Personality is a pattern of enduring, distinctive thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that characterize the way an individual adapts to the world.

Psychodynamic Perspectives

Psychodynamic perspectives on personality emphasize that personality is primarily unconscious (that is, beyond awareness).

Sigmund Freud (1856–1939)

Freud's theories have strongly influenced how people in Western cultures view themselves and their world.

Freud developed psychoanalysis, his approach to personality, through his work with patients suffering from hysteria. Hysteria refers to physical symptoms that have no physical cause. For instance, a person might be unable to see, even with perfectly healthy eyes, or unable to walk, despite having no physical injury.

Freudian personality theory - Concomitant with his development of psychoanalysis, Freud constructed a theory of personality, which includes the following observations.

Personality has three structures: the id, the ego, and the superego. The id, a reservoir of unconscious psychic energy, operates on the pleasure principle, seeks immediate gratification, and is not restrained by reality. It operates solely at the unconscious level. The ego, which develops in early childhood, operates through the reality principle, which seeks to gratify impulses of the id realistically and to bring long-term pleasure without pain. The ego operates at both the conscious and pre-conscious levels. The superego, a third structure, emerges as children reach 4 or 5 and internalize the morals of parents and society. The superego acts as a voice of conscience and operates mostly at the preconscious level of awareness. People also possess and are driven by a psychological energy called the libido.

Children pass through a series of psychosexual stages during which the id seeks pleasure from body areas, erogenous zones that change during development. If children have difficulty passing through a particular stage, they are said to have become fixated. Fixation at the phallic stage may create an Oedipus complex for a boy (jealousy of a son toward his father in competing for his mother's attention) or an Electra complex for a girl (who competes with her mother for her father's attention). Children resolve these conflicts by identifying with the parent of the same gender.

During a child's development, the ego strategically uses defense mechanisms to deal with the anxiety produced by conflicting impulses from the id (operating on the pleasure principle) and the superego (using internalized representation of the parents' value system). Defense mechanisms include:
  • Repression, preventing dangerous or painful thoughts from entering consciousness
  • Reaction formation, preventing expression of dangerous impulses by exaggerating opposite behavior
  • Projection, attributing one's feelings, shortcomings, or unacceptable impulses to others
  • Displacement, directing impulses toward a less threatening or more acceptable person or object
  • Regression, retreating to an earlier stage of development
  • Sublimation, rechanneling of unacceptable impulses into acceptable activities
  • Denial, refusing to perceive reality, acting as if something did not happen
  • Compensation, counteracting real or imagined difficulties or weaknesses by emphasizing other traits or excelling in other areas

Humanistic Perspectives

The humanistic perspective focuses on the positive image of what it means to be human. Human nature is viewed as basically good, and humanistic theorists focus on methods that allow fulfillment of potential.

Abraham Maslow proposed that an individual is motivated by a hierarchy of needs. Basic needs must be met before higher ones can be satisfied. Arranged in order from lowest to highest (in a hierarchy), the needs are:
  • physiological (satisfaction of hunger and thirst)
  • safety (security)
  • belongingness and love (being loved, avoiding loneliness)
  • esteem (achievement, recognition, self-esteem)
  • self-actualization (realization of one's full potential).
Maslow also believed that the achievement of self-actualization is often marked by peak experiences, feelings of incredible peace and happiness in the course of life activities.

Carl Rogers, a clinical psychologist, used the theory of self-concept, which he defined as an organized pattern of perceived characteristics along with the values attached to those attributes. He also assumed that within each individual there is a biological drive toward growth of self-concept, which can ultimately lead to self-actualization. Rogers believed that while children's self-concept is developing, they may internalize conditions of worth, judgments about the kinds of behaviors that will bring approval from others. He felt that, to promote growth and development, parents and authority figures should give a child unconditional acceptance and love, which allows a child to develop self-acceptance and to achieve self-actualization.
To help his clients get back on the road to self-actualization, he developed a therapeutic approach called client-centered therapy, in which the therapist offers the client unconditional positive regard by supporting the client regardless of what is said. The warm, sympathetic therapeutic environment allows the client to be freed of internalized conditions of worth and to resume the self-actualization process.

Trait Perspectives

The trait perspective tries to describe people according to recognizable traits of personality. A trait is a construct describing a basic dimension of personality.
  • They emphasize individual differences in characteristics that are stable across time and situations.
  • They emphasize the measurement of these traits through tests.
This may be observations of a behavior, self-report in interviews, multiple choice or forced choice tests.

Using factor analysis, statisticians can group similar traits and broaden a measurement to find more general traits that affect a variety of behaviors.


The Big Five theory suggests there are 5 basic factors of personality, each on a continuum:
§ Extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, openness.
  • Cattell’s 16PF defines 16 dimensions of personality.
  • Eysenck suggests 3 dimensions: extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism.

A hierarchical model offers more specific factors that correspond to a smaller number of more general factors. Basically the number of factors uncovered depends on how general or specific the dimensions are that you are focusing on.

Finally traits can be understood in terms of biological variations in neurotransmitters and brain function. Incorporating this knowledge in making life decisions, such as occupational choice, results in people being more satisfied with their careers, and more successful. Using testing to screen for employees is illegal, however, since tests can be biased if not fully validated on similar instruments.

Personological and Life Story Perspectives

Personological and Life Story Perspectives stress that the way to understand the uniqueness of each person is to focus on his or her life history and life story.

American psychologist Henry Murray (1893-1988) developed a theory of personality that was organized in terms of motives, presses, and needs. Murray described a needs as a, "potentiality or readiness to respond in a certain way under certain given circumstances" (1938).

Theories of personality based upon needs and motives suggest that our personalities are a reflection of behaviors controlled by needs. While some needs are temporary and changing, other needs are more deeply seated in our nature.

According to Murray, these psychogenic needs function mostly on the unconscious level, but play a major role in our personality.

Murray, along with Christiana Morgan, developed the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). For the TAT, a person looks at an ambiguous picture and writes or tells a story about what is going on in the scene.

A variety of scoring procedures have been devised for analyzing the unconscious motives that are revealed in imaginative stories (C. P. Smith, 1992). These scoring procedures involve content analysis, a procedure in which a psychologist takes the person's story and codes it for different images, words, and so forth.

Although Murray posited 22 different unconscious needs, three have been the focus of most current research:
  • Need for achievement: an enduring concern for attaining excellence and overcoming obstacles
  • Need for affiliation: an enduring concern for establishing and maintaining interpersonal connections
  • Need for power: an enduring concern for having impact on the social world

The Life Story Approach to Identity

Dan McAdams developed the life story approach to identity. His work centers on the idea that each of us has a unique life story, full of ups and downs. Our life story represents our memories of what makes us who we are. This life story is a constantly changing narrative that provides us with a sense of coherence. For McAdams, our life story is our very identity.

Studying individuals through narratives and personal interviews provides an extraordinarily rich opportunity for the researcher. Imagine having the choice of reading someone's diary versus seeing that person's scores on a questionnaire measuring traits. Not many would pass up the chance to read the diary.

However, life story studies are difficult and time-consuming. Personologist Robert W. White (1992) referred to the study of narratives as exploring personality “the long way.” Collecting interviews and narratives is often just the first step. Turning these personal stories into scientific data means transforming them into numbers, and that process involves extensive coding and content analysis. Further, for narrative studies to be worthwhile, they must tell us something we could not have found out in a much easier way (King, 2003). Moreover, psychobiographical inquiries are prone to the biases of the scholars who conduct them and may not serve the scientific goal of generalizability.

Social Cognitive Perspectives

Social cognitive perspectives are the theoretical views emphasizing conscious awareness, beliefs, expectations, and goals.

Social cognitive psychologists explore the ability to reason; to think about the past, present, and future; and to reflect on the self. They give emphasis to the person's individual understanding of situations and focus on the distinctiveness of each patient by examining how behavior is tailored to the variety of situations in which people find themselves.

albert-bandura.jpg Bandura's Social Cognitive Theory

Albert Bandura found Skinner's approach to be too basic for understanding human functioning. Bandura took the basic doctrine of behaviorism and added acknowledgment of the role of mental processes in determining behavior. Bandura pointed out that the person can cause situations, and sometimes the meaning of the situation depends on the person's beliefs about it.

Albert Bandura’s practical, problem-solving social cognitive approach has made a lasting mark on personality theory and therapy.

Bandura's social cognitive theory states that behavior, environment, and cognitive factors are important in understanding personality. Bandura coined the term reciprocal determinism to explain the way behavior, environment, and person/cognitive factors interrelate to create personality.

Bandura's Social Cognitive Theory highlights mutual influences of behavior, environment, and cognitive factors.
Observational Learning and Personal Control

Bandura's belief that observational learning is a key part of how we learn. By observing others behave and noticing the outcome of their actions, we might adopt the behavior ourselves.

Social cognitive theorists emphasize that we can control our own behavior regardless of our changing environment. Psychologists frequently describe a sense of behavioral control as coming from inside the person or outside the person.


Self-efficacy is the belief that one can master a situation and produce positive change.Bandura and others have shown that self-efficacy is associated to a number of positive developments in people's lives, including solving problems and becoming more sociable.

Walter Mischel's Contributions

Walter Mischel is a social cognitive psychologist who has explored how personality influences behavior. Mischel has left his mark on the field of personality in two remarkable ways. First, his critique of the idea of consistency in behavior, and also, he has proposed the CAPS model, a innovative way of thinking about personality.

Walter Mischel's approach to personality is concerned with just such coherence in the pattern of behavior over time, not with consistency across differing situations. Mischel conceptualizes personality as a set of interconnected cognitive affective processing systems (CAPS).

Cognitive affective processing systems (CAPS) is Mischel's hypothetical model for describing that our thoughts and emotions about ourselves and the world influence our behavior and become connected in ways that matter to behavior.

Biological Perspectives

Hans Eysenck (1967) was amongst the first to describe the role of a particular brain system in personality.

Eysenck developed an approach to extraversion and introversion based on the reticular activation system (RAS). He posited that all of us share an optimal arousal level, a level at which we feel at ease with the world. Nevertheless, Eysenck projected that the RAS of extraverts and introverts varies with respect to the baseline level of arousal. An extravert is likely to be outgoing, sociable, and dominant and an introvert is quieter and more reserved and passive.

Gray’s Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory

Jeffrey Gray proposed a neuropsychology of personality, called reinforcement sensitivity theory, that has been the focus of much research. Gray posited that the behavioral activation system (BAS) and the behavioral inhibition system (BIS) could be viewed as underlying personality.

The BAS is susceptible to rewards in the environment, inclines one to feelings of positive emotion, and motivates the trait of extraversion.

The BIS is susceptible to punishments and is involved in avoidance learning. It influences the individual to feelings of fear and underlies the trait of neuroticism. Psychologists often measure the BAS and BIS by using questionnaires that evaluate a person's attention to rewarding or punishing results.

Personality and Behavioral Genetics and the Role of Neurotransmitters

Behavioral genetics is the study of the inherited underpinnings of behavioral characteristics.

Neurotransmitters have been concerned in personality. Neuroticism is particularly linked to a certain serotonin transporter gene and to the binding of serotonin in the thalamus. Individuals who have less circulating serotonin are prone to negative mood.

Personality Assessment

Psychologists use several methods to evaluate personality. They assess personality for different reasons—from clinical evaluation to career counseling and job selection.self_report.jpg
Self-Report Tests

A self-report test, which is also called an objective test or inventory, directly asks people whether specific items describe their personality traits. Respondents choose from a limited number of answers such as: yes or no, true or false, agree or disagree.


An empirically keyed test is a type of self-report test that presents many questionnaire items to two groups that are known to be different in some central way.
The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is the most commonly used and researched empirically keyed self-report personality test.

Assessment of the Big Five Factors

The Neuroticism Extraversion Openness Personality Inventory—Revised or NEO-PI-R is a self-report test geared to assessing the five-factor model: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional instability. The test also evaluates six subdimensions that make up the five main factors.

Face validity is the extent to which a test item appears to be a good fit to the characteristic it measures. A test item has face validity if it seems on the surface to be testing the characteristic in question.

Projective Tests

A projective test is a personality assessment test that presents patients with an indefinite stimulus and asks them to describe it or tell a story about it. Projective tests try to get inside the mind to discover how the test taker really feels and thinks. They aim to go beyond the way the individual clearly presents himself or herself.

The Rorschach inkblot test, developed by the psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach, is a famous projective test that uses an individual's perception of inkblots to determine his or her personality. The Rorschach is not commonly used in personality research.

The Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), created by Henry Murray and Christiana Morgan, is a projective test that is designed to elicit stories that reveal something about an individual's personality. The TAT test taker is asked to tell a story about each of the pictures, including events leading up to the situation described, the characters' thoughts and feelings, and the way the situation turns out.

Personality and Health and Wellness

Personality affects many behaviors that impact physical health and psychological wellness.


A diversity of studies show that conscientious people tend to do all the things that they are told are good for their health, such as getting regular exercise, avoiding drinking and smoking, wearing seatbelts, and checking smoke detectors.

Personal Control

Feeling in control can reduce stress during difficult times and can lead to the development of problem-solving tactic to deal with adversity.


Research shows that self-efficacy is related to success in a large diversity of positive life changes, including achieving weight loss, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, ending substance abuse, and practicing safe sex.


Martin Seligman's theory and research view optimism as a matter of how a person explains the causes of bad events. Optimists explain the causes of bad events as external, unstable, and specific, but pessimists explain them as internal, stable, and global.

The Type A and Type B Behavior Pattern

The Type A behavior pattern is a cluster of characteristics, such as being excessively competitive, hard-driven, impatient, and aggressive. These characteristics are related to the incidence of heart disease.

The Type B behavior pattern is a cluster of characteristics, such as being relaxed and easygoing. These characteristics are related to good health.

Personality and Psychological Well-Being

The subjective well-being is a person's assessment of his or her level of positive affect and negative affect, and an evaluation of his or her life in general. This definition offers a clue as to why the traits of neuroticism and extraversion are so powerfully related to psychological state. Neuroticism is the tendency to worry, to feel distressed, and to experience negative emotion. Neurotic individuals experience more negative mood than others, and their moods are more changeable.


  1. What are the three structures of personality?
    A: The id, the ego, and the superego
  2. What are the basic factors of personality?
    A: Extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness and openness
  3. An objective test or inventory which directly asks people whether specific items describe their personality traits
    A: Self-Report Test
  4. The Rorschach inkblot test is an example of...
    A: A projective test
  5. The Behavioral Inhibition System is susceptible to...
    A: Environmental punishments