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Assignment 2: Case Study #2


As you continue to practice the psychological concepts you’re learning in this course, you’re honing the problem solving and self and social awareness skills that will help you navigate social situations in your life and career. You’re discovering how to apply these skills to understand the behaviors of others, improve your relationships, and make informed decisions based on reliable information.

And no matter what kind of situation you encounter at school, home, or work, you’re learning how to recognize and manage your emotions so they don’t get the best of you!

Now, it’s time to practice the skills and concepts to help your friend Gloria navigate a difficult workplace situation.

Case Study and Questions

Gloria and Lakeisha are co-workers who are assigned to work on a project together. Lakeisha is very organized and wants them to do really well on this project. To help them get started, Lakeisha took some initiative and prepared a list of to-do items along with due dates. She even color-coded the list to indicate which partner will do each item and sends an email to Gloria with the to-do list. Lakeisha wants her partner to know that she’s serious about their success.

Gloria is happy her teammate has shown initiative but is surprised by Lakeisha’s to-do list and feels a bit uncomfortable because she feels like Lakeisha is micromanaging her. Gloria wants to do her part on the project but is feeling anxious because she doesn’t know where she fits in, and it is making her worried about working on this project. She wonders how she can succeed on this project if Lakeisha is already the leader. When working for a previous employer, Gloria felt anxious about her ability to successfully complete a project and attempted to communicate her feelings with a co-worker; however, her co-worker didn’t seem to understand Gloria’s concerns and said that she should just ignore her feelings and get the work done.

As Gloria ponders having a conversation with Lakeisha, she starts to feel overwhelmed and thinks it might just be easier to be removed from the project. Using your problem solving and self and social awareness skills and what you have learned about personality traits and emotions, answer the questions below to help Gloria calm her anxiety and find a solution to her problem:

1. From Chapter 3 in the webtext, what did you learn about the big 5 personality traits?

2. Consider Gloria and Lakeisha’s different approaches to the project. On which one of the Big 5 personality traits do they most differ? How do they differ?

3. Chapter 6 in the webtext focused on emotions. Using what you learned, give advice to Gloria on how she can identify and regulate her own emotions so that she can stick with this project, and be successful.

4. If you were in this situation, how confident are you that you could successfully resolve a workplace conflict like the one that Gloria faced? What past experiences or knowledge influence your answer

  1. Instructions Use the Case Study #2 Assignment Template to record your responses. For each question, you should write a paragraph-length response (5-7 sentences) to receive credit for this assignment. You may use your Soomo webtext as a resource. Once you have completed your work, save the file and upload it to the assignment submission area. Strayer University Writing Standards Note: Review the Strayer University Writing Standards. These are provided as a brief set of user-friendly guidelines that make it easier for you to learn the behaviors of appropriate writing (i.e., clear, professional, and ethical writing). This is meant to support the use of the template provided.
  2. By submitting this paper, you agree: (1) that you are submitting your paper to be used and stored as part of the SafeAssign™ services in accordance with the Blackboard Privacy Policy; (2) that your institution may use your paper in accordance with your institution’s policies; and (3) that your use of SafeAssign will be without recourse against Blackboard Inc. and its affiliates

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Today’s trait researchers believe that simple trait factors, such as the Eysencks’ introversion–extraversion and stability–instability dimensions, are important, but they do not tell the whole story. A slightly expanded set of factors—dubbed the Big Five—does a better job (Costa & McCrae, 2011). If a test specifies where you are on the five dimensions (conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness, and extraversion; see Table 4), it has said much of what there is to say about your personality. Around the world—across 56 nations and 29 languages in one study (Schmitt et al., 2007)—people describe others in terms roughly consistent with this list. The Big Five may not be the last word. Some researchers report that basic personality dimensions can be described by only one or two or three factors (such as conscientiousness, agreeableness, and extraversion) (Block, 2010; De Raad et al., 2010). But for now, at least, five is the winning number in the personality lottery (Heine & Buchtel, 2009; McCrae, 2009).

The “Big Five” Personality Factors
(Memory tip: Picturing a CANOE will help you recall these.)

Careless Careful
Impulsive Disciplined

Suspicious Trusting
Uncooperative Helpful

Neuroticism (emotional stability vs. instability)?
Secure Insecure
Self-satisfied Self-pitying

Prefers routine Prefers variety
Conforming Independent

Sober Fun-loving
Reserved Affectionate

Source: Adapted from McCrae & Costa (1986, p. 1002).

  • How stable are the Big Five traits? One research team analyzed 1.25 million participants ages 10 to 65. They learned that personality continues to develop and change through late childhood and adolescence. Up to age 40, we show signs of a maturity principle: We become more conscientious and agreeable and less neurotic (emotionally unstable) (Bleidorn, 2015; Roberts et al., 2008). Great apes show similar personality maturation (Weiss & King, 2015). After age 40, our traits stabilize.
  • How heritable are these traits? Heritability (the extent to which individual differences are attributable to genes) generally runs about 40 percent for each dimension (Vukasovi? & Bratko, 2015). Many genes, each having small effects, combine to influence our traits (McCrae et al., 2010).
  • How do these traits reflect differing brain structure? The size of different brain regions correlates with several Big Five traits (DeYoung et al., 2010; Grodin & White, 2015). For example, those who score high on conscientiousness tend to have a larger frontal lobe area that aids in planning and controlling behavior. Brain connections also influence the Big Five traits (Adelstein et al., 2011). People high in openness have brains that are wired to experience intense imagination, curiosity, and fantasy.
  • Have levels of these traits changed over time? Cultures change over time, which can influence shifts in personality. Within the United States and the Netherlands, extraversion and conscientiousness have increased (Mroczek & Spiro, 2003; Smits et al., 2011; Twenge, 2001).
  • How well do these traits apply to various cultures? The Big Five dimensions describe personality in various cultures reasonably well (Schmitt et al., 2007; Vazsonyi et al., 2015; Yamagata et al., 2006). “Features of personality traits are common to all human groups,” concluded Robert McCrae and 79 co-researchers (2005) from their 50-culture study.
  • Do the Big Five traits predict our actual behaviors? Yes. If people report being outgoing, conscientious, and agreeable, “they probably are telling the truth,” reports McCrae (2011). For example, our traits appear in our language patterns. In text messaging, extraversion predicts use of personal pronouns. Agreeableness predicts positive-emotion words. Neuroticism (emotional instability) predicts negative-emotion words (Holtgraves, 2011). (In the next section, we will see that situations matter, too.)

By exploring such questions, Big Five research has sustained trait psychology and renewed appreciation for the importance of personality. Traits matter.



PAGE 6.4

Two Pathways for Emotions

Zajonc, LeDoux, and Lazarus: Does Cognition Always Precede Emotion?

But is the heart always subject to the mind? Must we always interpret our arousal before we can experience an emotion? Robert Zajonc (1923–2008) [ZI-yence] didn’t think so. Zajonc (1980, 1984) contended that we actually have many emotional reactions apart from, or even before, our conscious interpretation of a situation. Perhaps you can recall liking something or someone immediately, without knowing why.

For example, when people repeatedly view stimuli flashed too briefly for them to interpret, they come to prefer those stimuli. Unaware of having previously seen them, they nevertheless like them. We have an acutely sensitive automatic radar for emotionally significant information; even a subliminally flashed stimulus can prime us to feel better or worse about a follow-up stimulus (Murphy et al., 1995; Zeelenberg et al., 2006).

Neuroscientists are charting the neural pathways of emotions (Ochsner et al., 2009). Our emotional responses can follow two different brain pathways. Some emotions (especially more complex feelings like hatred and love) travel a “high road.” A stimulus following this path would travel (by way of the thalamus) to the brain’s cortex (Figure 1a below). There, it would be analyzed and labeled before the response command is sent out, via the amygdala (an emotion-control center).

But sometimes our emotions (especially simple likes, dislikes, and fears) take what Joseph LeDoux (2002) has called the “low road,” a neural shortcut that bypasses the cortex. Following the low road, a fear-provoking stimulus would travel from the eye or ear (again via the thalamus) directly to the amygdala (Figure 1b). This shortcut enables our greased-lightning emotional response before our intellect intervenes. Like speedy reflexes (that also operate apart from the brain’s thinking cortex), the amygdala reactions are so fast that we may be unaware of what’s transpired (Dimberg et al., 2000).

Figure 1

The Brain’s Pathways for Emotions

Two illustrations of a left-facing woman’s brain, one illustrating the thinking high road and the other the speedy low road.

Two illustrations of a left-facing woman’s brain, one illustrating the thinking high road and the other the speedy low road. In the high road, a fear stimulus goes to the thalamus, then to the somatosensory cortex, then the prefrontal cortex, and finally to the amygdala and down into the body to cause a fear response. In the speedy low road, a fear stimulus goes straight from the thalamus to the amygdala and into the body to cause a fear response.

In the two-track brain, sensory input may be routed (a) to the cortex (via the thalamus) for analysis and then transmission to the amygdala, or (b) directly to the amygdala (via the thalamus) for an instant emotional reaction.

The amygdala sends more neural projections up to the cortex than it receives back, which makes it easier for our feelings to hijack our thinking than for our thinking to rule our feelings (LeDoux & Armony, 1999). Thus, in the forest, we can jump at the sound of rustling bushes nearby, leaving it to our cortex to decide later whether the sound was made by a snake or by the wind. Such experiences support Zajonc’s belief that some of our emotional reactions involve no deliberate thinking.

Emotion researcher Richard Lazarus (1991, 1998) conceded that our brain processes vast amounts of information without our conscious awareness, and that some emotional responses do not require conscious thinking. Much of our emotional life operates via the automatic, speedy low road. But, he asked, how would we know what we are reacting to if we did not in some way appraise the situation? The appraisal may be effortless and we may not be conscious of it, but it is still a mental function. To know whether a stimulus is good or bad, the brain must have some idea of what it is (Storbeck et al., 2006). Thus, said Lazarus, emotions arise when we appraise an event as harmless or dangerous, whether we truly know it is or not. We appraise the sound of the rustling bushes as the presence of a threat. Later, we realize that it was “just the wind.”

Figure 2

Two Pathways for Emotions

Illustration of how Zajonc and Ledoux’s theory of the path of emotions differs from Lazarus, Schachter, and Singer’s theory.

Illustration of how Zajonc and Ledoux’s theory of the path of emotions differs from Lazarus, Schachter, and Singer’s theory. Zajonc and LeDoux’s theory shows an event going straight to an emotional response, while Lazarus, Schachter, and Singer’s theory shows an event going to an appraisal first before becoming an emotional response.

Zajonc and LeDoux emphasized that some emotional responses are immediate, before any conscious appraisal. Lazarus, Schachter, and Singer emphasized that our appraisal and labeling of events also determine our emotional responses.

So, as Zajonc and LeDoux have demonstrated, some emotional responses—especially simple likes, dislikes, and fears—involve no conscious thinking (Figure 2). When I [ND] view a big spider trapped behind glass, I experience fear even though I “know” the spider can’t hurt me. Such responses are difficult to alter by changing our thinking. Within a fraction of a second, we may automatically perceive one person as more likeable or trustworthy than another (Willis & Todorov, 2006). This instant appeal can even influence our political decisions if we vote (as many people do) for a candidate we like over the candidate who expresses positions closer to our own (Westen, 2007).

The point to remember Although the emotional low road functions automatically, the thinking high road allows us to retake some control over our emotional life.

But our feelings about politics are also subject to our conscious and unconscious information processing—to our memories, expectations, and interpretations. When we feel emotionally overwhelmed, we can change our interpretations (Gross, 2013). Such reappraisal often reduces distress and the corresponding amygdala response (Buhle et al., 2014; Denny et al., 2015). Highly emotional people are intense partly because of their interpretations. They may personalize events as being somehow directed at them, and they may generalize their experiences by blowing single incidents out of proportion (Larsen & Diener, 1987). Thus, learning to think more positively can help people feel better. Although the emotional low road functions automatically, the thinking high road allows us to retake some control over our emotional life. Together, automatic emotion and conscious thinking weave the fabric of our emotional lives. (Table 1 summarizes these emotion theories.)

Table 1

Summary of Emotion Theories
Theory Explanation of Emotions Example
James-Lange Emotions arise from our awareness of our specific bodily responses to emotion-arousing stimuli. We observe our heart racing after a threat and then feel afraid.
Cannon-Bard Emotion-arousing stimuli trigger our bodily responses and simultaneous subjective experience. Our heart races at the same time that we feel afraid.
Schachter-Singer Our experience of emotion depends on two factors: general arousal and a conscious cognitive label. We may interpret our arousal as fear or excitement, depending on the context.
Zajonc; LeDoux Some embodied responses happen instantly, without conscious appraisal. We automatically feel startled by a sound in the forest before labeling it as a threat.
Lazarus Cognitive appraisal (“Is it dangerous or not?”)—sometimes without our awareness—defines emotion. The sound is “just the wind.”

****PAGE 6.11****

Both Lakeisha and Reggie have signed up for a 5k run/walk sponsored by their company and have started preparing by walking around the building on their lunch breaks. Lakeisha played softball in high school, and because she doesn’t get to exercise as much as she used to, she looks forward to the refreshed and calm feeling she gets after these walks. One day on their walk, as Reggie tells Lakeisha about his heart attack 10 years ago, he recalls every detail—from the scared looks on the faces of his co-workers, to the song that had been playing on his iPod, to the dry feeling in his mouth. He opens up to Lakeisha about his shame in admitting to his doctors that he had not been not exercising as often as they had advised him to, and how whenever he did exercise, he felt intense fear when his heart rate became elevated. This negative cycle of fear and doubt eventually led Reggie to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, for which he is currently seeing a therapist. Reggie talks about the changes he has made in therapy and why signing up for the 5k is such a big deal to him. Later that afternoon, Lakeisha notices Reggie struggling with software on his computer. She hears him tapping his fingers on the desk and muttering to himself, “You’re so stupid, Reggie. They’ll fire you if you don’t figure this out.” Lakeisha wonders if there is anything she can do to help her friend in this situation.

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