Personality theories

What is Personality?
What is the Person?
The Nature-Nurture Debate

Biological Theories


The Psychodynamic Tradition

Humanistic  Approaches

Traits Theories

Cognitive Social Learning

Self, Personality and Culture

What is Personality?

Personality is an individual's distinct and relatively enduring patterns (style) of thoughts, emotions, motives, and behaviours.

Across cultures the issue of personality arises; various indigenous psychologies offer ways in which to interpret human lived experience, often characterized as the self or personality.

The person is also an important concept, particularly when considering issues of value, character, morals or forensics (the law).

Much of our contemporary notion of the person comes from John Locke's individualism recognizing the trilogy of mind as essential features of personhood.

Triology of mind is comprised of cognition, conation and affect. In psychology these have traditionally been referred to as cognition, motivation and emotion.

Personhood connotes rights and responsibilities, duties and privileges taking part of something greater and receiving benefit, however one must bear the load along with others, "pay a price of membership".

Personality is the consideration of the individual without personhood, without value or character. Traits and features.

The growth of personality has been marked by the "loss of person in psychology" being described as "style over substance". Others have seen it as the "loss of the soul" and the psyche (Paranjpe, 1998). Two Worldviews of Psychology

The Nature Nurture Debate remians here as well as in Development and Intelligence as well as in Twin Studies.

There are several types of Personality Theories: Biological, Psychoanalytical, Psychodynamic, Trait, Humanistic and Self theories; each offering a view on this debate.

Biological roots to personality

In the past people have thought that body type had an impact on personality.

Such as Galen, Plato and more recently, Sheldon (1954) who had impact on early criminology with his types - ectomorphic, endomorph, mesomorphic.

Temperament - characteristic mood and activity.

Kagan & Snidman (2004) discuss Shy (Inhibited) vs. Bold (uninhibited) differ in sensitivity to social and physical stimulation.  They  suggest that this aspect of personality is innate and largely immutable.

Zimbardo (2008) discusses Walter Mischel's work on delay of gratification in young children (age 4) and predicts how they will respond to later issues in life based upon their style of time perspective. youtube

In the Time paradox, Zimbardo considers how present (hedonism) and future (delay) style lead to differences in education, taking drugs, etc. 

Eysenck (1967) reports that Introversion-Extroversion and Neuroticism (stability) being biologically rooted in CNS.

This can be seen in the lemon test - where introverts produce more saliva (more sensitive to stimulating drugs) extroverts less saliva (& more sensitive to depressive drugs).
Extroversion may possibly be associated with sensation seeking.

Twin studies of Identical reared together most similar, then those reared apart, then siblings. Neuroticism and anxiousness appear to have genetic roots.


Is one of the first major contemporary views of personality that comes from Sigmund Freud who initially suggesting a neurological theory of mind and action in his Project for Scientific Psychology (1895).

Later developed his psychoanalytical theory under the influence of great works in human literature and the interpretation of human life (Hamlet, Odedipus Rex).

Often rejected as being misguided or obscene, Classic Psychoanalysis remains an influential perspective on the later collection of theories of Personality and Self.

Freud's Theory of Personality
The structural model
The mind is constituted by levels of consciousness. . .

the conscious - what one can actually focus attention on and remember clearly, our sense of reality. Tip of iceberg.

the preconscious - the dynamic unconscious is the band of semi-consciousness where it sometimes is clear and conscious and other times unclear and unconscious. Splash zone.

the unconscious - true unconscious source of our psychic energy. Drives by the passions of the pleasure principle. The submerged.

Dialectical tensions are at the centre of his model

eros & thanatos (life & death) as well as the biological and the social / moral aspects of human being.

the id - the original source of psychic life, driven to maintain and reproduce. Immediate gratification of drives, drive by the pleasure principle.

the ego - The mediator of the personality. Caught between the demands of the biological id needs and wants and the super-ego cries for moral control and servitude. Driven by the reality principle.

the super-ego arises third in development beginning during the third year when training and assertion come along.

Is marked by the internalization of same gender parental authority (oedipal conflict). Ego-ideal (conscience) develops and acquire a sense of guilt.

 dramatized version of their dynamics

Psychosexual Development

Stages a built upon pleasure seeking and reality controls of super-ego through ego our psyche is focused at one or another erotogentic zones.

Personality style can be "fixated" in one or another stage.

At birth one is all id, needing gratification of impulses in the moment.

Initially one is said to be in the oral stage of development where pleasure comes through sucking, chewing, ... consuming

Soon the anal stage emerges when the toilet training comes in, at this time the ego begins to differentiate more clearly... self control.

The phallic stage is said to be next where self interest emerges but is usually punished by parents social interaction.

Boys are believed to be driven by the Oedipal conflict where they are driven towards their mothers and against their fathers. Appropriate resolution will have the boy identify with the father, giving in and accepting his moral authority and the development of a super ego.

A similar 'Electra complex' is said to exist for girls where they are driven to their fathers and against their mothers. (Freud aparently did not agree with this but offered another explanation).

The Latency period arrives when sublimation begins and the postponement of sexuality. Get down to work and social bonding. (Erikson's Industry)

Finally, the genital stage occurs and children come to realize their beginnings of adult sexuality. Dreams and repression, neuroticism, ...

Defense Mechanisms
Because most of our psychic energy (libido) is directed towards objects and actions that are unacceptable to our super-egos and conscious minds,
we alter our thoughts by unconscious censoring of their content and objects. test key

Repression - the active holding or removing from conscious thought. Usually directed towards impulses, but may also be directed towards thoughts or events that were traumatic.

Denial - similar to repression where no recollection is made.

Projection - where one's thoughts or emotions are cast off on to another person. Accuse others of feelings that are actually those of the accuser. E.g., guilty feelings > accuse lover of cheating.

Reaction Formation - acting or feeling opposite to one's true motivation. Pretending to hate someone you actually adore, or vice versa.

Sublimation - when one's psychic energy is transformed into something socially acceptable or useful. Rather than having oedipal wishes, one becomes a rocket scientist or an architect, an artist

Regression - In repsonse to anxiety behaviour returns to early stages of pleasure seeking (e.g. oral from latency).

Displacement - which involves the diversion of sexual or aggressive energy towards a more acceptable or less threatening target. (i.e. hostility displacement).

Rationalization - is the self-justifications or "excuse making" for "reasons" of one's behaviour.

Neo-Analytical or Psychodynamic Traditions
Following Freud is a far-reaching collection of influences some considered to be his "students" other his detractors.

Many considered followers were actually junior colleagues who had many big ideas of their own prior to meeting him. As a "school" the Wednesday Psychological Society" was unbelievably successful.

  Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) Analytical Psychology


Self is a  key concept for Jung where the act of centering the self through the union of opposites leads to the making of a whole self. 

The balancing of opposites is an notion that is drawn from medieval alchemy
('science of metals' which sought to turn lead into gold).

This dialectical notion is commonly found in Asian, early Greek, and Indian thought.

Introversion and Extroversion are one such pair of psychological types

Four Functions - characterize the ways in which people typically address the world.
Two forms of Perception - Intuition and Sensation
Two forms of Judgment - Thinking and Feeling

Feeling - - - - + - - - Thinking

Anthropology and comparative religion (see Joe Campbell)

Collective unconscious mythology and archetypes. Reservoir of common psychic symbols (such as the Hero, the persona, the Shadow, mother, father, ...) Jung Dream Theory

Also arising from Jung's model is the Myers-Briggs personality inventory.

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 Alfred Adler (1870-1937): Individual psychology
Inferiority complex and superiority striving
Gemeinschaftsgefuhl: Social interest, Style of life, Birth-order

Otto Rank (1884-1939): Existential psychoanalysis
Psychology and the soul   also see Victor Frankl

Heinz Hartmann (1894-1970): Evolutionary Ego-analysis
Average expectable environments, Autonomous ego

Henry Murray
TAT - like inkblots these images are ambiguous, offering a canvas upon which people can project their psychological selves.

Karen Horney (1885-1952): Feminist psychoanalysis
Basic anxiety and basic hostility
Politics and power not penis "Womb envy"

Anna Freud (1895-1980): Child and ego-analytic psychology
Pioneered child psychoanalysis
Sensitive to power and vulnerability, Ego-defenses

-taught Erik Erikson psychoanalysis of children
 who developed a bio-psychosocial model of development influence by Freud and by Anthropology. 

A later generation of Feminist Psychologists developed such as

Melanie Klein - Object relations the interactions of people lead to the development of their self-other representations.

"Taking in" mother as a "love object" internally into one's psyche.

Nancy Chodorow (1978) girls and boys are socialized differently to have different relationships. Girls don't need to separate from mothers, but Boys must break away to develop masculine identity. Thus men's identity is more insecure due to encouragement of rigid ego boundaries.

Modern unconscious theories also include implicit learning, schemas, emotions, priming, right hemisphere functioning, sleep as well as Terror Management.

Humanistic Psychology
Initiated as the third force in psychology was against the determinism of psychoanalysis and behaviourism, instead recognise Free-Will as central.

It thus embraced some of Gestalt and William James' contributions on self, and existentialism.

Experiential, volitional, actualizing ethical meaning-makers.

Abraham Maslow - self-actualization
Personality is driven by a hierarchy of needs (see motivation) where motivations for basic survival are at the base and more refined needs are usually developed later and are more difficult to fulfill.

An internal movement towards self-actualization as we are constantly becoming something else. Transforming through life towards the pinnacle of human psychological experience.

Peak experiences - Many descriptions from religious experiences of people around the globe.

Csikszentmihalyi (1990) describes flow and in the moment of experience. A feeling of effortless movement through the motions. In the zone or in the moment people report the 'perfection' of the bliss.

Carl Rogers' theory
We are shaped by the relationships we have with others, often bound to conditional regard. When love and acceptance are restricted to certain conditions or qualifications one becomes divided from one's true self and identity.

Only through Unconditional Positive Regard can one come to realize one's self concept and achieve a fulfilled sense of being.

This means being accepted for who one is, not being judged harshly into becoming an image of someone else's identity.

The self concept - is a notion that we have ideas or schemas of ourselves that have an impact on us. Some of these might match who we really are, others are distorted or discrepant from whom we really are.

Self-discrepancy theory suggests that we experience negative emotions when our true self, ideal and actual selves are misaligned. Such discrepancies lead to incongruence.

(See psychotherapy) video

Trait Approaches to Personality

Gordon W. Allport (1897-1967):
Personology & Personality

Visited Freud ~1920 and embarrassed himself with a story
1937 - Personality: A psychological interpretation
Paranjpe (1993): Style over substance & the loss of personhood

Personality is a dynamic organisation of traits or dispositions
Allport & Odbert (1936) list of 18,000 words that could be used to describe people. Later condensed these down to 200 or so.

Cardinal traits: Ruling passions in all experience (i.e. Narcisism or generousness)

Central trait: Behavioral themes such as aggressiveness or sentimentality

Secondary traits: Less frequently displayed behaviors video

Other Trait Approaches
Like with Intelligence, factor analysis (a multiple correlation where one looks for groupings of variables) has been used to exmine dimensions of personality characteristics.

R.B. Cattell (1965) used factor analysis to examine the common features or dimensions of personality finding 16 such sources or traits that describe all of human personality.

16 (PF) Personality Factors - is an approach devised to examine personality through statistical similarities. test yourself

Costa and McCrea (2006) have suggested the "Big Five" factor model comprised of:

*Conscientiousness: organised-disorganised, dependable-undependable, hardworking-lazy, ambitious-easy

Agreeableness: good-nature, irritable, soft heart-ruthless, courteous-rude, sympathy-tough

Neuroticism: anxiety-relaxed, insecure-secure, emotional-calm, self pitying-content

Openness: original-conventional, imaginative-down to earth, broad-narrow, receptive-closed

Extraversion: sociable-withdrawn, fun loving-sober, friendly-aloof, adventurous-cautions.

*(Also often refered to as O C E A N)

Test yourself and score your answers   also see 

A complex inventory of personality that considers one's profile of traits and states.

It contains ten clinical scales and fifteen content scales and also contains validity scales designed to measure deception or evasion in answering the questions.

Clinical scales measure "normal" vs. diagnostic categories (e.g., depression, schizophrenia, hysteria, social introversion, mania, ...

Validity scales include: cannot say - evasiveness; lie scale, infrequency -fake bad scale; correction-defensiveness lack of self insight

Cognitive Social Learning Approach

Principles of learning and behaviour
Watson: "Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in, and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select--doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, ever beggarman and thief, . . ." (1925, p. 104) little albert

According to Skinner one's behaviour is shaped and personality is an illusion, nothing beyond the behaviours.  

Situationism is a perspective that assumes that situations or cirmunstances play important roles in our behaviour and that our "personality" factors are over estimated.

Walter Mischel (2004) and socio-cognitive approach: looking at how behaviour is a result of persons and situations. 

We interpret personality or people's behaviours against how we think certain situations should go.  Mashmallow experiment- compelling situation.

Social Learning Theory - emerged as another "add-on" to behaviourism where the social world came to be recognised as a place for learning and behavioural change.
Personality is a pattern of behaviour that changes.

Albert Bandura

Modeling of behaviour begins with imitation, continues throughout life.BoboDoll

Self-Efficacy is the belief in one's own ability to accomplish what ever goals one sets.

Loss of self-efficacy can lead to restricted behavioural repertoire and spiraling reinforcement of negative or destructive behaviour patterns.

Think can't do it, don't do it, get nervous, and repeat next time,
. . .Learned Helplessness

Self-fulfilling prophecy: in spite of success dismiss it as a "fluke" or good luck", take failures to heart and relive them. Put oneself down.

Reciprocal determinism: The interpersonal influences on personality that occur over a period of time. Each person determines the personality of others with whom they interact. (sounds like mutuality)

Self and Culture

Chinese personality models & Big 5 + 2 personality factors (Yang, 2006)

Locus of control - is seen as important to how we deal with expectations of life and situations. Internal or external Will power or fate? (Heelas)   [take LCS]

Erikson (1950) Childhood and Soceity Self and identity develop within cultural contexts that affect our behviours, our sense of self and our social interactions.

In the next topic on Social and Cultural psychology we will examine:

Markus & Kitayama - Independent and interdependent cultural selves.

Self-Serving Biases and attribution theory.

and in the section of the couse on Health we will look at Locus of Control and Learned Helplessness

Industiral / Organizational Psychology

- Personnel selection and managment
the applications of personality testing.