There are probably not many psychologists who have spent much time thinking about creating a handbook. The prevalent reasons for becoming a psychologist—scientific curiosity, (he need for personal expression, or the desire for fame and fortune—would be unlikely to bring to mind the idea of generating a handbook.
At the same time, most would agree that a handbook am be remarkably useful when the need arises. The chapters can provide the background for a grant proposal, the organization of a course offering, or a place for graduate students to look for a research problem. If presented at the right time, the clearly worthwhile aspects of this otherwise most unlikely endeavor can make it an attractive opportunity; or, at least in retrospect, one could imagine saying, “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Even if there are a few simple and sovereign principles underlying all personality processes and social behavior, they were not consciously present when organizing this volume. Instead, what was terribly salient were the needs and goals of potential users of this volume: What would a reader need to know to have a good understanding of the current theoretical and empirical issues that occupy present-day thinkers and researchers? What could the highly sophisticated investigators who were selected to write the chapters tell the reader about the promising directions for future development?
The chapters in this volume provide both thorough and illuminating answers to those questions, and, to be sure, some can be grouped into a few sections based on some common, familiar themes. For those readers who want more information about what chapters would be useful or who are open to being intrigued by the promise of some fascinating new ideas, this is a good time to take a brief glimpse at what the chapters arc about.
An immediately pressing question for the editors centered on what content to include and whom to invite for the individual chapters. There are probably many ways to arrive systematically at those decisions, but then there is the intuitive method, which is easier, at least in that it can introduce a slight element of self-expression.
The first chapter of this volume is a clear manifestation of the self-expressive mode. It comprises the thoughts of one of this volume’s editors and contains a creative series of proposals concerning both the logic and the derivations of employing evolutionary theory as a basis for generating personality attributes, personality being the initial topic of the two major subjects that compose this fifth volume of the 12-volume Handbook of Psychology.
Chapters 1 and 2 of this book are subsumed under the general heading of contexts.
The thought here is that both personality and social psychology, broad though they may be in their own right, should be seen as components of even wider fields of study, namely evolution and culture.
Evolution provides a context that relates to the processes of the time dimension, that is, the sequences and progressions of nature over the history of life on earth. Evolutionary theory generates a constellation of phylogenetic principles representing those processes that have endured and continue to undergird the ontogenetic development and character of human functioning.
As such, these principles may guide more effective thinking about which functions of personality are likely to have been—and to persist to be—the most relevant in our studies. Similarly, culture provides a context that relates to the structure and processes of the space dimension, that is, the larger configuration of forces that surround, shape, and give meaning to the events that operate in the more immediate social psychological sphere.
The study of culture may explicate the wide constellation of influences within which social behaviors are immersed and that ever so subtly exert direction, transform, and control and regulate even the most prosaic events of ordinary social communications and relationships. A few additional words should be said in elaboration of these two contextual chapters.