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Personality psychology

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Personality is a term that describes traits a person shows consistently at different times and in different situations. If we understand a person's personality we may be able to predict their behavior in many situations. Predictability makes it possible to explain and understand behavior. A person's personality can often suggest their internal thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Gordon Allport defined personality as a "dynamic organization inside a person, of psychophysical systems that create the person's characteristic patterns of behavior, thoughts and feelings."[1]

Early theories

Many theorists like Hippocrates had their own opinions on what affected the personality. Hippocrates believed that the body was composed of four humors: yellow bile, black bile, blood, and phlegm. When one of these four bodily humors was abnormal, it resulted in effecting the personality. Hippocrates associated each of the humors with different elements, and temperaments. Blood was associated with air and resulted in sanguine, or hopefulness. Black bile, associated with earth, resulted in a temperament that was melancholic and resulted in a person feeling sad. Yellow bile was associated with fire and resulted in what he called a choleric temperament, resulting in irritability and aggression. And lastly, phlegm, associated with water, resulted in a phlegmatic temperament, associated with being apathetic. If any of the four humors were at abnormal levels, Hippocrates believed the person would display the temperaments or show signs of sickness.[1]

Different perspectives of personality research

When studying personality, one must consider all the different perspectives in the approach to understand how personality is created. Some of these perspectives include things like trait theory, the influence of motives, evolutionary theories, and the social learning approach. Each of these theories try and explain how the personality is created and what influences its development.[1]

Trait theory suggests that there are both traits and types within people that create the personality. Types are discontinuous categories that have qualitative differences. Traits are stable qualities in people that have continuous dimensions and quantitative differences. Examples of traits are things like fairness, intelligence, confidence, and helpfulness. Individual differences are reflected in the amount that a trait is seen. Within trait theory, there are many different approaches to how traits operate and to what extent. A Nomothetic view of traits suggests that traits are universal and it is possible to compare traits among individuals. It also states that individuals reflect a unique combination of traits, implying that while everyone has the same basic traits, not all individuals have the same levels of each trait. An Ideographic view of traits suggests that traits are idiosyncratic, or not universal. This approach explains that comparisons are not possible among individuals because not all traits are shared. It states that traits may be different in importance for different groups of people.[1]

Motives are another important factor to consider when studying the personality. Motives are forces that are influenced by an underlying need. A need is a manifestation of an internal biological or psychological state. Needs direct behavior and influence a persons state of being. When a need is not met, an individual will have a motive to fulfill that need. For example, every human being has a need for water. The motive would be thirst. The need for water influenced the motive to no longer be thirsty. A press is an external event that acts as a trigger for motives. Using the same example as before, a thirsty person may be triggered to drink water by seeing a cold cup of water, which serves as a press. An incentive value is another important concept when looking at theories on motives. An incentive value is the degree to which a given behavior can satisfy a need. This accounts for the differences in individuals. What may be more satisfying to one person may not be the same thing to another person. Each individual has a different incentive value.[1]

Another theory about personality is the inheritance or evolutionary theories. These theories suggest that personality is genetically-based. Evolutionists believe that the personality has adapted over time to ensure survival and reproduction.[1]

Social learning theory suggests that the personality is shaped by our experiences with relationships, our environment, and the social world in general.[1]

Personality types

Through experimentation and research, psychologists have been able to identify five major personality traits. These are known as the Big Five. These traits are neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Neuroticism refers to a person's emotionality. Someone high in neuroticism has high emotional control and liability. This may cause them to exhibit signs of nervousness, anxiety, and excitability. A neurotic person may also display hostility, depression, self-consciousness, impulsiveness, and vulnerability to stress. Extraversion is also known as sociability a person has. This refers to the social adaptability, assertiveness, and energy a person contains. A person high in extraversion would be extremely warm, positive, and prone to excitement-seeking. Openness is also known as the intellect factor. Openness is associated with culture and being open to experience. A person high in openness would be labeled creative, knowledgeable, and imaginative. Agreeableness is associated with conformity, friendliness, and likability. A person high in agreeableness would be considered friendly, kind, considerate, and good-natured. The last of the Big Five is conscientiousness. Conscientiousness is also known as responsibility and having a strong will to achieve. A person high in conscientiousness would be considered cautious, planful, serious, and hardworking.[1]

Personality disorders

While studying the healthy components of the personality, psychologists began to expand knowledge on the abnormal aspects of the personality. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, ten personality disorders were organized into three clusters: Cluster A, Cluster B, and Cluster C. Cluster A consists of the odd and eccentric disorders. These are paranoid, schizoid, and schizotypal. Cluster B are the dramatic, emotional, and erratic personality disorders. These are antisocial, borderline, histrionic and narcissistic. Cluster C is characterized by personality disorders dealing with anxiety or fear. This cluster are avoidant, dependent, and obsessive-compulsive.[1]

There are many approaches to understanding why and how personality disorders are created. The dimensional perspective suggests that personality disorders are just extreme manifestations of traits that are caused by deviating from cultural norms. It views personality disorders as interfering and disrupting a person's life, as well as the lives of others. The biological perspective explains that personality is genetically-determined, therefore, that our behavior is simply the product of a complex biological organism. It states that genetics and biology influence all the processes within a personality.[1]

Studying personality

There are several ways that psychologists study the personality. Some of these ways include methods such as systematic and nonsystematic observation, self reports, case studies, and many more. Nonsystematic observation describes a method where you, the individual, observes him or herself by self-reflection and observing the self in interactions with others. Systematic observation is when someone studies the information about more than one person in the same situation. In systematic observation, a person is able to use generalizability, the ability to make assumptions and apply a conclusion to many different people. Self-reports include things like surveys and interviews. In this method of studying personality, people are asked questions and given choices to these questions. Psychologists are able to make conclusions about their personalities based on their answers. In self-reports, there are scales and inventories. Scales assess a single aspect of the personality, while inventories are used to measure several distinct aspects of the personality. An example of a scale is a question like "I appreciate my family." The person being studied would then have to rate how much they appreciate their family on a scale from 1 to 10. Another type of self-report is experience sampling. Experience sampling is also known as diary studies because the participants give a brief report of how they are feeling throughout the day. These are done over long periods of time to get the most accurate conclusions. Implicit assessments are another method of studying the personality. Implicit assessments are conducted by asking the participants questions that don't seem to have a right or wrong answer. Depending on what the individuals answer, the psychologist is then able to draw conclusions about what a person is like. An implicit association test helps psychologists understand the feelings people have that they may not even be aware of themselves. An example of this type of test is a Rorschach ink blot. This test involves showing the individual a picture of an inkblot and asking them what they see. There are endless possibilities of what different people may see in the inkblot, making it useful in making assumptions about an individual based on what they see. Case studies are another important method in studying the personality. A case study is an intense monitoring of a person. Case studies involve studying a person for a very long period of time, gaining as much knowledge about a person as possible. A disadvantage to case studies is that it is hard to use that information to help understand other people because no two people are exactly the same. This provides limited generalizability. Psychophysiological methods are ways of studying the personality by observing the physical body. This includes things like studying a person's blood pressure, heart rate, stress hormones, and brain. By studying how the body reacts to different situations, psychologists are able to learn about the personality.[1]

Specific modern studies

An article from 2011 describes the explanation of personality psychology that is intertwined with the five-factor model. The article begins discussing how personality psychology has many factors intertwined within. It discusses cognition within the brain and also discusses personality traits and links between the two topics. Personality psychology is further explained through conceptual and logical aspects. Then the article continues to explain the logical requirements for coherency within the personality.[2]

In 2006, self-regulatory behavior was analyzed and compared with personality science and health behavior. It is understood from this, that an individuals personality is a link to an individuals self regulated behavior as long as an individuals health behavior. All of these are related to one another and contribute to personality. A persons health, and their behavior are a result of their personality science. [3]

A survey was conducted in 2007 in order to better comprehend the reasons why students choose their major, and specifically looked within the major of psychology. The students were curious as to what it was that was influencing students to make the decision to have psychology as their major. The survey created was based of the Big Five Personality Inventory. The results found from the surveys that people who choose psychology as their major were not picking this field for a large salary or anything to have to do with the money. The results continued to express that psychology majors were dedicated to the major because of their personal past experiences. This leads to show how the Big Five contributes to major choices of individuals.[4]

Adaptive personality was compared with the model of emotional intelligence by Mayer and Salovey. A few of the relationships expected did arise within the correlations resulting. The article emphasized the significance of emotional knowledge within emotional intelligence. This provides further information when it comes to counseling, and just how much emotional knowledge can be a bigger impact than previously expected within personality psychology.[5]

Most traditional models of personality traits emphasize biology of the person to be very relevant to their personality traits, and even emphasize that this aspect of the person is unchangeable. But, within this article from 2008, the idea of sociogenomic biology is brought up for thought. This is introduced within the article and contradicts everything about biology and that biology is in fact changeable in certain circumstances. The article stresses that DNA can be changed through the environment in which one lives. This new thinking of biology is claimed to be the new modern way of looking at personality traits.[6]

In 1977 there was a study done about sleep positions relating to personality traits. There were main points within the study that strongly urged that sleep positions reflected a persons personality. In contrast, a personality study conducted in the year 2012, suggested that the position a person sleeps in is related to specific traits of their personality. There study consisted of 332 participants that were psychology majors. The results found did not match what was previously concluded. There were no strong points leading to prove that there was such a relation, and in fact the results were found to be quite weak between the association.[7]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Carver, Charles S., and Michael F. Scheier. Perspectives on Personality: International Edition. Boston: Pearson, 2012. Print.
  2. Boag, S. (2011). Explanation in personality psychology: "Verbal magic" and the five-factor model. Philosophical Psychology Journal, Vol. 24, No. 2, 223-243.
  3. Bermudez, J. (2006). Personality science, self-regulation, and health behavior. Applied Psychology: An International Review, Vol. 55, No. 3, 386-396.
  4. Marrs, H., Barb, M., & Ruggiero, J. (2007). Self-reported influences on psychology major choice and personality. Individual Differences Research, Vol. 5, No. 4, 289-299.
  5. Pellitteri, J. (2010). Emotional intelligence in the context of adaptive personality: implications for counseling psychology. Counseling Psychology Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 2, 129-141.
  6. Roberts, B. & Jackson, J. (2008). Sociogenomic personality psychology. Journal of Personality, Vol. 76, No. 6, 1523-1544.
  7. Kamau, L., Luber, E., & Kumar, V. (2012). Sleep positions and personality: Zuckerman-Kuhlman's Big Five, creativity, creativity styles, and hypnotizability. North American Journal of Psychology, Vol. 14, No. 3, 609-622.