Personality Theories Research Paper Starter

Personality Theories

Personality theories are rooted in the field of psychology. Personality theory is rich in complexity and variety. The classical approaches to personality theory are: psychoanalytic theory as developed by Freud, Adler, and Jung; trait theory as developed by Allport, Maslow, Cattell, and the newly emerging Big Five approach; behavioral theory as developed by Watson, Skinner, and Pavlov; and social cognition as developed by Bandura, Kelly, and Endler & Magnusson.

Keywords Architectonic; Behaviorist Theory; Defense Mechanisms; Denial; Factor Analysis; Hedonist; Humanism; Humanist Psychology; Idiographic Approach; Individuation; Nomothetic Approach; Personality Theory; Personality Traits; Projection; Psychoanalytic; Rationalization; Reaction Formation; Repression; Social Cognition; Sublimation; Tabula Rasa; Thematic Apperception Test; Trait


"Oh, don't worry about him, he just isn't himself today."

What is the self? How does one use personality to come to understand a person? Can personality theory be used to predict what a person will do? How do we come to even know what a personality is? Researchers have developed theories describing what contributes to the personality, yet many of the theorists disagree with each other.

To discuss theories of personality, one must first consider what the words, personality and theory, mean. A theory is generally a model created to describe, explain, understand, or predict (and some say to control) a phenomenon or concept of life. The concept of personality is abstract and refers to how the habits, thought processes, motivations, defense mechanisms, and emotional states are woven together to form a view of a person. So, in a simplistic sense, theories of personality are models created to help describe, understand, predict, or control the habits, thought processes, motivations, coping mechanisms, and emotional states of a person. Some personality theorists take an ideographic approach; meaning they attempt to delineate differences in people by trying to establish what is unique or different to a specific person. Other theorists take a nomothetic approach; meaning they try to identify commonalities in individuals and then measure how much or how little each person possesses of the common characteristics. A change in approach will often add to the depth of knowledge regarding a theory - or it can work to refute the conclusions that have been drawn about that theory.

Roots in Psychology

Most theories of personality were based on hypotheses created by psychologists who were working with patients in need of some type of therapy (Fakouri & Hafner, 1984). The cycle of theory building necessitates the use of experimentation to create support for hypotheses. Hence, specific types of therapies and research methods have been tied to the various theories. This is why many people will refer to theories of personality as the primary architectonic of all psychology topics.

The various approaches to studying the personality were lead by psychologists who are familiar names to students of psychology and counseling. One of the best known of all personality theorists was Sigmund Freud. He and his followers believed the secrets to personality could only be unlocked by an awareness of consciousness brought about by psychoanalysis. Gordon Allport developed the trait approach: a theory that relies on classifying personal dispositions to describe one's personality. He believed a personality is comprised of dispositions and behaviors that may be inborn, conveyed by society, or developed by circumstance. For Allport and his followers personality is based partly on who one is, partly on with whom one lives, and partly on which needs are being met. The Behaviorists, B.F. Skinner and J.B. Watson, theorized personality could best be described through rational, scientific observation of actual, observed behaviors. Albert Bandura started out as a behaviorist, but set the foundations for theories of social cognition when he noted that personality tends to be an interactive construct: a person's world impacts behavior and a person's behavior impacts that person's world and a person's perceptions of the world is affecting both.

The Psychoanalytic

Sigmund Freud

"Who I am is determined by the interaction of my id, ego, and superego. Only through guided introspections will I be capable of really getting in touch with who I am."

Sigmund Freud assumed people are pulled by conflicting hedonistic desires to avoid pain while pursuing pleasure. He developed a well known structural model to describe how people mediate their internal conflicts arising from their desire for an object and their concomitant need to do the right thing. He explained how a healthy super ego works like a parent; balancing the needs of a person's drive to pursue events which give pleasure (i.e., the id) and a person's self reflection which is reality-based and constantly working to keep the person responsible and societally acceptable (i.e., the ego) (Seward, 1938). He also articulated a number of defense mechanisms people use to cope with disappointment and feelings of inadequacy; namely,

• Repression,

• Projection,

• Displacement,

• Rationalization,

• Reaction Formation,

• Denial, and

• Sublimation (Boeree, 2006; Myers, 2006).

Many students are fascinated by Freud's use of an underlying sexual nature to delineate the psychosexual developmental stages of human personalities. The oral stage (infancy) is associated with childhood behaviors of nursing and being weaned. If this stage does not go well, the child will grow up to be orally fixated (e.g., verbal, overweight, a chronic gum chewer, etc). The anal stage (toddlerhood) is associated with toilet training and control. If this stage does not go well, the child may grow up to be stingy, compulsively neat, or very messy. The phallic stage (describing the oft referred to Oedipus and Electra complexes) alleges children must fall in love with their opposite sex parent on their journey to sexual individuation. Once in love, the child will mimic the activities and adopt the values of the same sex parent in an attempt to steal away the love of the opposite sex parent. If this stage does not go well, the child will grow up minus the traditional gender values. The latency stage is the short period in which a pre-adolescents' sexuality hibernates for a time, and, lastly, the genital stage in which the now mature person can seek out adult love relationships (Garcia, 1995; Myers, 2006).

Freud believed there was therapeutic value in exploring one's unconscious, internal conflicts if a person was to really get in touch with the true personality. He developed a therapeutic technique called psychotherapy to aid patients in reaching into the depths of their subconscious. It entailed out-loud reflections of the patient guided by introspective questions posed by the psychotherapist and included exercises such as free association, dream interpretation, projective tests (e.g., the Thematic Apperception Test), and hypnosis (Myers, 2006). If you have ever had a slip of the tongue, Freud would encourage you to examine that slip for its underlying message - your subconscious is trying to tell you something!

Alfred Adler

Two of Freud's followers, Alfred Adler and Carl Jung, would later add to Freud's theories and models; sometimes challenging the foundations of his theory. Adler was best known for his works on inferiority and birth order. Adler's theory begins with the notion that all people are born with feelings of inferiority that must be overcome. He posits that the inferiority complex is based on personal weaknesses and that each person must learn how to compensate for these weaknesses by building upon other personal strengths; eventually overcoming some of the feelings of inferiority to emerge with a healthy personality (or, conversely, the person will become clinically neurotic). It is at this juncture that Adler disagrees with Freud's theory; he posits that fear, not sex, is really the driving force behind psychological development (Bagby, 1923; Vaughan, 1927). He also conducted research showing how one's birth order has a direct effect on the development of personality. His resultant theory of psychosocial dynamics suggests that children growing up in the same home are often going through vastly different experiences based on their location within the family unit - and these experiences have a direct effect on personality (Fakouri & Hafner, 1984).

Carl Jung

Jung was a contemporary of Freud's and was considered to be his theoretical heir. However, Jung's work began to diverge sharply from Freud's as Jung developed his theory that the psyche is comprised of three specific layers:

• The Self: The seat of the consciousness of self as well as the persona presented to the outside world;

• The Personal Unconscious: This layer is filled with attitudes which the Self has chosen to ignore (i.e., the shadow) and the counter-self-image (i.e., anima/animus) carried by each person which are often projected onto someone else as they are too painful to be accepted; and

• The Collective Unconsciousness: Tthe archetypal stories and myths by which one creates values and ethics based on the experiences of earlier generations.

He believed the Self to be the center of personality while Freud's concept of the ego was only the seat of consciousness (Aldridge & Horns-Marsh, 1991).

Jung is best known for his typology of personality describing how various orientations (e.g., introversion or extroversion) and four stylistic preferences of each person (i.e., sensing, thinking, intuiting, and feeling) work to shape how each person perceives and interacts with the environment. The Myer-Briggs Type Indicator is a...

(The entire section is 4408 words.)