Theories of Personality
Doneisha Burke, MSc.
WHAT IS PERSONALITY?
An individual’s unique and relatively stable
patterns of behavior, thoughts and emotions –
these stable patterns usually characterize persons
in a number of situations over time.
Also refers to the enduring, inner characteristics of
individuals that organize their behaviors.
Over 30 years ago Walter Mischel challenged this
basic assumption of personality. He argued that
personality might not be consistent.
What do you think?
This debate has brought about a personality
approach known as the interactionist perspective-
the view that behaviour in any situation is a
function of both personality and external factors.
This is the view currently accepted by most
THEORIES OF PERSONALITY
Behavioural- Learning Approach- Classical Conditioning,
Operant Conditioning, Observational Learning
Trait/ Biological Approach
Sigmund Freud 1856-
Many biographies of
Freud have drawn
connections between his
theories and his personal
BASIC CONCEPTS OF THE
Levels of Consciousness
Structures of Personality- ID, EGO and SUPEREGO
Levels of Consciousness
Conscious level- contains our current thoughts: whatever
we are thinking about or experiencing at a given moment.
(e.g. thoughts & perceptions).
Preconscious level- contains aspects of our mental life of
which we are not conscious of at the moment but can
readily be brought to mind/awareness if the need arises
(e.g. memories stored knowledge).
Unconscious level- thoughts, desires and impulses of
which we remain largely unaware and cannot easily
become aware of ( e.g. fears, unacceptable sexual desires,
violent motives, shameful experiences).
According to Freudian theory, our behaviors,
thoughts, and feelings are largely governed by
innate biological drives, known as instincts.
2 categories- Life Instincts, Death Instincts
Freud said that a large measure of life is an
attempt to resolve conflicts between these two
natural but diametrically opposed instincts.
Life instincts (EROS) – impulses for survival,
including those that motivate sex, hunger and
thirst. Each instinct has its own energy that
drives it. The psychic energy that drives the
sexual instinct is called the libido.
Death instincts (THANTOS) – impulses of
destruction. Directed inward, they give rise to
feelings of depression or suicide; directed
outward, they result in aggression.
The Structure of Personality
Freud suggested that personality consist of 3
separate, though interacting, structures or
subsystems each governed by its own principle
and function to carry out:
Consists of al our primitive and innate urges
According to Freud the id is completely
It operates according to the Pleasure Principle
immediate pleasure is the sole motivation for
behaviour and is incapable of considering the
potential costs of seeking this pleasure.
It is the Yes of the personality
The part of the personality that develops through one’s
experience with reality.
The ego’s task is to hold the id in check until conditions
allow for satisfaction of it’s impulses
It operates in accordance with the Reality Principle
the reality principle strives to satisfy the id’s desires in
realistic and socially appropriate ways. The reality
principle weighs the costs and benefits of an action
before deciding to act upon or abandon an impulse.
The ego is partly conscious and is the Maybe of our
The ego must strike a balance between our primitive (id)
urges and our learned moral constraints (superego).
Struggle is visible in Freudian Slips
Like the ego it seeks to control satisfaction of id impulses and is
concerned with morality (looks at right/wrong in terms of
satisfying id impulses)
It is acquired through our parents and our experiences and
reflects an internalization of society’s rules
The Superego is made up of two parts:
The Ego Ideal- includes the rules and standards for good
behaviors are approved of by parental and other authority
figures. Obeying these rules leads to feelings of pride, value,
The Conscience- includes information about things that are
viewed as bad by parents and society. These behaviors are
often forbidden and lead to bad consequences, punishments,
or feelings of guilt and remorse.
Like the id, the superego has no contact with
reality and, therefore, places unrealistic demands
on the individual.
It is very rigid and inflexible
It is the No of the personality.
It operates on the Idealistic Principle
(See hand out)
Two things to know about defense
It’s use is a normal reaction which helps us
cope with anxieties and conflicts of everyday
Although normal they can however become
maladaptive. As long as defense mechanism
are successful in easing the unpleasant
feelings of anxiety, we may no longer feel a
need to search for the true sources of
anxiety and we will be less likely to resolve
the conflict that is producing the anxiety.
FREUD’S PSYCHOSEXUAL STAGES OF
Oral Stage- Birth to 1 yr
Anal Stage- 1- 3yrs
Phallic Stage- 3- 5 yrs
Latency Period- 6- puberty
Genital Stage- 11- 18 yrs
(View handout posted online)
Evaluating the Psychoanalytic Approach
Major criticism is the over-reliance on innate biological/sexual
drives as being our central motivator for our personality and
Freud seems to have ignored the social approach to personality
Freud in the development of his theory relied on case studies –
and this form of research in not generalizable.
He mainly used persons from wealthy background and these
persons are not representative of the wider society.
The Psychoanalytic Approach After
Neo- Freudians- they had their own theory.
They didn’t agree with everything that Freud
proposed so they had to part from Freud
Carl Jung – (1875-1961)
Disagreed with Freud
over the role of
sexuality and the nature
of the unconscious.
He had a more positive
attitude about an
individual’s ability to
control his or her own
destiny. Libido was
energy for personal
growth and development
according to Jung and
not sexual energy.
Alfred Adler – (1870-1937)
Adler was turned off most
by the negativity of
Freud’s view – the death
instinct as well as the idea
of sexual libido as the
prime impulse in life
Adler argued that we are a
product of the social
influences on our
personality. All behaviors
occur in a social context,
“behavior is a function of
person and environment.”
Alfred Adler – (1870-1937)
Adler contented that people cannot be studied in
isolation. We are motivated not so much by drives
and instincts as by goals and incentives – our main
motivation is to Striving for Superiority – in
order to overcome inferiority – Adler coined the
term Inferiority Complex.
Karen Horney – (1885-1952)
Trained, as a
psychoanalyst in Germany
and came to the US in
1934. Horney theorized
that the prime impulses
that motivate behavior are
not biological and inborn
or sexual and aggressive,
but basic anxiety, which
grows out of childhood
when the child feels alone
and isolated in a hostile
The Learning Theory of Personality
The Learning Theory of Personality
What is learning?
A relatively permanent change in behavior that
occurs as a result of practice or experience.
According to this theory personality is acquired
through learning (via reinforcement, punishment
and observational learning).
Learning Theories include:
Have you ever noticed that once your dog hears
the pot cover or scraping of a fork they
immediately show up?
Or every time you hear the microwave beep you
anticipate the food and your mouth starts
Ivan Pavlov a Russian
physiologist is credited
with discovering classical
conditioning and won a
Nobel Peace Prize in 1904
for his work on digestion.
Classical conditioning is
a basic form of learning in
which one stimulus comes
to serve as a signal for the
occurrence of a second
stimulus (Baron, 2001)
In order to understand UCS- Unconditioned
how classical stimulus
conditioning works, it
is important to be UCR-Unconditioned
familiar with the basic Response
concepts of the
NS- Neutral Stimulus
Unconditioned Stimulus- one that unconditionally,
naturally, and automatically triggers a response. For
example, when you smell one of your favorite foods,
you may immediately feel very hungry. In this
example, the smell of the food is the unconditioned
Unconditioned Response -the unlearned
response that occurs naturally and automatically in
response to the presence of the unconditioned
stimulus. In our example, the feeling of hunger in
response to the smell of food is the unconditioned
Conditioned Stimulus is a previously neutral
stimulus that, after becoming associated with the
unconditioned stimulus, eventually comes to trigger
a conditioned response.
In our earlier example, suppose that when you
smelled your favorite food, you also heard the sound
of a whistle. While the whistle is unrelated to the
smell of the food, if the sound of the whistle was
paired multiple times with the smell, the sound would
eventually trigger the conditioned response. In this
case, the sound of the whistle is the conditioned
Conditioned response- the learned response
to the previously neutral stimulus. In our
example, the conditioned response would be
feeling hungry when you heard the sound of
Classical Conditioning: The Steps
Classical Conditioning: The Steps
1. CR and UCR are not identical. The CR is
usually weaker than UCR. Example: never gets
as much saliva from the tone as you would from
2. The order of pairing of the CS and UCS does
matter and is important.
1. It is best that the CS is presented first followed
shortly after (one to two seconds) by the UCS
Classical conditioning in real life
Story of “Little Albert”- John B. Watson – (1878-
Role it plays in developing phobias
Stimulus-Response Theory (S-R)
The major theorists for B.F. Skinner 1904-1990
the development of
operant conditioning are
B.F. Skinner & Edward
Edward L. Thorndike
Operant conditioning a.k.a instrumental
conditioning) is a method of learning that occurs
through rewards and punishments for behavior.
Through operant conditioning, an association is
made between a behavior and a consequence for
Behaviors will maintain or increase if they are
reinforced: and decrease if they are punished or
In large part we do what we do because of what
has happened i.e. the consequences of our actions
According to Skinner there are four ways that
behavior can be changed (or, four ways that
learning might occur).
There are 2 procedures that strengthen/increase
the rate of behaviour i.e. reinforcement (+ & -)
There are 2 procedures that weaken/decrease the
rate of behaviour i.e. punishment (+& -)
Operant Conditioning: Reinforcement
Reinforcement (2 types)
The application or removal of a stimulus to
increase the strength of behaviour.
Involves the impact of positive reinforcers
any event that strengthens or increases the behavior that
precede them. There are two kinds of reinforcers:
Primary reinforcers- natural/unlearnedUsually related to
survival and are usually biological or physiological e.g.
food, water, sex.
Secondary/Conditioned reinforcers- acquired or learned
reinforcers. E.g. money, praise, grades, promotions.
Preferred activities can also be used to reinforce
behavior, a principle referred to as the
Premack Principle using a more preferred activity to
reinforce a less preferred one.
It involves the impact of negative reinforcers.
In negative reinforcement the removal or
avoidance of some event causes the behavior to
Negative reinforcement is different from
Keep in mind that both negative and positive
reinforcement are procedures that strengthen and
Operant Conditioning: Punishment
Punishment (2 types)
the presentation of an adverse event or outcome
that causes a decrease in the behavior it follows.
involves the presentation of an unfavorable event or
outcome in order to weaken the response it follows.
occurs when a favorable event or outcome is removed
after a behavior occurs.
(Please see table 5.1 on page 185 of the Baron, 2001)
Observational or social
learning is based primarily
on the work of Albert
He and his colleagues were
able to demonstrate through
a variety of experiments that
the application of
consequences was not
necessary for learning to
take place. Rather learning
could occur through the
simple processes of
observing someone else's
Bandura formulated his findings in a four-step
1. Attention -- the individual notices something in the
2. Retention -- the individual remembers what was
3. Reproduction -- the individual produces an action that
is a copy of what was noticed
4. Motivation -- the environment delivers a
consequence that changes the probability the
behavior will be emitted again (reinforcement and
Bandura's work combines both a cognitive and
behavioural view of learning. He believes that
mind, behavior and the environment all play an
important role in the learning process
In a set of well known experiments, called the
"Bobo doll" studies, Bandura showed that children
(ages 3 to 6) would change their behavior by
simply watching others.
Evaluating the Behavioral-Learning
Critics argue that they rely too much on the
individual’s environment or learning history. This
leaves nothing for the person to contribute – no
free will – very deterministic. Ignore inner
conflicts and influence of unconscious thoughts
and impulses on behavior.
Theories of personality emphasizing personal
responsibility and innate tendencies toward personal
growth (Baron, 2001)
Two American psychologists, Abraham Maslow and Carl
Rogers paved the way for this new approach to
understanding personality and improving the overall
satisfaction of individuals.
What matters is how people view themselves.
Its roots are based in the understanding and acceptance of
one's own existence and responsibility.
The basic ideas behind humanistic psychology are
1. The present is the most important aspect of the person and
therefore humanists focus on the here and now rather than
looking at the past or trying to predict the future.
2. Humanistic theory is reality based and to be
psychologically healthy people must take responsibility for
themselves, whether the person's actions are positive or
3. The individual, merely by being human, posses an inherent
worth. Actions may not be positive but this does not
negate the value of the person.
4. The goal of life should always be to achieve personal
growth and understanding. Only through self-
improvement and self-knowledge can one truly be happy.
Carl Rogers (1902-1986) Abraham Maslow (1908-
Rogers Self Theory
Approach to psychology was based on self- concept. Each
individual has a self- concept, which consists of his or her
conscious thoughts and beliefs about himself or herself.
View referred to as person-centered.
He believed that the most powerful drives are the ones to
become fully functioning.
Being psychologically healthy and living life to its
To be fully functioning is to achieve “optimal
psychological adjustment”, to live in the present, getting
the most from each experience.
To help children become fully functioning requires
that we offer them unconditional positive regard.
Rogers Self Theory
Unconditional Positive Regard means showing a
child that they are loved, respected, and accepted
(this is positive regard) regardless of what he or
she says or does.
Rogers said we should separate the child’s
behaviors from the child’s self. We punish a child
for doing a bad thing, but never for being a bad
Helping people achieve positive self-regard is one
of the major goal of Roger’s person-centered
Maslow’s Self Actualization &
Hierarchy of Needs
People’s needs are positive and our major goal is
to realize and put into practice those needs
According to Maslow we must meet and master
our lower needs before we could move to the
Our personality and subsequently behaviors are
driven by or ability to master these needs.
The Needs Hierarchy
Evaluating the Humanistic-
Critics argue against the humanist psychologist strong
emphasis on personal responsibility or free will.
View of free will conflicts with that of determinism- the
idea that behaviour is determined by numerous factors and
can be predicted from them
Also concepts are loosely defined. What is self-
actualization, fully functioning? Hard to do systematic
research b/c concepts cannot be defined or tested. How do
you measure self-actualizing, self-concept etc?
Cognitive Theory of Personality
Cognitive therapy is based on a theory of personality
which maintains that how one thinks largely determines
how one feels and behaves.
What matters most are the client’s beliefs, thoughts,
perceptions and attitudes about him/herself and the
They don’t deny the importance of behavior (stimulus-
response), but they argue that A (activating events –
stimulus) doesn’t just lead to C (consequences or behavior
– response), but there is an intervening process B (beliefs).
Cognitive Theory of Personality
These beliefs can be rational or irrational. The way a
person processes stimulus events is critical in determining
what responses are produced and subsequently one’s
In Cognitive therapy it is not the stimuli (A) activating
events that are crucial, but rather the person’s
(B)beleifs/perceptions and interpretation of the events .
Individuals make themselves emotionally healthy or
emotionally upset by the way they think, not by the
Trait theories are theories of personality that focus
on identifying the key dimensions along which
people differ (Baron, 2001)
Gordon Allport (1st trait theorist) did pioneering
work in identifying the key dimensions upon
which personalities differ.
He divided personality traits into categories which
varied in their importance
Raymond Cattell also did pioneering work in
identifying the key dimensions upon which
He conducted extensive research and by using
factor analysis was able to identify groups of traits
that seem to be closely linked to one another.
From that research 16 source traits (key
dimensions of personality that underlie many other
traits) were identified
The Trait/Biological Approach:
The “Big Five” Factors
The "Big five" personality traits are five broad factors or
dimensions of personality discovered through empirical research
The Big Five are summarized as follows:
Openness - appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual
ideas, imagination, curiosity, and variety of experience.
Conscientiousness - a tendency to show self-discipline, act
dutifully, and aim for achievement; planned rather than
Extraversion - energy, positive emotions, surgency, and the
tendency to seek stimulation and the company of others.
Agreeableness - a tendency to be compassionate and
cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards
Neuroticism - a tendency to experience unpleasant emotions
easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, or vulnerability;
sometimes called emotional instability.
Trait Theories: An Evaluation
It is too descriptive in nature and does not tell
How various traits develop
How they influence behaviour and
Why they are important’
There is no final agreement on which traits are
This refers to the use of questionnaires and
They contain questions/statements and scoring is
done through the sue of special keys
Scores are then compared with those from other
They present individuals with ambiguous stimuli
that can be interpreted in many different ways
E.g. Rorschach Inkblot Test, and Thematic
Apperception test (TAT)
Biological measures e.g. PET Scans and hormone