Matt’s Reviews: The Roots Of The Self by Robert Ornstein

Book Cover: The Roots Of The Self by Robert Ornstein

  •    Publisher:                HarperCollins
  •    Publication Date:   January 1, 1993
  •   Pages:                       248
  •   ISBN-10:                   0062507885
  •   ISBN-13:                   978-0062507884
  •   Author:                     Robert Ornstein, Ph.D.

The Roots of the Self by Robert Ornstein contains Dr. Ornstein’s thoughts on the sources and impacts on our personalities from a combination of genetics and environment.  At a little over 30 years old, this book is a little dated in some of its science and concepts, but still provides some thought-provoking insights into why people are different, and how we are alike. 

Ornstein postulates a ‘three dimensional’ template of temperament that is largely set by a person’s genetics.  Though they can be moderated, where you fall on the spectrum of each of these three dimensions is set mostly by your heredity.  The three spectrum are: High versus Low Gain, Deliberation versus Liberation, and Positive Approach versus Negative Withdrawal. 

High versus Low Gain relates the level of amplification and activation of the brain by external stimuli.  You might think that those who like the most intense experiences would be the ‘high gain’ folks, but this the exact opposite of the truth.  Folks whose brains/feelings are not easily activated are those who tend to high intensity activities.  Since their brains run cooler, they need more input to excite them.  Folks who are “high gain” tend to be more quiet and introspective.  Their own internal thoughts provide a significant amount of stimuli to their brains and so they prefer far less external stimulation.  

Deliberation versus Liberation refers to how much an individual deliberates before taking actions.  On the far side of the deliberation end of the spectrum, you may have an OCD type individual who overthinks everything to the point of becoming paralyzed into inaction.  On the far end of the liberation side of the spectrum, you may have a schizophrenic level of impulsive and even irrational action.  Most of us fall somewhere between these two extremes in the level of planning versus impulsivity.

Positive Approach versus Negative Withdrawal describes the degree to which an individual tends to focus more on the positive potentiality of a situation or the negative possibilities. A person closer to the positive approach end of the dimension would focus more on the potential rewards.  They would tend to take actions with the target of gaining benefits.  Someone on the negative withdrawal end would spend more of their energy on identifying and avoiding risks or other penalties for their actions. 

In addition to these three basic dimensions, the author reviews several other studies that suggest impacts to personality.  Among these are: skin color, cultural differences, birth order, sex, left vs right-handedness and others.  He goes over various sets of research trying to give an overall idea of some of the many different drivers of any individual person’s identity and personality.   He acknowledges that every person is different, and any set of predefined dimensional settings will be affected by, and maybe even overridden by the experiences of each person.  We will each have some natural tendencies that will be molded and modified over the course of our lives

I am probably one of those high gain people who can get pretty intense mental activity without a lot of external stimulation, and The Roots of the Self, while dated, did provide my brain with significant food for thought.  There are probably more recent and comprehensive takes on this subject, but this one is worth perusing. 


Plastivore by Matt Truxaw

Book Cover: Plastivore by Matt Truxaw






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