August 30, 2010

Psychology of Character #2: Conscientiousness

In continuing with the psychology of character or OCEAN, today is for C. C stands for conscientiousness, which refers to attention to detail, conscious decision making (thinking before they act), . Someone who is high on conscientiousness may be a perfectionist, but have a good work ethic and dependable. Someone who is low on conscientiousness probably jumps into situations without thinking through them.

In my opinion, I do not think many characters in YA novels are high on conscientiousness. The prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain involved with decision making, is not fully developed at this age. This is why teenagers tend to make poor choices. It's really inevitable that a character will make a bad choice. Characters should make bad choices, it makes them flawed, it makes them human. Just because a character is high on conscientiousness, doesn't make bad choices. They may be more inclined to think the situation over beforehand and still go ahead and make the wrong decision.

Characters low on conscientious may not think through there actions. The conflict of this character may be learning to think of the consequences of their actions or to be come more self-aware. A character who is high on conscientiousness may think too much on there actions. The conflict of this character may be to learn to not analyze situations and jump in. There are many characters that fall on the range.

In looking through my reviews for a character that represents this trait, I thought of Marcelo from Francisco X. Stork's Marcelo in the Real World. Marcelo, in my opinion, is highly self-aware and is incredibly perceptive and particular about the way he keeps things and goes through his routine. He knows what he can do, but in this course of the story he learns his limitations and his strengths. I think its an interesting look at conscientiousness because we have a character who is thought to have a condition that affects his level of self-awareness. And yet, it turns out, he is one of the most conscientious characters in the novel because he constantly thinks through his actions and the implications of what he does. The struggle of the novel is whether he is going to do what is right or do what is easiest. I chose Marcelo because he seems to embody the trait, but also subvert it by being subjected to a situation that is not black and white.

As mentioned in the last post, think about Tolstoy's theory of shading. How would conscientiousness play with other traits such as extraversion or agreeableness? How do these traits play out in the course of the story? Does it help or hinder your characters?

Discussion: Do you know any characters that are high or low on conscientiousness? What about your characters, how would they rate? Share your thoughts!


Anonymous said...

What a great idea to mix psychology with your reading! I studied psychology many, many years ago, but I forgot most of this type of stuff (it wasn't my specialization). So, it's interesting to read this here.

Do you think kids and YAs will show these traits more clearly than adults? Adults may have learned from their mistakes and become a bit more cautious/wild to deal with their traits. What do you think?

Najela said...

Hey, thanks for stopping by.

I do think kids and YA will show these traits more clearly than adults because at that age they really haven't learned to filter and deal with their emotions like most adults. This is why I like to read YA more than adult books, there is a lot of honesty and unfiltered raw emotion.

I think what happens in the kid/YA years ultimately determines how someone will act as an adult. But I think you're right, adults may become more cautious/wild with the traits.


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