What Are Some Common Personality Theories?

Updated January 10, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

We all have a basic understanding of a personality. You know when someone has a good or bad personality, or when someone has too little or too much personality. However, knowing what the basic definition of personality is can be a bit harder to figure out. Personality is the uniqueness of one's self. Personality is the unique set of character traits, actions, and beliefs that encapsulate a unique human being.

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Many psychologists throughout history have tried to map the human personality and to do that, they have used many different theories to explain the human personality. An understanding of the various personality theories contributes to an understanding of the self:

Psychoanalytic theory & Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud created the Psychoanalytic theory. Freud's theories shaped modern psychology as we know it, despite many of his ideas being questionable. According to Freud, personality is made up of instincts, such as the want for food or sex, the unconscious, and childhood influences.

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

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

Let's talk about the id, ego, and superego for a second. He believed your personality was divided into three parts, and they were its existence. The id, as mentioned, is the primitive part of your brain that has the instincts for sex, aggression, and other life needs. The id wants to satisfy its pleasure, by all means, necessary, even if the methods used are bad.

Let's skip the ego for a second and talk about the superego. This is the part of our personality that wants to do good. It's our conscience, in a way, and it wants to follow all the rules of our society. It often has an unrealistic expectation of being good.

The ego is what regulates these two personalities, trying to make a person behave realistically. Sometimes, it balances well, and other times, the superego or the id win.

Trait Theory & Personality

This theory says that the person is made up of different traits. Traits tell us how we should act, and they must be consistent regardless of the situation, but this can change from person to person. Some people may have the genetics to thank for their traits, while others may learn these traits over time. Your traits can change as well. These traits include:

O - Openness to Experience

C - Conscientiousness

E - Extroversion

A - Agreeableness

N - Neuroticism/Emotional Stability

Eysenck's Theory

This theory was a bit more biologically based, believing that people are born with a nervous system that's their own, and it can determine how one adapts and learns from their environment. This came from the time when Eysenck was working in a psychiatric hospital, and he had to make assessments about their conditions. He questioned over 700 soldiers about their behavior.

His questioning discovered that some of the answers shared similarities, and these were dubbed first-order personality traits.

He then broke down the different ways behavior can be exhibited. There were two dimensions or second order personality traits. They were introversion vs. extroversion and neuroticism vs. stability. He believed these were biological.

Extraversion Vs. Introversion

We have all heard what an extrovert and introvert are. An extrovert is someone who has a high social need and a want for a change. They get bored easily, are optimistic, and rely on impulses and thrills to have fun. Their nervous system seemingly takes a long time for it to get aroused, so they love to seek thrills.

An introvert is quieter and doesn't need much to be stimulated. They like to plan activities, keep their emotions under control, and are more pessimistic.

It should be noted this is a spectrum. Few are 100 percent introverted or extroverted.

Neuroticism Vs. Stability

A stable person is not as reactive when faced with a dilemma, while a person who is more neurotic may feel like overreacting to every single situation imaginable. They find it difficult to calm down when they are upset, and being neurotic can come with different mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression. Again, this can be a spectrum, as few are 100 percent stable or neurotic.

Psychoticism Vs. Normality

There was also a third trait later on. Psychoticism is when someone doesn't have empathy, is a loner, or doesn't play by the rules. Someone who is psychotic may have higher levels of testosterone. Meanwhile, a stable person plays more by the rules and has empathy. This can be a spectrum as well. Some people may be law-abiding citizens but occasionally have their wild side.

Is Personality Genetic?

Perhaps the biggest question is if your genes predetermine your personality, or if your life experiences can influence it. This question has been studied quite a bit, and the results have been a bit inconclusive.

There have been studies that have shown that identical twins can be more alike, but there have been studies that have shown that only 50 percent of your personality is because of what you've inherited.

As you can probably guess, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. You may be prone to certain personality traits due to your genetics, but your life experiences can shape you up as well. If twins were separated at birth and one was raised in a poor, chaotic household and the other in a well-off, stable household, their personalities may be a bit different. Eysenck's personality theory did combine both nature and nurture arguments to claim that both are important.

Cattell's Theory

This theory was a bit contradictory to Eysenck's opinion that said just two to three behavior dimensions could determine one's personality. Cattell believed that you needed to study many personality traits to get a full picture. He studied members of the armed forces as well and looked at their past.

He looked at their life records like their grades, gave them questionnaires, and he made other tests. In the end, he determined 16 traits could make up a person. He divided these traits into source vs. surface. According to him, surface traits were easy to spot by others, while source traits were more on the unconscious side and were what determined someone's personality more.

Allport's Theory

This theory of personality was focused on someone's uniqueness and how their motivations would influence the person. Someone's temperament, intelligence, skills, traits, and so on could determine one's personality. He believed that personality was also a combination of nature vs. nurture.

 Authoritarian Theory

One belief was that one's prejudices were the result of one's type of personality. As a result, the F-scale, or fascism scale, was created. The belief was that some people have authoritarian personality traits that can make them susceptible to totalitarian ideas or be someone who is more authoritative.

Nazis were tested for this theory, and a few things were discovered, such as the fact they had strict childhoods. People who had authoritarian personalities tended to be hostile towards those who were below them but would kiss up to the people in authority. People with an authoritarian personality would not change their beliefs regardless of evidence. They were obsessed with upholding tradition as well.

Someone who has an authoritarian personality may be more likely to be tribalistic and think their group is better. Also, when it comes to parenting, the authoritarian personality could come from the fact they weren't able to question or rebel against their parents. Instead, they had to put that aggression they internalized and place it on those who were less fortunate. This can be where bullying comes from.

Authoritarian personality does have evidence of existence, but there were some problems with the theory. It tended to be politically biased against the right side, and it could not explain prejudice towards certain groups of people. Also, not every person who had a harsh upbringing became prejudiced.

In the end, it seems that while a harsh upbringing can make someone more authoritarian, it isn't the overall reason why someone is authoritarian. There can be many factors that determine that.

In Conclusion

Human Personality is a hard concept to explain and all of the elements of human personality is still not fully understood. The various theories attempt to explain the Human Personality, but perhaps all of the theories are necessary in order to fully understand the dynamics of Human Personality.

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