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In psychology, personality is a description of consistent emotional, thought, and behavior patterns in a person. The several theoretical perspectives on personality involve different ideas about the relationship between personality and other psychological constructs as well as different ideas about the way personality develops.


Personality theories

Most theories can be grouped into one of the following classes.

Trait theories

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, personality traits are "prominent aspects of personality that are exhibited in a wide range of important social and personal contexts." In other words, persons have certain characteristics which partly determine their behaviour. According to the theory, a friendly person is likely to act friendly in any situation because of the traits in his personality.

Gordon Allport delineated different kinds of traits, which he also called dispositions. Central traits are basic to an individual's personality, while secondary traits are more peripheral. Common traits are those recognized within a culture and thus may vary from culture to culture. Cardinal traits are those by which an individual may be strongly recognized.

Raymond Cattell's research propagated a two-tiered personality structure with sixteen "primary factors" (16 Personality Factors) and five "secondary factors." A different model was proposed by Hans Eysenck, who believed that just three traits - extraversion, neuroticism and psychoticism - were sufficient to describe human personality. Differences between Cattell and Eysenck emerged due to preferences for different forms of factor analysis, with Cattell using oblique, Eysenck orthogonal, rotation to analyse the factors that emerged when personality questionnaires were subject to statistical analysis. Building on the work of Cattell and others, Lewis Goldberg proposed a five-dimension personality model, nicknamed the "Big Five":

  • Neuroticism
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Openness to experience

John L. Holland proposed a "RIASEC" model of personality widely used in vocational counseling. The RIASEC is a circumplex model where the six types are represented as a hexagon where adjacent types are more closely related than those more distant.

  • Realistic - physical, hands-on, tool-oriented, masculine
  • Investigative - scientific, technical, methodical
  • Artistic - writing, painting, singing, etc.
  • Social - nurturing, supporting, helping, healing
  • Enterprising - organizing, activating, motivating
  • Conventional - clerical, detail-oriented

Building on the writings of Carl Jung, Isabel Myers and her mother, Katherine Briggs delineated personality types by constructing the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Their personality typology has some aspects of a trait theory: it explains people's behaviour in terms of opposite fixed characteristics.

  • Introversion / Extraversion
  • Sensing / Intuition
  • Thinking / Feeling
  • Judging / Perceiving

Psychodynamic theories

Psychodynamic (also called psychoanalytic) theories explain human behaviour in terms of interaction between the various components of personality. Sigmund Freud was the founder of this school. He broke the human personality down to three significant components: the ego, superego, and id. According to Freud, personality is shaped by the interactions of these three components.

Behaviorist theories

Behaviorists explain personality in terms of reactions to external stimuli. This school of thought was initiated by B. F. Skinner. According to these theories, people's behaviour is formed by processes such as operant conditioning.

Cognitive and social-cognitive theories

In cognitivism, behaviour is explained as guided by cognitions (e.g. expectations) about the world, and especially those about other people. Albert Bandura, a social learning theorist suggested that the forces of memory and emotions worked in conjunction with environmental influences.

Humanistic theories

In humanistic psychology, it is emphasized that people have free will and that they play an active role in determining how they behave. Accordingly, humanistic psychology focuses on subjective experiences of persons instead of factors that determine behaviour. Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers were proponents of this view.

A typology of personality models

Modern personality models may generally be broken into three types: factorial models, typologies, and circumplexes.

Factorial models posit that there are dimensions along which human personality differs. The main purpose of a personality model is thus to define the dimensions of personality. Factor analysis is a primary tool of theorists composing factorial models. Such models arise directly from a classical individual differences approach to the study of human personality. Goldberg's Big Five model may be the best-known example of this type of theory.

Typologies or type models arise naturally from some theories that posit types of people. For example, astrological signs represented a well-known, pre-scientific typological model. Typological models posit a relatively small number of modal types and possibly some interaction between the types. The Jungian typology implemented in the MBTI may best represent the typology approach.

Circumplex models may resemble factorial or type models but further specify a relationship between the different types or factors. Typically, some types or factors are more related than others and can be presented on a polygon. Holland's RIASEC may be the best-known example of this type of theory. Correlations of personality scores should resemble a simplex form where opposing types have low correlation and close types have a high correlation.

Personality tests

Types of personality tests include the Rorschach test, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and the Thematic Apperception Test. Critics have pointed to the Forer effect to suggest that some of these appear to be more accurate and discriminating than they really are.

See also

External links

Further reading

  • Mischel, W. (1999). Introduction to Personality. Sixth edition. Fort Worth, Texas: Harcourt Brace.

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