Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Psychology, Personality, Theory, Sociology, Trait, Development, Human, Model

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2021/01/03

Personality is a very unique concept which surmises a lot about the question regarding “who are we?” The word ‘Personality’ is derived from the Latin ‘Persona’ which refers to the mask or faced worn by actors during a performance. Nowadays, personality is used to mean much more than that. A significant corpus of research exists on a variety of personality theories and psychologists continuously strive to understand the nuances of this concept. The origins of personality and the factors affecting it throughout the course of a lifetime are some of the fascinating questions that are being documented through various empirical studies. According to Feist and Rosenberg (2009) “personality is a pattern of relatively permanent traits and unique characteristics that give both consistency and individuality to a person’s behaviour”. All of us want to categorize fellow human beings into various stereotypes, which includes traits such as introversion, sense of humor, risk-taking etc. Human personality is filled with myriad contradictions but still it helps us conduct our lives determines our fitness in the biological and evolutionary perspective. Various psychological theories have been postulated to better explain the need of personality. In the following article we will discuss the three primary theories of personality that discuss the origins of personality and the factors governing it.

Psychodynamic theory of Personality vs Self Theory

Personality is a very important aspect of life that governs the life choices of individuals and is a major determinant of the ‘umwelt’ of every human being. A number of the psychological theories have been proposed to better understand the origins of personality in human beings. The renowned psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung was one of the earliest proponents of the Psychodynamic theory of personality. According to the psychodynamic theory, personality is a construct of three stages of human subconscious. The first aspect is “Id”, which is a sense of pure self that corresponds to hunger, thirst, and sexual urges. The second stage is “superego” that tries to enforce parental and social value systems into the choices available to the individual. The third facet is the ‘ego’ this is the actual balancing wheel that tries to rationalize between social expectations (superego) and personal desires (id). On the other hand, Heinz and Kohut (1984) proposed the theory of “tripartite self’. According to this self-theory the idea of self is composed of the a. the grandiose and exhibitionist needs, b. need for an idealized figure, c. alter-ego needs. Kohut (1984) suggested that most adult personality disorders stem from poor parenting that fails to meet these three requirements. Unlike the five psychosexual stages proposed by Freud in which the child goes through three stages of development like oral, anal, genital etc. Kohut proposed that children-parent relationships are very important for ideal personality development. Kohut suggested that children are born with a nuclear self and as they grow up, they understand that parents expect them to behave in a certain manner (virtual self). The nuclear and virtual selves interact with each other to form the cohesive self, which is important for personality development. Therefore we see that there are inherent differences in the way we used to perceive developmental psychology and how we perceive it today. Developmental psychology plays a crucial role in shaping the personality of individuals and we will discuss a few theories of personality development in the next sections.

Social Cognitive Theory of Personality

Albert Bandura, a renowned psychologist first proposed the “Social learning theory” along with the “social cognitive theory of personality” (1999). The theory is one of the major milestones in personality research and it talks about how personality is an integral part of our social milieu. Social learning occurs when people observe others performing certain tasks and based on the experiences of the third party, change their approach. For example, if a toddler sees another toddler crying after eating chili, they will never approach the chili because the experience of the first toddler is enough to let them know that the food item does not taste very good. According to Bandura (1999), similar to the Social learning theory, the social cognitive theory of personality also incorporates the tenets of social learning. Unlike the traditional personality theories that emphasize more on hereditary traits and environmental factors, Bandura proposed that individuals are also constantly interacting with their immediate environment and trying to change it to suit their needs. Therefore the social and cognitive experiences of an individual must play a decisive role in the determining the personality. Bandura and associates proposed through their ‘social cognitive theory of personality’ that personality is a result of the bidirectional relationship between an individual and their environment.
As per the personality theory proposed by Bandura, four factors are responsible for shaping the personality of individuals. The first factors is the social learning theory, where individuals imbibe knowledge of people from their immediate environment. The second factor, is known as the ‘vicarious conditioning’ , where like the toddler who learns not to eat chili based on a peer’s negative experience, people also learn vicariously from the acts of others. The third concept is called ‘self-efficacy’. ‘Self-efficacy’ has been defined by Bandura and associates as “the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations.” High self-efficacy is often associated with a well-rounded personality, individuals with high self –efficacy view challenges as tasks that need to be accomplished, have a strong sense of commitment and recover well from disappointments and failures.

Trait-based personality theory

Hans Eysenck, a renowned psychologist first proposed the biological theory of personality in 1947 in his book “Dimensions of Personality” (Eysenck, 1947). The three-factor model proposed by Eysenck was later refined to form the big five factor personality model that forms the basis of modern day personality assessment. However the trait-based theory of personality has a long history.
Gordon W. Allport (1961) was one of the first group of psychologists, who first proposed the idea about evaluating personality as a trait based model. The idea was simple, personality is a construct of different behavioral, psychological traits that are unique to each individual. Therefore by summarizing and categorizing traits based on empirical research, comprehensive information can be gathered about human personality. During Allport’s time, the study of personality was mostly involved with the idea of pathological personality. Allport moved out of the traditional personality research and laid emphasis on individual traits on the personality of each individual. Allport first proposed that although some traits are in fact hereditary, each individual will be unique in the combination of traits that combine to form their respective personality. Allport also strongly believed that behaviors were independent of past experiences and were determined by motives, interests and attitudes of the individual concerned. For example, a man who does not like to consume bitter medication must have had some painful experiences with the same. However, when afflicted with illness, this same man will change his behavior towards the medication, because his motive is to get cured. Therefore behavior is not shaped by past experience but the motivation. Allport also surmised that an individual with a health psychological construct will be motivated by the present and will quickly recover from bad experiences in the past.
Allport believed that “a generalized focalized neuropsychotic system (peculiar to the individual), with the capacity to render many stimuli functionally equivalent, and to initiate and guide consistent (equivalent) forms of adaptive and expressive behavior.” Therefore we can see that Allport’s trait based personality theory is in the same lines as that of Eysenck’s three factor trait model, Castell’s ‘Factor Theory’ and the spectrum of biological personality theory. Allport proposed that the first traits of personality are shared by individuals of the same culture and are easier to classify. On the other hand, the individual traits that are unique to each person is much harder to evaluate and quantify as they are unique to the person. Allport also differentiated between a trait and a habit said that a habit may over the course of years become a trait but a trait is not necessarily a habit and is more like a predisposition to or an outlook to react to certain scenarios in a specific way. Allport unlike Eysenck and Colinger described traits based on their effect on the personality of an individual. His trait-based theory consisted of Cardinal traits, Central traits, and secondary traits. The Cardinal traits are the decisive traits that shape up the personality of an individual. Most behavioral attributes can be traced to a Cardinal trait. Central traits are more specific to individuals and still can be traced to behavioral attributes. Allport and Schultz (1976), maintained that central traits are often shared by a large number of individuals and therefore are easier to quantify. Last, the secondary traits were defined as transient characteristics of the personality that are shaped by the interactions of the individual with their environment.


Science has made a lot of progress in the last century and slowly we have moved on from the psychosexual theory of human psychological development proposed by Freud and adopted more rational theories to explain the functioning of human mind. According to the earlier dispositional theory of personality, that used to talk about personality as a completely heritable attribute and proposed that criminal could never be reformed; on the contrary, Allport and Bandura’s theories accept that an individual personality is a construct of their self-interacting with their environment and this leaves a chance for reform. Personality theories help us better understand ourselves and the people around us.


Allport, G. W. (1961). Pattern and growth in personality.
Bandura, A. (1999). Social cognitive theory of personality. Handbook of personality, 2, 154-196.
Eysenck, H. J. (1948). Dimensions of personality: a record of research carried out in collaboration with HT Himmelweit and others. Routledge-K. Paul.
Feist, G., & Rosenberg, E. (2009). Psychology: making connections. Granite Hill Publishers.
Kohut, H. (1950). Discussion of" On the adolescent process as a transformation of the self' by Ernest S. Wolf, John E. Gedo, & David Terman.The search for the self: Selected writings of Heinz Kohut, 78, 659-662.
Kohut, H. (1984). How does analysis cure? University of Chicago Press.
McCrae, R. R., & John, O. P. (1992). An introduction to the five-factor model and its applications. Journal of Personality, 60(2), 175–215. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1635039
Millon, T. (1990). Toward a new personology: An evolutionary model. John Wiley & Sons.
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Westen, D. (1998). The scientific legacy of Sigmund Freud: toward a psychodynamically informed psychological science. Psychological Bulletin, 124(3), 333.

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