The Main Theories Of Personality

The Main Theories Of Personality

A review of the most relevant theories of personality in the history of Psychology.

Personality understood as the relatively stable set of tendencies and patterns of thought, information processing, and behavior that each one of us manifests throughout life and through time and different situations are one of the main aspects that have been studied and analyzed by psychology. Different currents and authors have established different theories and models of personality.

Some of the main theories of personality are briefly explained below, which are based on different approaches such as the internalist, the situations, and the interactionist of the correlational, the experimental, or the clinical.

The most important theories of personality in psychology

Personality is one of the most important concepts approached by Psychology, and specifically from one of its branches: the Psychology of Individual Differences. However, there is not a single way to understand what personality is, but rather a plurality of approaches and categories to use.

Therefore, below we will review the contributions to the study of personality that have traditionally had more weight throughout the history of Psychology. However, not all of them are still valid today.

1. Freud’s theory of personality

The psychodynamic current has contributed various theories and models of personality, the best known being those of the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. For him, behavior and personality are linked to the existence of impulses that we need to put into practice and the conflict that this need entails, and the limitation that reality supposes for its fulfillment. It is a clinical and internalist model.

In his first topic, Freud proposed that the human psyche was structured in three systems, an unconscious one governed by the search for tension reduction and works through the pleasure principle, a conscious one that is governed by the perception of the external world, and the logic and the reality principle and a preconscious in which unconscious contents can be made conscious and vice versa.

In the second topic, Freud determines a second great structure of the personality compatible with the previous one, in which the psyche is configured by three psychic instances, the Id or It, the Ego, and the Superego. It is our most instinctive part, which governs and directs the internal energy in the form of impulses and from which all other structures start.

The Self would be the result of the confrontation of the impulses and drives with reality, being a mediating structure in a continuous conflict that uses different mechanisms to sublimate or redirect the energies coming from the impulses. Finally, the third instance is the Superego, or the part of the personality that is given by society and whose main function is to judge and censor behaviors and desires that are not socially acceptable.

The personality is built throughout development, in different phases, based on the existing conflicts between the different instances and structures and the defense mechanisms applied to try to resolve them.

The Main Theories Of Personality

2. Jungian personality theory

In addition to Freud, many other components of the psychodynamic current have proposed their personality structures. For example, Carl Jung proposed that personality was configured by the person or part of our personality that serves to adapt to the environment and that is related to what others can observe and the “shadow” or the part in which those elements are included. of the Self that is not admissible for the subject himself.

Likewise, according to this author, from the archetypes acquired by the collective unconscious (formed throughout the accumulation of cultures of many generations) and the different complexes that we adopt in our development towards identity, different types of personality are generated. depending on whether the concerns are directed inward or outward. That is, individuals reflect different kinds of personality depending on whether they are more sensitive or intuitive and whether they tend to focus more on thinking or feeling, with thinking, feeling, intuiting, and perceiving being the main psychological functions.

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Although the approach used by Jung when investigating human behavior has become outdated and is not part of the current science of Psychology, his ideas served as inspiration for one of the most used and current models of personality today: the model of the Big Five (or Big Five), which we will see later.

3. Phenomenological theory of Carl Rogers

From a humanistic-phenomenological perspective with a clinical approach, Carl Rogers proposes that each person has their phenomenological field or way of seeing the world, depending on their behavior on said perception.

Personality is derived from the self-concept or symbolization of the experience of one’s existence, which arises from the integration of the tendency to update or improve oneself with the need to feel love from the environment and self-esteem derived from the contrast between their behavior and the consideration or response they receive from the environment. If there are contradictions, such defensive measures will be used to hide said inconsistency.

4. Kelly’s Personal Construct Theory

As an example of personality theory derived from cognitivism and constructivism, we can find Kelly’s theory of personal constructs, also with a clinical approach. For this author, each person has a mental representation of reality and acts scientifically trying to explain what surrounds them.

Personality is considered to be constituted as a hierarchical system of dichotomous personal constructs that influence each other, which form a network with nuclear and peripheral elements through which we try to respond and make predictions for the future. What motivates the behavior and the creation of the system of constructs is the attempt to control the environment thanks to the predictive capacity derived from them and the improvement of the said predictive model through experience.

5. Allport’s Ideographic Personality Theory

Allport considers that each individual is unique in the sense that they have an integration of the different characteristics different from the rest of the people (it is based on the ideographic, on what makes us unique), as well as that we are active entities that focus on the fulfillment of goals.

This is one of the authors who consider that the personality that works personality from structural and stable elements, and traits. For him, we try to make our behavior consistent and we act in such a way that we create a system from which we can make different sets of stimuli equivalent so that we can respond similarly to different stimulations.

Thus, we develop ways of acting or expressing behavior that allow us to adapt to the environment. These features have different importance depending on the influence they have on our behavior and can be cardinal, central, or secondary.

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The set of traits would be integrated into the propium or itself, which is derived from the self-perception and self-awareness generated and composed of the experience of identity, perception, corporality, interests, self-esteem, rationality, and intentionality.

6. Cattell’s Theory of Personality

Raymond Cattell’s personality theory is one of the most famous and recognized factorial theories of personality. Structural, correlational, and internalist like Allport and starting from the analysis of the lexicon, he considers that personality can be understood as a function of a set of traits, which are understood as the tendency to react in a certain way to reality.

These traits can be divided into temperamental (the elements that tell us how to act), dynamic (the motivation for the behavior or attitude), or aptitude (the abilities of the subject to carry out the behavior).

The most relevant are the temperamental, from which Cattell would extract the sixteen primary personality factors that are measured in the 16 PF (which would refer to affectivity, intelligence, ego stability, dominance, impulsiveness, daring, sensitivity, suspicion, conventionalism, imagination, cunning, rebelliousness, self-sufficiency, apprehension, self-control, and tension).

The dynamics of personality also depend on motivation, finding different components in the form of dynamic traits or attitudes, among which are ergs (way of acting in the face of specific stimulations such as sex or aggression) and feelings.

7. Eysenck’s theory of personality

From an internalist and factorial position centered on the biological, Eysenck generates one of the most important explanatory hypotheses of personality from a correlational approach. This author generates the PEN model, which proposes that personality differences are based on biological elements that allow processes such as motivation or emotion.

Personality is a relatively stable structure of character, intellect, temperament, and physique, each contributing, respectively, will, intelligence, emotion, and the biological elements that enable them.

Eysenck finds and isolates three main factors into which all the others can be grouped, these being psychoticism or a tendency to act harshly, neuroticism or emotional stability, and extraversion/introversion or focus on the outer or inner world.

The author would consider that the level of extraversion depended on the activation of the ascending reticular activation system or SARA, the neuroticism of the limbic system, and psychoticism, although a clear correlate has not been identified, it tends to be linked to the level of androgens or the relationship between dopamine and serotonin.

The three factors of the PEN model integrate the different personality traits and allow the organism to react in certain ways to environmental stimulation based on more or less specific and frequent behavioral responses.

8. Costa and McCrae’s Big Five Theory

Another of the great factorial theories and based on a lexical approach (starting from the idea that the terms with which we explain our behavior allow, after a factorial analysis, to establish the existence of groupings of characteristics or personality traits), the Big Five or of Costa and McCrae’s Big Five he is one of the most widespread personality models.

Through factor analysis, this model indicates the existence of five major personality factors that we all have to a greater or lesser degree. These are neuroticism or emotional adjustment, extraversion as the quantity and intensity of personal relationships, cordiality as the qualities expressed in the interaction, responsibility or awareness, organization, control and motivation towards goals, and openness to experience or interest in experimenting.

Each of these major factors is made up of traits or facets. The different traits are related to each other, and together they account for the way of perceiving the world and reacting to it.

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9. Gray’s BIS AND BAS model

Gray proposes a factorial and biological model in which he considers that two dimensions allow elements such as emotion and learning, based on the combination of Eysenck’s extraversion and neuroticism factors.

In this case, it is proposed that anxiety, as a combination of introversion and neuroticism, would act as a behavioral inhibition mechanism (BIS or Behavior Inhibition System), while impulsivity (which would be equivalent to a combination of extraversion and neuroticism) would act as a mechanical approach and motivation to action (BAS or Behavior Approximation System). Both systems would act together to regulate our behavior.

10. Cloninger’s model

This model considers the existence of temperamental elements, these being pain avoidance, reward dependence, novelty-seeking, and persistence. These biological and acquired elements would account for the behavioral pattern that we apply in our lives, and depend to a large extent on the neurochemical balance of the brain in terms of neurotransmitters.

It also incorporates elements of character that help to situate the self, in reality, these being cooperation as social behavior, self-direction or autonomy, and self-transcendence as an element that integrates us and gives us a role in the world.

11. Rotter’s Social Learning Theory

This author considers that the pattern of behavior that we habitually employ is an element derived from learning and social interaction. He considers the human being an active element and uses an approach close to behaviorism. We act based on the existence of needs and the visualization and assessment of both these and the possible behaviors that we have learned to carry out. Although close to interactionism, he places himself in a situationist perspective

Behavior potential is the probability of performing a given behavior in a given situation. This potential depends on elements such as expectations (both the ability to influence the results and the result itself and the possible obtaining of benefits after the conduct) and the consideration or value given to the consequences of carrying out the conduct in question, as well as how the person processes and assesses the situation (known as a psychological situation).

12. The interactionist approach

Throughout history, there have been many authors who have one of two positions: that personality is something innate or that it is derived from learning. However, there is a third option, defended by authors such as Mischel, in which personality is formed by the interaction between innate elements and the phenomena we experience.

This position explores personality characteristics through the study of the existence of consistency of behavior across situations, temporal stability, and predictive validity of traits. The conclusions indicated that other types of categorizations different from the traits should be used since these do not reflect a valid predictive model as they are more innate. He argues that it is more efficient to talk about skills, values, expectations, constructs, and self-control.

Other authors such as Allen reflect that consistency can vary depending on the person, as well as the main values ​​and the aspects that best predict behavior. In this way, the traits would be consistent, but only if those that are most relevant to each person are taken into account.

Bibliographic references

  • Bermudez, J. (2004). Personality psychology. Theory and research. (Vols I and II). Teaching Unit of the UNED. Madrid.
  • Corr, PJ; Matthews, G. (2009). The Cambridge handbook of personality psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Hermangómez, L. & Fernández, C.(2012). Personality and Differential Psychology. CEDE PIR Preparation Manual, 07. CEDE: Madrid.
  • McCrae, RR, & Allik, IU (2002). The five-factor model of personality across cultures. Springer Science & Business Media.


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