Human Personality and Personality Studies
Have you ever wondered why some people seem to have it all together while others seem to struggle with the same problems over and over again? The answer may lie in the realm of human personality.
What is Personality?
Personality is a characteristic way of thinking, feeling, and behaving. It embraces moods, attitudes, and opinions and is most clearly expressed in interactions with other people. Personality includes behavioral characteristics, both inherent and acquired, that distinguish one person from another. It can be observed in people’s relations to the environment and to the social group.
The term personality has been defined in many ways, but as a psychological concept two main meanings have evolved:
- The first pertains to the consistent differences that exist between people. In this sense, the study of personality focuses on classifying and explaining relatively stable human psychological characteristics.
- The second meaning emphasizes those qualities that make all people alike and that distinguish psychological man from other species. It directs the personality theorist to search for those regularities among all people that define the nature of man as well as the factors that influence the course of lives.
This duality may help explain the two directions that personality studies have taken: on the one hand, the study of ever more specific qualities in people, and, on the other, the search for the organized totality of psychological functions that emphasizes the interplay between organic and psychological events within people and those social and biological events that surround them. It should be emphasized, however, that no definition of personality has found universal acceptance within the field.
The fundamental characteristics of personality are the following:
- Consistency: There is generally a recognizable order and regularity to behaviors. Essentially, people act in the same way or in similar ways in a variety of situations.
- Both psychological and physiological: Personality is a psychological construct, but research suggests that it is also influenced by biological processes and needs.
- Affects behaviors and actions: Personality not only influences how we move and respond in our environment, but it also causes us to act in certain ways.
- Multiple expressions: Personality is displayed in more than just behavior. It can also be seen in our thoughts, feelings, close relationships, and other social interactions.
The study of personality has its origins in the fundamental idea that people are distinguished by their characteristic individual patterns of behaviour (ways in which they walk, talk, furnish their living quarters, or express their urges). Personologists examine how people differ in the ways they express themselves and attempt to determine the causes of these differences. Although other fields of psychology examine many of the same functions and processes (attention, thinking, motivation), the personologist places emphasis on how these processes become integrated so as to give each person a distinctive identity, or personality.
The systematic psychological study of personality has emerged from a number of different sources, including psychiatric case studies, philosophy, physiology, anthropology, and social psychology.
There are many different ways that personality can be studied, but some common approaches include:
- Trait theories:
These theories propose that personality is made up of a set of enduring traits that are relatively stable across an individual’s lifetime.
Examples: The Big Five Personality Model, the Five Factor Model.
- Psychoanalytic theories:
These theories propose that personality is shaped by unconscious forces, such as desires, conflicts, and repressed memories.
Examples: Psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud, Carl Gustav Jung, Alfred Adler, Erik H. Erikson.
- Humanistic theories:
These theories emphasize the individual’s capacity for self-actualization and personal growth. They focus on the subjective experience of the person and the ways in which people can reach their full potential. Humanist theories emphasize the importance of free will and individual experience in developing a personality.
Examples: Theories of Viktor Frankl, Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow.
- Biological theories:
These theories propose that personality is influenced by genetics and neurological processes.
Examples: Humoral theory of Hippocrates, Morphological (body type) theory of the German psychiatrist Ernst Kretschmer.
Contemporary Trends in Personality Studies
Despite the physical differences between males and females the finding of behavioral differences between the sexes is controversial. Behaviours associated with sex roles depend heavily on the social and cultural context, and studies of stereotypic male and female roles are therefore understandably ambiguous. Yet some findings indicate small but consistent differences.
While there are no differences in measured IQ, females do better than males on verbal tasks. Girls generally begin to speak earlier than boys and have fewer language problems in the course of maturation. Males generally exhibit greater skill in understanding spatial relations and in solving problems that involve mathematical reasoning. Beginning at the toddler stage, the activity level of males is generally higher than that of females. A related finding is that boys are more likely to be irritable and aggressive than girls and more often behave like bullies. Men usually outscore women in antisocial personality disorders, which consist of persistent lying, stealing, vandalism, and fighting, although these differences do not appear until after about the age of three.
Humans are perhaps the only species of animal that does not have an internal inhibition against slaughtering other members of the species. It has been theorized that man is motivated by an aggressive drive, which has significant survival value, but lacks internal inhibitions against killing his fellow men. Inhibitions, therefore, must be imposed externally by society. Social learning theorists emphasize the decisive effects of situations in triggering and controlling aggression. They account for the poor predictability of aggressive behaviour in man by noting that the environmental context is generally unpredictable. Yet research has shown that an aggressive act is most likely to be produced by a person with a history of aggressive behaviour.
Social learning theorists emphasize the active shaping of personality by external social influences. However, experimental evidence has accumulated that genetic factors play a prominent role, if not in the transmission of specific behaviour patterns, then in the readiness of people to respond to environmental pressures in particular ways. It is commonplace to find in different breeds of dogs wide divergences in behaviour that are attributed to genetic differences: friendly – aggressive; timid – bold. Of course, there may also be wide variations within a given breed.
Among human infants, there are also clearly observable differences in activity, passivity, fussiness, cuddliness, and responsiveness. These patterns shape the ways in which the infant will interact with the environment. They can be considered an expression of personality. Studies of twins and adopted children have been used to evaluate environmental and genetic factors as determinants of behaviour patterns. These studies have shown that genetic factors account for about 50% of the range of differences found. Most of the remaining differences are attributable not to the environment that is common to members of a family but to the environment that is unique to each member of the family. This unique environment results from interactions of family members with one another.
The study of the genetic aspects of personality is a relatively new undertaking. Almost all populations studied have been from industrialized Western nations whose rearing environments are more nearly alike than different. It is known that the more homogeneous the environment, the stronger the genetic contribution will appear. As with the psychology of traits, cross-cultural studies are required to test the validity of the claims of behaviour genetics.
Cognitive controls and styles
Psychologists have long been aware that people differ in the consistent way in which they receive and respond to information. Some make careful distinctions between stimuli, whereas others blur distinctions. Some may typically prefer to make broad categories, whereas others prefer narrow ones for grouping objects. These consistencies in an individual seem to be fairly stable across time and even across situations. They have been referred to as cognitive controls. Combinations of several cognitive controls within a person have been referred to as cognitive style. It can have numerous variations. Cognitive control studies explore constraints within a person that limit the influence of both environment and motivation, and as such they are expressions of personality.
Another much studied cognitive control is called field dependence-field independence. It pertains to the extent to which people are influenced by inner (field-independent) or environmental (field-dependent) cues in orienting themselves in space and the extent to which they make fine differentiations in the environment. The more field-independent people are, the greater is their ability to articulate a field.
There are no general intellectual capacity differences between field-dependent and field-independent people. However, there is a tendency for field-dependent people to favour careers that include working with other people. Field-independent people are more often found in careers that involve abstract issues such as mathematics. Cultural differences have also been found. Some Eskimo live and hunt in an environment with little variation, and a high degree of field independence would favour survival. Some farmers of Sierra Leone, who inhabit an area of lush vegetation and many varieties of shape, require less differentiation of the field.
Importance of Human Personality Understanding
There are several reasons why studying human personality is important today:
- Personality plays a significant role in how we think, feel, and behave. Understanding personality can help us better understand the underlying causes of individual differences in behavior and cognition.
- Personality can have a significant impact on our mental and physical health. Research has shown that certain personality traits, such as neuroticism and extraversion, are associated with an increased risk of developing certain mental health disorders, like anxiety and depression.
- Personality can influence our social interactions and relationships. Research has shown that people with certain personality traits, such as agreeableness and conscientiousness, are more likely to have successful and satisfying relationships.
- Personality can have an impact on our career and work performance. Research has shown that certain personality traits, such as conscientiousness and openness to experience, are associated with better job performance.
It is necessary to study human personality because its deeper understanding can help us predict individual differences in behavior and cognition. These studies have practical implications for our mental and physical health, relationships, and work performance. We can anticipate and prepare for the potential challenges and opportunities that may arise as a result of changing social, economic, and environmental conditions. For example, research on personality can help us understand how individuals may respond to changes in their environment, such as the impact of technology on work and social interactions.
Human personality is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that refers to an individual’s unique pattern of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It is shaped by a variety of factors, including genetics, environment, and personal experiences. Despite the many advances in the study of personality, there is still much that we do not understand about the underlying mechanisms that shape individual differences in personality. Further research is needed to better understand the complex interplay between genetics, environment, and personal experiences that shape personality.