PSYCH – Week 21 Online Readings
Week 21: Personality Theories
Focus Question: What makes you, you, and not somebody else?
Introduction – Personality
Personality is a particular pattern of behaviour and thinking that prevails across time and
situations and differentiates one person from another. (textbook)
Are you always the same person?
• Debates of predestination versus freewill. Psychologists believe in both, but the
details matter; the theories ahead will help identify which parts of personality are
relatively fixed and which parts can change with situation, circumstances, and
even concerted effort of the individual.
• Personality is composed of multiple traits, each of which lies on a continuum, not
within a set of categories or absolutes.
• Personality is a consistent pattern of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that
characterize each person as a unique individual. Thus the study of personality
focuses on describing stable differences among individuals.
Four Major Theories
Theorists have posited factors that lead to certain personality types.
Four different personality perspectives: trait, psychodynamic, humanistic, and
All four perspectives are multidimensional. Personality is complex, and different
theories posit different numbers of fundamental personality factors. Should be
interpreted as a set of continuums.
Personality tests should have: standardization, reliability, validity
Objective Tests > The Minnesota Multiphasic Inventory (MMPI2) is an
objective personality test that asks people to answer a series of true/false
questions about themselves. The NEO Personality Inventory (N, E, and O stand
for neuroticism, extroversion, and openness to experience) is also an objective test
that measures personality factors. The NEO provides a series of statements that a
person agrees or disagrees with on a fivepoint scale.
Diagnostic Tests > The Rorschach test is the bestknown projective test. A series
of inkblots is presented, and the person describes what he or she sees in the
inkblot. It is a projective test in that the person may project his or her personality
onto the inkblot.
Other tests that aren’t so reliable, or have validity issues include:
o MyerBriggs Type Indicator (Carl Jung’s ideas) – identifies personality
and cognitive styles.
o Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) is a projective test in which the person
makes up stories about a series of ambiguous pictures presented on cards.
No formal scoring system, so more of a starting point for understanding
personality. The Traditional Approach (Trait perspective)
The trait perspective is the traditional, classical approach to the psychological
study of personality.
Classifies and describes psychological characteristics by which people differ
consistently between situations and over time.
Goal for trait theorists is to find a small set of meaningful traits that can describe
effectively the personality of any individual.
1930s – Allport identified 18,000 adjectives to describe and individual’s
Cattell narrowed the list of basic traits developed by Allport to 16 core personality
traits through the use of factor analysis.
o Factor analysis: Statistical analysis that examines all of the correlations
between all of the items and determines if any of them are highly
correlated with each other.
o This reveals the factors (general type or category that contributes to an
outcome) or basic dimensions that underlie a questionnaire data set (to see
if a common theme exists).
Statements correlate, or cluster, to reveal themes.
Early Statistical Analysis
Cattell proposed 16 factors that he believed described all possible personalities:
Cattell’s personality questionnaire, called the 16 PF Questionnaire, consists of
almost 200 statements regarding specific aspects of behaviour.
o People generally rely on a newer measure based on fewer distinct
personality traits. Critics of Cattell’s 16factor theory find its too complex
and contains many redundant personality traits.
The Five Factor Model
Conscientiousness > Acronym: OCEAN, CANOE.
The Big Five questionnaire is called the NEO Personality Inventory, where N, E,
and O stand for the original three traits that modern trait theoriests validated. The
NEOPI3 is the 2010 version.
Is Personality Always the Same? Personality is stable and becomes less likely to change as you grow older. However,
some degree of change can happen to anyone at any time, such as in response to a major
life event. Change also may occur in response to some forms of learning.
What do Peoples’ Personality Scores Tell Us About Real World Behaviour?
People who score high on neuroticism tend to be more anxious, worried, and full of
guilt and are often perfectionistic and pessimistic. People who score high in neuroticism
also show more distress when given a surprise math test, experience less marital
satisfaction and a higher frequency of divorce, and are more susceptible to depression and
anxiety. Their tendency toward pessimism orients them toward threat and negativity
when they process information.
High scorers on extroversion live and work with more people, attend more parties, are
rated as more popular, and are seen as leaders. They often have good social skills,
maintain numerous friendships, and participate in sports and clubs where they can gather
with others. Although they are not necessarily the “life of the party”, they find socializing
and working with others fulfilling.
High scorers on conscientiousness also receive higher job performance ratings, get
better grades in school, smoke less, drink less, drive more safely, eat more healthy foods,
and live longer. They often have good leadership skills, make longterm plans, and have
an organized support network. They tend to be faithful and reliable.
High scorers on agreeableness are less likely to be arrested in adulthood, are more
willing to lend money, have higher grades in school, and exhibit fewer behavioural
problems in childhood. They also tend to be more forgiving, believe in cooperation, and
use inoffensive language. Those who score high in this trait tend to be pushovers and do
not seek confrontation.
People who score high on openness to experience are more likely to change careers as
an adult, perform better in job training programs, and are more likely to play a musical
instrument and display less racial prejudice. They often are interested in travel, have
many different hobbies, like to experiment with different types of cuisine, and have
friends who share their interests
Overall, studies have shown that personality tests correlate well with behaviour, and
therefore the Big Five are valid.
Personality is affected by the interaction between genetics and environment. Although
our traits remain fairly consistent over time, we also behave according to our social
norms and environmental cues. Environmental effects and learning can lead to
personality change. Temperament can act on environment for example: an individual that
is negative tends to elicit negative feedback from others, creating a more negative
How Psychologists Measure and Study Personality Psychodynamic: The general term for psychological theories that emphasize the
relationship between the conscious and unconscious and of the interaction among the
various drives and forces within a person.
Sigmund Freud is the primary psychodynamic theorist.
Psychoanalytic theory: Freud's theory of personality based on conflict between the
conscious and unconscious mind and on developmental stages tied to various bodily
Freud didn’t believe that unconscious forces determine all of our behaviour. He
proposed that three parts of the mind interact to influence our thoughts and actions: the
id, the ego, and the superego.
1. The id is a completely unconscious reservoir of psychic energy. It strives to
satisfy basic sexual and aggressive drives, operating on a pleasure principle and
demanding immediate gratification.
2. The ego is largely conscious, mediating the conflicting demands of the id, the
superego, and reality. It strives to satisfy the id’s desires in appropriate ways that
bring pleasure rather than pain. It operates on a reality principle.
3. The superego is a partly conscious, partly unconscious structure that strives to live
up to internalized ideals and desires to follow the rules and restrictions society
places on us. The superego punishes the ego, for example by creating feelings of
guilt and shame.
Freud believed personality develops through a series of childhood stages, during
which the pleasureseeking energies of the id become focused on distinct erogenous
zones on the body. Each stage presents a different challenge we must work through. If the
psychosexual stages are completed successfully, the result is a healthy personality. If
certain issues or conflicts are not resolved at the appropriate stage, fixation can occur. A
fixation is a lingering focus of pleasureseeking energies at an earlier psychosexual stage.
Finally, Freud and his followers believed that people handled fixations or other
unwanted thoughts and desires through a system of defense mechanisms that helped hide
these elements from the ego’s awareness.
Anna Freud claimed that the mind is affected by unacceptable or anxiety
producing motives and thoughts, but that we employ defensive mental mechanisms, most
famously repression, to keep anxietyproducing motives and desires from our conscious
Empirical research supports some defense mechanisms, but not all. For example,
currently it is not widely believed in the field of psychology that people repress traumatic
childhood memories. However, there is evidence that people are capable of repressing
unwanted feelings associated with anxietyprovoking events Categorizing Defenses – 1995, George Vaillant:
Divided the defense mechanisms into three categories according to the degree to
which the promote either ineffective or effective behaviour.
Distort reality the most and lead to the most ineffective behaviour
Projection, regression, displacement
Involve less distortion of reality and lead to somewhat more effective behaviour
Repression, reaction formation, sublimation
Inbolve the least reality distortion and are associated with the most adaptive
coping (humour and suppression). With suppression, negative information is
available to the conscious mind but doesn’t overrun it, and the person can think
about it when they choose.
A longitudinal study demonstrated that participants who used the most mature
defenses experienced richer friendships, more harmonious marriages, greater job
satisfaction, and greater general happiness than participants who used immature
Assessing the Unconscious Psychoanalysis: Form of therapy aimed at providing the client with insight into his or her
unconscious motivations and impulses.
Free association: Method of Freudian analysis in which an individual is asked to relax,
clear his or her mind of current thoughts,