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All About Personality Psychology – Concepts and Theories

All About Personality Psychology – Concepts and Theories

Updated on Nov 18, 2022 | Published on Jan 04, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD , Certified Psychiatrist

Personality Psychology - Definition, Types, Theories and Facts

Key Takeaways


  • Personality psychology studies the various facets of the human persona.
  • It studies the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of human personality development.
  • Personality psychology is based on theories of personality growth.
  • Some of the important theories of personality are psychoanalytic theory, humanistic theory, trait theories, and socio-cognitive approach.
  • Personality can be studied with the help of self-report inventories and projective techniques.

Personality psychology is an applied discipline that explains the various facets of personality development and studies the variations among people. 

You must have noticed that in our daily lives, we come across many people who do not behave in similar ways as us. Why is it so?

It is simply because of the fact that we are all unique and carry certain special qualities that makes us who we are. Our exclusive nature determines the personality type that we may belong to.

Your personality affects your daily routine, relationships, work habits, and the overall lifestyle that you follow and live by. 

Now, you must be interested to know what the scientific theories tell about ‘you’. In this article, we will highlight the key concepts and theories that this vast discipline of psychology entails.

So let’s get started…..

Personality Psychology Infographic

All About Personality Psychology – Concepts and Theories
All About Personality Psychology – Concepts and Theories

What is Personality?

SUMMARY
Personality is the characteristic way of thinking, feeling, and behaving. It means the set of behavior patterns and emotional responses that you manifest while interacting with others in the real world.

Have you ever realized that there are many key factors that contributed to your making? Don’t you see yourself as an individual who is exclusive and has an inside story waiting to be revealed to the outside world?

Many people must have used picky adjectives to describe you as smart, dynamic, honest, or loving. They praised your attractive personality. Isn’t it so?

At this point, you were eager to know what individual personality means and why you are not like some other being in this world. What actually brings in such a difference?

The word personality is derived from the Latin word ‘persona’ which means a mask. It means that your innate nature has many hidden aspects that are not on the surface.

Others cannot see these aspects most of the time.

In another reference, persona also means your public image. It refers to what image you present outside and what role you are supposed to play in your real life.

In the scientific world, personality refers to your unique nature. According to Gordon Allport, “Personality is the dynamic organization within the individual of those psychophysical systems that determine his unique adjustments to the environment.” (1937).

According to Weinberg and Gold, (1999), “personality is the characteristics or a blend of characteristics that make a person unique.”

Both the above definitions describe personality as a unique feature that belongs to you. You are exclusive and one in all. 

You have a unique psychological structure that is made up of personality traits that are idiosyncratic. Thus, it is undesirable to compare you with any other person in this world.


Personality Psychology – Meaning

SUMMARY
Personality psychology is a systematic and scientific study of personality. The field analyzes what makes a person different from another person. It also studies how variation among people is intrinsic and guided by some inner forces.

As the subject matter of personality psychology studies individual differences amongst people, it also focuses on the underlying factors that lead to such a variation.

It helps to understand the ways we think, feel, and make decisions in our day-to-day life. Thus, the discipline intends to study the dichotomous functional preferences such as sensation vs. intuition, thinking vs. feeling, and judging vs. perceiving.

Personality psychology aims to study how the personality of a person influences thoughts and attitudes, emotions, values, social adjustment, motivation, and the overall behavior that the person displays in various social circumstances.

Gordon Allport (1937), a pioneer of trait theory in psychology proposed that personality psychology aims to construct an overall and coherent picture of an individual that determines the core psychological processes, and also shows the extent of similarity and difference with other individuals.

He described two important methods of studying personality psychology. They are nomothetic psychology and idiographic psychology. 

By the nomothetic view, Allport said that there are some general laws that can be applied to many people. It means human beings possess the same character traits and qualities that can belong to many people at a time.

If we consider the psychological traits of many people, we will be able to put them under one category or psychological type. From this concept, the type theories of psychology came into existence.

A simple example is the principle of self-actualization or the introversion vs. extroversion functions. These principles are generalized propositions that can be applied to many different people, irrespective of gender, caste, creed, religion, and nationality. 

The idiosyncratic view explains personality as unique and exclusive, something that belongs to the person alone. 

Thus, understanding personality psychology means studying the reactions of people toward other individuals, situations, and stressors of life.


Characteristics of Personality

If you are interested to know the development process of your unique nature, you will have to focus on knowing the key personality characteristics that show how personality works and why you seem to be different from the other person.

  • Personality is relatively stable and consistent. You will respond in more or less similar ways in response to outside stimulus. For example – an organized and systematic person will respond with anger and disgust in messy and non-methodical situations, no matter where or how that situation has arisen.
  • Personality is influenced by both genetic factors and environmental factors. For example – an otherwise shy person may become outspoken and sociable if they are required to do so.
  • Your personality makes you behave the way you do. It means your thoughts, feelings, and actions are closely connected to the type of person you are.
  • Your personal likings, desires, the motives behind your actions are all determined by your personality.
  • The relationships, career choice, workplace habits, social interaction are based on your personality type.

Philosophical assumptions of personality psychology

The study of personality psychology is dependent on art, sciences, and philosophy. It is an interdisciplinary field of study. 

There are a few philosophical assumptions on which personality psychology is based. The assumptions are helpful in understanding the various aspects of personality.

These assumptions tell us why theorists differ in their basic concept about what personality is, how it shapes a person’s overall behavior, and what role does it play in self-growth and development.

  • Freedom vs. determination – This assumption questions the fact that whether we have the power to control our behavior or whether behavior is casually determined by various motives and forces that are beyond human control. 
  • Nature vs. nurture – According to this assumption, many theorists believed that personality is determined by genetic factors and many behavior patterns that you might show in various situations are determined by heredity influences. There are other theories which claim that personality is shaped by the environment.
  • Uniqueness vs. Universality – This assumption focuses on the extent to which each one of us are different from each other and how far we have similar qualities that reinforces specific behavior responses. It tells you that in some cases your personality displays unique qualities that are exclusive but in some other situations you may showcase behavior that is universal.Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, Gordon Allport were the followers of “uniqueness”, while there are others like B.F Skinner and Albert Bandura who were the followers of the “Universal” school of thought.
  • Active vs. reactive – This assumption questions the fact that whether individuals respond or act through individual initiative or by the influence of some outside stimuli. The behaviorists believed that we are shaped by the environment. Thus our reactions and actions are passive. However, humanists and cognitive psychologists say that personality is shaped by our active participation with external forces.

Personality theories in psychology

In order to understand personality psychology, we will have to understand the various theories of personality that went into the making of this vast discipline.

Some of these theories explain how personality develops over time from childhood to adulthood. And there are others that symbolize the concept of individual differences in attitudes and behavior.

There are four major personality theories that we will talk about in this article. They are –

  • Psychoanalytic approach
  • Trait theory of personality
  • Humanistic approach to personality
  • Social cognitive approach to personality
  • Behaviorist theory

Psychoanalytic approach

The psychoanalytic approach relies on childhood experiences and the role of the unconscious in shaping your personality. 

Sigmund Freud, the pioneer of the psychoanalytic school proposed that your unconscious wishes and desires, wounds and trauma, thoughts and memories play a vital role in shaping your nature.

The approach is based on the following key concepts –

  • Your behavior is influenced by the unconscious forces operating deep within that never got a chance to come to the forefront.
  • The emotional troubles that you go through in your current state may have their root in the unconscious traumas and pain that you may have suffered in childhood.
  • There are deep rooted conflicts between the conscious and the unconscious mind that may give rise to mental health issues.
  • Freud believed that the unconscious content can be revealed through dreams and through slip of tongue.
  • Freud emphasized the importance of early childhood experiences, sexual instincts, and the role of the unconscious in the development of personality.

Some of the other major theorists of the psychoanalytic approach who believed in the role of the unconscious mind in shaping human personality are Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, Erik Erikson, and Karen Horney.

Since they differ from Sigmund Freud on many other concepts, they are also known as the Neo-Freudians.

The Neo-Freudians followed the basic concepts of psychoanalysis but they differed from Freud on several other aspects. 

They defied the importance of sexual urges in the development of personality. They also disagreed on Freud’s lack of emphasis on the social, cultural, and environmental factors in shaping one’s personality.

Trait theory of personality

The trait theory of personality is based on identifying, describing, and measuring the specific personality traits and qualities that a person may possess.

Researchers believed that these traits are the reason behind variation in personality dynamics.

Some of the well-known proponents of trait theories are Hans Eysenck, Raymond B, Cattell, Robert McCrae, and Paul Costa.

Hans Eysenck suggested three temperamental dimensions of personality such as

  • introversion- extroversion 
  • emotional stability-neuroticism
  • Psychoticism- normalcy

These dimensions are determined by biological factors and thus Eysenck’s theory is based on genetic influences. He believed that we all possess certain pre-disposed behavioral traits that build up our unique selves.

Another notable theory based on psychological traits was given by R.B. Cattell.

The 16 personality factors questionnaire or the 16PF test is a self-report personality test that was developed by R.B Cattell and Mead in 1949. 

This test provides a comprehensive measure of normal personality and can also be used by clinicians to diagnose psychiatric problems for relevant therapy and intervention.

Till now, the 16PF test has undergone four revisions (1956, 1962, 1968, and 1993). R.B Cattell identified 16 personality factors or dimensions based on his research on factor analysis. These 16 factors are as follows:

  1. Warmth
  2. Reasoning
  3. Emotional stability
  4. Dominance
  5. Liveliness
  6. Rule consciousness
  7. Social boldness
  8. Sensitivity
  9. Vigilance
  10. Abstractedness
  11. Apprehension
  12. Privateness
  13. Openness to change
  14. Self reliance
  15. Tension
  16. Perfectionism

The 16PF test consists of 164 items or statements that measure the above 16 variables or traits that describe human nature. 

It is based on a five-point scale and is widely used in career counseling and other psychiatric intervention programs.

Robert McCrae and Paul Costa’s pioneering work on big five personality traits became the hallmark in trait theory. 

Humanistic approach

This approach focuses on the ‘whole’ person and refers to the uniqueness of one’s personality.

The theory says that all humans are born with certain good qualities that need to be developed over time. This will help to form a pleasant personality.

The humanistic approach was propounded by Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. Both these theorists have put emphasis on self-awareness, free will, and personal growth.

This personality theory focuses on the positive side of human nature and tells you about how you can develop your key skills to develop an all-rounded personality.

Abraham Maslow’s theory

Abraham Maslow said that people are guided by a hierarchy of needs, of which the basic needs and safety needs come first.

Once the person is able to meet these needs well, they move on to the need for love and belongingness.

At last, it’s time for self-actualization where the person strives to attain his/her full potential. This stage refers to self-growth and becoming who you really want to be.

The humanistic theory of personality emphasizes the fact that human beings strive to fulfill what they are good at. It helps them to identify their areas of strengths and weaknesses.

When you do things in the best possible way, you are driven towards excellence. This excellence makes you a self-actualized person.

You have realized your true potential and what you are capable of doing in reality.

Abraham Maslow also pointed out that self-actualized individuals are self-aware, reality-oriented, and prefer to do their best always.

They are accepting of what cannot be changed. Thus, a self-actualized person knows how to adapt and adjust to their surroundings fully.

The theory of self-actualization views people as happy, self-motivated types who are driven by passion and growth. 

Carl Rogers’s theory

Carl Rogers viewed a person as a complete ‘whole’. He said that personality is not piecemeal by nature. We need to look at the person as a complete package. 

By this Rogers in 1959 came up with his humanistic viewpoint known as the ‘People-centric theory of personality.”

This theory says that in order to grow and self-actualize; a person needs an environment that can provide openness, genuineness, and acceptance.

He referred to the role of the immediate environment in the development of personality.

Rogers said that we are all born with certain talents but we need a proper and genuine environment to grow and thrive. Then only, our potential will grow the way it should.

Furthermore, Rogers added that three vital factors go into building your personality. They are-

  • Genuineness – be who you are and remain open to new experiences
  • Acceptance – when you will be accepted for who you are, you will be self-motivated to perform at your best potential. This concept was explained by Rogers as unconditional positive regard.
  • Empathy – we all want to be heard and understood. This is a primary emotional need that needs to be fulfilled in order to become a well-rounded person.

Thus, the humanistic approach of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow explained personality as a dynamic process of interaction between the ‘self’ and the environment.

The humanistic theory emphasized on genuine goodness that we all have. People are by nature creative and have much potential. But in order to grow, they need a proper environment to thrive.

Just as the plant needs sunlight, water, and proper climatic conditions to thrive, we also need a proper environment to meet our full potential.

Rogers tried to formulate an optimistic approach to personality development, defying the pessimistic outlook of the psychoanalytic approach.

Social cognitive approach to personality

The social cognitive theory of personality says that your personality is influenced by three factors. They are cognitive functions, personal characteristics, and the environment or situation you are in.

It puts emphasis on observation as a way of perception and learning. This theory was proposed by Albert Bandura in 1960.

The theory is also known as social learning theory and is one of the widely accepted theories of social psychology.

Albert Bandura proposed the importance of conscious thoughts, beliefs, and self-efficacy in shaping one’s personality.

Behaviorist theory of personality

This theory was given by B.F. Skinner. It says that personality is shaped by one’s interaction with the environment. 

More precisely, the way you behave in your daily life is largely dependent on the external stimulus producing it.

Your mutual interaction with the environment determines the behavior and thereby shapes your innate nature. 

The theory emphasized the fact that an individual will act in certain ways if the stimulus is strong enough to elicit a specific behavioral response. 

For example: if you are caught up in a traffic snarl for much more time than usual, you may feel frustrated, agitated, or irritable.

Here, the stimulus (traffic) is causing you to behave in certain specific ways, though undesirable ones.

In most cases, your behavior response remains stable and consistent in times, when the arousing stimulus is working in a similar fashion.

If you are angry-prone or not someone who likes to wait for a long time, you’ll always show the same level of restlessness and irritability in trying times.

The behaviorist theory is also known as the learning-conditioning theory of personality. Thus, the environment plays a vital role in shaping one’s personality.


Types of Personality in Psychology

Several theories were developed to understand the different personality types. Hippocrates, a Greek Physician in 370 BC described human beings on the basis of four temperaments. 

This is the first and the oldest classification of personality types, where Hippocrates explained human behavior and personality dynamics on the basis of body fluids. 

This theory is also known as the four temperament theory. The types are:

Four temperament theory

1. Sanguine

These people are talkative, proactive, socially engaged, and overly enthusiastic.

They are outgoing, love to be a part of the crowd, and can easily engage in risk-taking behaviors because they are bold and hardly possess the fear element.

2. Choleric

They are extrovert types who are independent, ambitious, and goal-oriented. Since they possess a dominant personality, they usually steal the show in social setups. 

People like them because they are assertive, bold but hate to get into a relationship with them because of their short temper, violence, and vengeance.

3. Melancholic

These people are logical and analytical. Individuals with a melancholic nature are deep thinkers.

They are introverts and reserved by nature. Usually, they are thoughtful but anxious–prone as well. They are perfectionists and don’t like to make mistakes.

4. Phlegmatic

Individuals of this type are relaxed, peaceful, and easy-going. They are sympathetic, kind, and less stressed. 

On the other hand, people with this type of temperament are patient, reasonable, and thoughtful and remain consistent in their thinking and actions.

Luis Amarel’s classification of personality types

We all love taking personality tests that can reveal our innate nature. But experts in the field say that personality runs in a continuum. 

We cannot categorically belong to just one type because personality is shaped by both heredity and environmental factors. 

A recent study published in Nature Human Behavior reveals that there are four major personality types.

People belong to one of the four types depending on the five big personality traits of openness to experience, agreeableness, extraversion, neuroticism, and contentiousness. They are:

1. Average

Average people are usually agreeable but they are usually anxious. So they score high in neuroticism and low in extraversion and openness.

2. Reserved

They are emotionally stable, agreeable, and introverted. They prefer to keep things to themselves.

3. Role model

The people belonging to this category are good leaders. They are social, proactive, and outspoken. They can be dependent because of their high confidence.

4. Self-centered

These individuals lack openness and are less conscientious in nature. They think about themselves, often lack gratitude and enough compassion to build healthy humane ties.

Carl Jung’s personality typology and 16 personality theory

Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist proposed that personality is not a random manifestation of what a person actually is. 

Rather it is the result of the cognitive preferences that one chooses to perceive information and take decisive actions in life.

Without much ado, he further added that the individual differences between individuals are a result of these functional differences. 

In 1921, Carl Jung’s famous book “Psychological types” described the fundamental cognitive functions that determine a person’s personality. 

Later on, during World War 11, Katherine Briggs and Isabel Myers became interested in studying the fundamental theory of Carl Jung. 

After a lot of psychological research, they formulated the concept of 16 personality types that ultimately became the backdrop of the MBTI personality test.

In recent times, this personality assessment tool is the most widely used globally because of its detailed and elaborate descriptions of personality styles.

The Enneagram model

The Enneagram model is a personality typology that describes nine types of personalities that are closely connected with each other. 

This model explains personality in terms of core motives and values that make you a unique being.

The Enneagram personality typing explains the basic fears and desires of nine different personality styles. It shows how the types are interconnected in terms of stress and security levels.

Further, it also explains the fundamentals of human nature and predictable behavior patterns in times of adversities.


Psychological facts about personality

Your personality shapes your entire ‘being’. It actually makes you who you are in front of others. Your personality influences each and every small aspect of your life. 

It determines the way you relate to your friends and family, how you make decisions in life, how you choose your career and life goals, etc.

Personality is fascinating as well as elusive. It is complex yet can be measured through psychological tests and research tools.

In exploring this subject, personality psychologists have identified certain key facts that can influence your personality in general.

1. Does your birth order influence personality?

A common stereotype that prevails is that birth order influences your personality type. It has been assumed that if you are a firstborn, you’ll be responsible, dependable, somewhat bossy, and nerd.

However, if you are the second born, you’ll be more easygoing and spontaneous in your outlook towards life.

There is no hard evidence to suggest this personality fact as genuine. Researchers are still searching for the truth of this biased proposition. 

Several pieces of research show that birth order does not influence personality and further investigations are needed to support the proposition.

2. Is your personality relatively stable and consistent overtime?

Do you think your personality can change according to the situation you are in? Or you believe that it is more or less stable throughout the lifetime

Several research findings have shown that your key personality traits remain stable and consistent irrespective of age, social situations, or any other change that may happen in your lifetime.

Paul T. Costa Jr., the pioneer of the five-factor model of personality traits, pointed out that as we age our social roles and personal responsibilities change.

However, it doesn’t mean that you become somebody else in your attitudes and behavior. 

He further added that three key things change over time, such as openness to experience, friendliness, and anxiety levels.

Personality remains stable and what changes are the habits, lifestyle, roles, and issues that matter the most in your life.

Perhaps, you may have a wrong notion that your personality has changed. 

Another question that came to the scene is, can your personality affect your physical and mental well-being?

Are you inclined towards developing certain mental diseases if you have certain personality traits?

For many years, people believed that aggression; hostility can lead to elevated blood pressure and can impact heart health.

Then, shy and inhibited people suffer from loneliness, low self-esteem, and depression.

Personality may affect a person’s general well-being by altering the way they think, feel, or act in certain situations. 

It is likely that the occurrence of physical and mental diseases is dependent on many other causal factors and not only personality alone.

4. Are your personal preferences determined by your personality?

You will be surprised to know that your personal preferences and choices will be influenced by your personality type.

Your choice of friends, the food you like, the seasons that are your favorites is all influenced by your personality.

Whether you believe it or not, your general outlook towards life, career, goal-orientation, lifestyle choices are all built up around your personality.

Even your choice of music also tells a lot about your personality.

5. Do you think optimists can live longer and can have a better quality of life?

Research findings have suggested that if you have an optimistic lifestyle, your quality of life will improve and you’ll be able to live longer.

Optimism is a positive personality trait that determines positivity and good mental health.

It also shows your pleasant mind state and well-rounded personality that is growth-oriented and less stressful.  

However, it has also been found that pessimists have lower longevity. They suffer from irrational thoughts and anxiety. Perhaps their quality of life is poorer than the optimists.

6. Can you read someone’s face and know their personality? 

You must be wondering whether it is really possible to know someone’s personality from their facial expressions. The reality is you can to a certain extent.

If you read people’s faces and expressions, you’ll be able to know about their likes and dislikes, intentions, and much more. Body language and non-verbal communication skills tell a lot about your personality.

It has been found that men with large noses, small eyes, and frowned brows usually have short-term relationships.

They appear arrogant and too orderly in their approach towards life that others may not like.

However, women who are overly showy and sexy can attract men better than those who are reserved and conservative. 

Many times, you must have seen that people with a pleasing personality are well-liked by others. A smiling face has the power to attract many people towards it.


Personality Psychology Books

Here, we will compile the titles of a few of the best personality books that have earned recognition from all walks of life. 


How to analyze a person‘s personality? (Personality psychology tests)

The personality of a person can be analyzed and studied by the use of personality tests. There are a number of assessment tools available both online and offline that you can use to understand your specific personality type.

The objective tests are the self-report inventories that are widely used to understand the subtle differences between people.

There are projective techniques as well that can help to analyze people’s personalities.

The self-report inventories are popular because they are easy to administer and are free from the biases of the rater or evaluator. 

Some of the widely used personality tests are MBTI (Myers Briggs Personality Inventory), MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic personality inventory), EPQ (Eysenck Personality Questionnaire), 16 PF tests (16 personality factors) by R.B. Cattell. 

Apart from these, you can also avail yourself of the projective tests of personality that use ambiguous inkblots or pictures to know the unconscious elements of the human mind.

Some of the famous projective tests are the Rorschach inkblot test, developed by Herman Rorschach in 1921.

The test has 10 cards with inkblots. The respondent has to study the inkblots closely and explain what it means to them. 

These are subjective interpretations of the person. Projective tests of personality are good at identifying the unconscious elements of the person’s psyche.

Another well-known projective personality test is the Thematic Apperception Test, commonly known as the TAT, developed by Morgan and Murray in 1935. 

The test has 30 cards with ambiguous human figures. The respondents will have to tell a story by looking at the picture.


A word from ‘ThePleasantPersonality’

The ending lines of this article will illustrate the fact that personality entails all that makes you a unique being. Have you ever tried to understand ‘who are you really?

The goal of personality psychology is to put up scientifically credible and tested facts about a person’s individual nature and why you think and act in ways that are not similar to someone else.

Sometimes personality feels like a puzzle, slowly to be revealed over time in your journey of life.

“Personality has the power to uplift, power to depress, power to curse, and power to bless.”

Paul. P. Harris