Monday, March 25, 2019

Introduction to Personality Theory


The goals of psychology as a discipline are concerned with describing, explaining and predicting people’s behavior, with the aim of supporting and helping people with their lives (Poznań , 2014). One way of approaching those goals is by studying individual differences, which are split into two categories, traits and states. Traits are concerned with personality and ability whereas states are concerned with mood and motivation (Cooper, 2010).

Personality is comprised on an individual’s usual pattern of feelings, thoughts and behavior (Cooper, 2010). Prior to the emergence of personality theory however, psychologists in the 20th century had what was called the person-situation debate, where they debated whether the person’s distinct characteristics determined behavior or the specific environment the person is in, or situation is a better determinant of behavior (Epstein, 1985). Modern psychology places somewhat equal weight on both the person and the situation (Judge & Zappata, 2015).

Also throughout the 20th century, there were several approaches that dealt with personality theory, from both the quantitative and the clinical or therapeutic schools of psychology. Since psychology as a science was not well developed in the beginnings of the 20th century (Chung & Hyland, 2012), personality was first approached by schools that belonged to the therapeutic tradition. Some of the most notable schools were the psychodynamic and the humanistic schools of psychology (Laureate online education, 2016).

The psychodynamic school of thought was founded by the famous Austrian psychologist, Sigmund Freud. Freud’s theory focuses on the dichotomy between the conscious and unconscious mind and their respective dynamic conflicts (Deal, 2007). Freud also proposed two personality models, the topographic and the structural models. The first is composed of the mental layers, the conscious, pre-conscious, and the unconscious. The structural model includes the id, ego, and superego. Both models overlap, where the id and the superego are unconscious drives, and the ego is the conscious mind that mitigates between the unconscious desires of the id, and the unconscious moral compass of the super-ego. When the dynamic conflicts of the unconscious can’t be resolved, a state of neurosis presents itself. Freud also developed the concept of defense mechanisms, and the role of defense mechanisms is to prohibit undesirable unconscious thoughts from entering the conscious mind. Most Freudian theories do not meet the scientific standards of modern psychology because they have been very difficult if not near impossible to test. However, some defense mechanisms, such as denial and reaction formation have substantial scientific literature to back them up (Twenge & Campbell, 2017).

As for the humanistic schools of thought, it was founded by Abraham Maslow and expanded by Carl Rogers, it was formed to some extent as a rebuttal to psychodynamic theory and the early 20th century behaviorism. Humanism focused on the idea that humans are conscious beings whereas the others focused more on unconscious drives (Twenge & Campbell, Self-actualization and humanistic psychology, 2017). Carl Rogers developed the Self-Theory, which is split into two modes, the congruence and the incongruence modes. In the first the ideal self is equal to the true self. In the later there are the ideal self, self-image, and true-self. Most people are incongruent and aim to be congruent (JP, 2018).

Even though both humanistic and psychodynamic schools are unscientific by modern standards, they have certainly contributed greatly to the advancement of personality psychology.




Chung, M. C., & Hyland, M. E. (2012). Evaluation of the idea that psychology is a science: what is science ? In M. C. Chung, & M. E. Hyland, History and Philosophy of Psychology (pp. 76 - 79). West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Incorporated.

Cooper, C. (2010). Introduction to individual differences. In Individual Differences and Personality (pp. 1-6). London: Hodder.

Deal, K. H. (2007). Psychodynamic theory . Advances in Social Work.

Epstein, S. (1985). The person-situation debate in historical and current perspective.  Psychological Bulletin , 98(3):513-37.

JP. (2018). Revisiting carl rogers theory of personality. Retrieved from Journal Psyche:

Judge, & Zappata. (2015). The person-situation debate revisited: effect of situation strength and trait activation on the validity of the big five personality traits in predicting job performance. Academy of Management Journal, 1149–1179.

Laureate online education. (2016, November 10). Week 5: conceptual and historical paradigms in psychology: a critical analysis. part 1. gestalt psychology. Mind, Brain and Behavior. Netherlands: Laureate Online Education B.V.

Poznań . (2014). On the method of psychology. an introduction to the comparative methodology of scientific research. Poznań studies in the philosophy of the sciences and the humanities, p. 61.

Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. (2017). Psychodynamic approaches. In Personality Psychology: Understanding Yourself and Others (pp. 142-176). New York: Pearson.

Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. (2017). Self-actualization and humanistic psychology. In Personality Psychology (pp. 189-191). New York: Pearson.



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