What is Personality? Explained

An Introduction 

Curiosity about personality is as old as civilization: the earliest philosophers and poets frequently wondered why characters were unique and different from others in so many ways. People have frequently relied on disciplines such as Astrology, Palmistry, and Tarot Cards, among others, to gain insights into themselves and significant others. It is possible to argue that classification has been and continues to be an innate human need.Personality psychology seeks answers to a variety of questions. In what ways do humans differ?

What states are they in, and how much do they fluctuate? What are the reasons for the differences, and how do they differ? How stable are these human distinctions? Is it possible to quantify them?

Among the various disciplines of psychology, personality psychology was a laggard. Before it was accepted as a subject of study, it was a well-established topic of discussion in the public sphere. Humans have always been able to practise personality psychology. In order to find the best companion for us, we assess personality compatibility. During a job interview, HR executives assess the applicant's personality. When we listen to political speeches, we assess politicians' personalities as well as their political acumen. Similarly, when describing a physician as a "good doctor," we frequently base our assessment on his professional persona rather than medical knowledge. Such examples demonstrate the pervasiveness of informal personality assessment in all human interactions. While the study of personality is fascinating and important, personality as such is difficult to define.

People believe they understand personality. Most people believe they have achieved some level of expertise in this area and that they know or understand other people. We try to predict behaviour, deduce conversations, and make assumptions about the actions of others. If someone offends us, acts strangely, or appears overly generous, we will attempt to understand their motivations as soon as possible. Furthermore, we make inferences about people based on the personality traits they possess. As self-proclaimed competent personality judges, we use our expertise in personality assessment on a daily basis; however, most of us would be unable to explain precisely how we form our assumptions about others.

Read More about- Personality Development 

We are usually confident in expressing our opinions and ranking the personalities of others. It is unusual to come across someone who admits to not being a good judge of people and not understanding other people's behaviors. 

Personality Definition

The term personality is derived from the Latin expression persona, which means "mask." Personality is then defined as one's public self, the aspect of oneself that we choose to show to the rest of the world. This definition also implies that important aspects of a person remain hidden. Other definitions of personality range from the widely held belief that personality allows an individual to be socially effective (a person may be considered to have a great personality, an awful personality, or no personality at all) to highly technical definitions involving mathematical formulas. As a result, there are numerous definitions of personality. Every personality theory can thus be viewed as an attempt to define personality, and these descriptions differ greatly from one another. There are, however, at least two fundamental concepts in defining personality:

Individuality -The characteristics that distinguish one person from others. It is both representative of and unique to a specific person.

Consistency - Persists over time and in different situations. It consists of long-lasting, habitual elements of behaviour, which gives an individual's behaviour permanence and soundness.

Thus, the concept of personality is used to illuminate behavioural differences between people and to comprehend behavioural stability within each individual.

 Historical Antecedents in Personality Education 

Personality Theory  has a long history, with Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, and Machiavelli, among others, exploring human personality and providing compelling insights into the human psyche. To a large extent, modern theorists reverberate ideas documented by these earlier thinkers.

Plato (427–347 BCE)

Plato considered the soul to be the seat of personality. In his celebrated work, The Republic (circa 390 BCE), he defined the soul as three basic forces that govern human behaviour: appetite, emotion, and reason. Reason is regarded as the most important and powerful force, but emotion and appetite are regarded as "lower passions," and reason keeps the more primitive forces of appetite and emotion at bay.

Aristotle (384-322 BCE) 4.2

The seat of personality, according to Aristotle, is the psyche, a product of biological processes. His depiction of the psyche qualifies him as the first biological psychologist. Psyche was a collection of faculties arranged in a hierarchy of importance. a) nutritive faculty—an organism's basic drives to meet its bodily needs, found in plants, animals, and people; b) perceptual - an aspect of the mind that interprets sensory data, found in animals and people; and c) intellectual, which is unique to humans.

Descartes (1596-1650) 4.3

Descartes, a French philosopher, saw human personality as the result of the union of divine and primal forces. The immortal soul—untainted, flawless, and incorporeal—is the driving force behind human personality. He wanted to explain how spiritual beings interacted with physical form. When he observed a minor body in the apparent centre of the brain recognised as the pineal gland or pineal body by the Greco-Roman physician Claudius Galen (c. 130-c. 200 CE) because its contour reminded him of a pine cone, he thought he had solved the mind-body problem. Descartes (1649) deduced that this cone-shaped endocrine gland is the point of contact between the soul and the body. The philosophical position that two materials—matter and spirit, or brain and mind—exist independently of each other but interact became popular in Christian Western after the 17th century as it "explained" the presence of human free will and consciousness in an otherwise mechanical world.

Machiavelli (4.4) (1469-1527)

Niccol Machiavelli, a Florentine diplomat and political thinker, proposed that personality is best understood in a social context. People are fundamentally egotistical, avaricious, unthankful, and rancorous in the Machiavellian worldview. Furthermore, two primary forces define human character: I virtù (almost untranslatable Italian term), best described as a combination of decisiveness, courage, and confidence; and ii) fortuna (fortune) (Latin word for luck). A good dose of virtù and fortuna is required to create powerful leaders. Machiavelli (1546/1935) warned that leaders who act out of kindness and faith in humanity's inherent goodness will always fail ("nice guys finish last.")

Major philosophers from ancient Greece and Rome to the Enlightenment proposed some form of personality theory, and their ideas served as the foundation for modern psychologists' theories.

Domains in the study of Personality


Many personality theorists believe that the traits and needs that people have distinguish them from one another. Some traits are thought to be learned (e.g., dietary preferences), while others are thought to be genetically determined (e.g., emotional makeup). Some have a significant impact on one's life (e.g., intellect), while others have a minor impact (e.g., fashion preferences). Individual traits remain fairly consistent throughout one's life, and thus one's behaviour will tend to remain consistent across time and comparable situations.

In their explanations of personality, Allport, Cattell, Murray, and the Big Five emphasise the importance of traits and needs.


The psychodynamic domain originated with Sigmund Freud's work and dominated thinking about personality, mental disorders, and psychotherapy for the first half of the twentieth century. It focuses on unconscious processes, early childhood experiences, and interpersonal relationships to explain various aspects of human behaviour. This point of view contends that because the definitive roots of behaviour are unconscious and usually have their origins in childhood, finding them is difficult. In the quest, complex apparatuses such as free association, analysis of dream symbols and memory lapses, and hypnosis are required. According to this viewpoint, what characterises the unconscious mind can manifest itself in consciousness in a variety of ways, and one cannot actually comprehend about a person by studying the conscious. If one accepts this viewpoint, one does not question the person about why she acts the way she does because the true causes are usually unknown to the person. To understand personality, one must get beneath the random displays of the unconscious mind and into the unconscious mind itself. One must penetrate beneath a person's mask. In their investigations of personality, Freud, Jung, and Horney's theories emphasise unconscious mechanisms.

Humanistic-Existential Domain 

Such theories emphasise the importance of free will. Humans may be alarmed by situations beyond their control in some aspects of life, but how they value, interpret, and respond to those circumstances is entirely up to them. For example, you could be born poor or wealthy, male or female, Hindu or Muslim. You may have been raised in loving circumstances or abused as a child; regardless of the circumstances you find yourself in or the experiences you have had, it is you who gives those environments or experiences meaning. Rogers, Maslow, and May's theories emphasise existential-humanistic considerations and suggest that the person is in charge of her life; thus, she is solely responsible for the type of person she becomes

Social-Cognitive and Behavioral Domain

The behavioural domain is concerned with the role of our surroundings in shaping our personalities. It contends that an individual's personality is nothing more than the result of unique reward and punishment experiences. Individual differences in personality result from differences in our life experiences. According to behavioural theorists, the difference between a successful and a failed individual is in the patterns of reward and punishment, not in genes. This theoretical position has the powerful consequence that personality development can be organised by controlling the conditions of dispensing rewards and punishments. In theory, it is possible to create any type of personality by scientifically controlling reward and punishment. Skinner, Dollard, and Miller's theories emphasise the importance of reward in the learning process.

There is also considerable interest in the study of cognitive processes within the domain of personality theory. Such processes determine how an individual assumes, recalls, changes, and performs on material from the environment. Theories emphasising cognitive processes have traditionally been fascinated by self-regulated behaviour and the significance of self-reward or self-punishment resulting from goal attainment or non-attainment, rather than sources external to the person. Cognitively oriented theories are likely to emphasise the importance of Personality Theories, Paper No. 5

Module No. 1: Introduction to the Study of Personality, emphasising the role of present experience and future goals in shaping behaviour and deemphasizing the role of the past. Bandura, Mischel, and Kelly theories emphasise social-cognitive factors.

Biological Domain 

The most common explanation for personality is frequently genetic. Proclamations such as "He has his mother's ear for music" or "She has her aunt's ear for music" indicate a genetic elucidation of personality. Bouchard (1984) studied identical twins who were separated at birth and reared separately and found pronounced resemblance in their personalities even in the absence of contact and different rearing styles by their families. Both twin studies and adoption studies point to the surprising conclusion that family environmental influences play only a minor role in personality development. If children raised in the same family have similar personality traits, this can be attributed to their common genes rather than shared family experiences.

The role of genetics and evolved adaptations in the elucidation of personality was emphasised by evolutionary psychology. All theories of personality are based on an inborn quality, such as physiological needs (Freud, Skinner, Dollard and Miller, and Maslow); the tendency toward self-actualization (Jung, Horney, Rogers, and Maslow); or social interest (Jung, Horney, Rogers, and Maslow) (Adler). Thus, the question revolves around the extent and mode of genetic influence on personality.

Social and Cultural Domain

Psychologists have long recognised the influence of culture on who we are. Nonetheless, for much of the twentieth century, psychological research largely ignored non-Western groups. The study of various ethnic and cultural groups began over time, leading to the development of the socio-cultural perspective. This perspective investigates how our social environment and cultural learning influence our behaviour, thoughts, and feelings.

Significantly, one's culture governs what are deemed appropriate practises in areas such as justice, religion, politics, education, childrearing, courtship, marriage, and so on. Key individual differences are explained by cultural factors. Some theorists argue that one's personality can be viewed as a synthesis of the various roles one plays. If you were to fill a blank sheet of paper with the words "I am," you would have a rather broad list of qualities. For example, a male, 19 years old, a college student, a Hindu from Lucknow, 5 feet tall, an Indian, attractive, an Arian, a psychology major, and so on. Each entry is assigned an approved role, and society has established the acceptable norms. Deviating from that range results in some social pressure. Certainly, how you conduct yourself in relation to social expectations determines what is considered normal and abnormal behaviour.

Questions posed to the personality theorist

Personality theorists are in the unique position of studying the whole person. Most others work with a specific aspect of humanity, such as old age, intelligence, perception, learning, memory, motivation, child development, pathology, and so on.

The task of presenting a complete image of a person is enormous, and it is related to advances in psychology as well as advances in other disciplines (for example, neurophysiology, sociology, biology, anthropology, medicine, computer science, and philosophy). The personality

Module One: An introduction to the field of Personality theorists attempt to synthesise data from various areas of psychology and other disciplines into understandable, rounded configurations. As personality theorists worked on this production over the years, they raised numerous questions about human nature and individual differences. There are various answers, and each personality theory addresses them either directly or indirectly.

 Is it nature or nurture?

What has a greater impact on personality: hereditary qualities and characteristics (genetic endowment) or environmental topographies (the nurturing effects of upbringing and training)? Do the abilities, dispositions, and predilections we inherit govern our personality, or are we heavily influenced by our life circumstances? Many theorists believe that personality is shaped by both forces. While some consider inheritance to be the most important factor and the environment to be secondary, others believe the opposite.

 Is it the past, the present, or the future?

A question that should be asked is, "How are childhood experiences related to adult personality characteristics?" A related question might be, "Are there critical irreversible periods of personality development?" Is the past, present, or future a powerful shaper of personality?

For example, Sigmund Freud believed that by the end of the fifth year of life, one's personality had fully developed. Keeping this in mind, it is reasonable to assume that later development is largely an extension of the basic themes established in childhood.

This point of view is known as historical determinism. Other theorists emphasise the significance of prospective goals in human behaviour. Goal-directed or future-oriented behaviour, also known as teleological behaviour, is central to the theories of Bandura, Mischel Jung, and Allport. While behaviourists like Skinner and existential-humanists like Rollo May prioritise the present in their explanations.

 Individuality or Universality?

Is human nature unique or common? Because no two people have the same gene constellations or environmental experiences, each individual is unique. However, humans share similar brains, sensory apparatuses, and cultures, implying similar response patterns to various situations. Things we find creatively appealing, things that make us laugh or yelp, our perspectives on the paranormal are largely culturally determined. As a result, it is possible to emphasise either the element of human uniqueness or the element of human commonality. Both accents are recognised by personality systems. The study of a single individual, also known as idiographic research, was used by theorists such as Allport, Skinner, and Kelly to emphasise the uniqueness of each individual. Cattell and Eysenck pursue the study of groups of people, also known as nomothetic research, in order to highlight shared characteristics and traits.

What Motive Drives Human Behavior?

All theorists propose a "master" motive for human behaviour or the primary driving force behind behaviour. Freud, Skinner, Dollard, and Miller proposed hedonism, or the proclivity to seek pleasure while avoiding pain. Adler discusses striving for superiority.

Self-actualization, or the desire to realise one's full potential, is a term used by Rogers, Maslow, Jung, and Horney. Bandura and Mischel discuss the need to cultivate real-world cognitive processes when dealing with the world. Buss suggests the proclivity to express advanced psychological mechanisms. May and Kelly advise looking for meaning and reducing uncertainty.

 Determinants: Unconscious or Conscious?

Are people usually aware of what they're doing and why, or do unconscious forces influence them, causing them to perform despite their lack of awareness of these essential forces? The unconscious mind is central to Freud and Jung's depth theories. Theories highlighting unconscious mechanisms seek interrogations such as the nature of the relationship between the conscious and unconscious minds, methods of investigating the unconscious, and the possibility of awareness of unconscious motives, among other things. Unconscious contrivances are also important to sociocultural theorists of personality such as Adler, Horney, and Erikson, as well as evolutionary psychologists such as Buss. Learning theorists such as Skinner, Dollard, Miller, and Bandura, trait theorists such as Mischel, Allport, Cattell, and Eysenck, and existential-humanistic theorists such as Kelly, Rogers, May, and Maslow, on the other hand, either refute or minimise the significance of unconscious bases of personality.

Free choice or predetermined?

Would it be possible to predict the individual's behaviour with high accuracy if all stimuli acting on a being at any given time were identified? Determinists will say yes, while free will believers will say no. Even the most exacting determinists admit that extrapolations about behaviour are probabilistic. Although most personality theorists are determinists, they emphasise different bases of behaviour. The existential-humanist theorists are the only ones who reject the dogma of determinism because they believe that behaviour is freely chosen, i.e. we are masters of our fate and not unavoidably victims of our life story, ethos, genetic matter, traits, reward and punishment configurations, and so on. Even though this aspect of determinism vs. free will is more philosophical than scientific, the positions taken on this subject outline how people are viewed and colour their perception of personality.


Many theories propose the self as the organising agent of personality. The self is also proposed as the instrument that provides the individual with consistency across time and situations. Horney, Allport, and Rogers' systems are entirely dependent on the concept of self. Other theorists argue that using the concept of self merely diverts our attention from questions about being to questions about self. The self is regarded as a homunculus (a small person) within the individual that directs the person's actions. Like the concept of ego, opponents of the self-concept believe that it is mysterious how the'self' causes a person's actions. Skinner was a harsh critic of self-help theories.

Controlled internally or externally?

What is the location of the locus of control for human behaviour? Theorists such as Eysenck, Allport, Cattell, Rogers, Horney, and Maslow place an emphasis on intrinsic mechanisms of traits and self-regulating systems or person variables. Others, such as Skinner, Dollard, and Miller, focus on extrinsic influences such as environmental stimuli, reward patterns, or situation variables. However, some, such as Bandura and Mischel, emphasise the importance of both intrinsic and extrinsic reins. Personality theorists are preoccupied with determining the relative importance of person and situation variables.

What is the relationship between the mind and the body?

How do physical entities such as the brain, body, or behaviour influence mental makeup such as the mind, thoughts, or consciousness, and vice versa? One response is physical monism (materialism), which holds that no mind exists and thus what we call mental states are subtlees that external events cause both biological and rational events at the same time but independently of each other. Finally, some adhere to the interactionism viewpoint, which holds that the mind influences the body and that the body influences the mind.

Is Human Behavior Consistent?

In their accounts of personality, theorists who emphasise unconscious mechanisms, traits, genetics, or habits assume that a person's behaviour is consistent across situations and time. For example, it is assumed that a person with the trait of dishonesty would be dishonest in most situations. Similarly, a violent person would be violent in a wide variety of situations. Traditionally, personality theorists assumed that a person's behaviour was consistent. It has recently been discovered that behaviour is not always consistent. Mischel (1968) established that behaviour cannot be described in terms of entities such as traits. According to data, people are consistent in some ways but not in others, and areas of consistency vary from person to person. 'How consistent is human behaviour?' are two questions that challenge personality theorists. What determines consistency? What accounts for discernible differences in consistency? What factors contribute to consistency and inconsistency?'

 Are you optimistic or pessimistic?

Are humans fundamentally good or evil, sympathetic or unkind, empathetic or pitiless?

A moral question, a value judgement, is said to have no place in the objective and detached world of science. Nonetheless, several theorists have addressed this issue, resulting in an important body of research. Humans, according to some theorists, are optimistic, expectant, altruistic, humane, and socially conscious. Other theorists see fewer of these characteristics in humans, both individually and collectively. Personality theorists who believe in determinism are generally cynical and pessimistic (Skinner is an exception), whereas believers in free choice are generally optimistic.

These questions allow us to analyse and evaluate the personality theories that you will encounter throughout this paper. Each personality theory has a different answer to the questions raised above.


The term "personality" comes from the Latin persona, or the mask that people wear in public, but psychologists see personality as much more than outward appearances. Personality refers to all of the relatively permanent qualities or features that give a person's behaviour some stability.Personality research has a long history and is now commonplace. Scholars such as Plato and Aristotle have made significant contributions to personality psychology.

The study of personality is divided into several domains, each of which holds a distinct view of human personality and employs a distinct set of methods of investigation.Many questions are addressed by personality theorists, such as nature/nurture, temporality, uniqueness/universality, sources of motivation, unconscious/conscious determinants, free will/determinism, concept of self, internal/external control, and the relationship between mind and body.


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