Speculation about human nature is as old as human nature itself. Personality is a natural concept and the features that capture its meaning can be specified. Usually, personality refers to those psychological characteristics of an individual that are general, enduring, distinctive, integrated, and functional. Most theories of personality develop categories of the ďtypesĒ of personalities.
Remember, any theory that uses categories oversimplifies the concepts they are discussing. They take a lot of variation in people and group them into categories, with little regard for differences.
Personality usually refers to how we meet the demands of the world. Therefore, it is either functional or not. Why do some people earn straight Aís while others go straight to jail? The answer might be found in personality. Most of the major personality theorists have also been clinicians working with troubled individuals who have adapted poorly to the world. Their theories of psychopathology have become theories of personality. Few of these theorists have conducted any scientific research into personality; instead they substitute their personal philosophy about personality. †
In addition, all the theories of personality, except Trait theory, make several assumptions: 1) all people are the same and must react the same to the same situations; 2) you react to all situations without using any cognitive process (memory, speech, etc); 3) biology is not involved in any aspect of your personality; 4) humans were evolved to live in modern (within the last 150 years) times; and 5) history is irrelevant. All of these assumptions are certainly open to severe questioning if not outright dismissal.
Some people suggest that such variables as race, ethnicity, and gender are things that contribute to your personality. In most cases, exactly what the contribution is remains undefined.
The Psychodynamic Approach: Emphasis on Motivation and Emotion
The first of the modern personality theories to take form grew out of Sigmund Freudís attempts to understand the psychological disorder known in his time as hysteria. Freud believed that sexual conflicts from childhood caused this condition. When he proposed his theory at the turn of the century, he attracted numerous followers as well as critics. Many of his followers ended up as critics, disagreeing with aspects of Freudís theory and proposing new theories. These new theories nonetheless preserved many of Freudís major ideas. Therefore, the psychodynamic approach refers to the whole family of theories by Freud and others. These theories make the following assumptions about human nature: People possess psychological energy called libido. Our behavior is driven by this energy. Drives and instincts provide this energy and are thus part of peopleís biological inheritance. We are unconsciously motivated to satisfy instinctive needs.
Often conflict exists between the individual and society because a personís biological instincts do not always conform to social rules. Unconscious motives, forcibly kept from awareness because they offend and threaten the conscious mind, are among the most important determinants of behavior. Past events shape subsequent behavior. In particular, struggles and conflicts during childhood affect an adultís thoughts, feelings, and actions. Psychodynamic views of personality development assume that people must pass satisfactorily through early stages in order to negotiate later stages with success. Not every psychodynamic theory embraces all of these positions, but together they represent a generic version of this approach to human nature.
Sigmund Freud: Unconscious Conflicts
The best place to start our discussion of the psychodynamic approach is with its creator, Sigmund Freud (1856 - 1939). Freud was a Viennese physician trained in neurology. While treating patients suffering from hysteria, he began to develop his theory of psychoanalysis. Freud first worked with another physician, Joseph Breuer, from whom he learned the technique of catharsis, the so-called talking cure. Hysterical patients were hypnotized and encouraged to talk about earlier events; as they touched upon areas of conflict, they sometimes experienced an outpouring of emotion and an end to their symptoms (Jackson, 1994; Straton, 1990). Breuer and Freud (1895) interpreted hysteria and catharsis in terms of energy (libido). Hysterical symptoms represented a restraining of this energy, and catharsis represented its freeing. Freud did not like hypnosis, however, and soon abandoned it in favor of another means of achieving catharsis: free association. Patients were encouraged to say anything and everything that came into their minds, without censoring. Their train of associations often led back to a hidden conflict, and catharsis followed. This was the first of the traditional ďtalking therapiesĒ.
At first, Freud believed that the conflicts he discovered referred to his patients childhood experiences. Accordingly, he suggested that childhood sexual abuse produced adult hysteria. He later modified this belief, suggesting instead his patientís memories represented sexual wishes on their part. These wishes had undergone repression, or removal to the unconscious, but they continued to influence the patients.
Freud was a prolific writer who frequently revised his theories. His Collected Works occupy more than 20 volumes, and it is difficult to present a brief overview. The following covers some of Freudís major ideas, notably the structure of personality, the role of instincts, and the way in which personality develops.
The Structure of Personality
Freud proposed that the mind has three parts: the conscious, the preconscious, and the unconscious. The conscious is what we are aware of at a particular moment ("My favorite television show is about to start"). The preconscious is whatever we can voluntarily call into awareness, such as telephone numbers, birthdays, and definitions of psychodynamic terms. The unconscious contains thoughts, feelings, and desires of which we are not aware.
The psychodynamic unconscious is motivated, meaning that its content is not the result of simple forgetfulness. Rather, ideas become unconscious because they upset us. For instance, one of Freudís (1918) case histories concerns a troubled young man whose psychological difficulties seemed to start when he witnessed his parents making love. Although this man did not consciously remember what he had seen years before, Freud concluded that the memory remained in his unconscious and affected his later behavior. The man was specifically afraid of wolves and other animals, presumably because they reminded him of how his father looked while making love to his mother long ago.
Later in Freudís career, he revised his view of the mind. He described mental functioning with a new set of distinctions. The id is where our instincts are located and where the so-called pleasure principle rules. Under the influence of the id, our thinking is dominated by wishes and impulses. We see the world as we would like it to be. The id alone is present at birth; the newborn is just a bundle of instincts seeking immediate gratification.
As we develop, we gradually become aware of external reality, and a second mental structure develops: the ego. The ego is practical; it allows us to adapt to the world and to satisfy our needs and desires in socially acceptable ways. The ego operates according to the reality principle, which makes our thinking rational and logical.
Because the id is present prior to the ego, the pleasure principle is more basic to our functioning than the reality principle. Freud termed thinking dominated by wishes and impulses primary process, whereas he called rational and logical thinking secondary process, to emphasize its derived nature. Primary process is the language of dreams, fevers, drunken stupors, and lust. According to Freud, children think exclusively in terms of primary process. Only through socialization do logic and order secondary process enter the mental scene.
The last mental structure to develop is a personís moral sense, which Freud called the superego. The superego emerges at about age 3 or 4 and represents the childís internalization of parental and societal values. Freud regarded the id, ego, and superego as constantly interacting in a given situation. How they blend together for an individual explains his or her particular personality.
The ego mediates between the impulses of the id and the prohibitions of the superego. Suppose your boss infuriates you. You want to punch him out (id), but doing so would create trouble (superego). So, you tell a joke at his expense to your fellow workers (Zelvys, 1990). It may not give you the same satisfaction as hitting him, but it does not get you fired. In general, the ego uses defense mechanisms to strike suitable compromises between the id and superego.
Life and Death Instincts
Freud explained behavior with instincts, although he used the idea of an instinct much more broadly than contemporary ethnologists do. According to Freud, people are primarily motivated by pleasure. He called this motive the life instinct, or Eros (after the Greek god of love), and proposed that it was behind much of what we do, including but not limited sexual behavior. Toward the end of his life, however, Freud became convinced that Eros did not explain the whole of human motivation. He was struck by the tendency of some individuals to act out, again and again, painful episodes from their past. This compulsion to repeat horrible experiences cannot be explained if our only instinct is a desire for pleasure (Himmelstein, 1979).
†So, Freud proposed a death instinct or Thanatos (after the Greek god of death). The death instinct motivates violence and aggression, against others as well as ourselves. It explains warfare and hatred, drug and alcohol abuse, murder and suicide. Contemporary psychologists, however, usually do not explain human aggression in terms of instincts. Not surprisingly, Freudís death instinct has been the least accepted aspect of his theory (Lind, 1991; Maratos, 1994).
The Development of Personality
One of Freudís best-known assumptions is that children are inherently sexual. Freudís (1905) pronouncements on the universality of childhood sexuality created controversy, as you might imagine. Let us examine what he meant. When Freud said that children are sexual, he did not mean in the same way that adults are sexual. Rather, he proposed that children and adults possess the same sexual instinct, desiring and seeking out physical pleasure as the id impels them to do. But the means by which their sexual instincts are satisfied changes throughout development. One key to understanding personality is therefore in terms of psychosexual stages, defined by the part of our body that gives us pleasure. .
During the oral stage, from birth to age 1, the childís mouth is the source of gratification: sucking, biting, chewing, and crying. With weaning, the child enters the anal stage, from about to 3 years, and elimination becomes the source of pleasure. Retaining or expelling feces provides pleasure to the youngster (and aggravation to his or her parents). The child encounters external restraints during this stage, in the form of toilet training. The manner, in which weaning and toilet training occur, either harshly or permissively, is thought to affect adult personality.
Next to develop is the phallic stage, from about to 5 years, when the source of pleasure first centers on the sexual organs. Playing doctor is popular. Children become interested in masturbation and curious about the origin of babies. Some critical events occur during the phallic stage, and Freud used the Greek myth of Oedipus as a metaphor for these events. Oedipus was the tragic character who unknowingly killed his father and married his mother. Freud suggested that this myth taps a universal desire, what he called the Oedipus complex. During the phallic stage, children feel unconscious sexual desire for the opposite-sex parent. The same-sex parent becomes the rival. Once in this triangle, children sense that the same-sex parent will not bow out, gracefully or otherwise. They begin to fear that the same-sex parent will retaliate against them. The Oedipus complex is resolved when children realize that they will not win the opposite-sex parent for themselves. They therefore settle for the next best thing--to possess Mom or Dad indirectly and symbolically, by taking on the characteristics of the other parent. By this process, children acquire the personalities they will have as adults.
Freud believed that women do not resolve the oedipal complex as fully as men do (Krausz, 1994). The fear of retaliation from the opposite-sex parent takes a sexual form; specifically, the child fears castration. Little girls, who obviously lack a penis, believe that they have already been castrated, meaning that they have anxieties that little boys do not. These are presumably carried into adulthood. For example, women who try to compete with men in school or jobs, Freud believed, suffered from Penis Envoy. These women realize they do not have a penis and are envious, that is why they are competing with men. Freud regarded women as not only fundamentally different from men but also inferior (Temperley, 1993).
After the phallic stage, at about 6 years, children enter what Freud called a latency period, where sexual impulses are curbed. Development in other domains cognitive, moral, and social becomes more important.
The genital stage, which coincides with the onset of puberty, is the last step in psychosexual development. During this stage, sexual impulses again emerge, only now pleasure is obtained through the genitals in the course of sexual activity with others.
Like other stage theories of development, Freudís theory proposes that we must pass through the stages in a particular order. If we do not pass successfully through a stage because we are either frustrated by not enough satisfaction or indulged by too much, a fixation results. Psychic energy is left behind, and the concerns of that particular stage continue to dominate in adult personality.
The behavior of a person fixated at the oral stage, for example, will center on oral gratification, through excessive eating, drinking, smoking, or talking (Lewis, 1993). Such individuals are also thought to be highly dependent on others, seeking nurturance from them. A person fixated at the anal stage might symbolically express either the retention of feces, by relentlessly pursuing neatness and order, or the expulsion of them, by being unbelievably sloppy and wasteful. †Finally, a person fixated at the phallic stage shows an exaggerated concern with sexuality, a concern that may be expressed in excessive vanity. The contemporary macho man, draped in gold chains and drenched in cologne, presumably acquired his excess baggage while passing through the phallic stage (Kalfus, 1994).
Many of Freudís specific claims about psychosexual development are not supported by research (Peterson, 1992). His theorizing about women, in particular, does not square with the facts. Freud assumed the ideological biases of his era, not appreciating the influence of cultural practices that assigned to women an inferior status. Indeed, the validity of Freudís psychoanalytic theory for individuals in times and places other than his own has been questioned (Littlewood, 1990; Slote, 1992). Nonetheless, his ideas about psychosexual development have become theoretical cornerstones.
Psychodynamic Approaches After Freud
Psychodynamic theory began with a focus on abnormality, but Freud went on to apply it broadly: to dreams, humor, creativity, religion, and even the origin and function of society. Consequently, psychodynamic theory became an influential approach to the study of normal personality. As noted earlier, other theorists followed Freudís lead and proposed their own versions of psychodynamic theory. These theorists often disagreed with Freudís emphasis on sexuality; most preferred a more social explanation.
Carl Jung: The Collective Unconscious
An early follower of Freud was Carl Jung (1875 - 1961), a Swiss physician who first worked with schizophrenic patients. Jung (1907) believed that the bizarre hallucinations and delusions marking schizophrenia paralleled Freudís descriptions of the dreams of less troubled individuals. In both cases, primary process thinking dominates.
Jung broke with Freud over the importance of sexual motivation. In going his own way, Jung became interested in symbols, studying mythology and anthropology. He was struck by the degree to which the same images appeared in different times and places. Jung called these presumably universal symbols archetypes and proposed that they are located in a collective unconscious: a repository of ancestral experiences and memories that all people share. For example, Jung identified one archetype as the shadow, which represents evil and malice. People fill in the details of an archetype in accordance with their time and place the shadow might be Lucifer, Dracula, Mr. Hyde, Darth Vader, or Hannibal Lechter but its meaning is universal (Blennerhassett, 1993).
Jung proposed that the collective unconscious represents tried-and-true ways of thinking about life and that when people tap into it, they receive the wisdom of the ages. He further believed the collective unconscious to be a more important aspect of personality than Freudís unconscious, which includes only an individualís personal history (Nyborg, 1992). †Some have suggested that Jung used the collective unconscious to explain Penis Envoy: during cave man days, a man could urinate on a fire and extinguish it, while a woman could not and she became envious of this feat.
Jungís ideas are intriguing, but they are virtually impossible to verify. He did not specify the mechanisms by which the collective unconscious is passed across generations or the way in which archetypes take form for an individual (Lewis, 1989).
Alfred Adler: Compensating for Inferiority
Also among Freudís early followers was another Viennese physician, Alfred Adler (1870 - 1937). At first enthusiastic about Freudís ideas, Adler came to disagree with the primacy Freud had assigned to sexuality. The disagreement resulted in a complete break between them, personally and professionally. Adler (1910) believed that conflict plays an important role in shaping our personality but that its nature is social rather than sexual. He introduced the concept of the inferiority complex, suggesting that all people feel inadequate with respect to some aspect of their being, physical or psychological. Our development can be understood as our attempt to compensate for this perceived inferiority with respect to others. For instance, Theodore Roosevelt was a sickly child who developed himself into a robust adult.
Another example of Adlerís (1927) interest in the social determinants of personality is his theorizing about the childís position in the family. He believed that birth order dictates the way children are treated and how their personalities develop (Leman, 1985). Thus, the eldest child is the original center of attention in a family, acquiring a need for power and authority; the second child continually strives to overcome the older rival; and the youngest may be spoiled and pampered on the one hand or flexible on the other. Birth order is a social phenomenon, not a biological one. Research bears out some of ††Adlerís ideas about birth order (Watkins, 1992). For instance, firstborn individuals are more likely to become famous (Simonton, 1994). Among those who have run for president, firstborns have won more frequently than those born later.
Neo-Freudians: Social Relationships
A second generation of psychodynamic theorists followed Adlerís lead by stressing the social character of people over their instinctive, sexually motivated nature. The theorists who adopted this point of view became known as neo-Freudians. So, Karen Horney (1885 - 1952) discarded the Oedipus myth to argue that people are motivated by feelings of isolation from other people (Olfman, 1994; Shafter, 1992). According to Horney (1937, 1945), the primary human need is to feel safe and secure with others. If people do not feel secure, they experience what Horney called basic anxiety. Fellow neo-Freudians proposed similar theories that elevated peopleís social relationships to primary status in determining personality (Fromm, 1947; Sullivan, 1947). Often these theories de-emphasized the conflict between id and superego, instead regarding the ego as an active, not reactive, agent that does much more than mediate between our instincts and our conscience (Hartmann, 1939; White, 1959).
Erik Erikson: Psychosocial Development
Erik Erikson (1902 - 1994) is known for
his ideas about life-span development. Unlike many other psychodynamic
theorists, Erikson never formally broke with Freud. Erikson called himself a
post-Freudian, one who follows Freud and builds on his earlier ideas. But
Erikson could quite easily be classified with the neo-Freudians because his
developmental theory has an explicit social emphasis. Social dilemmas, such as
trust versus mistrust and intimacy versus isolation, define the stages of life
in Eriksonís psychosocial theory of development, and they are resolved with the
help of culturally provided institutions (
Erikson also contributed to psychohistory, a field that uses psychological theories to shed light on historical figures and events. Erikson published studies of Adolph Hitler, Martin Luther, George Bernard Shaw, Gandhi, and Thomas Jefferson, among others. More recent examples of psychohistory include analyses by other researchers of the personalities of David Koresh (Adityanjee, 1994), Bill Clinton (Elovitz, 1994), Anne Sexton (Long, 1993), Saddam Hussein (Mayer, 1993), and FranÁois Mitterand (Guiton, 1992). For instance, Bill Clintonís early childhood was marked by frequent fighting between his mother and stepfather, and his lifelong attempt to be evenhanded and pragmatic presumably resulted. An important goal of psychohistory is to understand a person in the context of his or her particular era. To grasp someoneís motives, we have to locate their meaning within a given time and place. This principle underscores the neo-Freudian attempt to view personality in social terms.
Object Relations: Mental Representations
Many contemporary psychodynamic theorists are interested in the mental representations people have of themselves and others. These representations are called object relations (Greenberg & Mitchell, 1983; Stricker & Healey, 1990). Object was Freudís term for people or things, and relations refer to the perceived link between these objects and the individual. For example, one person may think of his relationships with others as friendly and supportive, whereas a second person may see these as hostile. †In one sense, this emphasis on object relations reflects the trend in recent decades for psychologists to be more interested in cognition (Westen, 1991). However, object relations theories maintain the traditional psychodynamic emphases on unconscious, irrational, and emotional processes (Ingram & Lerner, 1992).
Evaluating the Psychodynamic Approach
The psychodynamic approach represents the earliest attempt by psychologists to explain the whole of personality. The accounts of Freud, Adler, Jung, Horney, Erikson, and others continue to be influential, although more recent personality theories challenge them. Many critics find psychodynamic theories to be so complex that they cannot readily be tested by research. These theories also completely disregard any aspect of biology having any effect on our personality.
Nonetheless, two aspects of the psychodynamic approach have strongly shaped modern thinking about personality. First is the idea that many of our important motives are unconscious. Second is the idea that early childhood events can affect our characteristic behavior as adults. In fact, the psychodynamic perspective, allows a great amount of creativity in many different art forms that it is doubtful that it will ever be abandoned by the general public or artists.
The Phenomenological Approach: Emphasis on Cognition
The phenomenological (or cognitive) approach to personality defines personality by what and how we think. Although other personality theories discussed so far acknowledge the importance of a personís mental life, phenomenological theories see conscious thoughts and beliefs as the primary aspect of personality. How we feel and how we act is determined by how we think, not vice versa.
Phenomenological theories share the following assumptions:
ō Behavior can be understood only in terms of how an individual perceives the world. This psychological reality may overlap perfectly, somewhat, or not at all with physical reality.
ō People are like scientists in that they entertain theories about themselves and the world and then try to test those theories.
ō People attempt to make their thoughts more accurate, precise, and/or consistent.
ō What people say about their own thoughts and beliefs is taken seriously. To study personality, a researcher can start by asking research subjects what they think.
The phenomenological approach applies ideas from Gestalt psychology to complex behavior (Lewin, 1951). The two are united by a concern with how people structure their experiences. One influential phenomenological theory today is Carl Rogersís self-theory. †
Carl Rogers: Self-Actualization
Carl Rogers (1902 - 1987) was a clinical
psychologist whose personality theory grew out of his experiences in working
But not all individuals actualize
When a discrepancy occurs between
awareness and experience, self-actualization is thwarted, and problems follow. According
Evaluating the Phenomenological Approach
The phenomenological approach to personality has grown in popularity during recent years, in part because it makes clear contact with the influential cognitive revolution that has swept through psychology as a whole. Phenomenological theories allow personality psychologists and cognitive psychologists to speak readily to one another (Cantor & Kihlstrom, 1987).
Some have criticized the phenomenological approach because it fails to underemphasize the emotional side of humans. These critics suggest that emotion influence thoughts as much as thoughts influence emotions (Frey & Adams-Webber, 1992). Again these theories fail to include any aspect of biology.
The Social Learning Approach: Emphasis on the Social Environment
The last perspective on personality is the social learning approach: a group of related theories that explain our complex behavior using principles of learning. The roots of this approach are in behaviorism. Social learning theorists believe that the environment determines behavior and that the most important aspect of the environment is other people. Hence, the term social is used for emphasis. The following assumptions are common to these theories:
ō Learning is the most important psychological process.
ō The most basic explanations of personality are phrased in terms of the social environment.
ō Behavioral change is possible through interventions that are guided by learning theory.
Most social learning theories introduce unobservable factors in their explanations, including drives and expectations. Modern social learning theories are similar to the theories of Kelly and Rogers; however, in contrast to the phenomenological approach, the social learning approach ties cognitions to particular settings, thereby preserving a learning emphasis.
John Dollard and Neal Miller: Drive Reduction
The first social learning theorists were John Dollard (1900 - 1980) and Neal Miller (1909 - ). Their influential book, Personality and Psychotherapy, published in 1950, assumed people learn behaviors that reduce their physiological drives. They noted the similarity between the drive reduction concept and the psychodynamic hypothesis that people strive to satisfy their instincts. They therefore attempted to integrate learning theory and psychoanalysis, discussing in detail how Freudian phenomena could be explained in terms of learning.
Dollard and Miller suggested that repression results from reinforcement for not thinking about particular topics. Suppose a sexual encounter has left you feeling anxious. If and when you stop thinking about it, the anxiety stops. That is reinforcing, and so you are likely to continue not thinking about it. The difference between the psychodynamic unconscious and the social learning unconscious is that the former is a place to which thoughts are banished, whereas the latter is a "behavior" (thinking) you are not performing.
Also like Freud, Dollard and Miller viewed development in terms of the interplay between biological drives and the social environment. Conflicts surface when parents punish their children for attempting to satisfy drives like hunger, elimination, sex, and aggression. Dollard and Miller introduced the idea of an approach-avoidance conflict to describe a course of activity both attractive (because it reduces drives) and unattractive (because it produces punishment). By this view, the issue at the center of each of Freudís psychosexual stages is an approach-avoidance conflict. For example, it is pleasurable for a child to masturbate, but it is not pleasurable to be punished for doing so. Approach-avoidance conflicts are difficult to resolve, and they can become part of our personality. When the goal is distant, in time or space, it looks attractive and so we pursue it. When the goal becomes closer, it looks unattractive and so we avoid it. What results is oscillation, a back-and-forth movement in the vicinity of the goal. Think of goals like cleaning out your closet, organizing your desk, or starting your term paper. These all seem attractive until you begin to do something about them. Then their unattractive features become evident and you stop. Approach-avoidance conflicts may figure prominently in procrastination.
Albert Bandura: Modeling
Bandura believed that people acquire complex behavior through modeling. We watch other people behave, and then we act accordingly. If we see people act aggressively and get exactly what they want, then we are likely to act the same way. Bandura used modeling as the cornerstone of his version of social learning theory.
Another key concept in Banduraís (1977) view of personality is self-efficacy, an individualís belief that a given behavior can be enacted. According to Bandura, self-efficacy is the immediate mechanism by which any and all behavior changes. Only if people believe they can perform a behavior will they do so. Modeling is effective because it strengthens self-efficacy, showing an individual that a behavior can be performed.
Bandura (1986) stressed that behavior, cognition, and the environment mutually influence each other. This mutual influence, called reciprocal determinism, is one more key concept for understanding personality in social learning terms (Baranowski, 1989-1990; Kihlstrom & Harackiewicz, 1990).
Consider the example of watching television. Your interests (cognition) determine the channel you select (behavior). If your television set is hooked to a Nielsen box, then your channel selection influences subsequent programming (environment). What is available on television shapes your interests. All possible directions of influence can occur.
Evaluating the Social Learning Approach
The social learning approach to personality explicitly incorporates processes of learning and an emphasis on the social environment. Social learning theories direct our attention away from factors within the person (motives, traits, and thoughts) to the context in which he/she behaves (Cantor, 1990).
However, a focus solely on the social environment yields an incomplete view of personality. Even if the environment is of critical importance, the social learning approach often fails to address central issues. How do people decide which of several simultaneous drives to reduce by their actions? How do people decide which of several simultaneous models to emulate in their behavior? Why are most people some of the time and some people all of the time unresponsive to social influence?
This difficulty with validating personality testing is another example of the familiar refrain that no measure is foolproof. All operational definitions, including those of individual differences in personality, are subject to being confounded. The best a researcher can do is be on the lookout for these threats and then try to eliminate the most obvious ones.
Evaluation of the Theories
All of the above theories suffer because we see no examples of anything close to them in other species. It is doubtful that any of these theories would be of any survival value for the species; in fact it might hinder survival.
These theories are certainly not parsimonious. The concepts are so complex that one could spend years discussing the single behavior.
From the historical perspective, these theories would not hold true in history or in current third world countries. For example, Freud suggested that the source of one personís conflict was seeing his parents making love. Until the mid 19th century, sex was a very open event as was nudity. It is highly likely that many children in the middle ages saw their parents make love and suffered no deleterious effects.
Like the psychodynamic approach, the trait approach consists of a group of related theories united by common emphases. Most trait theories concern themselves with the following questions:
ō What are the fundamental ways in which people differ?
ō How can these differences best be measured?
ō How do individual differences relate to adaptation?
ō What is the origin of a particular individual difference?
Trait theories sometimes describe personalities as falling into a few separate categories, or types; you saw an example in the character sketches that began this section. More commonly, trait theories describe personality in terms of a few quantitative (more vs. less) dimensions, or traits. For example, people can be placed along a dimension reflecting the degree to which they are emotional versus unemotional.
The trait approach can be traced to
Gordon Allport: Setting the Trait Agenda
The Harvard psychologist Gordon Allport
(1897 - 1967) set the agenda for contemporary trait strategies. His importance
within the trait approach corresponds to that of Freud within the psychodynamic
tradition. Allport taught the first personality psychology course in the
Allportís approach can be contrasted with the psychodynamic approach. Whereas psychoanalysts began with an emphasis on abnormality and then generalized to normality, Allport focused on normal individuals. He felt that Freudís theories applied only to troubled individuals. Instead of understanding people in terms of unconscious conflicts from their past, Allport believed the key to personality lay in the individualís conscious and rational striving toward future goals (DeCarvalho, 1991).† Allport regarded traits as the most appropriate units with which to understand personality. He defined a trait as: a neuropsychic structure having the capacity to render many stimuli functionally equivalent, and to initiate and guide equivalent (meaningfully consistent) forms of adaptive and expressive behavior. (1961, p. 347)
In calling a trait neuropsychic, Allport meant that it has a biological as well as a psychological basis. By saying that a trait renders different stimuli functionally equivalent, he meant that traits are associated with a consistent pattern of response across different situations. In proposing that a trait initiates and guides behavior, he meant that traits cause us to think, feel, and act in certain ways.
Finally, in defining traits as adaptive (meaning they aid survival) and expressive (meaning they show up in a personís style of behaving), Allport came very close to the modern definition of an evolved psychological mechanism. In one of Allportís well-known endeavors, he and a colleague read an entire dictionary and located 17,953 words describing personality traits, everything from abashed to zestful (Allport & Odbert, 1936). Not all of these traits sensibly apply to everyone, and Allport (1961) believed each of us possesses only seven to ten traits. These particular qualities, termed personal traits, differ from person to person. So, for example, my personality might be described as cautious and humorous because I consistently act in these ways. However, your personality might be poorly described with these traits. Perhaps sometimes you are cautious and sometimes you are bold. You might occasionally crack a joke but otherwise be somber.
In contrast to personal traits are common traits, so named by Allport because they can be used to describe everyone. Allport believed that common traits have limited usefulness in capturing individuality, and so he urged a focus on personal traits.
Body Build and Personality
One strategy for distinguishing nature and nurture with respect to personality is to find an actual biological basis for individual differences. An early example of this approach is William Sheldonís (1899 - 1977) investigations of a personís physique (or body build) and how physique corresponds to personality. Sheldon (1940, 1942) started with the observation that physiques could be described along three dimensions:
ō Endomorphy--degree of roundness
ō Mesomorphy--degree of muscularity
ō Ectomorphy--degree of linearity
He devised ways of rating each of these
dimensions with 7-point scales, from low (1) to high (7). An individualís
profile of scores is called a somatotype. A chubby person would be rated
Sheldonís theory became an account of personality when he hypothesized that different physiques are associated with different styles of behaving. Endomorphs are easygoing and affectionate, mesomorphs are action-oriented, and ectomorphs are sensitive and inhibited. Sheldonís original investigations have been criticized because he rated both the somatotypes and the personality characteristics of research subjects; unintended bias due to his expectations may have confounded the results. However, more recent research in which ratings of physique are made independently of ratings of traits tends to support Sheldonís hypothesized links between physique and personality (Quinn & Wilson, 1989). The reasons for these links are unclear. Whereas Sheldon believed that the links are directly biological, other psychologists have pointed to social stereotyping.
Heritability of Personality
A more contemporary approach in the spirit of Sheldonís biological theorizing investigates the genetic basis of individual differences. The twin method is used for separating nature and nurture to show that many personality traits are heritable. Tellegen, Lykken, Bouchard, Wilcox, Segal, and Rich (1988) studied identical twins and fraternal twins, those raised together and raised apart. On average, over 50 percent of the variation in personality test scores was due to genetic variation. However, later studies have shown that genetics/heritability play a much larger role than 50 percent (Eysenck, 1990a; Plomin & Nesselroade, 1990). This does not mean that specific behaviors are inherited, but general tendencies or personality.
Basic Traits: The Big Five
A particularly popular suggestion is the
so-called Big Five, originally described by psychologist Warren Norman
(1963). According to
ō Neuroticism (worried, nervous, emotional)
ō Extraversion (sociable, fun loving, active)
ō Openness (imaginative, creative, artistic)
ō Agreeableness (good-natured, softhearted, sympathetic)
ō Conscientiousness (reliable, hardworking, neat, punctual)
These are presumably dimensions of personality along which all people fall.
At first glance, the Big Five seems
Evaluating the Trait Approach
The trait approach to personality has made its greatest contribution to the field by identifying the ways in which people differ and by creating research procedures for assessing those differences. All personality researchers use the tests and measures devised by trait psychologists. The trait approach can also be praised for drawing attention to the biological and genetic basis of personality.
Many of the important individual differences among people are heritable, but why should they be? Several answers are possible (Tooby & Cosmides, 1990a). One is that the well-being of a group as a whole is served by variation in traits across individuals. Variation guarantees maximum flexibility in adapting to different environments and promotes the fitness of our entire species (Buss, 1991). Another possible explanation is that personality traits at least within normal ranges are irrelevant for survival and so have never been selected against. A third possibility is that variation in personality is a consequence of other biological characteristics of people, such as the structure or function of the nervous system; natural selection produced these other characteristics, and what we mean by personality merely came along for the evolutionary ride (Gould, 1991).