My mind, my thoughts, my words

Introduction to Theories of Personality (P1)


Personality is defined as psychological qualities that contribute to an individual’s unique and distinctive patterns of feelings, thoughts and behaviours. It is said to be enduring (time and situation consistent) and distinctive.


The main goal of the different personality theories are to be

  • comprehensive,
  • applicable,
  • testable,
  • scientific, and
  • systematic

and to answer

  • what (are someone’s personality characteristics and how are they organised)
  • how (did personality come around), and
  • why (do we behave the way we do)

and each theory enables us to

  • describe individual differences
  • identify human motivations
  • explain development of self-concept
  • identify causes of emotional reactions
  • predict performance (e.g. in school, at work)
  • reduce psychological distress (through therapy)


Personality development looks at the development of people’s personalities and tries to understand the developmental factors that contribute to individual differences. There is a nature (genes, biochemistry etc) – nurture (environmental factors such as culture, social class, family and peers) debate as in most theories on human behaviour.


Issues that personality theories deal with are among others

  • Psychopathology and behavioural change
  • Historical changes in how personality is viewed
  • The roles of nature and nurture
  • Consistency of personality
  • Concept of self
  • Awareness and unconscious
  • How much past, present and future influence personality


Depending on the theory, a particular kind of measurement and data are selected.


  • Idiographic approach (fluid) – individualistic unstructured personality tests (applied by Freud’s personality theory, the humanistic personality theory as well as CBT)
  • Nomothetic (fixed) – the same measurement is used for a population, giving very general results (applied by the traits and type theories)


  • L-data: obtained from individual’s life history
  • O-data: from observers (e.g. parents and friends)
  • T-data: obtained from tests (specific information gathered)
  • S-data: provided from the subject (issues: broad, possibly social desirability, self-perception bias, observability of personality, evaluative nature of the characteristics, ease with which person can be read/judged)

Approaches theories used to study personality

  • Case studies (idiographic approach)
  • Personality questionnaires (for correlations to find differences between people, however no explanation for causality)
  • Lab experiments (experimental conditions and manipulated variable(s))

One comment on “Introduction to Theories of Personality (P1)

  1. Pingback: Psychology (undergrad level) | My mind, my thoughts, my words

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This entry was posted on 14/04/2013 by in Psychological Issues and tagged , , , , , .
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