of innate good are embedded in prosocial and empathic personality traits of agreeableness and conscientiousness. Studies show evidence of inborn elements of innate good as seen in personality traits. In biological theories, innate good is considered as the genetic build-up inherited from generation to generation. Research indicates that innate good is likely evolved for genetic purpose such as parental care. Humanistic theories assert that people are born with the innate good which guides them towards higher purpose of life. Driven by the innate good, an individual is motivated for self-discovery and self-development, and will eventually achieve self-actualization which is the stage of ultimate autonomy and mastery of life. Behavioral Theories do not emphasize innate good since they attribute all behaviors to reinforcing or punishing consequences. However, the ideal of innate good is not rejected in these theories; instead, Skinner considers people’s genetic background in examining the relationships between behavior and reinforcement, and the genetic background could embrace the innate good. The above analysis concludes that people do carry on innate good in their personality traits. An individual’s inborn traits pertaining to innate good and corresponding behaviors reflect the person’s unique genetic background. The innate good in people, along with the environmental influence, could make or change their behaviors.

References

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