Personality Development

Major Theories of Personality Development

A variety of faces and personalities
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Personality development has been a major topic of interest for some of the most prominent thinkers in psychology. Our personalities make us unique, but how does personality develop? How exactly do we become who we are today? What factors play the most important role in the formation of personality? Can personality ever change?

To answer this question, many prominent theorists developed theories to describe various steps and stages that occur on the road of personality development.

The following theories focus on various aspects of personality development, including cognitive, social and moral development.

Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development

Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development remains one of the most frequently cited in psychology, despite being subject to considerable criticism. While many aspects of his theory have not stood the test of time, the central idea remains important today: children think differently than adults.

According to Piaget, children progress through a series of four stages that are marked by distinctive changes in how they think. Learn more about Piaget’s groundbreaking theory and the important contributions it made to our understanding of personality development.

Freud’s Stages of Psychosexual Development

In addition to being one of the best-known thinkers in the area of personality development, Sigmund Freud remains one of the most controversial.

In his well-known stage theory of psychosexual development, Freud suggested that personality develops in stages that are related to specific erogenous zones. Failure to complete these stages, he suggested, would lead to personality problems in adulthood.

Freud’s Structural Model of Personality

Freud not only theorized about how personality developed over the course of childhood, but he also developed a framework for how overall personality is structured.

According to Freud, the basic driving force of personality and behavior is known as the libido. This libidinal energy fuels the three components that make up personality: the id, the ego and the superego.

The id is the aspect of personality present at birth. It is the most primal part of personality and drives people to fulfill their most basic needs and urges. The ego is the aspect of personality charged with controlling the urges of the id and forcing it to behave in realistic ways. The superego is the final aspect of personality to develop and contains all of the ideals, morals and value imbued by our parents and culture. This part of personality attempts to make the ego behave according to these ideals. The ego must then moderate between the primal needs of the id, the idealistic standards of the superego and reality.

Freud's concept of the id, ego and superego has gained prominence in popular culture, despite a lack of support and considerable skepticism from many researchers. According to Freud, it is the three elements of personality that work together to create complex human behaviors.

Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development

Erik Erikson’s eight-stage theory of human development is one of the best-known theories in psychology. While the theory builds on Freud’s stages of psychosexual development, Erikson chose to focus on how social relationships impact personality development. The theory also extends beyond childhood to look at development across the entire lifespan.

At each stage of psychosocial development, people face a crisis in which a task must be mastered. Those who successfully complete each stage emerge with a sense of mastery and well-being. Those who do not resolve the crisis at each stage may struggle with those skills for the remainder of their lives.

Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development

Lawrence Kohlberg developed a theory of personality development that focused on the growth of moral thought. Building on a two-stage process proposed by Piaget, Kohlberg expanded the theory to include six different stages. While the theory has been criticized for a number of different reasons, including the possibility that it does not accommodate different genders and cultures equally, Kohlberg’s theory remains important in our understanding of how personality develops.

These theories are just a beginning point in understanding how personality develops. Continue your reading in the resources below to learn more:

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