Personality Theory of Psychology

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While many people use the term “personality” to relate to obvious traits of a person, psychologists use personality to explain the reason why people with same experience, heredity, and motivation may not react in the same way when faced with similar situations, and the reason why people with different heredity, experience, and motivation may react in similar ways when faced with similar situations. Psychologists, while studying personality, may use either nomothetic or idiographic techniques. The study of personality in psychology involves almost everything people can do or do when they are adults. Personality theories organize what people do, come up with new research, and specify a formal personality view.

The term “personality” is commonly used by people to label obvious features. For example, when we say that “someone is shy”, we identify him or her in terms of a sole obvious characteristic. The impression we create on others can be used to label our personality. Other people use the “personality” to show a more general skill that people possess. For example, a sales representative is said to be qualified because he/she has “a lot of personalities”. According to Engler (2008), personality is a dynamic organization in a person and determines their characteristics, thought, and behavior. The definition indicates that personality involves organization and adjustments of our unique characteristics.

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Elements of Personality

Personality in psychology involves the aspects that are constant, enduring, and stable (Ewen, 2003). For example, when one is brave today, there are high chances that he/she will be brave tomorrow. When one if generous today, there are high chances that he/she will be generous the following day. This is what psychologists refer to as stable characteristics.

The second element of personality is that it must be repeated or consistent. This means that the characteristics of a person must occur in a variety of situations. A brave person, for example, would show braveness in different situations i.e. in the dark, in light, during an accident, in a high cliff, likewise, a shy person would be shy in different situations, etc.

The third element of personality is that each theory of personality assumes that each person is unique. Each person has a certain quantity of traits such as braveness and happiness. However, the uniqueness of each individual can be identified. Apart from the prediction powers which can be obtained by knowing a person’s heredity factors, past experiences, and present environment, there are still a lot more unique things or characteristics in an individual that enable the study of his or her personality.

For the study of personality to be interesting, the aspects must take place widely. Psychologists, therefore, concentrate on universal characteristics which they call unique traits in individuals. A nomothetic study involves studying such a trait as shyness in many people who may be the same because they share a single trait. An idiographic study involves studying a sole person as a complete interacting and complex system.

Theories of Personality

What is the importance of the theories of personality? The definition of personality is always complex and vague. The reason is that the definition of personality depends upon a specific theory in question. Personality theories provide an organization of what is known or suspected regarding a specific set of data. As the development of data proceeds, the theory in question must always be adjusted (Ewen, 1993). Trait theory, for example, is always subjected to adjustments as new data are revealed or as a new analysis is done.

Personality theories have a heuristic function. They identify, through the organization of important facts, the kind of research to be done to fill in missing facts. The social-learning theory, for example, explains this very well as it provides ideas for research. Thirdly, personality theories summarize the subject matter. The psychoanalytic theory of Sigmund Freud does a summary of his work concerning what he assumes. The theory also provides a summary of personality structure and instincts’ functions in psychoanalysis. Theories, therefore, unearth the most crucial aspects of a person. They also isolate the most crucial features of a person under study. The following section discusses various personality theories.

Trait Theories

Trait theory is a primary theory that uses an independent variable known as a trait. Traits are the stable characteristics of a person. Trait theory is still under argumentation as it still has to explain some of the fundamental issues such as if the behavior of individual changes, does it mean that the trait of the individual has changed, or has the environment changed our traits? In psychology’s topic regarding nature and nurture, we read about the assumption that the lumps on the head of a person related to his/her certain abilities (Ewen, 1993). Though the proof became false, the idea proved that certain features in the human body can be utilized to influence and foresee some personality features.

In the 1940s, William Sheldon came up with the earliest views regarding a personality theory. He came up with three different ways by which the physical features of human beings can be viewed. He came up with a seven-point scale for rating the quantity of form in people’s bodies. According to Sheldon, there is a close relationship between the amount of physique taken from our somatotype photographs and that is measured through ratings of observers. He assumes that physique highly correlates with behavior. The assumption is limited by this fact; how is it possible to know the behavior or personality of someone you have never seen behaving? Those who rate the behavior of individuals should also take into consideration the physical features of the body of a person behaving in order to rate him or her. People who provided Sheldon with their body types’ rating also gave him their personal behaviors’ rating. This might have been the contributing factor to the high correlations that relate to the physical features of the body and the behavior Sheldon experienced. Some people hold stereotypes that fat people are always jolly, and people may smile at them even before they say anything. It is always the theory at the lowest level since it involves the use of common sense and has predicted very few causes and outcomes in therapies.

Raymond Cattell came up with another form of describing and analyzing personality. He used data derived from three sources: objective tests, a record of an individual’s life, and personal ratings (Hall & Lindzey, 1978). When investigating the records of an individual’s life and personal ratings using complex statistical analysis, he found that there are huge personality factors both within people and across them. He differentiates the traits of behaviors that can be seen from those that are internal. He took the internal traits as more important than those that are seen. He also differentiated traits that all people possess from those that are possessed by only one person. However, his approach was criticized. In addition, trait-theorists are usually driven by data and not by theory. Researchers normally face the problem of attaching labels to data in case many behaviors correlate. Irrespective of the label assigned i.e. shyness or braveness, the personality being analyzed can be greatly impacted. Despite the drawbacks, this theory has made a great contribution to the study of personality in recent decades.

Psychoanalytic Theory

This is a major personality theory and a type of therapy. Sigmund Freud’s observation during his study of deviant behavior of a few patients he was attending to and everyday life, such as a slip of the tongue, laid down the assumptions to base psychoanalysis. Freud’s theory consists of three elements: conscious, preconscious, and unconscious (Ewen, 1993). In conscious-unconscious element, he divides the mind into three subsystems; the conscious involving thoughts we are aware of, preconscious involving thoughts that people are not aware of, though they can be brought into conscious attention with ease, for example, when asked about your best friend of the opposite sex, one’s mind flashes to someone. The person one thinks of was in his or her preconscious mind. According to Freud, without being aware, our consciousness becomes unconscious (Ryckman, 2007). The knowledge or analysis of things, such as slipping of the tongue and dreaming, helped Freud study unconsciousness in human beings. Since psychoanalysis was developed when sciences were discovering a lot of things, Freud proposed people are born with a certain quantity of psychic libido. The libido creates forces that people strive to lower inside them.

Freud developed the concept of ego, id, and superego to increase the understanding of personality. He mostly used analogies when describing concepts of psychoanalysis. When explaining the concept of id, ego, and superego, Freud compared them to the Russian troika. He explained that three horses are required to successfully move a vehicle and the same idea applies when developing a functioning personality; the id resembles the system present at birth, and all energy of a person is geared towards satisfying what the id needs. The id deals with the most basic needs of an organism and cannot tolerate any force. While working unconsciously, the id works in what Freud called a “pleasure principle”. It ensures it gets the pleasure it needs without considering what others need or want. The ego comes up to monitor id and to fight for its desires. In the beginning, it strives to satisfy the desires of the id and enhances, becoming aware of the physical and social world. It functions at the levels of consciousness and pre-consciousness majorly in terms of a reality principle. It weighs the forces of the id with the demands of the surrounding areas and strikes a balance between them.

At the age of 6 or 7, the superego, the last part, develops. Superego is thought to compose of the conscience of a person and to include the ego-ideal. Though the superego is the same as id in not reasoning, the id works hard towards the individual needs of an organism while the superego works to meet the needs of the entire society. The id also works in the domain of consciousness and preconsciousness without taking care of the need of the entire society.

Then how do the concepts operate like three horses? If there was only ego and id, then the two could successfully work together. If there was only ego and superego, then the urge of the superego would be attained. But Freud asserts that most people have all three. The ego, therefore, balances the desires of both id and superego by looking at the limits brought about by the world. The ego works to increase the benefits received by an individual. However, not only the three i.e. id, ego, and superego impact the behavior of individuals but also urges and forces of life shape the behavior of individuals.

(Social-) Learning Theories

(Social-) learning theories emphasized the importance of learning based on elements that are small and observable (Schultz, D. P. & Schultz, S. E. (2008). Neal Miller and John Dollard state that every individual is born with a set of needs such as food and oxygen and lack of the needs during birth could lead to death. But when individuals become adults, they do all they can to get them. This indicates that though the needs can be inherited, people must learn ways of meeting them. According to them, people think because of drives they experience; at birth, people may be stimulated to act due to some drives such as hunger. When an individual is strongly deprived of the drives, he or she is strongly driven to obtain the drive (Schultz, D. P. & Schultz, S. E. (2008). For example, when a person is deprived of food, he or she would strongly work to get food. In case the stimulus frequently occurs due to a primary drive, it becomes a learned drive.


Psychologists give different definitions of personality as compared to what people think of personality. While many people use the term “personality” to relate to the obvious traits of a person, psychologists use personality to explain the reason why people with same experience, heredity, and motivation may not react in the same way when faced with similar situations, and the reason why people with different heredity, experience, and motivation may react in similar ways when faced with similar situations. Personality in psychology involves the aspects that are constant, enduring, and stable. The actions of personality must be repeated or consistent taking into consideration that each person is unique, and take place widely. Various theories of personality are important as they provide an organization of what is known or suspected regarding a specific set of data and have a heuristic function.

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