What are the four main personality theories?

The four main personality theories are psychoanalytic, trait, humanistic, and social cognitive.

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The four main personality theories are the psychoanalytic, the trait, the humanistic, and the social-cognitive theories.

Psychoanalytic theory: the most popular theory of personality is that of psychoanalysis, which was mainly introduced by Sigmund Freud. This theory focuses on the unconscious and the subconscious mind; it suggests that human behavior is shaped by past experiences and one's reactions to those experiences, which never leave the mind.

Freud argues that personality is made out of three key components: the id, ego and super-ego; the id represents the needs and desires, the super-ego represents the moral ideas and standards that people have, and the ego allows people to control their urges and desires and satisfy them in ways that are reasonable and socially acceptable.

Trait theory: the trait theory is based on traits as specific characteristics of one's personality or as characteristics that can determine a person's behavior. Psychologist Gordon Allport identified three main types of traits: cardinal traits (dominant and deterministic traits, such as being narcissistic), central traits (meaningful attributes, such as being kind, smart, mean) and secondary traits (which appear occasionally in specific situations—for example, being nervous before taking tests). Psychologist Hans Eysenck, on the other hand, identified three main traits: introversion/extroversion, neuroticism/stability, and psychoticism/ socialization.

Humanistic theory: the humanistic theoretical approach to the study of personality focuses on the individual as a whole and is optimistic in nature, as it focuses on the people's ability to reach their full potential and become the best versions of themselves.

Social-cognitive theory:

Social cognitive theory is based upon two key principles: (a) that the psychological person, the environment, and behavior reciprocally influence one another; and (b) that people are best understood in terms of conscious cognitive capabilities that enable them to symbolically represent events, to reflect upon themselves, and to act as agents of their own development (Bandura, 1986, Bandura, 1997; Cervone & Williams, 1992).

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The four main personality theories are the following: Psychoanalytic, trait, humanistic, and social-cognitive. These theories all deal with the origin and development of personality traits and identity, and they go about studying the personality in very different ways.

The psychoanalytic theory, for example, has patients undergo extensive psychotherapy, probing deep into an individual's history and personal life to try and understand the genesis of their personal traits. They typically will dive into the "subconscious" mind—things that are unknown to us consciously but are still present in our psyche.

The trait theory or framework deals with individual character traits and the attempt to classify them. By separating them into categories, psychologists hope to study the group mentality of people in individual trait classes and potentially find sources for those traits.

The humanistic theory of personality attempts to explain personality as a response to human needs—we as individuals still have animal needs for survival and shelter, as well as higher needs for approval and love. By pursuing these needs, we develop a unique personality.

Finally, the social cognitive framework analyzes human behavior in response to our social environment. The...

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idea behind it is that our behaviors are all learned, and therefore a true understanding can be found in the environment in which we developed.

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The main personality theories really just refer to the ways in which personality is studied and examined by psychological researchers. They each have their own opinions on what the overarching personality construction process is, but they mainly differ in their approach at examining them.

The psychoanalytic framework of personality research is one of the oldest psychological frameworks, and it deals with examining the subconscious mind and the interplay between human desires and restraint. Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud were champions of this framework, and they investigated personality through years of intense study, analyzing the smallest aspects of one's mind and life.

The humanistic theory of personality follows Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, and it examines personality as the human response to the needs we have in life, from physical to emotional and personal needs.

The trait theory of personality is essentially a cataloging and categorizing system—analyzing personalities by lumping individual traits into different categories. This helps for delineating and quantifying personality, but does little to explore the underlying causes behind actions and attitudes.

Finally, the social cognitive framework examines human personality in a societal setting—stating that nothing is void of its context. In light of that, they believe that personality is derived from exploring our environment and the people around us.

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A personality theory is an attempt at explaining behavior, including how different types of behavior arise and which patterns can be observed. Most, though not all, theories will fall into one of four types: psychoanalytic, humanistic, trait, and social cognitive.


Psychoanalytic theories were proposed by some of the more well-known researchers into the human mind and behavior, including Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. These theories attempt to understand behavior by looking at the unconscious mind and its desires, which are said to impact how people live their lives. The unconscious mind develops its characteristics through early childhood experiences, social pressures, and subconscious needs for self-realization and superiority.


Humanistic theories see inherent desires for actualization and satisfaction of needs as driving forces behind behavior. Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs falls into this category, stating that basic needs drive human behavior initially until the needs are consistently met, at which point the individual moves up the hierarchy to more complex desires.


Trait theories look to identify specific traits that form the basis for personality and behavior types. Different models and catalogs of traits have been proposed, and different personality types can be understood through different arrangements of traits within individuals.

Social Cognitive

Social cognitive theories see personality as the result of observational learning, through which an individual observes others and consciously chooses to pursue behavior that is rewarded or avoid behavior that is punished. This type of learning can best occur if the individual has a high level of confidence in his or her abilities, resulting in greater motivation to accomplish tasks.

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