What Is The Psychology Of Personality?

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated February 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

For years, psychologists have studied personality, personality traits, and the various factors that can influence personality. Over time, this area of study has produced a number of theoretical perspectives that can provide insight into the complex and multifaceted nature of human behavior. For years, psychologists have studied personality, personality traits, and the various factors that might influence and contribute to personality. In the scientific sense, this study is referred to as personality psychology.

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An overview of personality

Personality encompasses the diverse traits and characteristics that define an individual, including behaviors, motivations, thought patterns, and interests. It reflects the unique patterns in which we interact with our surroundings and internalize experiences, driven by individual differences.
These range from observable actions to internal motivations and cognitive perspectives, shaping our responses to life's challenges and steering our interests. Essentially, personality is the composite of various aspects that collectively craft our distinct identity, influencing our choices and defining our individuality in the human tapestry.
Personality encompasses the diverse traits and characteristics that define an individual, including behaviors, motivations, thought patterns, and interests. It reflects the unique patterns in which we interact with our surroundings and internalize experiences, driven by individual differences.
These range from observable actions to internal motivations and cognitive perspectives, shaping our responses to life's challenges and steering our interests. Essentially, personality is the composite of various aspects that collectively craft our distinct identity, influencing our choices and defining our individuality in the human tapestry.

How personality traits develop

The development of individual personalities is influenced by a blend of nature and nurture, and much personality research revolves around examining how these traits develop. Research suggests genetics and biological factors (nature) likely lay the groundwork for our temperament and predispositions.
Environmental factors (nurture), such as upbringing, cultural context, and life experiences, are also known to play a crucial role in how personality develops. This interaction between inherited traits and environmental experiences is central to understanding personality psychology and personality development, illustrating the dynamic and multifaceted nature of human personality.

Theories and perspectives involving personality psychology

Personality psychology has been the subject of much research and debate. Scientists and academics have developed various theories and perspectives to help explain personality characteristics and how they form.

Trait theory

Trait theory proposes that individual personality is influenced and determined by personality traits. Trait theory proposes that each individual’s personality is composed of cardinal traits, central traits, and secondary traits are recurring themes within this particular subsection of personality psychology.

Cardinal traits are viewed as the foundation upon which individuals base their lives and can be positive or negative. Cardinal traits may include characteristics such as generosity, narcissism, compassion, or ambition, among others. Central traits are not necessarily defining features, but may be nonetheless prominent. Smartness, outspokenness, and deceit are examples of central traits. Finally, secondary traits tend to be those that only present in certain circumstances, such as stage fright.

Trait theory is the basis for many other theories related to personality and personality traits, including:

  • Type A and Type B Personality Theory: This theory categorizes individuals into two distinct personality types. Type A personalities are typically characterized as driven, competitive, highly organized, and ambitious. In contrast, Type B personalities are generally more relaxed, less competitive, and less easily stressed.
  • Big 5 Personality Traits: Also known as the Five Factor Model, this theory identifies five primary dimensions of personality: Openness (creativity and curiosity), Conscientiousness (organization and responsibility), Extraversion (sociability and assertiveness), Agreeableness (cooperativeness and compassion), and Neuroticism (tendency towards emotional instability and anxiety).
  • Myers Briggs Type Indicator: Based on Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types, the MBTI categorizes personality into 16 distinct types based on four dichotomies: Extraversion vs. Introversion, Sensing vs. Intuition, Thinking vs. Feeling, and Judging vs. Perceiving.

Trait theory often serves as the basis of personality assessments, which are widely used in various settings such as career counseling, team-building, and personal development. These tools can be helpful for enhancing self-awareness and giving you new ways to describe and understand your personality.

Psychoanalytic theories

Psychoanalytic and psychodynamic theories view personality as linked to life experiences and behavioral patterns. Internal conflict and resolution are often connected in psychoanalysis. Those who subscribe to the psychoanalytic theories of personality may view one's actions as indicative of their personality. For example, if a person throws away the roses that their partner bought for them, a witness may believe that person is unkind and not a healthy partner. 

The events which occur in childhood may be valued in psychoanalytic theories of personality emphasize one’s childhood experiences in the development of personality. This may include factors such as attachment style, learned behavior, societal expectations, and biological urges.

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Social cognitive theory of personality

In personality psychology, social cognitive theory places a central focus on the views and expectations of individuals about the world in which they live. This approach examines how individuals cognitively process, judge, and make decisions and emphasizes how personality may be shaped by an individual’s culture and environment. For example, a person who grew up in a Western culture may value individualism, while a person from an Eastern culture may prioritize collectivism.

Humanistic theories

Humanistic theories of personality focus on the potential for self-growth and self-actualization within individuals. These theories emerged as a reaction to the deterministic nature of psychoanalytic and behaviorist theories, emphasizing conscious free will, personal growth, and the concept of the 'self'.
For example, consider a person who feels unfulfilled in their job and has low self-esteem. From a humanistic perspective, they might be seen as not having achieved their full potential or self-actualization. A humanistic therapist would focus on helping them develop a self-concept that aligns with their true feelings and desires, encouraging them to explore and realize their own potential. This could lead them to pursue paths more in tune with their genuine interests, fostering personal growth and a greater sense of well-being.

Understanding personality disorders

Personality disorders are a type of mental health condition where a person's way of thinking, feeling, and behaving differs significantly from the cultural norms, leading to distress or problems in daily life. These disorders usually begin in the teenage years or early adulthood and are different from mental illnesses in that they represent enduring patterns of behavior and inner experience that are consistent over time and across situations.


Unlike some mental illnesses which can be episodic or situational, personality disorders are characterized by stable, long-lasting patterns that are deeply ingrained in an individual’s personality. Those with personality disorders often have a hard time dealing with others and handling everyday stresses, problems, and social interaction. With treatment, however, individuals with personality disorders are often able to achieve stable, fulfilling lives.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual recognizes a number of personality disorders. Among the most common are:

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder: Characterized by a disregard for and violation of the rights of others, often displaying deceitful, manipulative, or criminal behavior without remorse.
  • Borderline Personality Disorder: Marked by unstable moods, behavior, and relationships, with intense fear of abandonment and difficulty in managing emotions.
  • Histrionic Personality Disorder: Involves excessive emotionality and attention-seeking behavior, including a need for approval and discomfort when not the center of attention.
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Characterized by a grandiose sense of self-importance, a need for excessive admiration, and a lack of empathy for others, often hiding a fragile self-esteem.
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Counseling for personality 

No matter who you are, where you come from, or your story, you may face a time in your life when you believe counseling could be beneficial. Therapy can be utilized to understand personality, urges, and desires further. Some individuals live with personality disorders, which can make understanding personality challenging. In these cases, a professional may help you learn more about yourself, what you believe, and how to connect with yourself individually. 

For those who face barriers to treatment, such as distance, cost, or availability, you can also find support for personality online. Online counseling is often more affordable than in-person treatment and can be done over the phone, via video, or through live chat sessions with a licensed therapist. In addition, studies show that internet-based therapy is highly effective in treating personality disorders and other mental health conditions. 

If you're interested in trying an internet-based treatment modality, consider a platform like BetterHelp, which allows you to get started on a match-based system to find a counselor that works for you. 

Takeaway

Personality can be a complex topic, and psychology has many personality theories and perspectives. If you hope to learn more about personality or understand distressing mental health symptoms, consider reaching out to a therapist to gain further insight and discuss the ins and outs of your human experience. 

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