What Can The Personality Definition Tell Us?

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated July 4, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
The American Psychological Association defines personality as “the enduring configuration of characteristics and behavior that comprises an individual’s unique adjustment to life, including major traits, interests, drives, values, self-concept, abilities, and emotional patterns."

Personality tends to be one of the first things we might notice and remember about someone, and it encompasses how they think, feel, and behave in reaction to their environment. Learning more about the various aspects of personality may help you understand other people and yourself on a deeper level. 

Below, we’ll explore some common personality characteristics and temperaments, as measured by inventories developed by psychologists of personality theory.

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What is personality?

Personality refers to the behaviors, emotional patterns, ways of thinking, and other aspects that make up a person. Research suggests that personalities are the result of both nature and nurture, meaning they are affected by biological factors and a person’s environment.

Many different personality theories exist. One approach is trait-based personality theory, which posits that a person possesses a group of traits that may indicate what that person is going to do. Some traits are thought to be innate, and others are thought to be learned from your environment. 

One of the most influential personality theories is known as The Big Five. These Big Five traits are Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. These five traits might be remembered by the acronym OCEAN.

The big five

The Big Five are five personality traits that we are all thought to possess to a certain degree. Despite there only being five traits, they exist on a broad spectrum. When these traits are weighted to the extremes on this broad spectrum, it may be an indication of a personality disorder such as schizophrenia, narcissistic personality disorder, or borderline personality disorder. Below are the Big Five personality traits.


Openness measures how willing someone is to try new experiences. Some people tend to be excited to go to new places, meet new people, and have other unfamiliar experiences. However, others may prefer that every day tends to be more or less the same. For example, they may be less open to going to new places and might live in the same house for their whole lives. While everyone can be a little worried about the unknown, openness tends to exist on a scale and can range from ease to terror.


Conscientiousness measures how reliable and organized a person is. There are those who plan everything on time. If something throws their schedule off, they may get noticeably upset. Meanwhile, other people are much happier with making things sporadic. They might show up at their friends' houses uninvited, might not care if things don't come out as planned, and might not be as reliable when it comes to planning. 

Conscientiousness can run on a spectrum as well. Some people plan a lot but can sometimes have streaks when they like to go with the flow, and vice versa.



This scale measures where people get their energy from and how social they like to be. Someone who is more extroverted may need to be socially active if they want to be stimulated. Meanwhile, an introvert may feel better stimulating their curiosity by themselves. They may want to be social at times, but these tend to be occasions rather than everyday activities.

You can also be somewhere in the middle of extraversion and introversion. Some people may be more extroverted but sometimes want to spend time alone. 


Agreeableness doesn't measure how much someone agrees with you, but instead how cooperative and compassionate they tend to be. Someone who is more agreeable is often kinder to people, even if they don't care for them, and they may work well in customer service. Agreeableness can cause someone to be empathetic and put others’ needs before their own, even to a fault. 

On the other end of the spectrum, someone who tends to be disagreeable may be more confrontational and upfront about how they feel. People who score low on agreeableness may experience more difficulty getting along with others and may be less sympathetic at times.


Also known as emotional stability, this trait represents how well someone can handle their emotions. A person high in neuroticism may experience emotional difficulty at the first sign of instability. Meanwhile, someone who scores lower on neuroticism may be more likely to keep their cool when faced with a slew of emotions.

Someone who is more neurotic may be seen as unstable, while someone who is too stable may be seen as someone who is cold and shows little emotion.

Temperament and character inventory

The Temperament and Character Inventory posits that four temperaments can reflect your personality:

  • Harm Avoidance. Someone with a higher level of harm avoidance may consistently worry about something. They may think about the what-ifs, be doubtful of their abilities, or fear the unknown. Harm avoidance is believed to exist on a spectrum. Some people might experience very little fear, while others may want to avoid any level of perceived harm that comes their way.
  • Reward Dependence. This temperament dimension tends to measure how strongly someone will respond to an activity if there is a reward at the end. For example, someone may only want to help another person if they can be rewarded, but someone else with a low level of reward dependence may be a very charitable person, which can be a positive trait until people take advantage of it. Having a balanced level of reward dependence may lead to better outcomes.
  • Novelty Seeking. This dimension measures someone's response to certain novel stimulations and how likely they are to seek out new experiences. Someone may be open to new ideas and not care much that there is risk involved. However, others may become frustrated or scared and not seek out new experiences as often.
  • Persistence. Persistence measures how much someone wants to pursue an activity despite all the potential hardships associated with it. Someone who is persistent may choose to work at something even harder when there are signs of failure. However, sometimes a person may be too persistent and keep trying even though something is not feasible, which can lead them to lose time or resources. Meanwhile, someone may not be persistent enough and quit on their dream just because there was an obstacle in their path. 

There are also three different character types in the Temperament and Character Inventory:

  • Self-directedness. This character type represents the ability of someone to adapt to a problem when they are facing it. Someone who is self-directed may have an ability to adjust their behavior to a given situation. Meanwhile, someone who lacks self-directedness may not be able to cope as productively. 
  • Cooperativeness. This character type refers to someone's ability to work with others, even though they may disagree. Someone with a low level of cooperativeness may not be very willing to work with others. They may prefer to be a loner or may only work with someone if they like them. On the other hand, someone with a high level of cooperativeness tends to work with most people but may be a bit too trusting at times.
  • Self-transcendence. This dimension of character represents how spiritual someone is. Spirituality can be a difficult concept to define in psychology. It can be related to a person’s religion, but it can also come from something else, such as a person’s relationship with the universe. Someone with a low level of spirituality may not be open to things non-empirical. Meanwhile, someone who has a high level may be more prone to delusions and hallucinations.
Getty/Vadym Pastukh
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The future of personality

While no personality theory is perfect, the continuing study of personality can give us some insight into human nature. Additionally, it can be an exciting area of study as it may help you learn more about people and why they think and behave the way they do—including yourself.

Talking to a therapist about personality

Understanding your personality may help you become more aware of why you think and feel as you do. To explore your personality more, it may help to speak with a licensed therapist. If you don’t have time for traditional in-office therapy, you might try online therapy, which numerous studies have demonstrated to be effective. 

Online counseling through platforms like BetterHelp can help you get mental health support from the comfort of your home. You can connect with a therapist through phone calls, video chat, or live chat online. Everyone has different preferences for therapy, which may be influenced by their unique personality traits. Online therapy may give you more control over your therapeutic experience, allowing you to make adjustments as you see fit.

Online counseling can be utilized to address personality concerns, including personality disorders. In a review of 11 studies, researchers found that online-based interventions showed promise for treating symptoms of personality disorders. They reported that usability and patient satisfaction were moderate to high in all of the studies and that several of them demonstrated significant decreases in symptoms of borderline personality disorder.


Personality tends to be a complex topic in the field of psychology. While humans have many similarities, we each have different traits, patterns, and behaviors that make us unique. Learning more about your own personality may help you make the most of your strengths and understand other people better. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a licensed therapist who has experience in personality theory. Take the first step toward understanding your own personality more and reach out to BetterHelp.
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