Personality Psychology Study Guide

Overview of Personality

Student studying personality
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Are you ready for your personality psychology exam? Whether you're prepping for the big test or just trying to learn more about the subject before you sign up for your first course, this personality study guide can help you get a solid grasp of the basics.

What is Personality?

First, we must start by answering the most basic question: What is personality? Personality is made up the characteristic patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that make a person unique.

Researchers have found while some external factors can influence how certain traits are expressed, personality originates within the individual. While a few aspects of personality may change as we grow older, personality tends to remain fairly consistent throughout life.

Personality psychologists are interested in the unique characteristics of individuals, as well as similarities among groups of people.

In this first section of our personality study guide, start by learning more about how psychologists define personality: What is Personality?

Characteristics of Personality

Next, let's look as some of the key characteristics of personality:

  1. Personality is organized and consistent. We tend to express certain aspects of our personality in different situations and our responses are generally stable.
  2. Personality is psychological, but is influenced by biological needs and processes. For example, while your personality might lead you to be shy in social situations, an emergency might lead you to take on a more outspoken and take-charge approach.
  1. Personality causes behaviors to happen. You react to the people and objects in your environment based on your personality. From your personal preferences to your choice of a career, every aspect of your life is affected by your personality.
  2. Personality is displayed through thoughts, feelings, behaviors and many other ways.

    The Study of Personality

    Now that you know a bit more about the basics of personality, it's time to take a closer look at how scientists actually study human personality.

    There are different techniques that are used in the study of personality. Each technique has its own strengths and weaknesses.

    • Experimental methods are those in which the researcher controls and manipulates the variables of interests and takes measures of the results. This is the most scientific form of research, but experimental research can be difficult when studying aspects of personality such as motivations, emotions, and drives. These ideas are internal, abstract, and extremely difficult to measure.
    • Case studies and self-report methods involve the in-depth analysis of an individual as well as information provided by the individual. Case studies rely heavily on interpreting the observer, while self-report methods depend on the memory of the individual of interest. Because of this, these methods tend to be highly subjective and it is difficult to generalize the findings to a larger population.
    • Clinical research relies upon information gathered from clinical patients over the course of treatment. Many personality theories are based upon this type of research, but because the research subjects are unique and exhibit abnormal behavior, this research tends to be highly subjective and difficult to generalize.

    Next, learn more about some of the basic research methods used by psychology researchers: Introduction to Psychology Research Methods

    Explore this timeline of personality psychology to learn more about some of the important dates and discoveries that have had an impact on our understanding of human personality.

    • 1758 – The founder of phrenology, Franz Joseph Gall, was born. Phrenology was a popular pseudoscience that linked personality to head shape.
    • 1848 - Phineas P. Gage was injured in a dynamite explosion, blasting an iron rod through his brain. Personality psychologists often cite Gage to demonstrate the link between the brain and personality. While Gage survived the accident, his personality was drastically altered.
    • 1902Erik Erikson was born. An ego psychologist trained by Anna Freud, Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development described personality development from birth to death.
    • 1908 - Abraham Maslow was born. His hierarchy of needs is one of the most famous theories of motivation and personality.
    • 1916 - Hans Eysenck was born. His theory of personality described three dimensions: extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism.
    • 1921 - Hermann Rorschach's published his book Psychodiagnostik, which described his inkblot personality test.
    • 1923 - Sigmund Freud published The Ego and the Id. The paper outlined his structural model of personality.
    • 1938 - The Rorschach Institute was founded. It was later renamed the Society for Personality Assessment.
    • 1948 - Robert W. White's classic book The Abnormal Personality was published.
    • 1954 – Abraham Maslow published his book Motivation and Personality, describing his theory of a hierarchy of needs.
    • 1963 - Albert Bandura first described the concept of observational learning to explain personality development.
    • 1980 - Carl Rogers published A Way Of Being. Rogers is best remembered for his humanistic approach to personality theory.

    Personality psychology is the focus of some of the best known psychology theories by a number of famous thinkers including Sigmund Freud and Erik Erikson. In this section of the personality study guide, learn more about some of the major theories of personality and the psychologists who developed them.

    Biological Theories

    Biological approaches suggest that genetics are responsible for personality. Research on heritability suggests that there is a link between genetics and personality traits.

    One of the best known biological theorists was Hans Eysenck, who linked aspects of personality to biological processes. For example, Eysenck argued that introverts had high cortical arousal, leading them to avoid stimulation. On the other hand, Eysenck believed extroverts had low cortical arousal, causing them to seek out stimulating experiences.

    Behavioral Theories

    Behavioral theories suggest that personality is a result of interaction between the individual and the environment. Behavioral theorists study observable and measurable behaviors, rejecting theories that take internal thoughts and feelings into account.

    Behavioral theorists include B. F. Skinner and John B. Watson.

    Psychodynamic Theories

    Psychodynamic theories of personality are heavily influenced by the work of Sigmund Freud, and emphasize the influence of the unconscious mind and childhood experiences on personality. Psychodynamic theories include Sigmund Freud's psychosexual stage theory and Erik Erikson's stages of psychosocial development.

    Freud believed the three components of personality were the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is responsible for all needs and urges, while the superego for ideals and moral. The ego moderates between the demands of the id, the superego, and reality.

    Erikson believed that personality progressed through a series of stages, with certain conflicts arising at each stage.

    Success in any stage depends on successfully overcoming these conflicts.

    Humanist Theories

    Humanist theories emphasize the importance of free will and individual experience in the development of personality. Humanist theorists emphasized the concept of self-actualization, which is an innate need for personal growth that motivates behavior. Humanist theorists include Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow.

    Trait Theories

    The trait theory approach is one of the largest areas within personality psychology. According to this theory, personality is made up of a number of broad traits. A trait is basically a relatively stable characteristic that causes an individual to behave in certain ways. Some of the best known trait theories include Eysenck's three-dimension theory and the five factor theory of personality.

    Further Reading

    Some of the most famous figures in the history of psychology left a lasting mark on the field of personality. In this section of the personality study guide, learn more about the lives, theories and contributions to psychology of these eminent psychologists.

    Sigmund Freud

    Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was the founder of psychoanalytic theory. His theories emphasized the importance of the unconscious mind, childhood experiences, dreams and symbolism.

    His theory of psychosexual development suggested that children progress through a series of stages during which libidinal energy is focused on different regions of the body. His ideas are what as known as grand theories because they seek to explain virtually every aspect of human behavior. Many of Freud's ideas are considered outdated by modern psychologists, but it is still essential to have a solid understanding of his work and the influence he had on personality psychology.

    Erik Erikson

    Erik Erikson (1902-1994) was an ego psychologist trained by Anna Freud. His theory of psychosocial stages describes how personality develops throughout the lifespan. Like Freud, some aspects of Erikson's theory are considered outdated by contemporary researchers, but his eight-stage theory of development remains popular with many.

    B. F. Skinner

    B. F. Skinner (1904-1990) was a behaviorist best known for his research on operant conditioning and the discovery of schedules of reinforcement.

    Schedules of reinforcement influence how quickly a behavior is acquired and the strength of a response. The schedules described by Skinner are fixed-ratio schedules, fixed-variable schedules, variable-ratio schedules and variable-interval schedules.

    Albert Bandura

    Albert Bandura's (1925-Present) research in behavioral psychology emphasized the role of observational learning.

    Bandura is best known for his Bobo doll experiment in which young children watched a film showing a woman beating up a doll. Children were then allowed to play with the same doll they had observed in the film. The effect of observational learning became apparent when the children began beating up the doll, imitating the behavior of the woman in the film.

    Abraham Maslow

    Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) was a humanist psychologist who developed the well-known hierarchy of needs. This hierarchy includes physiological needs, safety and security needs, love and affection needs, self-esteem needs and self-actualizing needs.

    Carl Rogers

    Carl Rogers (1902-1987) was a humanist psychologist who believed that all people have an actualizing tendency - a drive to fulfill individual potential that motivates behavior. Rogers called healthy individuals "fully-functioning", describing these individuals as those who are open to experience, live in the moment, trust their own judgement, feel free and are creative.

    As we wrap up our overview of personality, it is time to learn more about some key terms in personality, answer some basic study questions and put your knowledge to the test.

    Key Terms In the Study of Personality

    Personality: The characteristic patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors arising from within that make a person unique.

    Classical Conditioning: A behavioral training technique in which a naturally occurring stimulus is paired with a response.

    Then, a previously neutral stimulus is paired with the naturally occurring stimulus. Eventually, the previously neutral stimulus comes to evoke the response without the presence of the naturally occurring stimulus. The two elements are then known as the conditioned stimulus and the conditioned response.

    Operant Conditioning: A behavior training technique in which reinforcements or punishments are used to influence behavior. An association is made between a behavior and a consequence for that behavior.

    Unconscious: In Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality, the unconscious mind is a reservoir of feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories that are outside of our conscious awareness. Most of the contents of the unconscious are unacceptable or unpleasant, such as feelings of pain, anxiety, or conflict. According to Freud, the unconscious continues to influence our behavior and experience, even though we are unaware of these underlying influences.

    Id: According to Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality, the id is the personality component made up of unconscious psychic energy that works to satisfy basic urges, needs, and desires. The id operates based on the pleasure principle, which demands immediate gratification of needs.

    Ego: According to Freud, the ego is the largely unconscious part of personality that mediates the demands of the id, the superego, and reality.

    The ego prevents us from acting on our basic urges (created by the id), but also works to achieve a balance with our moral and idealistic standards (created by the superego).

    Superego: The superego is the component of personality composed of our internalized ideals that we have acquired from our parents and from society. The superego works to suppress the urges of the id and tries to make the ego behave morally, rather than realistically.

    Self-Actualization: An innate human need to achieve personal growth that motivates behavior.

    Study Questions

    1. What are the major characteristics of personality?

    2. What characteristics do psychoanalytic theories share in common? In what ways does Freud's theory differ from Erikson's?

    3. Describe the different techniques used to study personality? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each?

    4. How does the behavioral approach to personality differ from the humanist approach?

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