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Personality Theory and Research Essay Sample

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            The term personality is used to imply the dynamic and organized set of characteristics that are in one given person which determines his or her thinking, motivation and the tendency of reaction to various situations, therefore personality can be explained as a structural pattern that arise in the combination of cognitive, motivational and social characteristics of an individual. It is made up of a combination of both hereditary and environmental influencing factors, where hereditary means the genetic make up of an individual that are transmitted from parents to their young ones. The Genetic make up depends on the chromosomes, which contain the information over the characteristics to be transmitted and they are contained in the genes. The term personality was derived from a Latin word persona with a meaning of mask. The study of personality can be  in two major ways and they include Nomothetic and ideographic. Nomothetic psychology tries to explain the general laws that  are applicable to a large number of persons including  self actualization  and also extroversion, whereas Ideographic psychology implies the effort of understanding the characteristics that makes other persons different from others (Ryckman, 1999).

            The study of personality is deep rooted in the history of psychology, which consists of a number of theoretical explanations over personality  where some theories have  taken a scientific approach and others also are engaged on the development of theories. The developed theories on personality emanated from philosophical assumptions as described in psychology, where psychology itself involves the combination of art, science and philosophy, and then draws a generalized conclusion (Lindzey and Hall 1965). The theorists always disagree on various grounds on an attempt to explain personality and the common grounds that they differ include as given below;

            There is an opposing force on whether the human personalities are predetermined by certain factors in them portraying varied personalities on one side of the determinism and the other side that argue that human beings have powers to control their personalities known as free will. There is a disagreement of  whether personality is determined by hereditary factors that involve the transfer of characteristics through the genes or Environmental factors which are externalities, and if both influences personality then which one influences more than the other and on which scope of personality. The other argument is also  about the uniqueness and Universality among the the human personalities, where there is a disagreement on explaining whether individuals are unique or similar in their nature. Another disagreement is on whether actions are proactive, that is persons act through their own initiative or reactive. That is do persons react in response to the external factors. Another disagreement is between optimism and pessimistism, where optimisticism argue that  human beings can alter their personalities and pessimistism arguing that human being personalities can not be altered otherwise they remain the same for the rest of their lives  (Magnavita, 2001,).

            According to the theory of personality developed by a psychologist, Sigmund Freud, the human personality is made up of three major structural components and they include; id, ego and super ego. They are explained as below;

            The id component consists all the inherited characteristics at birth and they are instinct characteristics. It contains all the instincts that deal with the wishes and desires which determine human behavior, and it is portrayed in irrational actions, never satisfied, demanding and the wish to harm others, therefore id can be explained to represent instincts which are always unconscious and unnoticeable, where that it is not affected by either social or cultural restrictions of the society in which a person resides.

            The ego component represent the rational component of the human personality which is directed by the principal of reality and its portrayed through suitable planned actions of an individual that are directed towards the satisfaction of the id component demands, in considering the social and cultural restrictions. The ego component works as a means of balancing between the id demands and the superego’s restrictive guidance, that is it can be perceived as the controller of rationality in human beings. The ego component function in controlling rationality is determined in it selecting the features of the environment to which it will respond is some specified way on deciding which instinct should be satisfied as per to priority thus its controls the gateway to actions (Cloninger, 2003). The ego component performs it function in following some pattern by first analysing what is in the outside world, then recording the outside world experiences and lastly make an attempt of modifying the outside world in the process of it trying to satisfy the instinctual wishes which involves choosing of an appropriate action.

            Super Ego is the moral component of the human personality and it informs an individual on what is generally acceptable depending on the society in which one is residing. The super ego component of personality is normally developed with time in learning from past experiences and at the study of the environment in which one reside. It is used as a measure of justifying of whether an action is either right or wrong, in order for one to act as pertains to the expectations of the society in which he or she resides. There is always a battle between the id and superego components, which is certain to create anxiety in a person, with a feeling that things are not fair according to his or her wishes. When this anxiety is sustained, it causes tension which provides an incentive for one to develop a defensive mechanism in the process of trying to reduce the tension. The defensive mechanism normally comes out in the form of either repression, reaction, rationalization, projection or aggression, although it can also take a combination of varied ranges among these given defensive mechanisms depending on the situation.

            There are varied categories of theory that explain personality of human beings although there are critics who argue that personality is plastic in the sense that it can not be explainable as it keeps on changing from one time to another in the same individual depending on places, situations and moods, thus not explainable. Personality changes can be traced as being caused by  changes in diet, medical effects, past events, or engaging in a learning process. Despite the criticism that personality can not be explainable due to its plastic nature, there are theories which have attempted to explain the nature of human personality and they include: Trait theories; Type theories; Psychoanalytic theories; Behaviorist theories; Cognitive theories; Humanistic theories; and Biopsychological theories. They are explained as given below:

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† The trait theories explain that personality of an individual is determined by the person’s traits, where traits are¬† believed to determine the pattern in which one perceives, relates to others and thinks about the environment in which he or she is residing in. They hold to the assumptions that traits are relatively stable over time, traits always differ from one person to another and its these traits contained in persons that determine their behaviors. Some of the trait theorists include Gordon Allport who explains that central traits are the ones that are responsible in determining the human personality, having the secondary traits at the peripheral. Allport divides traits into two major groups and they include the common traits which are recognized within a given culture and are certain to vary from one culture to another, and also the cardinal traits which are recognized within an individual and certain to vary from one person to another. Another trait theorist is Raymond Cattell who designed a two- tiered personality structure composed of sixteen primary factors and five secondary factors. Raymond Cattell analysis of the factors conflicted with another trait theorist, Hans Eysenck who believed in only three traits, that is extroversion, neuroticism and psychoticism as the only traits to describe human personality.

Cattell differed with Eynensk on the process of factor analysis in the sense that Cattell used oblique, while Eynensk used orthogonal method. Lewis Goldberg also a trait theorist proposed a five dimension personality model composed of Extroversion, neuroticism, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness to experience. John L. Holland also in his RIASEC vocational model argued that there are six main personal traits that determines one’s choice of career, and also known as the Holland’s Code. Despite the explanations that they offer, the trait theories have received criticism in the sense that they have given little in an attempt to explain the human personality and also they have oversimplified classifications (Cervone and Pervin, 2007,). They also underestimate the impact of certain situations on individual’s behaviour and above all its a form of generalizations which imply inductive reasoning which is certain to not corresponding to individual behaviour.

            Type theories try to explain personality by defining various psychological classification of different types of persons. These theories originated from the theoretical frame designed by Carl Jung and William Marrston. The ideas of Jung  were refined further by Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother Katherine Briggs  in them designing the Myers-briggs type indicators, which was used by David Keirsey on other varied understanding from Jung, Briggs and Myers. The theory recognizes extroversion and introversion as the basic psychological factors in association with the perceiving  and the judging functions. A third factor was added to the two factor and it was to evaluate on whether one has a dominant perceiving or judgement function.

The Type theories borrow idea from the trait theories in the sense that they try to explain human behavior using opposite fixed characteristics,having¬† intuition being perceived as the most basic factor in dividing persons into two types, that is N type and S type. The N type is perceived to be guided by thinking while S type is guided by perception axis. The type theories were criticized of being stereotyped. Another type theory is the one which was developed in 1950’s by Meyer Friedman and his fellow workmates where he explained that there are two types of personalities and they include the Type A and Type B personalities. The persons with type A personalities are stress junkies , whereas persons with type B personalities are relaxed and less competitive. The also exist a mix of the two types which is type AB with mixed profiles from both type A and type B. The Type A/B theory has received criticism just because it has oversimplified whereas there are many dimensions which can be considered (Magai and McFadden, 1995).

            The Psychoanalytic theories explain human  personality using the interaction of various  factors of personality, and it was designed by Sigmund Freud. He divided the human personality into three major components as described earlier as to id, ego and Superego. The other psychoanalysis theorist is Karen Horney with her development of the real self and ideal self theory, where she explains that every person has two views about himself. The real self implies exactly on the values, ,morals and personality of one self, whereas ideal self implies the constructs that one adapts so as to be in conformity with the society (Eugen A. and Merbaum, 1964 ).

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† The behaviorist theories used effects of external stimuli on behavior in explaining human personality and it was designed by B. Skinner in him putting much weight on the human being interacting with the environment. He uses an example of a child crying and argued that the child always cries because he had received attention in the past crying, thus there is always a response and the consequence, where in this case the child crying is the response and the consequence if the attention that he receives. according to Skinner, the people’s behaviors are determined by the process known as operant conditioning. the theory of Skinner was further refined by Richard Herrnstein on him including the factor of attributes and traits, where he explains that an attribute normally arise when the response is stable to a set group of stimuli (Borgatta F. and Lambert 1968).

Another behaviorist theorist is Ivan Pavlov in his theory of classical conditioning, with his experiment with the dogs, in which he used to ring a bell before he serves the dog with food, but came to realize that the dogs were now salivating even if there was no food to them, thus associating food to the ringing of the bell. John Watson, the father of the American behaviorism is also another behavioral theorist his theory of radical behaviorism, where he drew four main assumptions including Evolution continuity, Reductionism, determinism, and Empiricism. The behavioral theories are thus characterized by mainly considering observable behaviors, thus not looking into unconscious motives ans internal traits.

            Cognitive theories are theories that explain human personality by looking at the human thinking and judgements. Albert Bandura in his experiment of Bobo Doll, where he showed a kindergartens class pupils a video of a college student hitting a doll and realized that the pupils also hit the doll that they found at their playground. He called his observation as findings of observational learning. Some other noticeable theories under the cognitive theories include the self efficacy work theory, which explains that confident persons have the inabilities to handle tasks designed by Bandura, Locus of control theory that explains that personality is determined by the beliefs in persons on whether the world in which they stay is controlled by something else or controlled by themselves, and the Attributional style theory which explains personality as being determines  by the way in which persons interpret events in their live. The cognitive theorist is Walter Mischel  with his theory of cognitive Affective units, which explains personality as being associated to factors alike encoding of stimuli, setting of goals and also the predetermined self regulating beliefs. The other noticeable cognitive theorists include Albeit Ellis with his theory of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy and Aaron Beck with his theory of Cognitive behavioral therapy.

            The humanistic theories explain personality on the ground that persons have a free will in which they determine their behaviours on their own. This idea was brought up by Abraham Maslow and Carlos Rogers in their  phenomenal field of Combs and Snygg. They took most of theory time in understanding  what is meant by self actualization, with a believe that persons who intended advertisement they are expected to move towards realizing self actualization. In their theory they put more weight on explaining that human beings are active, creative and full of experiences in them considering the present and variedly making decisions on the current perceptions, relationships and encounters (Arndit, 1974).

            The Biopsychological theories are theories that use the brain analysis tools in explaining human personality and they includes positron Emission Tomography, Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, and Electroencephalography. The Biopsychological theorists include Richard Daividson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in his research on the role of prefrontal cortex and amygdala in them influencing the human personality.

            The test of human personality can be done in two possible ways, in which it may be either projective or objective test. In the case of projective test human personality is assumed to be unconscious whereas in the case of objective test the personality is assumed to be conscious(Burger, 1986).

            Conclusion. Personality can be defined as a set of characteristics that are contained one given person which determines their thinking, motivation and the pattern of reactions to some events. The study of human personality fall in the docket of psychology where psychology is believed to consider the art, science and the philosophy of some issue and then make a generalized conclusion. There are controversies that arise in the analysis of theories that explain the human personality and they include; Free will against determinism; Hereditary factors against against Environmental factor; Uniqueness among persons  against Universal similarities among persons; Proactive against reaction; and Optimism against pessimistism. The theories explaining the trend of human psychology can be divided into seven broad categories and they include; Trait theories, Type theories, Psychoanalytic theories, Behavioral theories; cognitive theories; humanistic theories and biopsychological theories. There are two major ways of testing  personality and they include projective tests and objective tests. The theories of personality have been criticized as being not necessary in the sense that personality is plastic, as it keeps of changing from time to time even if its in the same person, depending on places, situations and the environment in which they are exposed to, it is not definite.


Ryckman M., 1999, Theories of personality, Thomson learning, pp 10

Lindzey G. and Hall S. , 1965, Theories of Personality: Primary sources and Research, Wiley,   pp 106.

Magnavita J., 2001, Theories of personality: Contemporary approach to the science of psychology,        John wiley and Sons. pp 302.

Cloninger C., 2003, Theories of Personality: Understanding Persons, person/Pentice Hall, pp 108

Cervone D. and Pervin A., 2007, Personality: Theory and Research, Michigan University press,             pp 47

Magai C. and McFadden H., 1995, The Role of Emotions in social and Personality, Springer     publishers, pp 201

Eugen A. and Merbaum M., 1964, Personality: Reading in Theory and Research, Wadsworth    Publishing company, pp 178

Borgatta F. and Lambert W., 1968, Handbook of personality theory and Research: Theory and             Research, Rand McNally, pp 103

Burger M., 1986, personality:L Theory and research, Wadsworth publishing Company, pp 305

Arndit B., 1974, Theories of personality, Macmillan, pp 280

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