It was in 1969 that Theodore Millon articulated his biosocial-learning theory of personality. This was prior to the development of his evolutionary model of the personality, which would later supplant the former. First we will discuss the biosocial-learning theory. Millon believed that personality and mental illness develop as a result of a complicated interplay of environmental and biological forces. This interplay begins immediately upon conception and endures ceaselessly throughout the individuals life. Genetically similar individuals maybe predisposed towards certain tendencies, but they may deviate from one another in important ways, psychodynamically, as a result of difference in environment.
Individuals are not only shaped by a combination of both their biological tendencies and their environment, but their very biological potentialities determine, in part, how they experience their environment and interpret its meaning and significance. Individuals “register different stimuli at varying intensities in accord with their unique pattern of alertness, sensory acuity, and temperamental disposition. From this act significant differences in experience itself are shaped at the outset by the biological equipment of the person.” Biological and psychological factors are not, furthermore, uni-directional. It is not always the case biology precedes environment. The order of influence can be reversed, especially when it comes to the earliest stages of development, Millon argued. Indeed, mature neurological development is highly dependent upon the environment. If an organism is deprived of appropriate environmental stimulation at certain periods of its development, its biological development can be seriously hindered. Thus, the relationship between biology and environment is very complicated.
In the words of Millon:
“Beyond the crucial role of these early experiences, the theory argued further that there is a circularity of interaction in which biological dispositions in young children evoke counter-reactions from others that accentuate their disposition. Children play an active role, therefore , in creating their own environmental conditions, which, in turn, serve as a basis for reinforcing their biological tendencies.
Each person possesses a biologically based pattern of sensitivities and behavioral dispositions that shapes the nature of his or her experiences and may contribute directly to the creation o environmental difficulties.”
Biological dispositions, Millon notes, determine which tendencies are more likely to be learned and which others the individual may be disinclined to adopt. Counter-reactions produced by early biological dispositions may likewise either encourage or discourage such behaviors. Counter-reactions play a crucial role in determining whether or to what extent a behavior pattern or set of patterns will persist into adolescence and adulthood. “A child’s biological endowment shapes not only his behavior but that of his parents as well. The reciprocal interplay of temperamental dispositions and parental reactions has only now begun to be explored. It may be one o the most fruitful spheres of research concerning the etiology of psychopathology.”
It was within the context of a threefold framework that Millon articulated his early personality theory. First, there is the active-passive dimension. this refers to the degree to which an individual takes initiative in determining surrounding events, or whether they are merely reactive. Next, there is the pleasure-pain dimension. This refers to the degree to which the individual’s motivations are ultimately aimed towards events that attract because they promise pleasure or reward vs. a tendency to move away from situations which produce pain. It is within the context of this latter dimension that the subject becomes aware of the self-object dichotomy, and it becomes evident that self and other are both agents which can produce a great deal of either pleasure or pain.
“Using this threefold framework as a foundation, Millon (1969) derived personality coping patterns that ultimately corresponded closely in detail to each of the official personality disorders in the DSM-III. These coping patterns were viewed as complex forms of instrumental behavior, that is, ways of achieving positive reinforcements and avoiding negative reinforcements. These strategies reflect what kinds of reinforcements individuals learned to seek or to avoid (pleasure-pain), where individuals looked to obtain them (self-others), and how they learned to behave to elicit or to escape them (active-passive). Eight basic coping patterns and three severe variants were derived by combining the nature (positive or pleasure vs. negative or pain), the source (self vs. others), and the instrumental behaviors (active vs. passive) engaged in to achieve various reinforcements. Describing pathological strategies of behavior in reinforcement terms merely casts them in a somewhat different language than that utilized int he past.”
A distinction was made between those who had recourse primarily to themselves for fulfillment, vs. those who had recourse to others. Those who found that production of pleasure and avoidance of pain are best produced by seeking out others are known as “dependent.” They tend to have a great deal of need for external support and attention. Deprivation of nurturance and affection causes them to experience a great deal of sadness and anxiety. Independent personality patterns, on the other hand, are more oriented towards themselves. They get the most pleasure and minimum pain from depending on themselves instead of others. Others yet are ambivalent, in which case they are unsure whether production of pleasure or avoidance of pain are best sought out by turning to themselves or others. “Some of thtese patients vacillated between turning to others, in an agreeable conformity one time, and turning to themselves, in efforts at independence, on the next. Other ambivalent personalities displayed overt dependence and compliance; beneath these outwardly conforming behaviors, however, were strong desires to assert independent and often hostile feelings and impulses.”
Likewise, there were those who did not seem very interested in either obtaining pleasure or avoiding pain, such as those characterized as “schizoid.” They did not experience very much pleasure or pain. These Millon referred to as “detached” patients, as they exhibited a deficit in capacity to experience reinforcers. Active-detached or avoidant individuals, did not respond well to pleasurable enforcers but were hyper-sensitive when it came to pain.
Another distinction essential to Millon’s personality psychology is that between active and passive. Those who are active tend to be decisive, persistent, alert and vigilant in their ambitious pursuit of their goals. They are capable of contemplating alternatives, devising strategies, circumventing obstacles and manipulating outcomes. The purpose is to avoid punishment and negative emotion and to pursue pleasure. Those who are passive, on the other hand, tended to do little to pursue ambitions, and tend to be resigned to whatever may come. These three pairs of polarities produced 11 basic personality types.