Chapter One- Evaluating Personality Theories
Personality is difficult to define because there is little common agreement on how the term
should be used. In everyday speech it refers to someone’s public image.
A theory is a set of abstract concepts that we make about a group of facts or events in order to
- Two traditions inform contemporary theories of personality:
o Psychological labs and academic research
o Psychoanalysis and clinical psychology
Personality theories may function as a philosophy, science and art.
- Science: develop hypothesis that help us understand human behaviour
- Philosophy: explore what it means to be human
- Art: apply what is known about human behaviour to make it a better life
Philosophical issues on which personality theories differ are:
• Freedom vs. determinism: individuals have control over their behaviours and
understand motives behind them. Others believe that human behaviour is basically
determined by internal or external forces over which individual have little, if any, control.
• Heredity vs. environment: inherited and inborn characteristics or factors in the
environment have the most important influence on human behaviour.
• Uniqueness vs. Universalism: Some theorists believe that each individual is unique
and cannot be compared to others. Others contend that people are basically very similar.
• Proactivity vs. Reactivity: Proactive view human beings as acting on their initiative
rather than simply reacting. The sources of behaviours are perceived as lying within the
individual, who does more than just react to stimuli from the outside world.
• Optimism vs. Pessimism: do significant changes in personality and behaviour occur
throughout the course of a lifetime? If an individual is motivated. Can genuine changes
be effected in personality? Some theories are more optimistic and hopeful than others.
Philosophical assumptions suggest that things are not necessarily what they appear to
be. They are based on a special epiphanic vision, which goes beyond the ordinary perception
of our sense organs. Statements tend to be global and do not allow for any exceptions. They
are often implicit rather than explicit.
Philosophical assumptions are evaluated by criteria appropriate to the special act of knowing
that underlies them: - Coherence: is the position clear, logical, and consistent?
- Relevance: does the theory deal with issu