Leaving on a soul-searching expedition is pretty comical to me. I think that your personality is dynamic because it is shaped by your experience. Therefore the act of searching your personality will change it, like the flavors added to a broth. Are soul-searching expeditions useless then? Definitely not, they will make the broth richer, tastier and more unique. Read on to find out why I think so.
First, I have to admit that I never studied personality. All the reasoning below is based on my knowledge about visual perception and neural control of movement. That perhaps makes it a bit easier to posit that your personality is a broth.
Also, I assume your personality is your brain.
Perception uses prior experience
Previous experience leaves a trace in your brain. It does so because it helps you deal with the present. For instance, sensory information is always a bit unreliable. Your sensors are imperfect and information may be incomplete. Think of a truck occluding the motion of a car. To deal with the uncertainty, the brain does what a judge would also do. It combines current evidence with prior evidence on what it likely to be true. We call this prior likelihood the ‘prior.’
For instance, researchers at New York University showed in Nature Neuroscience that in our environment, verticals and horizontals occur more often than other orientations. Therefore we are biased towards seeing cardinal orientations. These priors are not something we only learn in the childhood years. A former colleague at the VU University showed in Journal of Neurophysiology that they are continuously updated to new information.
The combined signal is more reliable and slightly biased towards prior experience
Interactions also do their part
Your interactions with the environment also shape how you interact with it: each success biases your brain towards repeating that successful action. Know the feeling of your finger moving towards the Facebook or Twitter tab when intending to look up something work related? The rewarding experience of social engagement biased your movements. This process is called reinforcement learning and will be the topic of another blog.
So what you see and do changes how your brain is wired. But does this mean that it also changes your personality? That is a big leap to take. A leap I would never take in a scientific paper. Yet, when we assume that your personality is just some feature of the brain it may very well be that experience also changes your personality. As virtually everything you do leaves a trace in your brain, like flavors added to water, I call your personality a broth.
So, are soul-searching expeditions useless? Definitely not, they will make the broth richer, tastier and more unique.
Did I go to far by taking the leap from vision science to personality? Let me know by commenting below!