Personality In A Nutshell

What is personality?

Everyone is psychology has at least one idea about what should be excluded in a definition of personality. But nobody agrees on what should be included. Some say there are over 50 definitions of personality but I think that’s a major underestimate. About all everyone agrees on is that there are too many definitions of personality.

Since personality describes who you are as a person, there are a lot of possibilities available. You do, think, say, process, interpret and feel. But which, some, or all of these should be included? It depends on your approach.

Here are three questions you must ask when you study personality:

1. Are the characteristics of personality static or dynamic? Dynamic views maintain that personality is constantly changing. They point to the relatively poor test-retest reliabilities of personality tests. If personality is stable, why do people change from week to week? In contrast, static views of personality note that you tend to act pretty much the same. This fits with our internal view of ourselves as being constant. Static theories have the added requirement of defining when personality is complete: at 6 months, 4 years old, etc.

2. Are you interested in what we have in common (human nature) or what makes us unique (individual differences)? We can and do compare ourselves to others. We want to be sure we’re not strange or weird. But we also want to be special and different. So personality can be described by common traits, process or principles. Or it can be described by uncommon dispositions, goal and strivings.

3. Is your primary interest theoretical, practical or experimental? A theoretical approach requires nothing more than an armchair and your mind. You can create a definition or a complete theory of personality with nothing but your imagination. A practical approach to personality might focus on finding a quick (if not stereotypical) sketch of a person. You might want to know what is typical of this person. Experimental approaches to personality convert theoretical constructs into measureable variables. Studies can be conducted in a lab or in the real world.

Major Approaches

Every major area of psychology has a view of personality. The oldest approach is trait or type theory. A trait is something you have; a type is something you are. Trait theory says you are open to new experiences, introverted, agreeable, etc. Traits vary by degree: a little bit moody or very moody. Type theory says you are in one category and not another. You are moody or agreeable. You are brave or courageous. Types are often the result of being born in the year a particular year (ox, rat, etc.) or season (Gemini, etc.). Although it is possible to have a dynamic trait or type theories, they tend to be very static. Once you are assessed or classified, you’re stuck: you are either a Type A or a Type B personality.

Psychodynamic approaches (Freud, Jung, etc.) focus on the construction of personality (id, ego and superego), and the interplay between these components. Test based on these theories tend to be projective (inkblots, drawings, etc.) or lend toward trait theory (thinking, sensing, withdrawing, etc.).

Other approaches include humanistic, biological, behaviorist and social learning theories. Humanists see personality as growing toward good. Biological theories maintain that personality is defined as physiological processes or the result of those processes. Behaviorists would say that personality is simply an enduring pattern of behavior. You are what you do. If you want to change your personality, simply change your behavior. And social learning theories combine elements of the other approaches with an emphasis on interacting with other people. Your personality is formed in the context of relationships with others.

Major Theorists

            Allport = identified 14000 common traits.
            Beck and Ellis = cognitive theories
            Cattell = 16 primary factors and 5 secondary factors
            Eysenck = psychoticism, extraversion, and neuroticism
            Freud, Adler, Jung, Kohut, and Horney = psychodynamic
            Goldberg, and Costa & McCrae = Big Five
            Holland = vocational personality
            Kelly = personal construct theory|
            Murray = types, needs and presses
            Pavlov and Skinner = behavioral approaches
            Rogers & Maslow = humanistic theories
            Rotter, Bandura, and Dollard & Miller = social learning theories
            Seligman = attribution theory 

Common Personality Tests

            Big Five (NEO)
            Cattell’s 16PF
            Holland’s Vocational Codes
            Keirsy Temperament Sorter
            Kelly’s Repertory Grid
            MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory)
            Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
            Rorschach Inkblot Test
            Thematic Apperception Test

Additional Information
       10-Day Guided Tour Of Personality
       Ancient Trait Theory video
       Modern Trait Theory video


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