10 March 2020 ............... Length about 900 words (8,000 bytes).
(Document started on 5 Aug 2016.)
This is a WWW document maintained by
Steve Draper, installed at http://www.psy.gla.ac.uk/~steve/best/unipolar.html.
You may copy it.
How to refer to it.
Web site logical path:
Golden Mean (Aristotelian) scales
Department of Psychology,
University of Glasgow.
The issue is whether to have unipolar (zero to big) scales;
or Aristotelian bipolar scales; with zero in the middle, and the optimum being
the middle (golden mean). The "Golden mean" comes from Aristotle, and his view
is that all virtues are of this type e.g. cowardice vs. foolhardiness, with
the good point being between the two.
Much psychology describes things in terms of unipolar scales when perhaps
bipolar would be more appropriate for the underlying concept.
Big 5 personality dimensions (FFM = five factor model) (OCEAN) re-expressed as Aristotelian scales
Personality dimensions are frequently named in a unipolar way, when in fact
most of the population are in the middle AND it is unlikely that people would
vary in this way unless all points have some benefit, and in the middle has
perhaps the most benefit on average across all the situations that an
individual is likely to encounter.
- Openness Curiosity —
Conservative, closed-minded, traditional, concrete thinker.
Creative vs. imitative.
High vs. low value for experience, and staying with what you know about.
? Valuing what is different vs. what is the same, in common.
(Also: prefer abstraction/generalisation vs. concrete.)
(or: prefer reasoning vs. memory.)
Prefer novelty vs. familiarity (in goals? or ideas?).
Put like that, the golden mean is some of each; not just fashion or
Willing vs. reluctant to do any more thinking rather than staying
with established ideas. I put it like this, because Open people can
stay with their new ideas forever, so novelty is not itself the heart of
- Conscientiousness —
Attention to details — spontaneous,
focus on the bigger picture and goal. High/low impulse control.
Attention to external measures of achievement VS. internal ones,
multiple goals, pleasure.
(Or is it: attention on performing the actions more than checking the
effects and/or the underlying goal.)
- Extraversion / intraversion.
Roughly: liking for other people, sociability?
Highly reactive and responsive vs. more responsive to internal goals
and values. Do/not think before I act; vs. driven by outside stimuli.
Action driven by external vs. internal cues.
Presence vs. absence of extraversion.
(Actually, a unipolar scale in essence.)
- Agreeableness Friendliness —
How much you care about pleasing other people; about social harmony.
[Cf. Truth, relevance, and emotional impact on the hearer, as the
criteria for selecting what to say / suppress.] Prefer
social vs. non-social goals or
Agreeable vs. antagonistic or
Social harmony vs. conflict.
But can you say this is a clear preference for
honesty, straightforwardness, truth-telling?
- Neuroticism Nervousness —
Tendency to express negative emotion. Emotionally un/stable.
How easily upset vs. calm. Not about positive emotion: only about how
easily negative emotion is aroused.
[hard to see this as valuable.]
Perhaps: instant desire to fix any problem, vs. tolerate problems
without acting on making improvements.
I.e. a threshold of how-negative before action is taken.
Sensitivity to goal-violation / maintainence.
Good for preserving goals through restless maintainence
vs. conserving energy. Or focus on avoidance vs. approach goals.
Why use Aristotelian for IDiffs?
Because by viewing personality as about IDiffs we are thereby pre-supposing
that totally ordinary functional people vary on these dimensions.
Therefore both extremes must be as good as each other.
You say that doesn't apply to IQ? but actually you have a hard time showing
that IQ isn't just a cultural value: if it were objective then you should be
able to show both that IQ has relentless selection pressure for high IQ, and
that these with high IQ are functionally more successful.
What is wrong with unipolar scales; what diff. scales are poss.
Rather few things are such that more is better.
Scales may be open-ended at one or both ends: unipolar, bipolar.
E.g. Money: zero is clearly defined, unbounded in the other direction.
Separately, you can ask where the optimum point is:
At one end
At the other end
In the middle / midpoint / golden mean
At both ends, with the midpoint being worst.
An opposite case
An opposite point is made in Positive Psychology, that a focus on clinical
disorders leads to a field that is dedicted to lifting great unhappiness up to
a clinical threshold of ordinary unhappiness, but failing to study normal
people, and how to go beyond zero to higher well-being. So this is another
example about how research focussed on dysfunction leaves us with an
unbalanced understanding of human experience (in this case, failing to study
happiness and different degrees of excellent functioning); but where a better
scale should be unipolar, and the midpoint would be the clinical threshold
where dysfunction borders with function.
Yin and Yang
At first you might think that
Yin/Yang is a classic dichotomous contrast of
opposites; or possibly an Aristotelian 2-extreme case, where almost
everything (and certainly the best) is in between.
But actually it is an opposite of either-or, thesis-antithesis,
where the law of the excluded middle holds, and only one opposite or the other
is allowed. Similarly it is the opposite of a digital setup.
In most digital electronics, a value may be 0 or 1, but nothing else nor
anything in between. With an ordinary flight of stairs, you can be at rest on
one step or another, but not in between two steps.
But Yin and Yang is also different from a golden mean where the midpoint is
the ideal. Instead it is for those obsessed with wholeness, of the
inescapability of having both: life and death; darkness and light; two faces
of a single coin. It is a dualist concept, where the opposites depend on each
This was drawn to my attention by a passage in Ursula Le Guin's "The left hand
Web site logical path:
[Top of this page]