Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Let Your Conscience Guide Conscious Behavior

This week's entry is to help clear up some confusion for a couple of "spelling" words from your typical psychology class. The three terms, all associated in some way with personality, are: conscious, conscience, and conscientiousness. They do not all mean the same thing and they are only loosely related.

Conscious: a mental state in which your thoughts are clear, organized, and easily focused; (alternatively) one's awareness of all that is going on around them at any given time. Your conscious is, according to Sigmund Freud, the part of the mind that is currently being accessed, the part containing all the information of which you are aware at the moment. When you are "conscious" of something you are aware of it. Consequently, most behavior is conscious in that you made a decision to act in that manner and you are aware of what you are doing as you are doing it. Unconscious behaviors occur when we do not stop to think about our actions and simply react (almost instinctively) to the current situation. These automatic responses could be under our control, but we choose to not think about them.

Conscience: one's inner guide and standard for right and wrong, moral and immoral behaviors. This is equivalent to Sigmund Freud's concept of the superego, which houses (in the conscious, unconscious and preconscious) our internal standards for behavior. This is that "little voice" that tells us if what we're thinking about is a no-no or if it's okay. Remember Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio. Incidentally, individuals without a conscience have no internal limitations on their behavior and often-times exhibit antisocial personality disorder. We don't really concern ourselves too much with someone who has an overactive conscience, however, though this does lead to greater strictures and limitations on their choices.

Sigmund Freud never identified a "subconscious" part of the mind. This is a more modern term that is not used in most psychological research literature. The "subconscious" that many people speak of is really what Freud called the preconscious. This is a layer of awareness between the conscious and unconscious levels. It is just below current awareness, but it is not buried so deep as the unconscious. The preconscious consists of information that we can easily access if we need to, but that we are not thinking about currently. It is kind of like your address book in your cell phone or email. You don't have everyone memorized, but the people you saved can be brought up easily to call them or send them a message. Sigmund Freud did not see this part of the mind as having as much of a direct impact on behavior as either the unconscious or the conscious mind.

Conscientiousness: one of the Big Five personality traits from the work of Costa & McRae (based on many other personality theories, including the work of Carl Jung). Like all personality traits, this is measured on a continuum from high to low. It reflects your internal motivation, organization, and reliability. A person scoring high on conscientiousness is the kind of person that the boss can give a very important client to and walk away with the confidence that the employee will do a stellar job and hand it in on time. This person reliably comes in on time, turns in consistent work, and their thoughts and work space are organized and orderly. A person scoring low on conscientiousness is not very predictable. They may come in to work early or late at times. They are not strictly organized, yet they may claim that "there is a method to their madness" in their work. They are less conventional in their results, sometimes producing work that is amazing and creative, but also sometimes producing poor-quality work. This is the type of employee that confounds the boss because the boss never knows if the work turned in will be spectacular or sub par and the boss may feel the need to watch over the employee's shoulder to keep them on task, otherwise the employee could become too distracted to complete the work.

The other Big Five personality traits are Openness to New Experiences, Neuroticism, Extraversion, and Agreeableness. Look for a future post on Neuroticism, as it is often confused with psychological disorders, specifically anxiety disorders.