Long-standing traits and patterns that propel individuals to consistently think, feel, and behave in specific ways.
Personality psychology is a branch of psychology that studies personality and its variation among individuals. Its areas of focus include:
Construction of a coherent picture of the individual and their major psychological processes.
Investigation of individual psychological differences.
Investigation of human nature and psychological similarities between individuals.
What Is Personality?
Personality refers to the long-standing traits and patterns that propel individuals to consistently think, feel, and behave in specific ways. Our personality is what makes us unique individuals. Each person has an idiosyncratic pattern of enduring, long-term characteristics, and a manner in which they interact with other individuals and the world around them. Our personalities are thought to be long-term, stable, and not easily changed.
Theories of Personality
Freud's Psychodynamic Theory
Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist whose psychodynamic theory holds that personality is formed through early childhood experiences. According to his structural theory of the mind, our personality develops from a conflict between the interacting systems within our minds, which he termed the "id" (our biological pleasure-seeking drive), "ego" (the rational part of our personality), and "superego" (our conscience and moral compass).
Freud also developed the psychosexual theory of development, in which personality develops during childhood through a series of psychosexual stages. Failure to resolve a stage can result in a person becoming fixated in that stage, leading to unhealthy personality traits; successful resolution of the stages leads to a healthy adult.
Freud attracted many followers who modified his ideas to create new theories about personality. These theorists, referred to as neo-Freudians, generally agreed with Freud that childhood experiences matter, but de-emphasized sex, focusing more on the effects of social environment and culture on personality. Four notable neo-Freudians include Alfred Adler, Erik Erikson, Carl Jung, and Karen Horney. Adler is known for proposing the concept of the inferiority complex; Erikson proposed the psychosocial theory of development; Jung introduced the concepts of the collective unconscious and the persona; and Horney focused on the role of unconscious anxiety related to early childhood needs.
In contrast to the psychodynamic approaches, the learning approaches to personality focus only on observable behavior. Behavioral theorists view personality as significantly shaped and impacted by the reinforcements and consequences outside of the organism; essentially, people behave in a consistent manner based on prior learning. Notable behaviorists that made advancements in theories of personality include B. F. Skinner, Walter Mischel, Albert Bandura, and Julian Rotter.
Humanistic psychologists Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers focused on the growth potential of healthy individuals. They believed that people strive to become self-actualized—each individual desiring to become the best person they can become—and
they emphasized free will and self-determination. Both Rogers’s and Maslow’s theories greatly contributed to our understanding of the self.
Psychologists who favor the biological approach believe that inherited predispositions as well as physiological processes can be used to explain differences in our personalities. Some aspects of our personalities are largely controlled by genetics; however, environmental factors (such as family interactions) and maturation can affect the ways in which children’s personalities are expressed.
Trait theorists believe personality can be understood through the idea that all people have certain traits, or characteristic ways of behaving. These theorists have identified many important dimensions of personality. The five-factor model is the most widely accepted trait theory today: it includes the five factors of openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, which each occur along a continuum.
Cultural Understandings of Personality
The culture in which we live is one of the most important environmental factors that shapes our personalities. Western ideas about personality are not necessarily applicable to other cultures, and there is evidence that the strength of personality traits varies across cultures. Individualist cultures and collectivist cultures place emphasis on different basic values: people who live in individualist cultures tend to believe that independence, competition, and personal achievement are important, while people who live in collectivist cultures tend to value social harmony, respectfulness, and group needs over individual needs. There are three approaches that can be used to study personality in a cultural context: the cultural-comparative approach, the indigenous approach, and the combined approach, which incorporates both elements of both views.