In this article series, we will continue to look at the personality psychology of Theodore Millon. More specifically, we will continue to examine the structural/functional dichotomy in his psychology. First, let us look at the functional domain. In this article, we will concern ourselves specifically with that aspect of the functional domain known as “expressive acts.” This refers to those observables seen as the obvious, empirical behavioral level.
This domain helps us get insight into what the individual reveals about himself unknowingly or what he wants us to to think about him. This can include traits such as sense of personal competence (or lack thereof), defensiveness, and so on. Some personality psychologists consider the “act” the most basic unit of the individual’s personality. For Buss and Craik (1983), for example, as Millon points out “Dispositions consist of summaries of act frequencies that may be studied hierarchically organized natural categories.” Dispositional attribution simply “means…that the subject of the attribution has exhibited a higher number of acts relevant to a particular disposition in a certain time frame than what is considered to be the norm or average.”
Peers nominate certain aspects of the individual’s personality. Next, each act is rated for how prototypical it is by a group of raters. These ratings are then averaged. Finally, “items are ranked by prototypicality and the top 20 or so items are retained to form a scale, which can then be given to actual samples and further refined, if desired.” Some psychologists have used such a procedure, for example, to identify expressions of narcissism in everyday life. Act pools were constructed for each of the seven narcissistic traits in the DSM-III-R criteria set; namely, grandiosity, exhibitionism, entitlement, self-centeredness, exploitative, lack of empathy and self-aggrandizement. In Buss and Chlodo (1991), “Refinement by prototypicality ratings ultimately yielded 140 acts, 20 for each of the seven traits related to narcissism. The prototypicality of each of the 140 acts was then assessed in relation to narcissism as a means of studying the centrality of the seven dispositions, ultimately yielding a set of 20 narcissistic acts, including “I expected others to step aside as I walked by” (grandiosity) and “I insisted that my friend drop everything to see me” (exploitativeness). When followed this way, the act nomination approach can be used in a stepwise manner to operationlize concretely even constructs existing at high levels of inference, yielding not only summary measures of these constructs, but also subscales as measures of their component traits.”