Common Personality Theories

Updated January 31, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Personality can be viewed as the unique set of character traits, actions, and beliefs that encapsulate an individual human being. Over time, many in the psychology field have developed theories about how personalities are formed. For example, Freud mainly focused on the id, ego, and superego, while Trait Theory mostly zeroes in on five main traits. Eysenck believed the personality could be largely rooted in biology, while Cattell primarily discussed source and surface traits. Finally, Allport’s Theory postulated that personalities were likely a mixture of nature and nature, and Authoritarian Theory investigated the possible sources of authoritarian personalities. If you’re interested in getting professional insight into your personality, speaking with a licensed therapist could be a great way to do so.

Gain A Deeper Understanding Of Your Personality.

Psychoanalytic Theory And Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud is usually credited with creating the psychoanalytic theory. Many of Freud's theories may have shaped modern psychology as we know it, despite many of his ideas often being viewed as questionable. According to Freud, personality may be made up of instincts, such as the want for food or sex, the unconscious, and childhood influences.

Freud generally believed that the development of your personality depends on the first five years of life. He believed that your parents and environment could shape you to be the person you are, and as an adult, your personality and mental health could potentially be a product of your early childhood.

Freud's theory also tended to rely on psychosexual development. This idea is that children may want to receive pleasure through the desires of the id, or the part of the brain that's generally instinctual and cares only about itself. Freud's theory on the libido was that it was your life force. As a child grows older, their libido often changes, making what they find to be pleasurable different as well.

Freud also believed the personality could be divided into three parts, the id, ego, and superego. The id can be viewed as the primitive part of your brain, which has instincts for sex, aggression, and other life needs. The id generally wants to satisfy its pleasure by any means necessary, even if the methods used are unhealthy or harmful to others.

The superego is typically the part of the personality that wants to do good. It can be thought of as a conscience that may want to follow all the rules of our society. It often has an unrealistic expectation of being good.

The ego may be what controls these two parts of the personality. Sometimes, it may balance them well, and other times, the superego or the id may take over.

Trait Theory 

Trait theory basically says that a person can be made up of different traits. Traits may tell us how we should act, and they may be consistent regardless of the situation, but they can change from person to person. Some people may have genetics to thank for their traits, while others may develop their traits over time. These traits may include:

O - Openness to experience

C - Conscientiousness

E - Extroversion

A - Agreeableness

N - Neuroticism/Emotional stability

Eysenck's Theory

This theory tends to be more based in biology, typically believing that people may be born with a unique nervous system that can determine how one adapts and learns from their environment. This theory is thought to have been developed when Eysenck was working in a psychiatric hospital and had to make assessments about patients’ conditions. He questioned over 700 soldiers about their behavior.

His questioning discovered that some of the answers have similarities, and these were dubbed first-order personality traits. Eysenck then broke down the different ways behavior can be exhibited. There were two dimensions, or second-order personality traits. They were introversion versus extroversion and neuroticism versus stability. He believed these were biological traits.

Extraversion Versus Introversion

Many of us may be familiar with the terms “introvert” and “extrovert.” An extrovert is generally someone who has a high social need and desire for change. They may get bored easily, tend to be optimistic, and usually rely on impulses and thrills to have fun. Their nervous system may require quite a bit of stimuli to be aroused, so they often love to seek thrills.

An introvert is usually quieter and doesn't need as much to feel stimulated. They often like to plan activities, tend to keep their emotions under control, and may be more pessimistic in general.

Introversion and extraversion are generally thought to exist on a spectrum or continuum with many variations.

Neuroticism Versus Stability

A stable person may not be as reactive when faced with a dilemma, while a person who is more neurotic may have large emotional responses to situations. They may find it difficult to calm down when they are upset, and being neurotic can contribute to different mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression. Like introversion and extraversion, neuroticism and stability tend to exist on a spectrum.

Cattell's Theory

This theory could be viewed as contradictory to Eysenck's opinion, which stated that just two to three behavior dimensions could determine one's personality. Cattell believed that you needed to study many traits to get a full picture of the personality. Similar to Eysenck, Cattell also studied soldiers of the armed forces and examined their pasts.

He looked at life records like their grades, gave them questionnaires, and created other tests. In the end, Cattell determined that 16 traits could make up the personality. He divided these traits into source versus surface. According to him, surface traits were easy to spot by others, while source traits were more unconscious and tended to have more influence over the personality.

Allport's Theory

Allport’s theory of personality was generally focused on a person’s uniqueness and how their motivations influenced them. According to Allport, someone's temperament, intelligence, skills, and traits could determine their personality. He also believed that personality was a combination of nature and nurture, or biology and environment.

Authoritarian Theory

One belief was that one's prejudices could be the result of one's type of personality. It was thought that some people may have authoritarian personality traits that could make them susceptible to totalitarian ideas or authoritarian behavior.

People with authoritarian personalities tend to be hostile toward those who are considered to be below them, but they may have respect for people in positions of authority. People with an authoritarian personality generally won’t change their beliefs, regardless of evidence. They may also be focused on upholding traditions.

Someone with an authoritarian personality may be more likely to be tribalistic and think their group is better. When it comes to parenting, an authoritarian personality may stem from not being able to question or rebel against their parents. Instead, they may have internalized their aggression and taken it out on others later on. This can be where bullying comes from in some cases.

Authoritarian personality theory can come with a few problems, however. It tends to be politically biased and generally cannot explain prejudice toward certain groups of people. In addition, not every person with a harsh upbringing becomes prejudiced later in life. It seems that while a harsh upbringing can contribute to authoritarianism, it may not be the only factor. 

Online Therapy May Help You Understand Your Personality

In many cases, having a deep understanding of your own personality can help you thrive and succeed in life. However, it can sometimes be challenging to find that insight on your own. This is when working with a licensed mental health professional may be beneficial.

If traditional therapy isn’t an option for you, you might consider trying online therapy. You may be able to connect with a therapist from home or anywhere you have an internet connection. 

As this study explains, online therapy can be as effective as in-person therapy. Not only may it help you learn more about yourself, but it can also address any mental health challenges or concerns you may have.

Gain A Deeper Understanding Of Your Personality.


Many important contributors to the field of psychology have offered up theories as to what the personality consists of and how it is formed. For instance, one common theory is Trait Theory, which generally focuses on five main traits. Meanwhile, Allport’s Theory stated that personalities could be formed through a mixture of biological and environmental factors. Freud mostly focused on what he called the id, ego, and superego. Cattell mainly investigated his ideas of surface and source traits. Authoritarian Theory questioned whether those with authoritarian personalities had similar childhood experiences. It can be quite interesting to learn about the concept of personality, and if you’d like to gain insight on your own traits and characteristics, online therapy could be an option for you.

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