views updated Jun 11 2018


I THE FIELDNevitt Sanford




The articles under this heading describe the field of personality and the concept of personality development. For discussions from other than psychological viewpoints see Culture and Personality; National Character; Personality, Political. Important areas of investigation within the field of personality are reviewed in Achievement Motivation; Anxiety; Attitudes; Body Image; Concept Formation; Defense Mechanisms; Drives; Emotion; Identity, Psychosocial; Mental Health; Moral Development; Motivation; Perception, articles on Person Perceptionand Social Perception; Role; Self Concept; Stress. Theoretical accounts of major personality phenomena are found in Cognitive theory; Field theory; Gestalt theory; Personality: Contemporary viewpoints; Psychoanalysis, articles On Classical theoryand Ego psychology; Psychology, article on Existential Psychology; Systems Analysis, article on Psychological Systems; Thinking, article on Cognitive Organization and processes. Personality development is discussed in Developmental Psychology; Infancy; Interaction, article on Interaction and personality. Methods of assessing personality are reviewed in Factor Analysis, article on Psychological Applications; Interviewing, article on Personality Appraisal; Personality Measurement; Protective methods; Sociometry; Traits. Abnormal states of personality are described in Mental Disorders.


There are common-sense as well as technical uses of the term “personality.” It is common sense to observe a person over time, to note that he is consistently aggressive or dominant or submissive, and to think of personality as the aggregate oftraits such as these. It is also common sense to think of personality as what is referred to when a person uses the pronoun “I.” The reference here is to the self, an aggregate of feelings, ideas, intentions, and evaluations that identifies a person to himself and distinguishes him from other people. The sense of self has continuity over time and permits one to feel that he is the same person today that he was yesterday and—with a little luck—will be tomorrow.

Both of these conceptions have much in common with, but neither is the same thing as, personality as it is defined by most specialists in the field. Not all consistency of behavior can be ascribed to personality. The characteristic aggressiveness of a person, for example, may be due not so much to a persisting disposition of personality as to the fact that the person is constantly in a situation so frustrating that it would evoke aggressive behavior in anyone. Personality, in its most widely accepted technical sense, refers to dispositions in the person that help to determine his behavior and that differ from one person to another. Again, there may be durable dispositions in a person that determine some of his behavior but do not enter into his awareness, either because he is unwilling to admit their existence or because he is unable to formulate them for himself.

Personality, then, refers not to observable behavior itself but to dispositions that lie behind behavior. Observed consistencies in overt behavior and individuals’ reports about themselves are important bases for inferences about personality, but, as will be shown, the study of personality requires that these sources of information be supplemented by the use of special techniques. In the view of most students of the subject, the dispositions of personality constitute an organized totality, a more or less enduring structure that interacts with an environment.

Personality theory has an important place in much psychological and social science work. It is highly relevant to practice aimed at improving the functioning of people, at curing or correcting malfunctioning, at preventing disorders, or at providing conditions favorable to individual development. It is basic to the diagnosis or psychological assessment of problems in individuals, to most forms of psychotherapy, and—since problematic conditions must often be seen in the context of the whole person—to research in psychopathology. Social actions affecting groups of people are commonly based on explicit or implicit assumptions about what people in general will do under certain conditions; it seems highly desirable that the psychology underlying such actions include a conception of the person as a whole, for an action meant to affect a particular condition can affect various features and functions of the person; and if there were no theory to suggest such possible consequences, the action might do more harm than good. Those who undertake social actions must also consider not only universal needs and the modes of their organization but the differing personality dispositions shared by people who have been brought up in different social groups. The same considerations hold for the efforts of social scientists to explain events on the larger social scene, e.g., within or among nations or within social structures such as industrial, correctional, or educational institutions.

Personality theory can aid substantially in understanding the motivations of influential individuals and the shared dispositions of collectivities of people (e.g., the susceptibilities to different propagandistic appeals). Overt behavior, as noted above, is heavily dependent upon the situation in which people live, and the organized dispositions of the person are built up largely through experience in the social group, but the matter may also be taken the other way around: social processes depend to some extent upon personality processes. Nationalization of basic industries in Britain, for example, does not appear to have radically changed attitudes of laborers there toward work. Belief systems commonly express personality needs and are modified according to principles of personality change, e.g., education designed with attention to the nature of cognitive structures and of the unconscious determinants of beliefs. Again, people learn to use their roles in organizations to serve their personality needs; hence, changes in an organization’s role structure may involve personality changes in individuals. Change in performance might require more than the manipulation of economic incentives; individuals might, for example, have to be shown different ways of maintaining or enhancing their self-esteem.

Theorists differ about what the elements of personality are, how they are organized, what the boundaries of personality are, and how personality interacts with other phenomena. These problems will be discussed in turn; and we may thus identify some of the major issues, problems, and lines of empirical inquiry in the field of personality today. Finally, discernible trends in thought and research are to be considered.

Elements of personality

In contemporary psychology, elements of personality are hypothetical; they are concepts representing something assumed to exist in nature. They are inferred from behavior, but there is never a one-to-one relation between an observable pattern of behavior and an element of personality: All observable behavior is a function not only of processes in the person but also of the situation in which the person exists at the moment. The conceptualization of elements of personality is necessary because individual patterns reappear in different situations and because individuals react differently to what seems to be the same situation.

Since elements of personality are concepts developed in an effort to understand a complex structure in which there are many levels of organization, and since the discovery or determination of any element is difficult, it is not surprising that psychologists have offered many and varied proposals for the analysis of personality.

The major underlying issues here are (a) whether to begin with a conceptual scheme of the total personality or to begin with empirical methods; (b) whether there is a distinctive psychology of personality or a general psychology that includes personality; and (c) whether to use a behavior theory, which focuses on particular stimulusresponse relationships, in the hope that the development of empirical laws governing precisely measured variables will eventually lead to an understanding of complex processes, or to use a dynamic-organismic theory, which assumes that simple processes such as stimulus—response connections are always in part determined by larger structures within which they occur—structures explicable only as wholes. These issues are discussed in turn.

Conceptual approaches

Theorists and investigators have tried every meaningful way to “divide” personality. Often, it is true, they have simply made arbitrary cuts, usually in the interest of some practical aim, such as the assessment of some personality characteristic (e.g., intelligence) deemed to be relevant to performance in some social role (e.g., that of college student). Where there is concern with a single individual about whom decisions have to be made, it is common practice to “divide” by abstraction, breaking down the whole into a number of distinguishable properties or features, e.g., soundness, stability, or maturity. Although making arbitrary cuts tends to fragment the personality, and abstracting features of the whole tends to result in vague attributes with little empirical support, these practices can yield facts that may later find a place in a theoretical formulation of personality; meanwhile, they help the psychology of personality to meet some of the practical demands made upon it.

Many widely studied personality elements illustrate random cuts—e.g., particular interests, social attitudes, or such characteristics of everyday behavior as sociability or politeness—and abstracted features of the whole—e.g., activity level, complexity, or sense of well-being. Reflected here is the psychologist’s faith that once suitable methods have been devised, relatively independent elements of personality can be discovered and measured by objective means. Sometimes the accent is on the method, on what can be measured, rather than on what is theoretically significant; but the method-centered investigator can always find support in the argument that until elements of personality have been measured, it will not be possible to know how they are related one to another. And a personality psychologist, confronted with the task of making full assessments of individual personalities, would not wish to leave out of account arbitrarily cut or abstracted features of the whole, and he would not be seriously troubled by the names given to such elements.

Most efforts to divide personality have been characterized by some attention to the principle of structural articulation, according to which the theorist starts with a conception of the whole and then divides it along lines suggested by theory. Lewin (1926-1933) and Angyal (1941), for example, approached the whole personality in much the same way they approached other wholes, with the use of a model that would hold for any living system. Although this way of thinking, i.e., in accord with gestalt principles or systems theory, has been and is widely influential in psychology, it has been so only in a very general way; it has not been a major source of stimulation for empirical work. Both Freud (1923) and Jung (1925-1928) proceeded in accord with the principle of structural articulation; they divided the “psyche” into several major systems, the interactions among which were supposed to express the intrinsic nature of the whole. Thus, none of Freud’s major subsystems—id, superego, ego—can be defined without reference to the others and to the whole personality. Jung’s major subsystems—the persona, the personal unconscious, the collective unconscious, the ego, the self—seem not to have caught on with psychologists interested in empirical work, a fact that Jung did not find disappointing. (His abstracted features of introversion and extroversion have, of course, often been studied empirically.) Freud’s subsystems, on the other hand, were denned with considerable reference to behavior and have stimulated empirical work by research psychologists. No one claims to have measured characteristics of the superego with precision, but the task of doing this is not different from that of finding behavioral indexes of other hypothetical constructs, such as needs. That these concepts of Freud’s have persisted and still find a place in psychological literature seems due not only to their connections to behavior but also to the fact that psychologists, particularly those in practical work, sometimes have occasion to think of the whole personality and still find Freud’s elegant scheme useful. [SeeAnalytical Psychologyand the biographies ofFreud; Jung.]

The most common practice in the search for elements of personality is to start with a general psychological theory and to transpose its basic features to personality: habits from stimulusresponse theories, needs or generalized motives from functionalist theories, regions (areas of a purely spatial model) from topological psychology, and attitudes and traits from trait psychology. Although starting with the whole is not the American way, theorists who use elements from general psychology do give some attention to these elements’ functional roles within large structures. Thus, for example, functionalists who focus on the element of striving in human behavior consider that a motive is advanced by perceiving or cognizing in a particular way, using a variety of techniques or devices, and forming attachments to particular objects (persons, ideas, things).

Personality and general psychology

The practice of deriving elements of personality from general theories of behavior, in the belief that there is just one psychology, has been severely criticized by theorists (e.g., Airport 1937) who believe that there is a distinctive personality psychology and that units of analysis ought to be derived from a consideration of the nature of personality itself.

In the 1930s it was not difficult to distinguish between general psychology and the psychology of personality. At that time general psychology was mainly concerned with the generalized adult mind and focused largely upon laboratory studies of learning and perception. On the other hand, molar behavior (i.e., large functional units), motivation, and a wide range of processes of clinical interest were left to the personality psychologists. Today it is generally agreed that the most typical phenomena of personality—motivation and the relations of motives to other phenomena, such as forgetting—are just as general, just as worthy of attention from general psychologists, as the phenomena of learning and perception. Behavior theorists insist that personality psychology and the general psychology of behavior are coextensive. They have been joined by gestalt psychologists, in particular those who follow Kurt Lewin, whose A Dynamic Theory of Personality (1926-1933) is wholly concerned with the effort to establish general laws governing processes in a field that contained variables involving both the person and the psychological environment.

Some writers, admitting the force of the argument for generality but wishing to save something for a psychology of personality, have taken the view that the field of personality owes its distinctiveness solely to its concern with individual differences and the unique organization of each individual. Others—the great majority of those fully identified with the study of personality—have made the claim that an adequate general psychology can be nothing other than a psychology of personality. Actually, this is a traditional view of the matter. Certainly Freud and Jung considered that personality was synonymous with “mind” or “psyche” and that their theories were general psychological theories. The same position was taken by Murray (see Explorations in Personality . . . 1938), Goldstein (1934), and Angyal (1941) when, in the 1930s, they espoused the organismic point of view. In these older statements, as well as in more contemporary ones by such writers as Maslow (1954), Rogers (1959), Cattell (1950), and von Bertalanffy (1951), there are two basic assumptions: (1) that since all behavior depends on varying processes in the person as well as on the situation, there can be no general psychological laws that do not take into account relatively enduring personality processes and (2) that no particular process, such as establishing a conditioned reflex or perceiving another individual, can be fully understood apart from the context of the total system of the person.

Behavior and dynamic-organismic theories

It is very generally agreed that there is to be, not a general psychology and a personality psychology, but one psychology. The question is, what kind of psychology is this to be? Here there is a fundamental division between behavior theorists and a group of theorists who might be called dynamicorganismic.

The division concerns not only differences in general views of what a person is like but also the questions of how the search for psychological knowledge ought to be conducted, the nature of science, and what kinds of theory are best for psychology.

The behavior theorist puts his faith in methods of precise measurement and in theories whose concepts are readily referred to observable events. He believes that the study of simple processes will eventually lead to the development of a set of empirical laws that will hold for, and permit the understanding of, more complex processes. The dynamic-organismic theorist doubts this. He assumes that personality processes are organized on different levels and that single processes are always in part determined by, or depend for their nature upon, the larger organismic patterns and purposes within which they have a place. Thus, for example, Rogers (1959) argues, and has assembled evidence to show, that the way to change a particular pattern of behavior, such as a refusal to concentrate in school, is to change the self concept; that indeed a change in self concept might induce various kinds of changes in behavior. The behavior theorist (e.g., Farber 1964; Eysenck 1959) would argue, with the use of some supporting evidence, that the way to change the self concept is to change behavior. Rogers would probably not be upset by a demonstration that such an effect was achieved, for it is his view that the whole and its parts aremutually related. He would ask why the behavior theorist, who presumably is interested in the explanation of all behavior, does not accept the idea of the determination of a process by the whole in which it is embedded. The behavior theorist would admit the possibility that a particular behavioral event is influenced by various processes in the organism, but he would question how to specify and measure them. He would argue that until this becomes possible, through the slow and deliberate advance of empirical science, he would prefer to confine his work to studying the effects of external stimuli, venturing into the vast complexity of the organism’s inner processes only when this can be done without losing precision of measurement or elegance of theory.

The division is deep, pervasive, and enduring; and it has many implications. The concern here is with the way it influences the psychologist’s search for elements of personality. Consider, for example, the matter of the breadth of the analytic categories. One might suppose that the choice would depend solely upon the kind of problem to which the investigator was addressing himself, e.g., small categories if he was interested in the effects of a visual stimulus, larger categories if he was interested in the effects of a college education. One might suppose, too, that investigators who used small categories would be interested in what they might add up to and that those who used large categories would be concerned to make sure that they lent themselves to analysis into finer units. Generally this is not so. Behavior theorists avoid large categories, which rarely seem called for in experimental work, and postpone the task of building their fine and nicely specified units into larger structures. Dynamic-organismic theorists, typically concerned with long sections of behavior and large areas of the person’s functioning, do not hesitate to use large categories, such as generalized needs or sentiments. While they admit the need to understand how such categories are compounded of smaller units, these theorists seem temperamentally disposed to neglect this problem and are concerned instead with the ways in which a large category fits into a still larger one, e.g., the ego or the self—and with how these major systems relate to the whole personality.

Again, the differing points of view described here are reflected in the degrees to which theorists use hypothetical constructs. As indicated, to speak of personality at all is to speak in terms of such constructs. And all theorists agree that it must be possible to connect the construct to observable events. The question is how close the connection must be. Behavior theorists introduce hypothetical constructs but are reluctant to enlarge or complicate them. They insist upon the most direct ties between the constructs and observable behavior. This has led some of them to regard personality as nothing more than an aggregate of measurable performances. Dynamic-organismic theorists, on the other hand, interested in probing the “deeper” or more “central” aspects of the person, often use constructs, such as unconscious motive, that have only highly indirect ties to anything observable. From present indications, it appears that theorists of this group will continue to make free use of hypothetical constructs but, under pressure from their more cautious colleagues, will become increasingly concerned about the verification of these concepts and increasingly sophisticated in respect to the methods by which this is to be accomplished.

Not all preferences and practices in choosing units for the analysis of personality depend upon the investigator’s orientation to theory; they depend also on the interests of the investigator, the kinds of problem he investigates, and the kinds of observations he makes. When, for example, the psychologist addresses himself to practical problems involving people, he is likely to use categories that are less abstract than those which appeal to the experimentalist or to the devotee of elegant theory. Thus the psychotherapist, when faced with the necessity for taking action affecting a person, often on short notice, has to deal with the relatively concrete and particular without stopping to translate his thoughts into the terms of a general theoretical system. Again, some students of personality are interested primarily in persistent differences among people, others in changes in the same people over time. The former prefer to investigate variables, such as abilities or temperamental traits, that are presumably either genetically or somatically linked or else highly generalized and pervasive; the latter prefer elements, such as social attitudes, values, and opinions, that, according to theory, are related to experience.

In sum, all agree that elements of personality must be conceived of and their attributes or characteristics measured. However, disagreement about the nature of these elements has been marked throughout the whole history of personality psychology; and it shows no signs of ending soon, mainly because, being invisible, elements naturally are conceptualized differently by many different personality theorists and because the measurement of elements is methodologically difficult: poorly conceived elements cannot be exposed for what they are, and psychologists are too often guided by what can be measured by existing methods rather than by what is essential to theory. Disagreement has stimulated a large amount of theoretical work and empirical research directed to the discovery and examination of elements of personality. Progress will be made as behavior theorists become interested in studying more complex structures and as dynamic-organismic theorists increase their methodological sophistication.

Structure and organization of personality

All conceptions of personality embody the idea of organization or patterning of its elements. The term “structure” is commonly used, as it is here, to refer to all relationships within personality, while a distinction is made between formal relationships and functional ones, and thus betweenformal structure and dynamic structure.

In this section we shall attempt first to clarify the distinction between formal and dynamic structure and then proceed to a consideration of some of the organizing principles of theorists who seek to formulate dynamic structure. Most such theorists lean heavily upon the concept of motives, or striving to attain goals; i.e., to reduce the tension generated by drives, to satisfy needs, or to achieve purposes. In the view of these theorists a single drive, need, or purpose organizes various processes to serve it, and the various strivings of a person are themselves organized, e.g., in hierarchies or in syndromes. In classical psychoanalytic and behavioristic theories the goal of striving is reduction of tension. Criticisms of this conception are next discussed; then other approaches to organization are considered; and, finally, some empirical work on dynamic structure is briefly discussed.

Formal structure may be exemplified by a spatial model for describing features or parts and their arrangement in relation to each other and to the whole. Thus Kurt Lewin often began his lectures on personality by drawing an ellipse on the blackboard to represent the person (1936). The area outside but adjacent to this figure represented the environment. Another ellipse drawn within the first separated the perceptual-motor region, next to the environment, from the inner-personal region, which had no direct contact with the environment. By means of crosshatching in the inner ellipse he represented regions, e.g., needs or habits, of the inner-personal sphere. He was now in a position to endow these elements of personality and theboundaries separating them with whatever properties seemed required by his general theory. It was obvious that at a given time the regions of personality stood in various purely formal relationships to one another and to the environment. Some regions were connected with many others, some with few; some, in the inner-personal sphere, were immediately adjacent to the perceptual-motor region and were thus peripheral, representing the more superficial or transitory features of the person; other regions, in different degrees central, or separated from the environment by intervening regions, represented what was deeply important to the person, e.g., his self or needs directly related to it. Boundaries of regions had varying degrees of permeability, represented by different degrees of thinness of the boundary lines. In Lewin’s thinking, personality development in children involved mainly an increasing differentiation of regions, an increasingly definite demarcation between the self and the environment, and increasingly impermeable boundaries between regions. Fawl (1963) used these conceptions to predict and to find that disturbances are less frequent in older children (whose central regions are better protected from disturbing stimuli) but of longer duration (because the greater impermeability of boundaries makes it more difficult for tension to dissipate).

Dynamic structure refers to predictable constancies or regularities of functioning in the personality. Dynamic structure concerns, for example, which of the regions in Lewin’s scheme act upon other regions, and what lawful transformations occur in consequence. Personality theorists have, in effect, filled in the regions of Lewin’s ellipse with various contents—needs, sentiments, object cathexes, habits, cognitive dispositions, and so on —and then have proceeded to develop theory concerning the interactions of these contents and the mechanisms by which effects are achieved. Such theory is used to explain particular formal relationships among particular contents. Lewin himself considered that his formal structures changed readily as a result of dynamic forces. For example, if a person is angry but exercises self-control, the peripheral regions of the inner-personal sphere become more widely separated from the perceptualmotor region, and at the same time the whole inner-personal region becomes more unified, i.e., less differentiated and more primitive. He allowed, however, that some formal structures persist and may differ from one individual to another. [SeeField theoryand the biography ofLewin.]

All personality theorists will agree that personality is more or less differentiated and that differentiated parts are related, but most of these theorists can be drawn into a debate concerning why and how differentiation occurs.

According to the traditional and widely accepted view of functionalism or action theory, the fundamental organizing principle of personality is striving. Goals are set by the individual in accordance with his motives, and such available resources as are necessary to the attainment of these goals are mobilized. At any moment of a person’s life, at least one motive—need, wish, drive—is active, and various other processes are being organized in its service. Striving may be induced by a physiological drive and may take the direction of reducing the tension generated by that drive; it may have the purpose of relieving an unpleasant psychological state, such as lowered self-esteem or feelings of guilt; it may be an effort to reinstate a condition previously experienced as pleasant; or it may be in the service of some far-flung purpose involving a complicated program of action. [SeeDrives; Motivation.]

The basic model for stimulus-response (S-R) psychology is that of a rat running through a maze to get food and thereby reduce his hunger drive; for psychoanalysis it is the infant seeking and finding the breast and then sucking to get pleasure as well as to relieve his hunger. In other dynamic theories, such as those of McDougall (1923) and Murray (see Explorations in Personality . . . 1938), there is emphasis on more general needs, e.g., achievement or affiliation, in the service of which the person recalls previous successful strivings, selectively perceives relevant objects and instrumentalities, organizes motor activities, and experiences positive or negative affects, depending on the progress and ultimate fate of the striving. [SeeAchievement motivation; Stimulation drives; the biography ofMcdougall.]

With experience, more or less durable structures develop around motives. Whiting and Child (1953), for example, discuss the “behavior system,” a set of habits built upon a common drive originating in early childhood. For Freud (1916-1917) there are “character structures,” e.g., oral, anal; and for Murray (see Explorations in Personality . . . 1938) there is the “need integrate,” a structure embodying a need and the images of objects and modes of response that have been associated with it. Murphy (1947) introduced the concept of “canalization” to stand for the process by which a need becomes focused upon a particular stimulus or class of stimuli, e.g., the sex drive is canalized toward a specific member of the opposite sex.

In the view of most writers, personality comprises numerous such motivational systems, and theory must deal with their interrelationships. A number of principles of organization have been introduced. There is the means-end relationship, or a series of such relationships, in which immediate goals are means for attaining more distant ones. For Murray (see Explorations in Personality. . . 1938) “subsidiation” is the operation of one need in the service of another. It is widely agreed among psychologists that the classical short section of behavior so intensively studied by experimental psychologists (e.g., the rat’s successful negotiation of a maze) may have a role in the promotion of long-range objectives. Allport (1961) argues that a motive which developed because of its role in furthering another motive may become “functionally autonomous,” i.e., functionally independent of its origins. For example, a young man who goes to medical school in order to please his father may find enough satisfaction in his studies to sustain an interest in medicine. The relationship of this interest to the original motive may disappear; the new interest becomes a strong motive in its own right. [SeePersonality: contemporary viewpoints, article ona unique and open system.]

From the point of view of psychoanalysis, the behavior of the young man in this example would be over determined. If people are going to engage in complex and difficult patterns of activity, it is elementary wisdom to make these behaviors serve a multiplicity of needs, including infantile ones. Murray (see Explorations in Personality . . . 1938) speaks of a “fusion” of needs when multiple needs are gratified by a single course of action.

Various processes for resolving conflicts among needs have been conceptualized. Among them isscheduling (Murray & Kluckhohn 1948), which lessens or resolves conflict by permitting the attainment of as many goals as possible—one after the other. Again, motivational systems may be simply coordinated, existing side by side, as it were, or one may be a specification or concretization of another.

A widely used conception of organization is that of hierarchy—of which there are different orders. In stimulus-response theory, for example, habits are said to be arranged in a hierarchy in the sense that a given stimulus is most likely to evoke some particular response out of several possible ones—and so on for a number of stimuli and responses. Murphy (1947) has stressed the importance of hierarchies of conditioned responses, pointing out that attitudes, which he sees as conditioned responses, determine what responses may later be conditioned. Murray (1951) uses the concept of “prepotency” to refer to the attribute of a need that leads to its taking precedence over others in a hierarchy. Maslow (1954) has developed this idea more fully. The most prepotent needs are physiological deficiencies which must be overcome at least to some minimal degree before other needs can operate. Then, in order of prepotency, there are safety needs, belongingness and love needs, esteem needs, and self-actualizing needs.

Freud has remained the greatest contributor to the dynamic psychology of personality. Various other conceptions of dynamic structure have been developed as alternatives to Freudian concepts or are concerned with areas of personality neglected by Freud. A discussion of these matters must be introduced by a brief examination of Freud’s major ideas.

Psychoanalytic principles

Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, postulating, among other things, the plasticity of motives, is still basic to contemporary psychodynamic views. This theory is probably as elegant as any in psychology, in that it uses only a few simple principles to explain a wide range of different and seemingly meaningless phenomena: dreams, slips of the tongue, neurotic symptoms. Freud amassed a great deal of evidence to show the importance of sexual (i.e., erotic, libidinal) and aggressive drives in the functioning of personality. These drives, typically, are directed toward other people and therefore become the objects of social control. Social control is possible because of the plasticity of the drives. Capable of being satisfied in various ways and with the use of various objects, these drives lend themselves to being patterned in ways that are more or less socially acceptable. But this social acceptability is not achieved without a struggle. Drives tend to persist in their original form after the child has attached himself to his parents and has learned to speak to himself as they would speak. The stage is thus set for inner conflict—and for the elaboration of personality structures. There are generated highly complex arrangements by which the individual seeks to avoid anxiety or ward off external punishment while at the same time obtaining gratification of basic needs.

We deal here with what is at once the most characteristic and the most distinctive feature of psychoanalytic knowledge: the idea that events are not always what they appear to be, that they may mean the opposite of what they seem to mean, that meaning is to be found through a search for the ways in which the underlying sexual and aggressive needs have been transformed.

This transformation is rarely, if ever, complete, for infantile needs are often rendered unconscious—a state that favors their remaining fixed. Ideas or impulses to action are made unconscious as a means of avoiding the anxiety occasioned by a conflict between some sexual or aggressive drive (id) on the one hand and the internalized version of society’s restraining forces (superego) on the other. The key conception here is that content that has been made unconscious is unaltered by experience, but persists by its own laws, meanwhile affecting the conscious. Freud and his followers produced many theoretical statements explaining how unconscious processes are reflected in consciousness, or transformed or disguised in such a way as to make them compatible with conscious aspirations; and how the more conscious, “controlling” systems of personality ward off, defend themselves against, manage, or integrate unconscious processes; as well as explaining dreams, jokes, slips, and symptoms, and the persistence into adult life of childish ways and childish constructions that are capable of dominating the individual’s behavior in critical situations.

Whereas id and superego processes are automatic, inflexible, and repetitive in disregard of consequences, other processes are likely to be conscious and to have the benefits of the individual’s most highly developed abilities. To account for these, Freud (1923) introduced the concept of ego. It makes a great deal of difference, in psychoanalytic theory, whether a need, with its integrated images and affects, is “in the ego” or under the sway of the id or superego. In the ego are to be found such structures as rational plans for action, sustained strivings to carry out promises or to uphold principles, and highly differentiated preferences. Freud said, “Where id was there ego shall be,” thus implying that the direction of personality development is toward domination of the whole personality by ego processes. This state could be represented, according to Lewin’s scheme, as many well-differentiated regions with flexible boundaries permitting a maximum of intercommunication. [SeePsychoanalysis, article onclassical theory.]

Psychoanalytic ego psychology

Freud, during most of his life, considered that the ego was generated from the conflict between the drives and social forces (or their internal representatives). He was never very clear about this formulation, nor have many of his psychoanalytic followers been altogether happy with it: the theory left psychoanalysis open to the criticism that it explained the element of fixity in personality far better than it explained change or development and that it was inadequate to account for man’s highest, most complicated, and most constructive activities. In 1939 Hartmann argued that if psychoanalysis was to be a general psychology of development, it would be necessary to posit ego development outside “the sphere of conflict.” He proposed that there were “apparatuses of the ego,” the beginnings of abilities such as perception, memory, and inhibition, which were independent of the drives at birth and developed under the impact of external stimuli, independently of determinants in the drive system (id) and of conflicts between id and ego (“primary autonomy“). More than this, Hartmann argued, like Allport (1937), there are ego activities which, although they have their beginnings in the id or in id-ego conflicts, become functionally independent of their origins (“secondary autonomy.“)

In this effort to develop a “psychoanalytic ego psychology” Hartmann was joined by a number of psychoanalysts—e.g., Kris and Loewenstein (Hartmann et al. 1946), Pumpian-Mindlin (1959), and Gill and Brenman (1959)—and psychologists friendly to psychoanalysis—e.g., Rapaport (1958) and White (1959). This has tended to bring psychoanalysis closer to academic psychology. For example, many phenomena which ego psychology now seeks to deal with have been conceptualized by psychologists as aspects of the self—something about which Freud had little to say. Thus Lecky (1945) argued that the individual’s conception of himself was the nucleus of a system into which all the individual’s ideas were organized and with which new experiences had to be consistent, or at least unthreatening, in order to be assimilated. Rogers (1959) and Snygg and Combs (1949) have regarded the phenomenal self as the core of the personality organization and have empirically studied the dimensions of the self, ways in which patterns of behavior are related to it, and the conditions under which it changes. Hilgard (1949) holds that the functioning of a wide range of motivational systems, including the Freudian “mechanisms of defense,” depends upon the activities and states of the “inferred self“—a structure underlying the self of awareness. Allport (1953) has hailed the development of ego psychology as a sign that psychoanalytic writers are at last ready to pay some attention to man’s higher achievements. [SeePsychoanalysis, article onego psychology; self concept.]

For most psychologists, it would seem, psychoanalytic ego psychology is nothing more than psychology; it attends to matters that have always fallen within the general domain of psychological inquiry. The question, then, is whether the new ego psychology really builds any important bridges between psychoanalysis and the rest of psychology. There has been some agreement to seek agreement, and there have been many fresh observations of ego functioning, but a true integration of psychoanalysis and academic psychology is far from being achieved. Loevinger (1965) has cogently argued that rather than positing an ego that is autonomous from the beginning, it would be better in terms of theory construction if a way could be found to explain ego development by the same principles used to explain other phenomena of psychoanalysis. Loevinger proposes that Freud’s idea of “mastery through reversal of voice” be used to supply a dynamic basis for ego development. Freud had concluded that his pleasure principle was not adequate to explain such phenomena as the repetitive play of children and the apparent need of people to relive traumatic experiences. Underlying this compulsion to repeat must be a need to master problems, fundamentally by actively repeating what one had experienced passively—as in identification with an actor who has aggressed against one—and by reliving in the passive role experiences in which one had been active. Loevinger argues that this principle is at the core of the ego’s functioning and is the governing principle in the initial separation of the ego from impulse. Thus writers on psychoanalysis continue to debate the question of whether it is necessary to evoke entirely new, nonpsychoanalytic principles, such as a “need for mastery” (Hendrick 1942) or “independent ego energies” (White 1963a), in order to account for ego development. For psychoanalysis this question is of crucial importance, for it is basic to the larger question of whether psychoanalytic theory can become a general theory of personality development and functioning.

Critique of tension-reduction theory

In classical psychoanalytic theory and in other functionalist theories, the general object of striving is to reduce tension or to restore equilibrium. As Allport (1960, p. 304) has written, “most current theories clearly regard personality as a modus operandi for restoring a steady state.”

It should be made clear that tension reduction is not the same as drive reduction, in Hull’s original meaning of this term (1943). In animal psychology there has been a great deal of discussion and experimentation directed to the question of whether all striving is in the interest of drive reduction. For Hull all drives were aversive. It was counterargued that at least some drives are appetitive, i.e., the striving was in the direction of positive affect. The matter has now been more or less settled in favor of the latter position, a major blow being struck by Olds and Milner’s demonstration (1954) that animals exhibited responses suggesting that they were very much interested in the affects to be experienced through electrical stimulation of a certain area of the brain. Most personality theorists seem never to have doubted that human beings will seek experiences that have given them pleasure in the past, that they will go to great lengths to find excitement or “have fun,” showing signs of tension when gratification is delayed or denied. This successful critique of drive reduction, then, does not settle the issue of tension reduction; criticisms of the latter, more general conception have been directed to the homeostatic principle itself. [SeeNervous system, article onbrain stimulation; stimulation drives.]

One line of criticism has been directed to the older tension-reduction theories that seem to have been based on analogies to simple physical systems, in which the final state of equilibrium, or freedom from tension, was the same as that which existed before the disequilibrating circumstances arose. Nowadays it seems to be generally agreed that final and initial stages of equilibrium are likely to be different. Organisms change in the course of their strivings; they grow and develop, and the equilibrium that they attain must somehow take account of their increased size and complexity. One might say that the individual tends to recapture his earlier states of equilibrium, but in attempting to do this, he changes; thus, his new stable state is on a higher level of integration than before. [SeeHomeostasis.]

Another line of criticism is simply that equilibrium, however new or however high its level, is not enough; organisms go on being active after equilibrium has been reached. In Goldstein’s organismic theory (1934), for example, the basic drive of the organism is toward “self-actualization“; it may use homeostatic mechanisms for this larger purpose, but it will maintain a level of tension adequate to enable it to initiate further activity. The same general idea seems to be expressed in Snygg and Combs’s accent on enhancement of the phenomenal field (1949), in the existentialist search for meaning (May et al. 1958), and in Maslow’s theory of growth motives (1954). Granted that a basic tendency of life is to grow and develop, the question remains of what makes growth occur. What are the mechanisms of developmental change? And what prevents development? A study of college students suggests that it is just as natural for them to remain as they are as it is for them to enhance their phenomenal fields or seek new levels of order and transaction (Sanford 1966). It does seem that they need to understand that they can develop, that they are not forever bound by their childhood conditioning or by a closed system of social forces. Teachers may further student development by finding ways to challenge them, to upset their equilibrium and generate moderate degrees of tension. Favoring the teachers’ efforts is the possibility suggested by Goldstein and stressed by Murray and Kluckhohn (1948) that it is not a tensionless state which is most satisfying to the healthy organism but, rather, the process of reducing tensions; hence, people will see to it that they have tensions to reduce. [SeePersonality: contemporary viewpoints, article Ona unique and open system; the biography ofGoldstein.]

Finally, it is proposed that some behavior may be its own aim (Maslow 1954). Organisms or personalities not only do things in order to further some objective or other—to reduce tension or to raise it—they just do things. Murray and Kluckhohn ([1948] 1953, p. 37) have used the term “process activity” to refer to “spontaneous, random, ungoverned, but yet expressive cacophonies of energy,” which they regard as “more elementary and basic than integrated goal directed activity.” Self-expression, as well as tension reduction, we are told, has to be regarded as a function of personality.

Critics of tension reduction have made their point that there is more to life than reducing aversive drives, overcoming deficiencies, coping with anxiety, and being blindly conditioned. They have shown that there is more inside the personality than seems to have been dreamed of by classical psychoanalysis or contemporary behavior theory. A resourceful theorist, however, could still conceptualize rational, complex, or self-actualizing motivational systems in tension-reduction terms—although this might cost him considerable disequilibrium !

A third force

To get away from the tensionreduction formula is, apparently, to take a more optimistic view of man’s nature. And so is the postulation of an autonomous ego, which blesses man with organizing powers from the beginning. Both of these trends in theoretical thinking express a new emphasis upon the higher mental processes and upon what is distinctively human in man. From this point of view man is by nature more organized, more organizing, destined for higher things than S-R psychology and classical psychoanalysis have supposed him to be. This view has been gaining ground in recent years, and its advocates sometimes speak of themselves and their work as a “third force” in psychology. Theorists of this group center attention on the experiencing person, oppose the use of mechanistic models of psychological functioning, accent meaningfulness rather than methodological elegance in the selection of problems, and, in general, are concerned with the dignity and worth of man. In general, these theorists favor the dynamic-organismic approach and oppose behavior theory; they tend to lump psychoanalysis and behaviorism together, as the two other forces. Sometimes, however, a distinction is made between the older classical conception of psychoanalysis, which is one of these other forces, and psychoanalytic ego psychology, which, in some of its versions at least, seems to qualify as “third force/’

The third force has drawn attention to areas of experience, behavior, and personality that were neglected in psychoanalysis and behaviorism, and thus has restored some balance to personality study. Some advocates show an inclination to reject more of behaviorism and psychoanalysis than seems necessary or wise. That man is a nobler creature than science has heretofore supposed is, of course, good news; but endowing man from the beginning with a great deal of organizing potential and with a tendency to natural growth sometimes seems to discourage intensive investigation of just how he becomes what he does.

Other approaches

If the third force in personality theory accents organizing tendencies in the original nature of man while psychoanalysis and behaviorism accent what is built up through experience, there is another school of thought which says that there never is very much organization in personality. Situationism (e.g., Cantril 1947) and certain tendencies in field theory (e.g., Lewin 1926-1933), have minimized organization in the individual personality and have emphasized the social group and the culture as organizers of human behavior. In the face of these arguments the personality psychologist has usually stood his ground, reiterating his preference for studying the individual human, who can be as well defined as a system—an open one, to be sure—as can social and institutional phenomena, and whose organized dispositions may bring structure to the situations he encounters. Nevertheless, personality psychologists have been profoundly influenced by advances in sociology and anthropology and are much concerned about the articulation of personality systems and social systems, about how the more or less stable structures of the personality are sustained by surrounding social forces. [SeeSocial institutions.]

Empirical work

Factual knowledge about the dynamic structure of personality has derived mainly from clinical work—and from the intensive study of individuals by methods originating mainly in the clinic. Experimental methods have so far proved inadequate for dealing with the complexity of personality, with the vast network of meanings in which a particular pattern of behavior is likely to be entwined. But psychologists, by and large, have clung to the view that propositions emerging from such “exploratory” clinical work are at best hypotheses that must be tested by laboratory methods. They have devoted an enormous amount of energy and ingenuity to this end.

First, there is personality research in what might be called the grand tradition. This is the tradition started by Murray (see Explorations in Personality. . . 1938), who, more than any other psychologist, devoted himself to the task of devising methods that were appropriate to an organismic conception of personality. His general approach was to use a variety of tests, interviews, and projective techniques in the study of the same subjects so that particular findings could be understood in the context of a patterned organismic system. The method could reveal patterns of individual functioning not previously brought to light, as well as generalized part-whole relationships. The tradition is still very much alive, although the work of those who represent it today constitutes only a small part of the published investigations in the field of personality. The publication of The Study of Lives, edited by R. W. White (1963b) and written by 18 psychologists who had been influenced by Murray, was an important event in the recent history of personality psychology.

Another approach to the study of structure is to use a variety of tests designed to measure variables operating on different levels of the personality, and then to employ correlational techniques in an effort to demonstrate dynamic relationships (e.g., Cattell 1959). Related to this is the effort to delineate types or syndromes of personality and on this basis to predict behavior in particular situations. Stein (1963), for example, used a self-description questionnaire to develop a system of typing Peace Corps volunteers and then found that the types based on this system were predictive of performance in the corps; for example, young men who ranked high on drives for dominance and achievement and low on playfulness and sex interest, unlike all other types of subjects, obtained—after six months in the field—higher scores than they had previously on a scale measuring authoritarianism. [SeeFactor analysis, article onpsychological applications; Personality measurement; Projective methods; Traits.]

Objective and experimental studies of psychoanalytic theories have been appearing in the literature since the early 1930s. They have shown increasing sophistication both in respect to methodology and in respect to the derivation of testable hypotheses from Freudian theories. Recent examples are a study by Hall and Van de Castle (1965) which found that male dreamers reported more dreams expressive of castration anxiety, while female dreamers reported more dreams expressive of castration wishes and penis envy, and a study by Zamansky (1958), who found that hospitalized males with paranoid delusions spent more time looking at pictures of males than did hospitalized schizophrenic males without paranoid delusions. The results of both these investigations are in keeping with Freudian theories, from which the tested hypotheses were derived, but the investigators admit that their findings might, conceivably, be explained in some other way. The Zamansky study is representative of a great many in which the effort is made to “diagnose” the subjects—often with the use of projective techniques—and on this basis to predict behavior in some controlled situation. [SeeDreams; Paranoid reactions; Psychoanalysis, article onexperimental studies.]

The longitudinal study (in which the same individuals are measured repeatedly at different points in their lives) is the method par excellence for studying stability and change in personality structures. Such studies have not been widespread in recent years, owing chiefly to their expense and inherent difficulty; nonetheless, quite a few have been reported since 1935. One important longitudinal study was carried out by Kagan and Moss (1962) and focused on a group of young people who grew to maturity between 1929 and 195 This study found that many patterns of behavior exhibited by children between the ages of three and ten were predictors of theoretically related patterns of behavior in early adulthood, e.g., “involvement in intellectual mastery,” “sex role identification,” and “spontaneity.” From a review of several hundred longitudinal studies, Bloom (1964) concluded that, although personality may change at any age under the impact of a sufficiently powerful environment, change in many characteristics becomes increasingly difficult with increasing age and that the experiences of early childhood have great implications for all that follows in the individual’s life. He believes there is considerable promise that environmental conditions favorable to the child’s development will be identified, and made operative, in this century.

Boundaries and interactions

A complete definition of personality must deal not only with elements of personality and their organization but also with the problem of distinguishing personality from phenomena that are closely related to it. Much theoretical work has been concerned with how, if at all, personality is to be distinguished from observable behavior, from the social environment, and from the physical and physiological systems of the organism.

It has been assumed that elements of personality cannot be defined in terms of observable behavior because all such behaviors have determinants besides personality. To consider the boundaries separating personality and behavior, and the interactions of the two, is to confront some important issues in contemporary theory, e.g., those concerning the impact on personality of changes in behavior. These issues have been raised by “behavior therapy” and seem worthy of detailed examination.

Next to be discussed is what Allport (1960) has called “the knottiest issue in contemporary social science“—how much to stress the separation of man from the social context of his living and how to conceive of their interactions.

At the end of this section we consider personality in relation to physical structure and physiological processes.


Some definitions of personality, such as those of McClelland (1951, p. 9) and Hilgard (1953), strive to keep behavior, rather than systems, processes, or dispositions, in the focus of attention. These definitions reflect the concern ofS-R psychology with keeping concepts and observable phenomena closely tied together, and they were offered at a time when S-R psychologists believed they would find unequivocal links between something observable and the explanatory concepts of “intervening variables.” This quest seems now to have been abandoned. Today it appears to be almost universally agreed that a variety of objective indicators will correspond to any intervening variable; thus the discovery of unique indicators of theoretical variables is virtually out of the question.

Behavior therapy. The question of the impact upon personality of changes in behavior has been the subject of much discussion in recent years, owing largely to an extraordinary revival of interest in using conditioned response techniques as means of altering undesirable patterns of behavior. In 1958, Wolpe published a book entitled Psychotherapy by Reciprocal Inhibition, in which he described the apparently successful application to adult neurotic patients of the techniques used in the 1920s by J. B. Watson and Mary Cover Jones in overcoming children’s specific fears. (A child’s fear of an animal could be overcome by repeatedly presenting the animal in association with pleasant experiences.) Wolpe’s cause was soon taken up by Eysenck (1959), a persistent and somewhat freeswinging critic of psychoanalysis, who labeled Wolpe’s procedure “behavior therapy” and, with some disregard of the usual cautions in evaluating research on psychotherapy, went on to make rather extravagant claims for the “new” therapy. In the years since then, there has been a great deal of activity on this front (Matarazzo 1965; California, Dept. of Mental Hygiene 1966). Various procedures for extinguishing maladaptive responses and for arousing, through rewards, desirable ones have been tried, so that there has now appeared what might almost be called a school of psychotherapy. It is claimed that these procedures remove symptoms more effectively than does any other method of treatment, that return of symptoms is rare, and that symptoms are not supplanted by others. [SeeLearning, article onInstrumental learning; Mental disorders, treatment of, article onbehavior therapy.]

Eysenck considers behavior therapy a direct challenge to psychoanalysis—both to its practice and to its theory. It is, indeed, a challenge to all forms of psychotherapy which assume that a person’s behavioral problems have something to do with his subjective experience and that he ought somehow to participate as a conscious being in what happens to him in the therapeutic encounter. Psychotherapists of this turn of mind are extremely skeptical of the claims for behavior therapy. They admit that almost any kind of behavior can be changed by sufficiently powerful, or shrewdly programmed, stimuli, but they doubt that such proceedings have no ill effects upon the person and that symptoms do not return in any guise. A psychoanalyst, for example, who after a great deal of hard work believed that he had discovered the meaning of a woman’s phobia of going down steps (that it meant going out into the street and becoming a streetwalker) would probably admit that by heroic conditioning she could be induced to walk down stairs, but he would still be interested in how she managed her unrecognized wish to become a prostitute. He would be extremely skeptical of follow-up studies by psychologists who do not believe in unconscious wishes, or in the possibility of a connection between a phobia and a desire to become a streetwalker. Behavior therapists could not be expected to hunt very diligently for other problematic manifestations in people whose behavior had been changed by conditioning; moreover, since S-R psychologists use few concepts that represent processes in the inner life of the person, they might be slow to recognize such changes as had occurred. Critics of behavior therapy also raise questions concerning the causes of the reported changes in symptoms. One of the oldest and most widely accepted propositions in the whole literature on psychotherapy is that almost any kind of therapeutic procedure in the hands of a warm-hearted and enthusiastic practitioner who has faith in his method can bring about a reduction in symptoms. S-R therapists, typically, have focused on the conditioning program itself, paying little attention to variables that enter into the relationship between a therapist and his patient. [SeeClinical psychology; Mental disorders, treatment of, articles OnPsychological treatment, client-centered counseling, andGroup psychotherapy; psychoanalysis, article onTherapeuti c methods.]

Fundamental to this whole argument is the division between S-R psychologists and dynamicorganismic theorists. The former consider that a stimulus makes its way into an organism and finds its target without disturbing anything in the areas about its course, and that an expected response then occurs. Dynamic-organismic theorists, on the other hand, think of a stimulus as being introduced into a system; initiating changes, however slight, throughout the whole; and being followed by numerous “responses,” most of which are only remotely related to the original stimulus. From the point of view of dynamic-organismic theory, behavior therapy should be classed with a group of procedures, including hypnosis, Alcoholics Anonymous membership, and some drug therapies, that induce changes in particular patterns of behavior without the affected person’s knowing what is happening to him, without there being any expansion of his consciousness or of his capacity for further development. Adherents of this point of view may reject behavior therapy for the same reasons that Freud gave up hypnosis: patients did not incorporate material uncovered by hypnosis (behavior changes) into their conscious selves, and Freud did not like to have the kind of power over people that hypnosis gave him.

What the dynamic-organismic theorist can learn from the therapeutic activities of S-R psychologists is that people who are very ill psychologically are still responsive to the environment of the moment; they are responsive not only to programs for extinguishing particular maladaptive responses but also to programs that expand the response repertoire and make for awareness of areas of the environment that had previously been meaningless. This is an important antidote to those oversimplified versions of Freudian theory which assume that everything of consequence in the personality is still tied to processes in the “sphere of conflict” and can be modified only by making the unconscious conscious. A change in behavior, induced by conditioning, might indeed lead to change in personality; it might, for example, lead to changes in the way a person was perceived by others, and this might lead to change in the way a person conceives of himself, which might then lead to more significant change in behavior, and so on. In short, a single change in behavior induced by bringing fresh stimuli to bear might set in motion a process of change that might in time have implications for large areas of the personality. S-R psychologists, focused on overt behavior and apparently convinced of the separateness of the processes affected by particular stimuli, do not make the fullest possible use of their own work. There is good reason to believe that different structures of the person change under different conditions and through the operation of different mechanisms. The extensive activity of S-R psychologists could contribute in an important way to our understanding of these matters, especially if these psychologists develop some curiosity about, and are willing to use some imagination in conceiving of, the structures to be changed.

The environment

If personality tends to be fragmented by a psychology that focuses upon one or another of its part functions or substructures, it also seems in some danger of being swallowed up by social structures. There is no question that the individual and his social environment constitute a dynamic configuration or system, e.g., a family, whose parts are so closely related that drawing lines of demarcation is often very difficult. Some psychologists have joined sociologists in preferring to make configurations of this kind, rather than personality itself, basic units for study, e.g., for Sullivan (1953) there is the “interpersonal relationship“; for Sears (1951), the unit is the “dyad.” This preference seems due largely to the rapid development of social science since the 1930s, but it may also owe something to the declining parochialism of American scientists: Murphy (1958) has stated that in Western thought there has been an overstress on the separation of man from his social context. The traditional view of personality psychologists, that personality is a system worthy of special study for its own sake, still has its defenders, e.g., Allport (1960), but there is fresh awareness of the importance of saying how boundary lines are to be drawn. [SeeInteraction, especially the article onInteraction and personality.]

Systems theory is one way of dealing with this boundary problem. If personality is conceived of as a system that is itself a component of other systems, then the boundary around the personality and the boundaries of the subsystems within personality may be conceived of in the same way. In general systems theory (Miller 1955) the essential fact about a boundary is that any exchange of energy across it leads to some change in the energy form. Boundaries of systems are not always clearcut, and they may change, in their location and in their permeability, under the impact of dynamic processes. Lewin’s distinction between the person and the environment was in accord with these principles. [SeeSystems analysis, especially the articles onpsychological systemsandsocial systems.]

Lewin proceeded in the same way in subdividing what he called the environment. He distinguished between the “psychological” and the nonpsychological, or “geographical,” environments, conceiving of the boundary separating them in the same way that he conceived of other boundaries, i.e., as regions that offered resistance to exchange of energy between neighboring systems.

Lewin’s conception of the psychological environment has been a contribution of great importance. In the early 1930s, when Lewin’s views were just beginning to have an impact in the United States, American psychologists—except where psychoanalysis was influential—were largely involved in attempting to construct an objective S-R psychology and were seriously neglecting the organism. The psychological environment called proper attention to the world in which the individual actually lives, the world of his experience, his hopes and aspirations, his fears—and thus it made inroads into the then current trend. [SeeField theoryand the biography ofLewin.]

In the years since then, Murray, with his concept of “beta press“—a stimulus situation as perceived by the subject (see Explorations in Personality . . . 1938); Murphy (1947), with his biosocial theory; Rogers (1951), with his “phenomenology“; Kelly (1955), with his “personal constructs“; and psychoanalysis, with its “inner world,” have assured the psychological environment of an adequate place in personality theory. Indeed, so much attention has been paid to this environment as to raise the question of whether the nonpsychological environment was not being neglected. [SeeMental disorders, treatment of, article On clientcentered counseling; Phenomenology; the biography ofHusserl.]

From the functional point of view, the psychological environment is inside the personality. Psychologists have been interested in the relationships between the psychological and the nonpsychological environments and in the relations of each or both to the functioning of the person. They have recognized that in studying relationships involving the nonpsychological (geographical) environment, they must specify its stimuli without benefit of a particular subject’s perception of it. This is no easy matter, particularly in the case of the all-important social environment. One can learn a great deal about an individual’s psychological environment by the relatively comfortable procedure of listening to him talk about himself or by the highly respectable procedure of placing him in a number of carefully controlled experimental situations. But characterizing the real environment in which he lives from day to day requires special methods and techniques—and a great deal of legwork. It is generally recognized today, for example, that when personality is assessed, tests and interviews with the individual ought to be supplemented by visits to the home, interviews with the spouse, observations of the subject on the job, and the study of other institutions within which he performs social roles. The difficulties and expense of such investigation are great. Nevertheless, some investigators have taken important steps in this direction. For example, Stern, Stein, and Bloom (1956), in their assessment of prospective ministers, made an effort to formulate the demands of the subject’s future situation and to obtain measures of them—e.g., the requirements of his roles and the values and practices of the institution in which he was to work—and Freedman (1956) and Brown (1962) have sought to improve prediction of students’ performance and to enlarge understanding of personality development in college by specifying relevant features of the institutional setting.

Studies of this kind, however, are concerned with improving the prediction of behavior by taking into account a range of factors in the personality and in the social environment. They do not satisfy the need for understanding how the social system and the individual interact—how the social system operates within the individual at any given time and how the individual might have an impact upon the social system, or systems, within which he lives.

Erikson’s concept of “ego identity” (1950) is a contribution here. When a person has ego identity, in Erikson’s meaning of the term, his sense of identity must be congruent with and based partly upon the role structure that actually exists in society, and it must be confirmed in some degree by other people’s perception and treatment of him. This means that a radical change in these aspects of the social system would change the ego identity. Bettelheim’s observations in a concentration camp (1943), showing some of the ways in which the ego could be broken down and some of the ways in which it could be preserved under the Nazi program for enslavement, are also relevant here; and so are Sanford’s observations on how the individual superego was altered as a result of the imposition of a loyalty oath at a university (1966). These studies strongly suggest that relatively stable—one might say deeply based—structures of the personality—whether or not these structures were sustained by previous social stability—may be radically altered by extreme social change. [SeeIdentity, psychosocial; Role.]

If changes in a social structure change the people who occupy its roles, then we should expect it to be at least as difficult to change such a structure by deliberate plan as it is to change an individual person. This indeed seems to be the case, as any social scientist who has tried to bring about some mild reform in his university or department can testify. People vest interest in their organizational roles, using them not only for rational ends but also for defensive purposes and for the gratification of unconscious needs. Thus it is that when changes in organizations are instituted from above, all sorts of seemingly irrational protests are heard. The point is that anyone who would change the role structure of an organization, say by manipulating the incentives for desired role performances, has to be guided by personality theory, by a conception of the interactions among the complex structures of the person, and not by just a few simple assumptions about universal human needs. The same consideration would seem to hold for social actions affecting masses of people, actions that so often fail in their purpose and are followed by various unanticipated consequences. Social analysis can be aided by assessment of “social character” (Fromm 1941), a socially shaped structure embodying deep emotional needs, that is common to most members of the group in question: for example, if the social character of group A is authoritarian, we should not expect that its prejudice against group B would be affected by an exchange program. [SeeGroups; Organizations.]

In sum, there is a great need for more knowledge of the articulation of personality systems and social systems. To meet this need it is necessary to pay more rather than less attention to the relatively stable personality structures and to engage in more searching analysis of social structures in psychologically relevant terms.

Physical structure and physiological processes

The reasons for studying the organism as a whole, for regarding all the biological and psychological processes that take place under a person’s skin as parts of a single system, are at least as cogent as the reasons for regarding the individual and his environment as a system. The question is whether we should equate personality and organism as a whole, as some writers (e.g., Eysenck 1953) have done, or regard personality as a separate system that interacts with other systems of the organism. Most personality psychologists prefer the latter course.

In research in this field, sometimes the bodily process, sometimes the personality function, is treated as the independent variable. The former procedure is illustrated by studies of the effects of brain damage on personality or by studies in which gross variations in bodily form or function are considered to be perceived by the individual and responded to in accordance with his needs and values—as would be the case in physical handicap, for example. Research in which the personality process is treated as the independent variable is illustrated by studies which indicate that prolonged psychological disturbances lead to changes in organ systems—ulcers of the stomach, for example. But research is most commonly directed to producing correlations between physical and physiological variables on the one hand and personality variables on the other—explanation then being sought in terms of complex interactions between the two sets of variables. This is true, for example, of studies stimulated by Sheldon’s classic and influential work on physique and personality (Sheldon et al. 1940; 1954). He emphasized the biological basis of his “somatotypes” and has offered hypotheses to explain how the individual’s bodily constitution helps to determine some of his characteristic behavior. Sheldon admits, however, that the somatotypes might change under the impact of nutritional or other environmental changes, and other psychologists have been ready with hypotheses to explain how personality processes might influence physique. [SeeMental disorders, article Onbiological aspects; Nervous system; Psychology, article onconstitutional psychology; Psychosomatic illness.]


An anthropologist who read Sapir on personality (1934) in the Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences and then went to the field, not renewing acquaintance with the culture of psychology until the mid-1960s, would not feel like a total stranger. He would note that Freud, Jung, and Adler, to whom Sapir devoted the most space, were still the subjects of the first chapters of Lindzey and Hall’s standard text (1965) and that Gordon Allport and Gardner Murphy, upon whose work Sapir also leaned, were still modifying and enlarging their theories of personality. Noting, probably with some wry humor, that the behaviorists and the dynamicists were still at it, he might say to himself, “This is where I came in.”

Soon, however, he would note that some changes had been made. He would probably be pleased to discover that personality is now thought of less as a structure of reactivity, essentially fixed in the individual by the age of two or three—the “psychiatric” definition favored by Sapir—and more as a structure that always interacts with, and is for a long time developed by, social and cultural stimuli. As he looked further into the matter, our anthropologist would begin to be impressed by subtle modifications of theory, including the classic psychoanalytic version, by strenuous efforts to develop concepts linked more closely to behavior and by the outpouring of empirical findings.

An attempt is made below to identify some of the ways in which the field of personality has been developing and what seem to be major current trends.

(1) In the 1960s the trend of the discipline, as of the city, is toward a disconcerting sprawl. The field of personality has expanded and proliferated in all directions, as it were, and of the many different voices, none can be called dominant. The 1960s are not a time for grand theory. The major theoretical systems of the period were all developed before 1950, and most of them date from the 1930s, or before. Most of the writers represented in Lindzey and Hall’s text (1965) and in Sahakian’sPsychology of Personality (1965) are still expanding and developing their systems, but on foundations that were laid down much earlier.

Personality theorists today seem much more aware of the complexity of personality than they were in the 1930s, when it was possible to develop a system around a few simple and sovereign ideas. There are few treatises by one man today; this is an age of the symposium and of the collection of essays on a single specialized topic.

Specialization is a natural consequence of expansion. The time has long since passed when a man could be acquainted with all of psychology; today he can hardly keep abreast of developments in personality psychology. A social scientist who turned to Psychological Abstracts in search of information about personality would find little that he was tempted to read; an educator interested in the topic of learning in relation to personality development would find, on looking into the matter, that there are various theories of learning—and of learning particular kinds of content and of learning in particular situations.

An educated layman examining the field of personality today might be impressed by the multiplicity of possibly fruitful approaches, but he would probably be shocked by the spectacle of so much research whose sole link to humanly meaningful issues is a naively misappropriated model of science. There are many psychologists who say that there is a need today for empirical work on hypotheses that have been accumulating over the years and for generating more elegant theories and testable hypotheses from the rather grandiose conceptualizations of the past. Without denying this, one can say that there is also need for integration of the field—for resolution of the major differences in philosophy, in strategies of research as well as in theory, that are still very much in evidence.

(2) The controversy between behavior theorists and theorists of the dynamic-organismic persuasion continues. This conflict seems to exhibit a certain periodicity in which now one side and now the other gains the ascendancy. The 1920s were a time in which the new behaviorism rose to ascendancy in American psychology. The 1930s were a time of great ferment, in which ideas brought over from Europe made a great impact on American psychology. Not only psychoanalysis and related schools of thought, such as the theories of Adler, Fromm, and Horney, but also gestalt psychology, topological psychology, and general systems theory, combined with native dynamic theories (for example, that of Murray) to compose an effective opposition to behaviorism. By the end of World War n, a dynamic-organismic approach was clearly dominant as far as the psychology of personality was concerned. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, systems theory and holistic views of personality, and the concepts of self and ego, came very much to the fore in the conversation as well as in the research of psychologists. Shakow, taking stock of psychology at mid-century, could note as a major trend “increasing attention to molar studies, accompanied by a diligent search for methods to handle the organized complexity involved” (Shakow & Rapaport 1964, p. 197).

In the early 1950s there was a marked change. Personality-oriented clinical psychology, which had expanded dramatically after World War n, in response to practical needs and with the help of funds from the federal government, began to rest on its laurels, or to consolidate its gains, and behavioristically oriented experimental psychology had its innings, moving into a position of dominance in academic departments. There followed a split in organized psychology, which became so profound that there was talk of organizing clinical psychology in its own department or school. Cronbach, in his presidential address before the American Psychological Association in 1957, more or less formalized the division by speaking of the “two disciplines of scientific psychology’’ (1957). While the division was based on the preferred method of investigation—“experimental” or “correlational“—it expressed clearly enough the major theoretical, or perhaps ideological, division we are concerned with here. Cronbach called for, and promoted by positive suggestions, a confluence of the two disciplines, but this still does not appear to be in sight.

No fresh attempts comparable to that of Dollard and Miller (1950) to translate Freudian ideas into the language of S-R reinforcement theory have been made. Research stimulated by the ideas of Lewin has fallen into a recession, his hypotheses being called not “researchable” because the concepts are too remote from anything observable. This, however, did not prevent Lewin’s students from producing a stream of experimental studies on such topics as anger, regression, conflict, ego involvement, and the level of aspiration. Lewin, like other holistic theorists, is a victim of the times; his ideas, according to Hilgard (1963), remain unassimilated to prevailing theories. Stagner (1965) has sterner words for his colleagues in clinical psychology, many of whom, he says, have abandoned the efforts to understand the whole person in favor of the blindly empirical research so fashionable in graduate schools. Disagreeing with Loevinger (1965), who suggests, sympathetically, that research inspired by holistic theory may not be able to meet current standards in psychological experimentation, Stagner goes on to accuse clinical psychologists of neglecting sound research strategies, such as profile analysis and Stephenson’s Q sort (1953), merely because they are cumbersome and do not promise a quick payoff.

When the chips are down, psychologists still seem to have the will to stick together and to remain, for practical purposes, members of one discipline. (Only one department actually gave up clinical training, a decision it soon reversed.) But American psychologists do not seem to feel any great pressure to integrate their theories. Curiosity about people, and the demands of practice, will probably lead to another resurgence of dynamic-organismic psychology, but this will not necessarily bring a confluence with S-R psychology; and the new interest in “behavior therapy” suggests that a polarization has occurred and may be continued.

(3) There is a greatly increased awareness of, and concern with, social determinants of personality development, and increased concern with interactions of personality structures and the contemporary social environment. This change has paralleled developments in anthropology and sociology. Today it will be generally agreed that virtually all the distinguishable features of personality are correlated with features of the cultural or the social environment of the individual’s remote or recent past. Indeed, one might well wonder if biological factors have not been too much downgraded and neglected. The new accent on the social is reflected in the appearance of new personality variables, e.g., “role dispositions,” “interpersonal reaction systems,” “social values,” in the personality assessor’s scheme of things. There are some indications that the collaboration between personality psychology and the established social sciences is a two-way street. For several decades anthropologists have made much use of personality theory, particularly Freudian theory, and there have been signs of increasing awareness on the part of historians and other specialists in the humanities of their need for an understanding of human personality (see, e.g., Cohn 1957). Sociology, concerned with being a pure science, with empirical laws of group functioning, still tends to be somewhat skittish about psychology. Nevertheless, the over-all picture suggests that the prospects for a genuine articulation of personality theory and social theory are good.

(4) Recent years have seen rising interest in cognitive variables—cognitive structures, ideologies, belief systems. In academic psychology, cognitive structures are seen not only as expressions of the individual’s striving but also as motives in their own right, or as functions that might develop independently of motives. In psychoanalysis, as we have seen, the new ego psychology places various cognitive functions in the ego, which is considered to have its own independent origins and course of development. The trend seems to be in keeping with a larger current emphasis on the distinctively human (as opposed to the animal) in man. We may expect the current interest in cognitive variables to be continued, without any neglect of dynamic elements such as needs or impulses. Despite some effective criticism of tension-reduction formulas, the concept of striving remains the major organizing principle in personality theory, and dynamic elements have remained the most generally favored personality variables. [SeeAttitudes; Cognitive theory; Ideology; Thinking, article oncognitive organization and processes.]

(5) Freudian psychoanalytic theories gained greatly in acceptability after 1935 and are still in relatively good standing. Although few of Freud’s physicalistic analogies have survived, save among slavish adherents within what is called official psychoanalysis, the essential and distinctively pyschoanalytic ideas of the plasticity of motives and of the dynamic unconscious seem to have been generally accepted, long since, by everyone in the intellectual community except some S-R psychologists.

Psychoanalytic concepts do not excite the interest today that they did in the late 1940s. At that time arrangements were being made for psychologists to be psychoanalyzed, psychoanalysts were finding places in university departments, and psychoanalytic research was being supported. In expressing disappointment that the promise of those years has not been realized, some sympathetic observers have suggested that this is evidence of weakness in the theory. But these experiments were cut short by the reaction in the early 1950s against holistic theories: only a handful of psychologists were psychoanalyzed, grants for research went to psychoanalysts who were not well trained in methods, beachheads in university departments were not extended. In any event, the objective study of psychoanalytic concepts and theories continues, psychoanalytically oriented texts in personality (e.g., Sarnoff 1962) are in use in university departments, and excellent theoretical work is being done today by psychologists friendly to psychoanalysis. Holt (1962), Klein (1956), Loevinger (1966), Madison (1961), and Tomkins (1962—) take some vague Freudian formulation and make it the object of clarifying systematic treatment.

Nevitt Sanford

[Directly related to the field of personality are the entriesIdentity, psychosocial; National character; Personality, political; Self concept. Other material relevant to personality may be found inAnalytical psychology; Anxiety; attitudes; Conflict, article onpsychological aspects; Culture and personality; Drives; Emotion; Field theory; Gestalt theory; Groups; Individual differences; Interaction, article onInteraction and personality; Motivation; Personality: Contemporary viewpoints; Psychoanalysis; Role; Social psychology; Systems analysis, article onpsychological systems; Traits; and in the biographies ofAdler; Angyal; Goldstein; Horney; Lewin; Rank; Sullivan.]


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The phrase “personality development’* refers to a description and theoretical understanding of the establishment of those stable response dispositions that differentiate adult humans. A closed and unequivocal definition of the behaviors that belong to the domain of personality is not possible, for the set of responses that bear the label personality has always been open to revision.

The most popular definition regards personality as the hierarchical organization of all dispositions of which the individual is capable and the relationships between these response dispositions (Lazarus 1961). In practice, however, a disposition that is regarded as a personality variable usually possesses three characteristics: it displays stability over time, generality across situations, and considerable interindividual variability in either frequency of occurrence or intensity. The tendency to use the article “the” before nouns shows both stability and generality, but it is not regarded as a personality disposition because there is minimal interindividual variability in the occurrence of this behavior. Since many response tendencies meet these three critical requirements, new behaviors are continually being added to the already large corpus of personality traits. Fortunately, current theories and methods have honed this number to one of reasonable magnitude. The specific personality variables selected for the most intensive study between the 1930s and 1960s have been determined by the emphases of psychoanalytic theory (S. Freud 1932), social learning theory (Rotter 1954; Bandura 1962), factor analytic procedures (Cattell 1950), and public concern with behaviors that disrupt the individual and society.

Psychoanalytic and social learning theories have called attention to childhood experiences that lead to the acquisition of particular motives (e.g., sexuality, hostility, dependency, social recognition, power); sources of anxiety (e.g., social rejection, aggressive behavior, sexual behavior and thoughts); defensive reactions that reduce anxiety; expectancies; and standards. In order to make inferences about these constructs, empirical studies spawned by the psychoanalytic orientation make use of data derived from overt behavior, interview material, and verbal interpretations of ambiguous stimuli.

The special emphases of social learning theory have been on the acquisition of motives, values, expectancies, and behaviors through the action of social reward and punishment, as well as the child’s tendency to adopt and practice the attributes of desirable models. Investigations derived from this orientation have used observations of behavior in controlled experimental situations as the method of choice.

The factor analytic strategy has relied, in large measure, upon answers to questionnaires and has been less concerned with developmental issues. The answers that people give on questionnaires constitute a special kind of behavior, and, consequently, a different set of variables has emerged. Factor analytic investigations have been particularly concerned with modes of interpersonal behavior (such as introversion-extraversion); degree of introspective awareness of diverse affects, both dysphoric and positive; and, finally, the degree of ideational concern with the traditional motives of dependency, aggression, and sexuality. [See Traits.]

Psychiatric and social concerns with forms of overt pathology have substantially influenced the selection of personality variables, as evidenced by the use of such labels as psychopathy, neuroticism, depression, hypochondriasis, delusional trends, shallow affect, and schizophrenic withdrawal.

The most recent work in personality research has selected responses that have traditionally been considered cognitive in nature, such as distribution of attention, speed of decision in difficult problem situations, performance in perceptual discrimination tasks, and preferred type of conceptual category used in classifying diverse stimuli. Investigators on this new frontier insist that these variables are legitimately in the personality domain because they display substantial interindividual variability, are stable over time and place, and are theoretically and empirically linked to motives, anxieties, and defenses [Gardner et al. 1959; seeAttention; Concept formation; Learning, article onDiscrimination learning; Problem solving; Reasoning and logic; Thinking.]

Most of the variables mentioned above describe adolescent and adult functioning, and a theory of personality development attempts to understand the acquisition of the final pattern of interrelationships among these variables. Since there is no unanimity on the variables that have primary salience for adult functioning, the developmental theorist must first decide which constructs and behaviors deserve primary emphasis and must then trace the conditions of acquisition of the adult personality structure.

Practical implications

There are two major implications that derive from increased knowledge of the psychological development of the child: early diagnosis of nascent psychopathology and a scientific basis for advice to parents and educators.

Early diagnosis and prophylaxis

Most professional people involved in therapeutic activities with disturbed children acknowledge that many of the severe forms of psychopathology are refractory to psychological treatment. It is difficult to modify the behavior of the adolescent who displays chronic delinquency, serious academic retardation, or schizophrenic symptoms. However, knowledge of which specific behaviors in the six-year-old reliably predict these adolescent syndromes would allow rational intervention at a time when the child is more receptive to psychological change. For example, if social scientists understood the mosaic of sociological, intellectual, and temperamental characteristics in six-year-olds that predict delinquency at age 15, social agencies could initiate special preventive or therapeutic tactics with the young children who possess these prognostic signs. Much of development is a cryptograph in which early childhood characteristics, such as level of activity, ease of anger arousal, capacity for sustained attention, intensity of affect, and nature of affiliative tie to adults, bear complex and disguised relationships to later behaviors. Temper tantrums in a two-year-old do not necessarily predict ease of anger arousal or frequency of aggression in adolescence, but tantrums may be predictive of other meaningful dispositions in early adulthood.

Advice to social agents

Many parents look to the social sciences for guidance on the type of discipline to be used in socialization, when and how to initiate toilet training, the differential effectiveness of breast feeding versus bottle feeding, degree of restrictiveness or permissiveness to be imposed on the child’s activity, and related problems. Parents may change their child-rearing practices as a result of formal and informal contact with public sources of information. At present, the scientific bases for recommending changes in parental behavior are usually minimal, and increased knowledge about human development might provide a sounder rationale for counseling.

Major theoretical orientation

Four classes of constructs make up the working vocabulary and basic assumptions to be presented. These constructs refer to motives, standards, sources of affect (including sources of anxiety), and instrumental responses. Moreover, the processes to which these constructs refer must be studied in relation to the critical developmental periods during which they are being established.

1. Motives and their characteristics

A motive is a wish for a specific class of events. The desired events can be external or intrapsychic (i.e., cognitions or affects). Motives wax and wane in intensity, for the acquisition of a goal appropriate to a motive temporarily attenuates the intensity of the wish. Motives are activated by recognition of a discrepancy between a goal state the individual desires and his evaluation of the degree to which he possesses the desired goal. The major motives developing during the first dozen years include wishes for: physical affection; instrumental aid; the belief that one is valued by someone important; perception of pain, unhappiness, or anxiety in others; the domination of others; genital stimulation; similarity to a desirable model; the determination of one’s own actions and freedom from coercive control by others; the reduction of anxiety; instrumental competence at selected tasks; and the acquisition and maintenance of behaviors that are in maximal congruence with previously established standards [see DRIVES; MOTIVATION].

2. Standards

A standard combines a cognitive representation of a response, belief, or affect with an evaluation of its appropriateness. Individuals attempt to develop and maintain a belief system about the self that is maximally congruent with those attributes that the person has learned to regard as “good” and to renounce and avoid display of attributes regarded as “bad.” The bases for the evaluation of good or bad are culturally derived; for Western society, they emphasize the belief that one is valued by others, the possession of instrumental skills to deal with selected problems, the possession of attributes that the primary reference group judges to be appropriate for one’s biological sex, the inhibition of socially prohibited behaviors and obsessional preoccupation with prohibited thoughts, and the possession of rational and coherent thought processes. The details of how such standards are learned are not clear, but it is likely that continued repetition of a standard by a prestigious and/or nurturant person may produce belief in its validity. Parents’ continual repetition of the warning “Don’t cry” to their son may eventually have a permanent impact on the child’s evaluation of crying [see ATTITUDES; NORMS; VALUES].

Recognition of discrepancies from a standard constitutes a motivational condition. Thus, there are two major classes of motives in the child:(a) desire for a specific class of external events, such as genital stimulation or physical affection, and (b) desire for increased congruence with a standard.

3. Affects

The concept of affect, or emotion, has been difficult to define and nearly impossible to measure. A differentiation should be made, moreover, between the excited states of the infant who does not use symbols and the emotional states of the older child who possesses language. What are popularly conceived of as affects (e.g., depression, anxiety, grief, anger, joy, excitement) involve the labeling of a complex stimulus pattern composed of perceived physiological changes, cognitive elements, and the external context in which the individual finds himself. A one-year-old infant cannot experience disgust or guilt, for he has not had the necessary experiences or acquired the appropriate language labels. We can have as many emotions as there are words to label combinations of internal physiological states, cognitions, and external contexts.

Internal states. The primary component of an affect is a perceived change in the quality and the intensity of internal stimulation from muscle and viscera. Specific affects are linked, in part, to differing intensities of internal stimulation, as different sounds are tuned to different loci on the basilar membrane. The intensity dimension is usually called level of arousal or level of activation, and it is generally assumed that the reticular formation and related structures in the central nervous system play a major role in determining arousal level [SeeEmotion].

Grief, sadness, depression, apathy, and lassitude are characterized by a level of internal stimulation that is lower than the individual’s usual level—sometimes called his adaptation level. Excitement, rage, joy, fear, and anxiety are characterized by a perception of increased intensity compared with the individual’s adaptation level. Absolute level of reticular discharge or autonomic reactivity is not to be regarded as a faithful index of the degree to which a person is experiencing an affect. An affect is more likely to be experienced when the person recognizes a discrepancy in level of intensity from what he regards as “normal.”

Labeling. A second component of an affect is the language label that the individual applies to his internal state. The label chosen is determined by (a) the direction of the discrepancy noticed (i.e., higher or lower intensity), (b) the content of his images and thoughts at the time the change in internal stimulation is perceived, and (c) the immediate contextual situation. Thus, perception of a lower level of internal stimulation combined with thoughts about one’s absent sweetheart while in a lonely railway station is likely to be labeled “depression” or “loneliness.” The same pattern of internal stimuli when combined with thoughts about the hard day at the office while driving home late at night is likely to be labeled “fatigue.” Thus, the behaviors the individual may initiate are governed by the affect label he applies, rather than the level of internal stimulation [seeLanguage, article onLanguage development].

Schachter and Singer (1962) demonstrated that following an injection of epinephrine, which leads to perceived changes in arousal level, the specific affect-related behaviors the individual displayed were dependent on his immediate situation and the thoughts elicited by that situation. Thus, a person may regard himself as feeling angry, euphoric, or sick, depending on the situational context arid his related thoughts. It is presumed that the child learns specific affect labels as a result of informal tutoring by the social environment. The parent sees the child laughing and remarks, “You certainly are happy today.” Or she tells her six-year-old who is stamping his feet in protest, “Do not show your anger to your mother.”

Pleasure and displeasure. From a developmental perspective, it appears that the infant less than six months old experiences two major arousal levels that are the result of events adults regard as characteristic of displeasure or pleasure. Displeasure is characterized either by increased levels of stimulation in situations marked by pain, hunger, cold, and other states of physical discomfort or by sudden changes in external stimulation. The child’s prepotent reactions to these situations are crying and motor discharge.

Pleasure is normally characterized by a perception of lowered intensity of internal stimulation and a context in which pain or discomfort is being reduced, hunger or thirst is being gratified, or certain forms of tactile stimulation (i.e., stroking) are being applied. The behavioral reactions to these situations are smiling and motor relaxation.

Happiness, excitement, and fear. During the second half of the first year the simple relation between pleasure and displeasure and level of arousal disappears. Experiences that adults regard as pleasant can be associated with increased arousal. The child laughs and thrashes when he is tickled, spoken to, or surprised. Adults say the child is happy or excited. Further, the behavioral signs resembling fear occur when the child anticipates a painful experience, a perceptual expectancy is violated (e.g., expects to see his mother and a stranger enters), or he is separated from his primary caretaker. Each of these reactions requires some prior learning.

Rage. A third development during the latter half of the first year is the emergence of behavior that adults call “rage.” Rage is characterized by an increase in level of internal stimulation and situations in which the infant loses a goal object, desires a goal object he can perceive but cannot reach, or is motorically restrained. The behavioral reactions are crying and motor discharge, but the crying is often different in form and intensity from the crying of pain or fear.

Response to cues. During the second year selected arousal states and motor patterns become firmly conditioned to specific cues. If the child watches his mother leave the room, he may cry, especially if the setting is not familiar to him. Facial and vocal games with adults (e.g., peek-aboo) often elicit laughing and thrashing. Standard forms of parental displeasure (e.g., shouting at the child) may have become capable of provoking crying and signs of fear. Thus, behaviors displayed during the second year resemble the affect-related responses the child will later learn to call pleasure, fear, anxiety, anger, and excitement. The emergence of language at two years of age marks an important change in the development of the affects. Now the child becomes capable of interpreting contexts with greater accuracy and refinement, and he learns to apply affect words to his perceived arousal states. During the next three to four years he will learn to apply such words as mad, happy, sad, ashamed, bad, good, afraid, and sick to combinations of changes in arousal and situational contexts. His overt behaviors will be a function, in large measure, of the specific affect words he employs.

Anxiety. The capacity to experience the affect of anxiety is acquired as a reaction to cues that combine internal stimulation, cognitions, and specific environmental events. Anxiety can be defined as a state of unpleasant feeling characterized usually, but not always, by a perception of change in afferent feedback from the stomach, heart, skin surface, or muscles as a result of increased motility of gastrointestinal tract, increased heart rate, palmar sweating, shivering, or flushing. The cognitive component of anxiety involves the anticipation of an unwanted or unpleasant event. In some cases, but not all, there is a clear cognitive representation of the undesired event. The sources of anxiety derive their names from the nature of the specific unpleasant events that are anticipated. During the first two years, prior to the dominance of language, the child shows behavioral signs of anxiety to (a) sudden changes in stimulation, (b) violations of a perceptual expectancy (Hebb 1946), and (c) separation from a nurturant caretaker (Bowlby 1960). During the preschool and early school years the major sources of anxiety are (a) anticipation of the loss of nurturance or affection, (b) anticipation of some physical harm, and (c) recognition of a lack of congruence between a previously acquired standard and evaluation of a current belief or behavior. It is possible that different combinations of these three basic anxieties make up the unpleasant affects that appear later in development, such as helplessness, guilt, shame, and conflictinduced anxiety. Despite more than half a century of intensive empirical effort and thoughtful concern, there is no general agreement on a valid method of measuring the universal human experience of anxiety [seeAnxiety].

4. Instrumental behaviors

The constructs of motive, standard, and affect are to be differentiated from behaviors that are instrumental in gratifying motives, maintaining standards, or reducing anxiety. Two major classes of behaviors are relevant.

Goals and standards. Responses related to achievement of goals and maintenance of standards are the means by which an individual attempts to gratify his wishes and increase or maintain congruence with his standards. Pleas for affection, stealing, and studying until midnight for high grades are instrumental responses aimed at obtaining desired goals or maintaining standards. The same act can be the result of distinctly different antecedent conditions. A request for help can gratify a desire for instrumental aid from a specific agent, the desire to display behavior that is congruent with a feminine sex-role standard, or the wish to elicit social attention.

Defenses. Sources of anxiety generate their own reactions, and the term “defense” refers to those responses whose intent is to reduce and control anxiety. Anna Freud’s classic essay on defense mechanisms (1936) emphasized the defenses of repression, denial, projection, and reaction formation. It is useful, however, to consider a broader domain of defensive responses. The overt reaction of withdrawal from an anxiety-arousing situation is a common defense in the three-year-old. The four-year-old who hides his face in his mother’s lap when a stranger enters provides a graphic illustration of the defense of withdrawal. Refusal to go to school the morning of a test or running from the nursery room after an embarrassing act are other common instances of withdrawal during the preschool and early school years [see DEFENSE MECHANISMS].

The cognitive analogue of behavioral withdrawal is the attempt to remove the anxiety-arousing thought by the mechanisms of repression and denial. When guilt or shame is the basis for anxiety, projection is often the defense of choice. The assertions “I didn’t do it; Johnny did” and “I failed because the teacher doesn’t like me” are popular representatives of this class of defense.

Substitution of goal objects, a common defense among children as well as adults, is elicited when a desirable goal is unattainable because of practical exigencies or anxiety-based inhibitions. For example, the boy who is incompetent at athletics and feels alienated from his peers is likely to select a substitute activity to prove his competence and maintain congruence with his standards of masculinity. Finally, the defense of intellectual analysis, the attempt to mitigate anxiety through intellectual understanding of the anxiety, begins to occur in the child of school age but does not ordinarily become a strong habit until adolescence.

Critical periods

The term “critical period” is descriptive rather than explanatory and refers to the fact that certain environmental events have maximal influence on developing physiological processes or behaviors during a specific time period but an attenuated or negligible effect at some earlier or later time. The critical period is the era during which the effect of the environmental experience is maximal. For example, translocation of primordial ectoderm, mesoderm, or endoderm tissue from a fresh zygote will have one effect during the first few hours following fertilization and a different effect 48 hours later. Castration of a male rat during the first five postnatal days is associated with frequent occurrence of lordosis and related female postural mating patterns at adulthood. Castration after the fifth day has a minimal influence on this class of mating reactions (Young et al. 1964). When the term “critical period” is applied to psychological processes, the outcome or dependent variable is a particular response system, such as a class of overt acts, affects, standards, motives, or defenses [seeSexual Behavior, articles onanimal sexual behaviorandsexual deviation: psychological aspects].

The concept of critical period implies that each of the major response processes normally begins its growth during a different time period and that the response process is most vulnerable to modification by environmental events during a particular period of development. A graphic illustration of psychological development might consist of a series of ogives, with each curve representing the growth of a separate response system. The ordinate would reflect the strength of the response; the abscissa, the age of the child; and the slope of the curve, the rate at which the response was being established. It is possible, although still unproved, that the critical period corresponds to the time when the slope of the response acquisition curve is greatest. Bloom has suggested that available data support this assertion (1964, p. 194). If one grants this assumption, then to postulate that a critical period for the development of guilt is the period between ages three and eight is to state that this is the period during which the rate of acquisition of the capacity for guilt is maximal, and modifications in the environment during this five-year period should have the greatest effect (facilitating or debilitating) on the mature form of guilt responses.

The remainder of this discussion attempts to delineate the major critical periods in the first ten years, the salient responses associated with each period, and the environmental events that appear to be most influential in shaping the final form of the response.

1. Infancy—birth to eighteen months

During the first 18 months most infants learn the reward value of a human caretaker and learn to anticipate nurturance from a social agent in time of pain or distress. The primitive bases for the experience of anxiety, including separation from a caretaker, sudden change in stimulation, and confrontation with a surprise stimulus, are also acquired during this period. Some of the objective behavioral signs that signal the rate of acquisition of these response systems are the social smile during the first half year of life, the display of crying and signs of anxiety to strangers during the second half year, the manifestation of separation anxiety during the first half of the second year, and a general interest in people as evidenced by laughing, visual following, reciprocal play, and vocalizations. The environmental conditions that appear to be most relevant for the acquisition of these responses are the degree of regularity of the administration of nurturance to the child, amount and frequency of physical contact between the child and caretaker, reciprocal vocalizations, and reciprocal play between the child and caretaker. According to contemporary theory, the mother who is nurturant acquires reward value for the child (Sears et al. 1957). The infant begins to approach her when he requires gratification. Moreover, the learned approach responses to the mother will generalize to other social agents. When the mother is not nurturant, frustrates the child, or causes him pain, the child associates her with displeasure and may begin to respond to her with withdrawal and avoidance. Observations of the smiling response indicate that the infant who experiences a nurturant relationship with his mother smiles more frequently than the infant who has a non-nurturant motherchild relationship (Provence & Lipton 1962). Rewarding the infant’s smile by picking him up or cooing at him leads to more frequent smiling and increased responsiveness to other people (Rheingold 1956; Brackbill 1958). Anxiety evoked by strangers tends to be less frequently observed among infants in institutions than among infants raised in families with nurturant adult caretakers (Provence & Lipton 1962). Infants reared in impersonal or unstimulating environments are reported to be more quiet and passive and show less positive affect than children living in a normal family milieu (Provence & Lipton 1962). Many institutionally reared children improve in mental alertness and emotional display when they are moved to environments where they receive more nurturance and reciprocal stimulation. It should be noted that the striking pathological effects noted above are evidenced in children who are markedly deprived of maternal warmth during the first year. The consequences of lesser degrees of deprivation are not yet known. Moreover, the specific aspects of maternal deprivation that are most effective in producing these pathological behaviors have not been isolated.

Biologically based differences. Neonates and young infants vary widely in many response tendencies that appear to be determined either by heredity or by prenatal or perinatal conditions (Escalona & Heider 1959). There are obvious and consistent neonatal differences in attentiveness to stimuli, in vigor and frequency of spontaneous activity, and in autonomic nervous system functioning both at rest and under emotionally arousing conditions. These characteristics may influence the parents’ perceptions of the infant and, consequently, how the parents respond to, and handle, the infant. At present, it is not possible to determine how stable these response tendencies are, and our understanding of their role in personality development is far from complete.

2. Eighteen months to three years

The onset of the second critical period is heralded by three major developments: marked improvement in locomotor ability, improvement in comprehension and communication of language, and the first imposition of socialization demands by the parents. Socialization is the process by which the individual acquires those behavior patterns, standards, and wishes that are viewed as appropriate for his own sex, family, socioeconomic, religious, ethnic, and social groups. With improved motor coordination and the emergence of the new skills of walking and talking, the two-year-old is motivated to explore his environment and to test his new abilities. He acquires several critical responses during this period of unrestrained locomotion. He is learning that he is capable of attaining desirable goals and overcoming frustrations, and he is practicing the responses that accomplish these ends. In effect, he is learning that he can be instrumentally effective with both words and actions. During this period most mothers begin to impose constraints upon the child. The two areas that are first subjected to socialization are bowel and bladder control and unlimited exploration. In both instances, the child is required to inhibit a complex, strongly motivated response that has previously had considerable reinforcement.

Toilet training. Since intense anxiety may accompany toilet training, severe training procedures during the 6-month to 12-month period that the training is practiced with the greatest vigor may have adverse psychological consequences, including (a) production of hostility toward and fear of the training agent, usually the mother; (b) anxiety about sexual thoughts and behavior, as well as about the genitals; (c) anxiety about dirt and disarray; (d) acquisition of the self-labels “dirty” and “bad“; and (e) inhibition of spontaneous expression of novel behaviors. Much of the research on the effects of varied socialization practices is methodologically deficient, but in general the data suggest that mothers who start bowel training later require less time to train the child than those who start earlier (Sears et al. 1957). Moreover, maternal attitudes toward toilet training are not independent of their attitudes toward other behaviors to be socialized. Mothers who press for early toilet training tend to be strict in their demands in the areas of table manners, orderliness and control of noise, school performance, obedience, and inhibition of aggression (Sears et al. 1957). Clinical studies indicate that children whose bowel training is initiated prematurely, completed too early, or accomplished with coercive methods tend to react with such symptoms as enuresis, defiance, and overconcern with personal cleanliness (Huschka 1942; 1943).

3. Preschool years—ages three to six

The preschool years are marked by increased differentiation of behavior systems, attenuation of the mother’s influence, and increased significance of interactions with the father and siblings. The major responses established during this period are identification with the parents, recognition of standards for sex-typed behaviors and an emergent awareness of one’s sex role, development of the motivation to master motor and conceptual tasks, capacity for guilt, appearance of defenses against anxiety and guilt, establishment of early forms of dependent and aggressive behavior, and habitual manifestations of an active or passive orientation toward peers.

Identification and sex role. Many of the child’s behavior patterns can be understood as generalizations of responses that were directly rewarded and learned in the home. But other characteristics are apparently acquired, without direct teaching or reward, through identification with others. The child is said to be identified with the parent when he feels he is similar to that parent (sometimes called the model). Moreover, he usually attempts to increase his feelings of similarity by adopting new characteristics (i.e., attitudes and behaviors) of the model (Kagan 1958). Since the parents are generally faithful representatives of their cultural group, the child may acquire the attitudes and behaviors appropriate to his cultural and social class groups by identifying with them. The child’s identification with the parent of the same sex leads to appropriate sex typing. Research findings suggest that appropriate sex typing is facilitated by warm relationships with the parent of the same sex (Mussen & Distler 1959). For example, boys of kindergarten age who are more masculine portray their fathers in a doll-play situation as nurturant. [SeeImitation.]

The development of the standards that are regarded as constituting the child’s conscience also appears to be facilitated by nurturant parent-child relations. Maternal warmth is positively correlated with strength of the preschool child’s conscience, and girls with accepting mothers develop stronger consciences than the girls with rejecting mothers (Sears et al. 1957). Moreover, the use of loveoriented disciplinary techniques (e.g., giving or withholding of love as reward or punishment) is effective in fostering a strong conscience, but only in children whose mothers had been warm and affectionate during the opening years of life (Sears et al. 1957). The development of standards is apparently the consequent, in part, of identification and the child’s anxiety over possible loss of love from a nurturant parent.

Guilt, shame, fear, and conscience. The early emergence of guilt can be seen during the preschool years. The appearance of signs of guilt indicates that standards have been established and that the child is able to recognize a discrepancy between some aspect of himself and those standards. Recent research suggests that the timing of punishment, parental explanation of the nature of the violation and the reason for the punishment, and the reward value of the social agent doing the punishing are all critical in establishing standards in the child (Sears et al. 1957; Aronfreed 1964). The order in which various standards are established during the preschool years is not known in any detail, but it is likely that the first standards are related to toilet habits. Which standards are established next will depend on the specific experiences the child encounters. Standards pertaining to anger, interpersonal aggression, destruction, excessive dependence, crying, masturbation, and sexual exhibitionism are often established in close temporal contiguity during the preschool years. Standards dealing with instrumental competence at tasks emerge a little later in most children, usually by five to six years of age. At that age the child may cry if he loses a game or scatter parts of a puzzle he is unable to solve.

Symptomatology in the preschool child. The major symptoms that occur during these years include phobias, temper tantrums, mutism, soiling or enuresis, extreme aggression to peers, headaches, vomiting, and constipation.

4. Early school years—ages six to ten

Children in Western cultures change dramatically in their overt behavior and in the form and quality of their cognitive products between six and ten years of age. A popular explanation attributes this change to the varied experiences associated with school attendance. However, many cultures institute formal changes in responsibilities and expectations between the sixth and eighth year of life. Perhaps this means that there is a general recognition that fundamental changes transpire during these years which make this an appropriate period to institutionalize mastery of instrumental skills. For the child in Western culture, the critical responses that are established during this time include (a) learning attitudes surrounding intellectual mastery (i.e., anticipation of success or failure, standards of performance, desire to master intellectual skills, relationships to adult teachers); (b) practicing an active or passive social orientation with peers; (c) crystallization of attitudes toward the self, with the immediate peer group as the primary reference; (d) establishment of anxiety and guilt in association with aggression, sexuality, and dependency; (e) the establishment of preferences for particular defenses against anxiety; (f) practicing the behaviors and attitudes that define sex-role standards; and (g) the development of standards regarding rational thought and behavior.

Function of the peer group. The peer group reinforces many responses that were acquired through direct reinforcement or through identification in the home, and it implements the child’s integration into the broader social world. The group also serves a therapeutic function by reassuring the child that others share his conflicts about anger and sexuality. The child’s peers also reinforce appropriate sex typing by accepting boys and girls with appropriate sex-typed interests and rejecting those who display inappropriate sex-typed behaviors.

Influence of the school. The school situation presents the young child with a new adult to whom he must conform and whose acceptance he is encouraged to court. Middle-class boys whose mothers are protective and affectionate and urge school achievement tend to obtain the best grades among boys in school. The girls who perform well in school, however, have mothers who are not overly protective and encourage their daughters toward independent behavior (Kagan & Moss 1962). It appears that the child’s desire to master academic skills arises largely from his desire to maintain a nurturant tie to parents who encourage this form of behavior and identification with parents who are effective models for intellectual mastery.

Dominance versus submission. The tendency to adopt initially a passive or active dominant approach to age mates is remarkably stable from age ten through young adulthood, especially for females (Kagan & Moss 1962). Some children characteristically initiate communications with peers, suggest activities for the group, and resist pressure to conform to the demands of others. The passive child is quiet with peers and typically follows the suggestions of others. There is some evidence to support the notion that restrictive mothers promote the learning of passivity with peers, whereas permissive parents promote a more active, dominant interpersonal attitude.

The effect of siblings. In general, the sex of the sibling is an important determinant of the degree of adoption of sex-typed behaviors. Girls with older brothers are more masculine in their behavior than girls with older sisters. Similarly, boys with older sisters are less masculine than boys with older brothers (Koch 1956).

Symptoms of the school-age child. During this period the complete range of adultlike symptoms can appear—psychosomatic symptoms (such as ulcerative colitis and skin disorders), hysteria, nightmares, inhibition of effort to master instrumental skills, undisguised aggression, excessive social anxiety, tics, obsessions, rituals, and hallucinations [seeMental disorders, article onchildhood mental disorders].

Maternal dimensions

Investigators have been continually concerned with discovering the particular features of parental behavior that have the most potent influence on the child. The choice of the maternal variables investigated is based not only on the age of the children studied but also on the investigator’s theoretical orientation. The basic data on parental behavior are derived from parental interviews and observations of parent—child interactions by trained observers. Recent reviews of the vast body of research on parental behavior suggest that psychologists have used two major bipolar reference dimensions to describe parental behavior: love versus hostility and autonomy versus control (Schaefer 1959). The love-hostility dimension appears to be relatively stable during the first ten years of life, whereas the autonomy-control dimension is considerably less stable.

This article has considered the time of emergence and mode of establishment of four primary response systems: motives, standards, affects and sources of anxiety, and instrumental behaviors and defenses. We have the beginning of a picture of the psychological growth of the typical child, but there is considerably less information on the mechanisms of that growth and how environmental events influence response organization. This essay is more descriptive than theoretical and closely resembles the descriptive schemes for intellectual development proposed by Piaget and his colleagues. Theories of cognitive and behavioral development lack the tight net of interlocking theoretical propositions that permit satisfying explanations. The constructs of identification, anxiety over loss of love, motives, and standards assume a heavy burden of explanation, but psychology does not possess sensitive methods of assessing these variables.

Two conclusions seem reasonably correct. First, the behavioral profile of the ten-year-old is a moderately good predictor of the child’s behavior a decade hence. Second, the timing of environmental rewards and punishments and the actions and attributes of the child’s models during the first decade are critical influences on the behavior he will manifest during adolescence and adulthood.

Jerome Kagan and Paul H. Mussen

[Directly related are the entriesDevelopmental psychology; Identity, psychosocial; Self concept. Other relevant material may be found inAdolescence; Infancy; Intellectual development; Moral development; Psychoanalysis; Socialization.]


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"Personality" is a broad term that refers to a person's characteristic behaviors, actions, emotions, and thoughts. It is the distinctive way one approaches the world, as manifested in the typical actions, feelings, and cognitions that distinguish one person from another. Historically, scholars have conceptualized personality in three main ways: the trait, cognitive-behavioral, and psychodynamic approaches.

Approaches to personality

The trait approach focuses on relatively enduring dispositions that reside within a person. Traits are almost always defined as dimensions on which every person can be compared with other people. Examples include extroversion, neuroticism, and conscientiousness. This dimensional outlook has historically put a premium on high-quality measurement of traits among those who favor the trait approach, giving that approach a strong quantitative and psychometric flavor. The trait position has also put conceptual and empirical emphasis on demonstrating the stability of these dimensions over situations and time, thus buttressing the fundamental notion that they are long-lasting, internal dispositions that people bring to the situations and contexts they encounter through life.

By contrast, the cognitive-behavioral approach historically has focused on contextual, environmental, and situational determinants of behavior, thought, and feeling, deemphasizing within-person dispositions in favor of external explanations. Advocates of this approach have developed within-person constructs to explain behavior (e.g., self-efficacy, self-concept, mastery, coping strategies), but these are usually framed as variables that arise from experience, and generally involve interaction with the external environment, thus preserving the fundamental viewpoint that external factors are key in understanding personality.

The third major outlook is the psychodynamic approach. It derives from the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud and his followers, and emphasizes unconscious mental processes as its cardinal theme. This particular approach to personality is aligned more closely with clinical psychology than are the other two positions. Examples of variables that come out of this approach include defense mechanisms and unconscious motives. Together, the trait, cognitive-behavioral, and psychodynamic approaches represent the strongest influences on personality, although others have emerged in recent years, most notably the evolutionary and cross-cultural approaches.

Measurement of personality

Regardless of which approach to personality is adopted, the most widely used method of measurement is self-report. (Other methods include life ratings, observer ratings, and objective tests). Most self-report personality instruments typically use questions or items. Usually these items have been subjected to psychometric analyses, and have been shown to have adequate reliability and validity. Self-report instruments for measuring various personality characteristics abound, although some are used more widely than others.

Some have criticized the reliance on self-report measures by those who study personality and personality development. Such critics argue that more objective means are necessary for the accurate assessment of personality. The chief alternative to self-report is other-report. This broad category includes reports or ratings by peers, spouses, friends, siblings, or trained observers. In other-reports, a subjective judgment is still rendered, but it is deemed more objective in some ways than self-reports, which can be biased by a person's unwillingness to admit faults or weaknesses. Spouse reports or friend reports also are subject to such biases, which makes observer reports attractive to many researchers. Observer reports are usually obtained by associates of the researcher who have been trained to evaluate particular behaviors or actions of the subjects under study, and to code them according to a predetermined scheme. Often, observer reports make use of videotaped behaviors.

Although most personality researchers use self- or other-reports of various kinds, an increasing number are making use of physiological, neurological, and other biological measurements. Assessments of heart rate, blood pressure, neurochemicals (dopamine, epinephrine), and immune system biomarkers (interleukin-1, interleukin-6) are being used by personality researchers with increasing frequency. Neuroimaging techniques have been utilized in a small number of studies of personality. Use of these measurement techniques is not surprising, given the evidence that many aspects of personality have a biological or genetic basis.

Personality stability and change

Together, the three main approaches to personality (trait, cognitive-behavioral, and psychodynamic) have given rise to wide-ranging definitions of personality, spurring confusion regarding the stability of personality over time. Some aspects of personality, such as traits, have been conceptualized as relatively stable over time. Other aspects have been described as malleable and changeable over the life span, including many cognitive-behavioral concepts, such as self-efficacy. To give structure to the issue of personality stability and change, especially in adulthood, Dan P. McAdams has proposed a three-tier model that separates the elements of personality that should remain stable over time from those which are likely to change. This model gained popularity during the 1990s, and by 2001 was a widely cited framework for understanding personality stability and change.

The first tier of the model is comprised of traits, which are defined as relatively enduring patterns of behavior and feelings. In the 1980s and 1990s, a trait model emerged that many consider definitive: the five-factor, or Big Five, model. Via the application of factor analysis (a statistical technique) to large pools of trait questionnaire items or descriptive adjectives, many psychologists concluded that the universe of personality traits can be subsumed under five broad dimensions. These fiveextraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experiencegenerally make up the cornerstone of the first tier of McAdams's model. Variables at this level often have a physiological or genetic basis, and are hypothesized to change little, if at all, over long periods of time in adulthood.

The second tier is comprised of characteristic adaptations. This is a varied category that is made up of many different kinds of psychological constructs which in general are not as stable or biologically based as traits. Like traits, they are dispositions. However, they are more likely to change over comparable periods of time. Characteristic adaptations include such well-known constructs as coping strategies, goal orientations, defense mechanisms, self-efficacy, control beliefs, mastery, and optimism.

The third tier, life narrative, contains broad elements of personality, such as one's life story, autobiographical memory, and sense of identity. This is the level that most people think of when they contemplate their personalities. Few people see themselves in terms of traits or characteristic adaptations, but most think of their identities or their personal histories when asked to reflect on their personalities. The life narrative tier is hypothesized to change the most over time. As people live their lives, they constantly revise their autobiographies. One's sense of identity, which is often continuous over time, can be revised and modified to better fit one's life and experiences. Thus, at this level, personality should show more change over time than the other two levels (although such change has proven more difficult to assess).

This three-tier model is useful because it provides a framework for organizing the many types of personality variables that have been proposed, and because it allows one to think more clearly about which personality variables should be more stable and which should display more change. Traits should change the least, life narrative the most, and characteristic adaptations should fall in between.

However, there has been no research on stability and change at the life narrative level. Studies of characteristic adaptations have mostly examined stabilities over short periods (a year or less), mainly to establish test-retest reliability. Few studies have considered characteristic adaptations over the long term or have tried to estimate the extent to which they change or are stable.

Traits, on the other hand, have been studied extensively over the long term, with some studies following the same people for 30 years or more. These longitudinal investigations generally focus either on mean-level stability or rank-order stability. The former refers to constancy in the absolute level of a trait over a period of time, as assessed by the arithmetic mean. The latter indexes constancy over time in the relative ordering of people on a trait, and is usually assessed via the correlation coefficient (sometimes adjusted for the reliability of the measure). It gauges the extent to which people retain the same rank within the sample distribution. For example, everyone may decrease over time on a given trait, but if they all decline by roughly the same amount, then the rank ordering of people within the distribution will be preserved, hence giving rise to high rank-order stability. The higher the correlation coefficient between two points in time, the greater the level of preservation of the rank order over that period.

Mean-level stability. The literature focusing on mean-level stability generally has reported change in the Big Five traits over the course of adulthood. The means of extroversion, neuroticism, and openness usually decrease with age. The results with respect to agreeableness and conscientiousness are mixed. It is not clear whether agreeableness changes or not, because some investigations show increases; some, decreases; and others, no change. With regard to conscientiousness, most studies have documented increases, but some studies have shown no change over time.

Rank-order stability. There is a fair amount of consensus with respect to rank-order change. High correlations between measurements of personality on the same people over time means that the relative positions, or ranks, within the sample distribution remain the same. That is, if person A is higher than person B on extroversion at age 30, it is likely that A will still be higher than B at age 60 or 70. Most studies that have followed adults over long periods of time (five to thirty years) have found impressive rank-order constancy. However, these results depend on the length of the longitudinal follow-up period, as a meta-analysis of the literature on the rank-order stability of personality traits concluded (Robertson and Del Vecchio). The correlation coefficients tend to be in the range of .60 to .80 over short periods (less than seven years), but fall to .40 to .60 over longer periods of time (ten years or more). Nonetheless, even over periods of thirty years or more, investigators typically report impressive levels of rank-order constancy. Using extroversion as an example, this implies that a person who is extroverted at age thirty is likely to remain extroverted at ages forty, fifty, sixty, and beyond.

However, the aforementioned meta-analysis concluded that rank-order stability is higher within samples of older adults when compared with samples of midlife or young adults. This would suggest that personality traits become more stable as people grow older. More specifically, relative positions within the distribution appear to become more fixed as older adulthood approaches. Personality traits, therefore, may be more likely to change during youth or middle age than in older adulthood. This does not mean that personality cannot or does not change during older adulthood; it simply means that it is less likely to do so.

Alternative ways of viewing trait stability and change

As valuable as they are, mean-level and rank-order methods often conceal the extent of individual differences in personality trait stability. A trait may show constancy in its mean over time and display strong rank-order consistency, but these statistics are based on groups and may mask change that occurs at the level of the person. Even if a correlation is strong between two time points, this does not mean that everyone retains the same rank order position over the time period. Some people may be changing even as others remain the same. This is essentially a question of individual differences in stability and change. Recently, researchers in this area have turned their attention to stability and change as manifested at the person level, and many are supporting the notion of personality stability and change as a phenomenon of individual differences. These investigators have argued that even if the majority of people show stability over time, not everyone does, and it is thus best to think of personality trait stability in an individual differences framework.

The idea of individual differences in stability and change is not a new one, and can be traced back to various conceptual works in life-span developmental theory, especially the writings of Paul B. Baltes and John R. Nesselroade. In particular, they and other life-span developmentalists have championed the concept of individual differences in intra-individual change. That concept combines the ideas of variability among people (individual differences) and of change that occurs within persons (intra-individual change). The latter requires the estimation of within-person change or stability. Historically, this has been difficult to study, hampered by a lack of adequate statistical techniques. However, beginning in the 1980s, such methods were developed, and by 2000 there were several approaches available to the researcher who wished to assess and analyze within-person change longitudinally.

These techniques are variously known as growth-curve modeling or random effects modeling, among other names. At their most effective, these models require that people be measured at a minimum of three time points, which allows the calculation of growth curves for each individual. The revolutionary aspect of these approaches is that the notion of individual growth curves allows conceptualization of a given trait within a given person as a personality trajectory. Previous research on personality stability and change (whether focusing on rank-order or mean level stability) typically considered only two time points (which allows calculation of only linear trajectories), yielding an impoverished representation of the possible complexity of individual differences in personality change. By the late 1990s, these shortcomings were apparent, and scholars in this area were turning their attention to the various models that allow estimation of trajectories.

The concept of the individual trajectory possesses theoretical relevance because it is the foundational metaphor of the developmental perspective. Before the advent of methods that allowed the estimation of individual trajectories, the basic building block of developmental research, including aging research, was the difference score. Difference scores are obtained by subtracting the score at one time from the score at another. However, difference scores are inherently limited as the basis for developmental analysis, and with techniques now available for modeling multiple occasions of measurement, the trajectory is replacing the difference score.

In addition, the notion of the trajectory allows scholars to link the idiographic and nomothetic traditions in the social sciences. The idiographic approach focuses on information about individual people to better understand unique persons, while the nomothetic position prefers data derived from samples of people in order to discover general laws. The tension between the two is partially resolved by the concept of the trajectory. Trajectories, such as growth curves, can be estimated for large samples but also can be calculated for individuals, allowing for both idiographic and nomothetic analyses of data. Some have argued that the ideal personality theories are those which are broadly applicable to all persons, yet can still be used to explain the behavior of any single person, in essence integrating the idiographic and nomothetic approaches. The trajectory model may prove to be such an integrating force in the area of personality and personality development in the future.

By the late 1990s, investigators had begun applying trajectories techniques to longitudinal personality data. Trajectories can be studied in the aggregate (e.g., the overall trajectory for a sample), but are most interesting when applied to the study of multiple individuals, to permit an analysis of variation among people in trajectories. The key focus, as noted by Baltes and Nesselroade, is the question of interindividual differences in intra-individual change. Persons can differ on trait trajectories in the average level (how much of the trait a person has), the rate of change, and the direction of change. In a small number of studies, investigators have shown that there are significant differences in trajectories among individuals with respect to a number of personality dimensions, including traits. Some people have trait trajectories that rise; some, that fall; and some, that stay stable. Investigators have even found evidence of significant variability in trajectories among older adults. Thus, even as the rank-order stability of personality traits becomes higher among older adults, studies have shown that the ability to change remains. Even if the majority of people remain the same, or at least retain the same relative position within the distribution, it appears that many people do not. Trajectory modeling thus has shed valuable light on the issue of personality trait stability and change. Some people remain stable; others change. Investigators in this area have begun to search for the reasons why some people change and others remain stable.

Daniel K. Mroczek Avron Spiro, III

See also Developmental Psychology.


Baltes, P. B., and Nesselroade, J. R. "The Developmental Analysis of Individual Differences on Multiple Measures." In Life-Span Developmental Psychology: Methodological Issues. Edited by J. R. Nesselroade and H. W. Reese. New York: Academic Press, 1973. Pages 219251.

Baltes, P. B.; Reese, H. W.; and NesselRoade, J. R. Life Span Developmental Psychology: Introduction to Research Methods. Monterey, Calif.: Brooks Cole, 1977.

Caspi, A., and Roberts, B. W. "Personality Continuity and Change Across the Life Course." In Handbook of Personality: Theory and Research, 2d ed. Edited by L. A. Pervin and O. P. John. New York: Guilford Press, 1999. Pages 300326.

Costa, P. T., and McCrae, R. R. "Four Ways the Five Factors are Basic." Personality and Individual Differences 13 (1992): 653665.

Costa, P. T., and McCrae, R. R. "Set Like Plaster? Evidence for the Stability of Adult Personality." In Can Personality Change? Edited by T. F. Heatherton and J. L. Weinberger. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 1994. Pages 2140.

John, O. P. "The 'Big Five' Factor Taxonomy: Dimensions of Personality in the Natural Language and in Questionnaires." In Handbook of Personality: Theory and Research. Edited by L. A. Pervin. New York: Guilford Press, 1990. Pages 66100.

Jones, C. J., and Meredith, W. "Patterns of Personality Change Across the Life-Span." Psychology and Aging 11 (1996): 5765.

Lamiell, J. T. "Individuals and the Differences Between Them." In Handbook of Personality. Edited by R. Hogan, J. A. Johnson, and S. R. Briggs. San Diego: Academic Press, 1997. Pages 120150.

McAdams, D. P. "Can Personality Change? Levels of Stability and Growth in Personality Across the Life Span." In Can Personality Change? Edited by T. F. Heatherton and J. L. Weinberger. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 1994. Pages 299314.

McAdams, D. P. "Personality, Modernity, and the Storied Self: A Contemporary Framework for Studying Persons." Psychological Inquiry 7 (1996): 295321.

Roberts, B. W., and Del Vecchio, W. F. "The Rank Order Consistency of Personality Traits from Childhood to Old Age: A Quantitative Review of Longitudinal Studies." Psychological Bulletin 126 (2000): 325.


views updated May 14 2018







Personality most commonly refers to the psychological features that distinguish one individual from anotherregularities in the way an individual thinks, feels, and behaves. Although other characteristics may also distinguish individuals (for example, hair color, nationality, or job title), it is the psychological differences that fall under the umbrella of personality. These differences may be broad in nature, such as whether a person is outgoing or shy, emotional or calm, or they may be narrower in scope, reflecting finer grained patterns of beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that may emerge only in certain situations. A persons total collection of these characteristics defines his or her personality.

Personality also refers to a separate subfield of psychology that uses the scientific method to investigate peoples defining characteristicswhat the characteristics are, how best to measure them, and the consequences for individuals who embody them. The young field of personality psychology was influenced by several early movements of the nineteenth century, starting with the European and North American philosophical tradition of individualism. Personality psychology emerged most prominently in the 1930s with the publication of the highly influential 1937 textbook Personality: A Psychological Interpretation, written by the psychologist Gordon Allport (18971967). The first personality inventory was conceived during World War I to predict who would be more emotionally fit for warfare. Since that time personality psychology has continued to emphasize sound measurement to capture a variety of aspects of human personality.


Given the multitude of psychological differences among people, it is helpful to organize these differences into levels. For example, the psychologist Dan McAdams (b. 1954) has organized personality at three levels.

Traits At the broadest level, individuals differ in what are called dispositional traits. Traits outline the coarsest differences among people and reflect the most general and enduring orientations on the world.

Although different traits have been proposed throughout history, the earliest of which subdivided individuals into groups based on prominent bodily fluids or humors like blood (sanguine), yellow bile (choleric), black bile (melancholic), and phlegm (phlegmatic), in the early twenty-first century there appears to be some consensus on a trait taxonomy, commonly referred to as the big five. The big five personality traits are: extraversion (social, outgoing, energetic, and able to experience positive emotions), agreeableness (yields to and trusts others), conscientiousness (productive and follows through on tasks in an organized fashion), neuroticism (high anxiety, emotional instability, and hostility), and openness to experience (willingness to explore and engage in novel ideas, experiences, and feelings). These traits are continuous rather than categorical, with fewer people on the extremes and most people falling in between these extremes. Traits are controversial because they do not always predict how a person will behave or feel in a given situation because situations often constrain behavior. Instead, traits are more like statements about the probability that a person will behave in a certain way. Traits do predict important outcomes over longer periods of time, however. For example, extraversion predicts the time it takes people to develop a network of friends in a new environment. Likewise neuroticism is a risk factor for cardiac problems. Traits also have a strong genetic component, with evidence that about half of the variability in personality traits derive from genetic factors (that is, heritability quotients of 40 to 50 percent for most of the big five traits).

Consensus regarding the big five comes after decades of research, beginning in the 1930s with a painstaking search for terms in The Oxford English Dictionary that could be used to describe individuals. This task, undertaken by the prominent early personality theorists Gordon W. Allport and Henry S. Odbert, was guided by the principle that all of the important ways of characterizing people will be encoded in natural language use. Using this word list as a starting point, personality researchers like James Cattell and Hans Eysenck reduced the list into a smaller and more manageable number of categories using statistical techniques like factor analysis. In analysis after analysis, five personality dimensions consistently emerged, which came to be known as the big five. Other taxonomies have been proposed, for example, Eysenck focused on the big three, extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism (a combination of agreeableness and conscientiousness). Since the big five was developed, taxonomic analyses have yielded fairly good cross-cultural consistency in the five dimensions.

Other popularly known personality traits include type A and type B personalities. Type A individuals are typically driven, impatient, competitive, aggressive, and hostile, whereas type B individuals are the oppositethey are relaxed, patient, noncompetitive, and less hostile. The A/B distinction originated in the 1950s with a team of cardiologists who observed fast-paced aggressive behaviors in patients with coronary heart disease. Studies have subsequently confirmed type A as a cardiovascular risk factoran association that appears driven by the hostility component and its negative physiological effects on blood pressure. Perhaps because of its intuitive appeal, type A personality moved into popular jargon fairly quickly. Fortunately the popular understanding of type A appears fairly true to the original concept.

Other related personalities include the controversial type C or cancer prone personality, which is characterized by emotion suppression. The associated type C coping style is characterized by denial of distress in spite of physiological evidence of distress. Evidence linking these characteristics to the incidence and recovery from cancer is mixed, however. Lastly, there is type D or distressed personality, characterized by negative emotionality, an inability to express emotions, and social isolation, which has been linked to greater cardiovascular disease and increased mortality.

Characteristics Adaptations At the next level of personality differences are mid-level characteristic adaptations, which comprise nuanced differences among people. Unlike traits, many of these adaptations are learned through experience, are readily influenced by culture, and reflect a dynamic interplay between peoples current contexts and situations. It is at this level that conditional theories of personality emerge as alternatives to trait theory.

One of the issues with defining personality solely as traits is that traits lead us to expect people will behave in a regular way across all situations. Yet empirical data do not show this. Typically the correlation between traits (as measured by standard trait questionnaires) and behaviors measured across situations is relatively modestwith correlations of .30. This observation, made by the personality psychologist Walter Mischel (b. 1930) in his influential 1968 text Personality and Assessment, sparked a decadeslong debate in personality known as the person-situation debate. This debate threatened the field of personality because it undermined the influence of personality traits on behavior and elevated the influence of situations on behavior, a perspective favored by social psychologists. One consequence of the debate is that it stimulated a more contextualized and conditional approach to personality, exemplified in Mischels research with his colleague, the psychologist Yuichi Shoda. From their perspective, personality emerges as situation-specific behavioral signatures regularities in behavior that manifest in certain situations, not in all situations. Thus two people who are similar at the trait level (for example, high in neuroticism) may manifest different behavioral signatures. One person may react with hostility when confronted by authority, and another may react that way when confronted by a subordinate.

Central to a conditional approach to personality are peoples interpretations or construals of their immediate environments. This theme derives from a social-cognitive perspective on personality, which emphasizes the operation of acquired beliefs and expectations about the world in personality functioning. Within this social-cognitive perspective, there are several other types of individual differences that contribute to peoples behavioral signatures. Of particular importance are peoples beliefs regarding their self-efficacy, whether they believe they are capable of achieving desired outcomes through their actions. Formalized in theory by the psychologist Albert Bandura (b. 1925), self-efficacy beliefs are shaped from peoples experiences in the world and influence motivation, expectations, and the explanations people give for their outcomes. Self-efficacy and other human strengths, such as optimism, wisdom, and empathy, have received increased focus among personality and social psychologists. Also important are our implicit theories about the rigidity versus mutability of self-attributes. Some individuals, referred to as entity theorists, view their attributes, such as intelligence, as fixed and unchangeable, whereas others, incremental theorists, view their attributes as more malleable and able to be cultivated. These personal theories, which are heavily influenced by parenting, set up characteristic styles for how people approach and respond to challenging tasks, with incremental theorists being more likely to persist at tasks requiring effort.

Mid-level differences also include motives and drives. Within each culture, individuals differ in several higherorder motives whether they are driven to achieve, affiliate with others, or have power over them. At the individual level, a person may also have his or her set of personal strivings the idiosyncratic ways in which an individual tries to implement his or her goals in everyday life. For example, a person with strong affiliation motives might regularly get together with friends. A person with strong achievement motives might work long nights to achieve professional goals. Individuals may not always be aware of what motivates them. Unconscious motives are quite common and occur when a person regularly exhibits behaviors consistent with a motive but is unaware of having this motive. In these circumstances an external observer can often see these patterns more clearly than can the person.

Other mid-level aspects of personality, not just motives, can operate at an unconscious level. It is known that individuals possess considerable knowledge about themselves and their past experiences that they cannot verbalize or represent in consciousness but that shapes their feelings and behaviors. Such knowledge is often associative in nature and measured indirectly in ways that bypass self-report (for example, using computerized tasks adapted from cognitive psychology). This knowledge may be different from other reflective forms of self-knowledge that people can verbalize and report using questionnaires. Understanding the functions and interplay between associative and reflective components of personality appears to be among the major tasks of twenty-first-century science in personality. Another example of unconscious personality processes is found in defense mechanisms, which reflect patterns of thinking that minimize conscious awareness of threatening thoughts or feelings. With repeated and frequent use, defense mechanisms can become part of a persons characteristic style of thinking.

Personal Narratives In addition to traits and characteristic adaptations, individuals differ in their integrative life narratives. Life narratives are the unique person-specific stories people create about their experiences to provide coherence and meaning to their lives. A life story encompasses who a person is, how this person came to be, and what the future holds. Although each story is unique, common themes do emergedespair, resurrection, and triumphthat are often culturally bound. Narratives also have important psychological consequences, as evidence suggests that writing about a traumatic experience in a way that gives the experience coherence and meaning speeds recovery and improves mental and physical health.


Change depends on whether personality is conceived of as traits, characteristic adaptations, or life narratives. Traits exhibit the most stability and are the hardest to change, which is consistent with traits being partly heritable and rooted in infant temperament. Early learning environments can play some role in shaping the expression of traits, however. For example, temperamentally introverted children who are exposed to intensive social environments early in life, such as day care, evidence less introversion later in life, but they may never be as outgoing as children who exhibited extraverted behaviors prior to socialization.

Traits crystallize between ages twenty-one to thirty, after which they show consistency through older adulthood. Of course people are dynamic, and they can change across their lifetime. Such changes, however, appear to occur at the level of characteristic adaptations and life narratives. Indeed therapy is often targeted at changing peoples beliefs, motivations, coping strategies, and life stories rather than changing enduring dispositions. Personality also changes through adult maturational stages characterized by decreasing impulsivity, maturing defenses, changing identities (for example, parenthood), and a shift in orientation from self to other.


Personality psychologists have begun to understand the neurobiological underpinnings of traits such as extraversion and neuroticism. For example, extraversion and its associated qualities of impulsivity and sensation seeking appear most strongly linked to the behavioral activation system (BAS), which consists of dopamine-transmitting pathways in the brain and neural structures that modulate the extent to which people feel pleasure in response to cues for reward. By contrast, neuroticism appears most strongly linked to the behavioral inhibition system (BIS), a set of neural structures and processes involved in anxiety and the processing of aversive outcomes such as punishment.

New avenues of research in molecular genetics hold promise for investigating links between genes and personality. For example, emergent research suggests that variation in a gene related to dopamine function (DRD4) is associated with personality differences in novelty seeking, just as variation in a gene related to serotonin function (5-HT transporter) has been linked to differences in neuroticism. The mechanisms of action between genes and personality are complex and not yet known, however. Research in genetics will likely yield important advancements in the years to come, particularly with respect to multiple gene contributions to personality, mechanisms of action, and gene-environment interplay.


Personality disorders appear to represent the extremes of normal variation in broad personality traits. Many of the personality disorders described in the 2000 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition text revision (DSM-IV-TR), correspond to extreme variants of the big five personality factors. For example, borderline personality disordercharacterized by impulsivity, self-destructive behavior, and emotional instabilitymay be a maladaptive form of the anger and hostility subfacets of neuroticism; obsessive-compulsive disorder may be related to extreme conscientiousness, with an extreme focus on order, perfectionism, rules, and structure; and paranoid personality disorder may be related to extremely low agreeableness, reflecting a wariness and mistrust of others.

SEE ALSO Allport, Gordon; Bandura, Albert; Individualism; Mental Illness; Neuroscience; Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder; Optimism/Pessimism; Psychology; Self-Defeating Behavior; Self-Efficacy; Temperament; Trait Theory


American Psychiatric Association. 2000. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.

Canli, Turhan, ed. 2006. Biology of Personality and Individual Differences. New York: Guilford.

Epstein, Seymour, and Edward J. OBrien. 1985. The Person-Situation Debate in Historical and Current Perspective. Psychological Bulletin 98 (3): 513537.

Funder, David C. 2001. Personality. Annual Review of Psychology 52: 197221.

Heatherton, Todd F., and Joel L. Weinberger, eds. 1994. Can Personality Change? Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

McAdams, Dan P. 2006. The Person: A New Introduction to Personality Psychology. 4th ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

McCrae, Robert R., and Paul T. Costa Jr. 1997. Personality Trait Structure as a Human Universal. American Psychologist 52 (5): 509516.

Mischel, Walter, and Yuichi Shoda. 1995. A Cognitive-Affective System Theory of Personality: Reconceptualizing Situations, Dispositions, Dynamics, and Invariance in Personality Structure. Psychological Review 102 (2): 246268.

Pervin, Lawrence A., and Oliver P. John, eds. 1999. Handbook of Personality: Theory and Research. 2nd ed. New York: Guilford.

Wilson, Timothy D. 2002. Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University.

Tamlin S. Conner

Howard Tennen


views updated Jun 11 2018


Term that has three uses in describing the self: (1) the sum of the characteristics that make up physical and mental being, including appearance, manners, habits, tastes, and moral character; (2) the characteristics that distinguish one person from another (individuality); and (3) the capacity to engage in mental processes, that is, possessing consciousness (according to psychical researcher James H. Hyslop ).

For psychical researchers, this last definition is of primary importance. The question of survival after death cannot be decided until the continuance of personality as a stream of consciousness is proved. A stream of consciousness is proof of the presence of a personality.

The identity of this personality, however, is inseparably bound up with the faculty of remembrance. With a complete loss of memory a new personality will develop. If the former memory returns, the new personality tends to disappear. It may be resuscitated by another attack of amnesia or under hypnosis, in which case it will act as an independent personality.

The case of Anselm Bourne, investigated by William James and Richard Hodgson in 1890, is illustrative. Bourne suddenly lost his memory in 1887 in Providence, Rhode Island, and eight weeks later awoke in Norristown, Pennsylvania, as a shopkeeper. He knew nothing of Albert John Brown, the name under which he lived, nor of the shop or the business. In hypnosis a secondary personality came forward and Bourne's movements were satisfactorily traced from the moment of his disappearance.

This was a plainly degenerative case. Bourne suffered from a postepileptic condition. He had fits of depression from childhood and in later life presented symptoms suggestive of epilepsy. Such degenerative instances are numerous. In other cases the secondary state is an improvement on the primary one.

F. W. H. Myers gave an account of such a case, that of a Dr. Azam's patient, "Felida X." She was born in Bordeaux, France, in 1843, exhibited symptoms of hysteria around age 13, felt pains in her forehead and fell into a profound sleep, from which she awoke in a secondary condition. Whereas in her original condition she exhibited a melancholy disposition, constantly thought of her maladies, and suffered acute pain in various parts of her body, in the secondary state she appeared to be an entirely different person, happy and free from pain.

Such changes at first occurred every five or six days and were marked by a more complete development of her faculties. Her memory in the secondary state was continuous. This state was her lucid one; the primary state was marked by fits of melancholy. The secondary personality became more frequent and, relapses of short duration disregarded, slowly suppressed the melancholy one.

Multiple Personality

A well-developed secondary personality is often followed by the appearance of other personalities. As many as 11 personalities were recorded in the case of "Mary Barnes" (see Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, vol. 11, p. 231; vol. 12, p. 208). They may come and go, like lodgers in a tenement house. Among the better-investigated cases of multiple personality in the literature of psychical research was that of a Miss Beauchamp, discussed by Morton Prince in Dissociation of a Personality (1906). Under emotional shocks, Beauchamp developed four personalities antithetic to her original one. They not only differed markedly in health, in memories, and in knowledge of their own life, but they were formally at war with one another. The third personality, "Sally," was the most interesting. She had all the appearance of an invading, outside entity. She wrote her autobiography, in which she claimed conscious but suppressed existence as far back as Beauchamp's infancy. She had a will of her own, could hypnotize the other personalities, had no notion of time, and exhibited complete tactile anesthesia. She persistently said that she was a spirit.

Prince attempted with hypnotic suggestion to weld the four personalities into one. Sally was bitterly resistant. After a long struggle and much reasoning, however, she agreed to be "squeezed" out of existence, and Beauchamp was restored to one personality commanding the memories of all her former selves with the exception of Sally.

In the remarkable case of Doris Fischer, Prince had to deal with five personalities. They were called "Real Doris," "Margaret," "Sleeping Margaret," "Sick Doris," and "Sleeping Doris." Real Doris barely had five minutes' conscious existence a day. The alternating personalities were veritably chasing after one another for years. After lengthy efforts, Prince finally effected a cure.

In the October 1931 issue of the British medical journal The Lancet, a case of eight distinct personalities is recorded by Robert M. Riggall, clinical psychologist at the West End Hospital of Nervous Diseases, London. The personalities were (1) "Mabel," the patient herselfgood, composed, moral, and economical, without many faults, but usually unhappy; (2) "Miss Dignity," who considered it her duty to do all in her power to hurt Mabel. Miss Dignity went so far in her hostility as to write a letter to Mabel, urging her to commit suicide and saying that she had enclosed a packet of poison; (3) "Biddy" bright, cheerful, laughing, and helpful; (4) "Hope"; (5) "Faith"; and (6) "Dame Trot," who were harmless and seldom appeared; (7) "Miss Take," so named because she did not know when she first appeared or what her name was, and added that she was just a mistake; and (8) another unnamed personality of an evil stripe.

Slight causes such as hunger, fatigue, or fever are sometimes sufficient to produce a transient but violent perturbation of personality. The novelist Robert Louis Stevenson, if ill or feverish, always felt possessed in part of his mind by another personality. According to Frank Podmore, overindulgence in daydreams is probably the first indication of a tendency to isolated and unregulated psychic activity, which, in its extreme form, may develop into a fixed idea or an obsession. Theodore Flournoy added:

"As a crystal splits under the blow of a hammer when struck according to certain definite lines of cleavage, in the same way the human personality under the shock of excessive emotions is sometimes broken along the lines of least resistance or the great structural lines of his temperament. A cleavage is produced between the opposite selveswhose harmonious equilibrium would constitute the normal conditionseriousness and gaiety; optimistic tendencies and pessimistic; goodness and egoism; instincts of prudery and lasciviousness; the taste for solitude and the love of Nature, and the attractions of civilization, etc. The differences, in which the spiritists see a striking proof of an absolute distinction between the spirits and their so-called instruments, awaken, on the contrary, in the mind of the psychologist the irresistible suspicion that these pretended spirits can be nothing but the products of the subconsciousness of the medium himself."

F. W. H. Myers argued that the first symptom of disintegration of personality is an idée fixe, the persistence of an uncontrolled and unmodifiable group of thoughts or emotions, which, from their brooding isolation, from lack of interchange with the general current of thought, become alien and intrusive, so that some special idea or image presses into consciousness with undue and painful infrequency. (Such a fixed idea has also, of course, led to some of the major new contributions by individuals to society.)

In the second stage, Myers maintained, there is a confluence of these obsessive notions overrunning the whole personality, often accompanied by something of a somnambulic change. This is the birth of the secondary personality from emotionally selected elements of the primary personality. It may attain a morbid intensity, and it may lead to so-called demonic possession. In other cases, arbitrary development of a scrap of personality is responsible for the dissociation. Its most common mode of origin, Myers believed, is in sleepwalking that is repeated until the mind acquires a chain of memories related exclusively to the sleepwalking state; this chain then alternates with the primary chain.

Sleepwalkers may display a secondary personality as the acts in repeated spontaneous somnambulism form a chain of memory. Considering the wide power and tenacious memory of the subconscious, Myers suggested that the conscious personality should be regarded as a privileged case of personality, a special phase, easiest to study because it is accessible. Its powers of perception he similarly considered a special case of the subliminal faculties.

The question of secondary personalities is unanswered, in spite of continued research over the decades. No single explanation has emerged as dominant. Within the psychic community, interest has centered on cases that seem to provide some evidence of possession or obsession by spirit entities or reincarnation. Many cases appear to be a matter of abnormal psychology in which artificial personalities are created from repressed desires, anxieties, or traumas. The question has been the center of a new debate within the psychological community with the emergence of a new set of multiple personality cases claiming origin in childhood trauma from ritual sexual abuse.

Much obscurity surrounds the development of normal personality in individuals, a situation likely to remain the case given the aversion of psychologists to researching personality using models with large groups of people. Character traits often change during the course of time. Many apparently normal individuals sometimes present different personalities in public from those exhibited in private.

The maintenance of a recognizable personality depends heavily on accumulated experiences and memories (the most obvious attribute of an individual personality) and the reassurance of a familiar body and sensory perception. If one grants the possibility of survival after death, the sudden removal of memories, sensory associations, and bodily presence must be a traumatic experience. The confusing or vague messages relating to identity received at many séances could be explained on this basis. Even the triviality of many communications seems explicable, since the departed spirit might place great value on such trivialities as reassurance of a continuation of personality.

How real are our personalities? Fantasy plays a great part in the maintenance of personality, nourished by the myriad fictions of novels, movies, and television shows. Our personalities have been shaped by fashion and role models that have had powerful influence through the modern mass media society. Talented actors and actresses have shown that it is possible to change roles night after night in a physical and psychological masquerade that becomes an intensely shared experience with an audience.

The larger implications of personality involve philosophies and religions, which often differ markedly in their understanding of personality. The imperfections and contradictions of earthly personality constitute unfinished chapters in the fascinating story of life, and it is reasonable to postulate sequels in an afterlife involving progressive evolution of personality.


Bernstein, Morey. The Search for Bridey Murphy. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1956.

Blythe, Henry. The Three Lives of Naomi Henry. London: Frederick Muller, 1956.

Congdon, M. H., J. Hain, and Ian Stevenson. "A Case of Multiple Personality Illustrating the Transition from Role-Playing." Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 132 (1961).

Flournoy, Theodore. From India to the Planet Mars. New York: Harper & Row, 1900. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1963.

Geley, Gustav. From the Unconscious to the Conscious. London: William Collins, 1920.

Iverson, Jeffrey. More Lives Than One? London: Souvenir Press, 1976. Reprint, London: Pan, 1967.

Mitchell, T. W. Medical Psychology and Psychical Research. London: Methuen, 1922.

Myers, F. W. H. Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death. 2 vols. London: Longmans, Green, 1903. Reprint, New York: Longmans, 1954.

Oesterreich, T. K. Possession: Demoniacal and Other, Among Primitive Races, in Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and Modern Times. London, 1930. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1966.

Prince, Morton. The Dissociation of a Personality. London: Longmans, 1906.

Solfvin, J., W. G. Roll, and E. F. Kelly. "A Psychophysical Study of Mediumistic Communications." In Research in Parapsychology, 1976, edited by J. D. Morris, W. G. Roll, and R. L. Morris. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1977.

Stevens, E. W. The Watseka Wonder. Chicago: Religion-Philosophical Journal, 1879.

Stevenson, Ian. Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation. New York: American Society for Psychical Research, 1966.

Thigpen, C. H., and H. Cleckley. The Three Faces of Eve. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1957.


views updated Jun 08 2018


In philosophy and theology the term personality is relatively new, having been introduced by thinkers with longstanding psychological interests, such as W. james, E. S. brightman and S. A. kierkegaard. The older philosophical tradition preferred to center its discussion on the concept of person, of which personality is a more abstract derivative. With St. thomas aquinas one may trace the origins of the formal definition of person to boethius, the earliest of the Christian Aristotelians in the West (Summa theologiae 1a, 29.1). The absence of any significant discussion of person or personality among the Greeks or Romans is itself meaningful. It reveals that this concept, which occupies so prominent a place in the 20th century, was of little interest to the ancients. It likewise is an indication that the concept of person was of minor concern in palco-pagan culture, just as the person has lost significance in the cult of the masses in the neopaganism of K. marx.

In a sense, then, personality is a concept that belongs to Christian tradition, and only in an environment that maintains contact with its Christian origins does this concept achieve its full significance. This follows logically from the central Christian dogma of the Incarnation of the Word and the priceless gift of divine adoption that God conferred on man. Only a person can be adopted, and the entire economy of salvation is based on the relation of person to person. In view of this ultimate orientation, the human person is discussed in this section from three different points of view: the psychological, the philosophical, and the theological.

Psychological Aspect. The psychological dimension is man as he is known and as he knows himself. This is the empirical or existential personality, the aspect of man that has already been discussed. Psychological description of the person attempts to resolve a complex unit, man, into patterns of observable traits and inferred internal dynamics. The danger in this method is one of losing contact with the functioning whole in the preoccupation with traits and syndromes. Gestalt psychology, existential analysis, and clinical studies aim to avoid this pitfall and keep in focus the individual person in all his uniqueness and originality. Other studies of empirical or existential personality give rise to the variety of personality theories already noted. Most of these reflect the clinical methods and research interests of particular psychologists or schools of thought. They do not penetrate to the metaphysics of man or to the philosophy of the human person.

Philosophical Aspect. Without conflicting with empirical studies of personality, the philosophical aspect of the study of man is concerned with the metaphysical question, "What does it mean to be a human being?" and the ethical and juridical question, "What rights and immunities accrue to man by reason of his being a person?"

Historical Genesis. Aristotle's balanced formula for man, animal rationale, was "baptized" by St. Thomas in the 13th century and remained current until the decline of scholasticism. Even among the scholastics, however, there was a persistent tendency to upset this balance and to extol reason at the expense of man's animal or organic functions. Finally, R. descartes (15961650), with only a sketchy background in 17th-century scholastic thought, introduced a complete divorce between mind and body through his doctrine of the two substances. In his psychophysical model of man, mind became the seat of exclusively spiritual functions, whereas organic activities were reduced to the domain of physics.

With the Cartesian disruption of man's psychosomatic unity and the exploitation of reason by later philosophers, the individuality and uniqueness of human personality were soon lost, particularly in the abstractions of Kantian transcendentalism. The age of the Enlightenment carried the angelism and excessive rationalism of Descartes still further, until it reached its climax in Hegel's dialectic of subject and object. Even the launching of the new science of psychology in the latter half of the 19th century did little to offset this development. In fact, experimental psychology in its early decades was entirely dominated by positivism and associationism, which stemmed ultimately from the philosophies of T. Hobbes and J. Locke.

With the beginning of the 20th century, however, a massive reaction to the rationalistic concept of man began to take shape. This reaction was due in great measure to Darwin's glimpse of an evolutionary pattern underlying all organic life and to Freud's sometimes crude but persistent probing of human emotion and unconscious drives.

Psychosomatic Unity. As a result, there has emerged a concept of man as a psychosomatic unit that gives full meaning to the Aristotelian-Thomistic definition without ignoring man's organic or animal nature. Pope Pius XII gave currency and authority to this concept when defining personality in his address to the Rome Congress of Applied Psychology shortly before he died: "We define personality as the psychosomatic unity of man insofar as it is determined and governed by the soul."

In medical contexts, the term psychosomatic refers to ailments in which physical symptoms are caused or influenced largely by emotional conflicts and psychic tensions. But the word itself, derived from the Greek ψυχή (soul or mind) and σ[symbol omitted]μα (body), is admirably suited to signify any interaction between organic and mental components in man. Used in conjunction with unity, this term expresses the organic uniqueness of human beings among other forms of animal life, excludes interpretations that split human beings into two substances (body and mind), and signifies the incommunicable uniqueness of the individual person that is studied by empirical enquiry or clinical analysis.

All the important philosophical conclusions concerning humanity also follow from this psychosomatic unity. In particular, human sexuality and emotional life have their origin in this organic complex that functions also at the spiritual or psychic level (see sex; emotion). They are not something foreign to humans, contracted by association with brute animals. At the same time, autonomy, the continuity of self-consciousness, and a sense of responsibility establish humanity's rights and immunities as a person.

While the philosophical or metaphysical concept of human personality goes beyond the conclusions of contemporary psychology and is the foundation of humanity's rights and immunities as a person, it in no way contradicts current scientific views of man. In fact, when contemporary clinical and existential psychologists insist upon the necessity of a unified and self-integrated personality as the sine qua non of normal functioning and of sound adjustment, they are very close to demanding a return to such a concept of humanity.

Theological Aspect. This organically integrated and spiritually sensitive being is likewise the subject of elevation to the supernatural plane by the action of the Holy Spirit, which is made connatural to man through the mediation of Christ. This constitutes the supernatural or theological aspect of personality. Supernatural man, the sublime concept of Christian humanism, stands out in sharp contrast to the cult of the superman of F. W. nietzsche, A. Hitler, and the proponents of neopaganism. Entirely the creation of grace, supernatural man could not have come to be except through the Incarnation of the Word. This is the "new man" who is created in "the justice and sanctity of truth" and of whom St. Paul speaks so eloquently to his new converts of Galatia, "My little children, with whom I am in labor again, until Christ is formed in you" (Gal 4.19).

The unobtrusive transformation of nature by grace does no violence to the human personality because it begins with faith, the free assent of the mind to God's redeeming word. The first word spoken in a dialogue, faith is a person-to-person communion with Christ that reaches its climax only in the life after this. Thus the liturgy, the Sacraments, ascetical practices, and prayer take on the character of a personal encounter with the Transfigured Christ. Hence, even the possibility of redemption rests upon the fact of human personality.

The doctrinal epitome and guarantee of this teaching is found in the dogma of the Resurrection, which St. Paul places in the very center of the affirmation of Christian faith. This is a twofold dogma. It begins with the simple affirmation of the Creed that Christ suffered, died, was buried, and rose again. From this central doctrine a corollary follows: those who believe in Christ, whose lives are engrafted on His, the True Vine, who strive to conform their lives to His, will rise in glory with Him on the Last Day. This doctrine of the resurrection of the body, undreamed of in pagan philosophy, can be grasped by faith alone. Yet, what could be more fitting than that the psychosomatic unity so harshly disrupted by death be restored at the moment the human person enters into his glorified state? The organic complex preceded the soul in existence, called forth its unique creation, and, throughout the life span of the person, participated in every advance of the soul in virtue. Since the body has a real part in the preparation of the soul for beatitude, it is only fitting and proper that it be reunited to the soul to share in the life of glory.

Indeed, one may say that only in the light of the dogma of the Resurrection does the true dignity of the human personality stand fully revealed. Humans are surely rational animals, as they are social and emotional animals, but they are much more. Thay are spirit vitalizing matter, living under the laws of protoplasm, but destined to lead matter to a life in which only the laws of spirit hold sway. Such is the conclusion that the gospel accounts of Christ's appearance to His disciples after the Resurrection force upon us; it represents the complete transformation of the human personality in Christ.

Bibliography: t. j. gannon, Psychology: The Unity of Human Behavior (Boston 1954). m. b. arnold and j. a. gasson, eds., The Human Person (New York 1954). a. walters and k. o'hara, Persons and Personality (New York 1953). j. e. royce, Man and His Nature: A Philosophical Psychology (New York 1961). g. p. klubertanz, The Philosophy of Human Nature (New York 1953). t. v. moore, The Driving Forces of Human Nature and Their Adjustment (New York 1948). b. froget, The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Souls of the Just, tr. s. a. raemers (Westminster, Md. 1950). pius xii, "Venus du monde" (address, April 10, 1958) "Applied Psychology," tr. p. j. oligny, Pope Speaks 5 (1958) 720.

[t. j. gannon]


views updated May 11 2018


The unique pattern of psychological and behavioral characteristics by which each person can be distinguished from other people.

Personality is fundamental to the study of psychology. The major systems evolved by psychiatrists and psychologists since Sigmund Freud to explain human mental and behavioral processes can be considered theories of personality. These theories generally provide ways of describing personal characteristics and behavior, establish an overall framework for organizing a wide range of information, and address such issues as individual differences, personality development from birth through adulthood, and the causes, nature, and treatment of psychological disorders.

Type theory of personality

Perhaps the earliest known theory of personality is that of the Greek physician Hippocrates (c. 400 B.C.), who characterized human behavior in terms of four temperaments, each associated with a different bodily fluid, or "humor." The sanguine, or optimistic, type was associated with blood; the phlegmatic type (slow and lethargic) with phlegm; the melancholic type (sad, depressed) with black bile; and the choleric (angry) type with yellow bile. Individual personality was determined by the amount of each of the four humors. Hippocrates' system remained influential in Western Europe throughout the medieval and Renaissance periods. Abundant references to the four humors can be found in the plays of Shakespeare, and the terms with which Hippocrates labeled the four personality types are still in common use today. The theory of temperaments is among a variety of systems that deal with human personality by dividing it into types. A widely popularized (but scientifically dubious) modern typology of personality was developed in the 1940s by William Sheldon , an American psychologist. Sheldon classified personality into three categories based on body types: the endomorph (heavy and easy-going), mesomorph (muscular and aggressive), and ectomorph (thin and intellectual or artistic).

Trait theory of personality

A major weakness of Sheldon's morphological classification system and other type theories in general is the element of oversimplification inherent in placing individuals into a single category, which ignores the fact that every personality represents a unique combination of qualities. Systems that address personality as a combination of qualities or dimensions are called trait theories. Well-known trait theorist Gordon Allport (1897-1967) extensively investigated the ways in which traits combine to form normal personalities, cataloguing over 18,000 separate traits over a period of 30 years. He proposed that each person has about seven central traits that dominate his or her behavior. Allport's attempt to make trait analysis more manageable and useful by simplifying it was expanded by subsequent researchers, who found ways to group traits into clusters through a process known as factor analysis. Raymond B. Cattell reduced Allport's extensive list to 16 fundamental groups of inter-related characteristics, and Hans Eysenck claimed that personality could be described based on three fundamental factors: psychoticism (such antisocial traits as cruelty and rejection of social customs), introversion-extroversion, and emotionality-stability (also called neuroticism). Eysenck also formulated a quadrant based on intersecting emotional-stable and introverted-extroverted axes.

Psychodynamic theory of personality

Twentieth-century views on personality have been heavily influenced by the psychodynamic approach of Sigmund Freud. Freud proposed a three-part personality structure consisting of the id (concerned with the gratification of basic instincts), the ego (which mediates between the demands of the id and the constraints of society), and the superego (through which parental and social values are internalized). In contrast to type or trait theories of personality, the dynamic model proposed by Freud involved an ongoing element of conflict, and it was these conflicts that Freud saw as the primary determinant of personality. His psychoanalytic method was designed to help patients resolve their conflicts by exploring unconscious thoughts, motivations, and conflicts through the use of free association and other techniques. Another distinctive feature of Freudian psychoanalysis is its emphasis on the importance of childhood experiences in personality formation. Other psychodynamic models were later developed by colleagues and followers of Freud, including Carl Jung , Alfred Adler , and Otto Rank (1884-1939), as well as other neo-Freudians such as Erich Fromm , Karen Horney , Harry Stack Sullivan (1892-1949), and Erik Erikson .

Phenomenological theory of personality

Another major view of personality developed during the twentieth century is the phenomenological approach, which emphasizes people's self-perceptions and their drive for self-actualization as determinants of personality. This optimistic orientation holds that people are innately inclined toward goodness, love, and creativity and that the primary natural motivation is the drive to fulfill one's potential. Carl Rogers , the figure whose name is most closely associated with phenomenological theories of personality, viewed authentic experience of one's self as the basic component of growth and wellbeing. This experience together with one's self-concept can become distorted when other people make the positive regard we need dependent on conditions that require the suppression of our true feelings. The client-centered therapy developed by Rogers relies on the therapist's continuous demonstration of empathy and unconditional positive regard to give clients the self-confidence to express and act on their true feelings and beliefs. Another prominent exponent of the phenomenological approach was Abraham Maslow , who placed self-actualization at the top of his hierarchy of human needs. Maslow focused on the need to replace a deficiency orientation, which consists of focusing on what one does not have, with a growth orientation based on satisfaction with one's identity and capabilities.

Behavioral theory of personality

The behaviorist approach views personality as a pattern of learned behaviors acquired through either classical (Pavlovian) or operant (Skinnerian) conditioning and shaped by reinforcement in the form of rewards or punishment . A relatively recent extension of behaviorism , the cognitive-behavioral approach emphasizes the role cognition plays in the learning process. Cognitive and social learning theorists focus not only on the outward behaviors people demonstrate but also on their expectations and their thoughts about others, themselves, and their own behavior. For example, one variable in the general theory of personality developed by social learning theorist Julian B. Rotter is internal-external orientation. "Internals" think of themselves as controlling events, while "externals" view events as largely outside their control. Like phenomenological theorists, those who take a social learning approach also emphasize people's perceptions of themselves and their abilities (a concept called "self-efficacy" by Albert Bandura ). Another characteristic that sets the cognitive-behavioral approach apart from traditional forms of behaviorism is its focus on learning that takes place in social situations through observation and reinforcement, which contrasts with the dependence of classical and operant conditioning models on laboratory research.

Aside from theories about personality structure and dynamics, a major area of investigation in the study of personality is how it develops in the course of a person's lifetime. The Freudian approach includes an extensive description of psychosexual development from birth up to adulthood. Erik Erikson outlined eight stages of development spanning the entire human lifetime, from birth to death. In contrast, various other approaches, such as those of Jung, Adler, and Rogers, have rejected the notion of separate developmental stages.

An area of increasing interest is the study of how personality varies across cultures. In order to know whether observations about personality structure and formation reflect universal truths or merely cultural influences, it is necessary to study and compare personality characteristics in different societies. For example, significant differences have been found between personality development in the individualistic cultures of the West and in collectivist societies such as Japan, where children are taught from a young age that fitting in with the group takes precedence over the recognition of individual achievement. Cross-cultural differences may also be observed within a given society by studying the contrasts between its dominant culture and its subcultures (usually ethnic, racial, or religious groups).

Further Reading

Allport, Gordon W. Personality and Social Encounter: Selected Essays. Boston: Beacon Press, 1960.

Eysenck, Hans. The Structure of Human Personality. London Methuen, 1970.

Mischel, Walter. Introduction to Personality. 4th ed. New York Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1986.


views updated May 29 2018

personality One of several concepts used by social scientists to refer to the individual (others include self and identity). The concept has its origins in the Latin word persona (meaning ‘mask’), and refers to the set of more or less stable characteristics, as assessed and judged by others, that distinguish one individual from another. These characteristics are assumed to hold across time and place and to underlie behaviour. The term personality consequently refers to the individual as object (the object of external evaluation) whereas the concept of self refers to the individual as subject (as the source of action and self-reflection).

Like attitude, the notion of personality is primarily invoked in the attempt to predict or explain individual behaviour, and refers to what an individual brings to a situation that belongs to them. However, whereas attitudes are object-specific— that is, they are directed towards specific persons or things—the term personality refers to broader, more general orientations and tendencies. The underlying assumption is that behaviour is a function of two factors—personality (or attitudes) and situation—the relative importance of the two varying from situation to situation. Some situations almost entirely override personality differences (a fire in a cinema creating widespread panic); others allow personality differences to flourish.

The precise way in which personality is conceptualized and measured varies enormously. These is an underlying tension between the concept's connotations that each individual is unique, with a distinctive personality which should be described as a whole, and the demands of positivist science for generalizations based on the exploration of standard personality characteristics across a range of persons. The former suggests an ideographic approach to personality, in which the description and analysis of the unique individual is the focus, whereas the latter suggests a nomothetic approach in which the emphasis is on studying a range of people and examining shared characteristics. This is usually associated with more atomistic and fragmented models of personality. To some extent, however, this opposition is deceptive since most approaches to personality attempt both to develop general models of personality and to describe individual cases.

The Freudian theory of personality has been most widely used in the detailed examination of an individual's personality, as in Freud's own classic case-histories, like those of Dora and the Wolf Man. These detailed analyses are, however, grounded in a general theory of personality which, in its best-known version, delineates a tripartite personality structure of id, ego, and superego. Behaviour is the result of the dynamic interplay of the forces of id, ego, and superego, and the individual's personality is determined by his or her success in progressing through the different stages of psycho-sexual development during the first five years of life.

Freudian theorizing has been most influential in clinical contexts where the particular individual is the focus and it is necessary to describe and examine the individual's personality in detail. This is mainly accomplished through observations made in the course of diagnostic interviews and therapy. However, projective tests have also been widely used in clinical contexts, as an aid to the exploration of personality dynamics. Within academic psychology, nomothetic approaches have been more usual, and there has been a greater focus on the development of standardized measures of personality. One common approach has been the so-called trait approach. The term trait refers to a personality characteristic or disposition—a tendency to act or react in certain ways—and the trait approach seeks to identify the key personality traits, to describe individuals in terms of these traits, and to examine the association of these traits with behaviour.

The American psychologist Gordon Allport, in his study Personality (1937), developed the idea of personality traits, sorting through the enormous number of words in everyday language used to describe individuals and grouping and selecting them on a commonsense, intuitive basis. He emphasized the uniqueness of the individual and the interconnectedness of personality traits, and his concerns were more ideographic than nomothetic. In contrast, Raymond B. Cattell used factor analysis to select out a far more restricted list of independent personality traits, and developed a personality test to measure them. He conceptualized sixteen traits as bipolar dimensions of personality: such as dominance versus submission, radicalism versus conservatism, emotional sensitivity versus toughness. In a similar vein, Hans Eysenck further reduced the number of personality factors, postulating that the two key personality dimensions are extraversion-intraversion and neuroticism. Although the factor analytic techniques used by Cattell and Eysenck have been strongly criticized, the type of pencil-and-paper tests of personality they generated have been widely used.

Sociology's relation to the study of personality has often been ambivalent if not overtly hostile. Durkheim's assertion of the need for a distinctively sociological explanation of suicide led him to reject the relevance of psychological factors such as ‘psychopathic states’. There has been a general tendency to see personality as belonging to the domain of psychology rather than sociology. What this means in practice is that some measure of personality may be included in a social survey simply to establish that observed differences are not due to personality. However some sociologists, notably Talcott Parsons, have attempted to explore the possible relationships between personality and social structure. Drawing on the work of cultural anthropologists who linked culture and personality, work which was itself strongly influenced by Freudian theorizing, these sociologists have examined not only the way in which personality is shaped by social forces, but also the fit between personality characteristics and the social organization (whether the broader society or some more restricted institution or organization such as a business company or religious group). Max Weber's Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) can be viewed as one such study. See also (AUTHORITARIAN PERSONALITY; CULTURE AND PERSONALITY SCHOOL; MASS SOCIETY; NARCISSISM.


views updated May 23 2018

personality The story of personality is, in many ways, the story of the secularization of the human soul. From early in its history, the term has been closely linked to notions of what it means to be a person. Before the middle of the nineteenth century, however, the connotations were distinctly non-psychological: personality referred to the distinction between persons and things, and it was the theological and ethical dimensions of personhood that were paramount. Individual differences in preferences were discussed largely in terms of temperaments; personality, on the other hand, referred rather to what was deemed to be fundamental and universal, the moral and rational nature of the human subject. As the importance of religion within Western culture waned, however, the meaning of ‘personality’ shifted. In the wake of Romanticism's celebration of idiosyncratic individuality and the growing psychological/psychiatric interest in naturalistic investigations of mental abnormality, the term became reoriented decisively toward the individual and psychological.

By the turn of the century, the new clinically inspired theories of Emil Kraeplin, Sigmund Freud, Théodule Ribot, and Pierre Janet had made personality a concept of great interest, both within certain specialist circles and for the public at large. Adopted by the general public in the 1900s and by mainstream academic psychology in the 1920s and 1930s, the meanings of the term sedimented around the notion of personality as those qualities of an individual that persist across time and contexts and that distinguish that person from all others. Americans have been particularly fascinated with the composite nature of personality, its malleability, and its dynamic relations to the social environment; Europeans, on the other hand, have been more concerned with deep structures, fundamental continuities, and the internal aspects of its development.

For all of the differences in orientation, most personality research has been guided by the same fundamental questions: Is personality one thing or many? Is it relatively constant or does it vary across situations? Does it result from internal drives or external pressures? How does personality develop and how can it be changed? What are the relative influences of conscious and unconscious processes? And how does personality become pathological? Although the responses to these issues have been, and continue to be, extremely varied, they have tended to cluster around two poles associated with two different types of investigative sites: personality as a collection of distinguishable traits analysed via techniques drawn from the experimental laboratory, and personality as a holistic assessment of an individual's overall make-up, determined through close observation in a clinical setting.

Holistic depictions of personality received their most influential modern articulation in the psychoanalytic depth psychology of Freud and his followers. For Freud, individual personality is developmental, indeed almost archaeological; the accumulated product of an ultimately unresolvable conflict, beginning in infancy, between deep-seated sexual and aggressive drives associated with the id, and various defences against them arising from the ego and superego. Developed out of Freud's psychopathological work and oriented towards the ideal of the integrated personality, psychoanalytic theory stresses the role of the unconscious and of repression in the formation of personality. Because of the presumed intransigence of the unconscious to reliable self-knowledge, psychoanalytic theory has relied for most of its data on clinical observation, although projective techniques, such as the Rorschach inkblot test, have also been developed to supplement direct analysis. In the hands of other depth psychologists — Carl Jung and Alfred Adler, among others — psychoanalytic theory has been pushed in a number of directions, mostly by shifting emphases from the sexual to other drives, from the unconscious to the conscious, or from the inner to the outer. Nonetheless, all have remained committed to the notion that personality as an integrated entity exists and that it can be causally explained within a framework that unites biological and psychosocial forces.

Counterpoised to these holistic approaches to personality have been various composite theories, arguing that personality is a collection of discrete traits which vary in degree from person to person and/or from situation to situation. Interest in trait theories has been high since the 1930s–40s, when factor analytic statistical techniques, and the development of assessment instruments such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MPPI) and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, allowed researchers to isolate and intercorrelate particular personality variables. Studies by Raymond Cattell and Hans Eysenck have been particularly prominent in this regard, and have helped produce the current consensus around a five-factor model of major personality elements: neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experience. While most researchers have assumed that personality traits such as these are nomothetic (equally applicable to all individuals) and vary only in degree, some recent work has argued for an idiographic or contextualist approach, seeing traits as individual- and situation-specific, with behaviour the product of environmental influences interacting with underlying characteristics.

Three other approaches to personality within psychology also bear mention. Physiological or biological theories have accounted for personality primarily on the basis of physical factors, such as body type ( Ernst Kretschmer, William Sheldon) or genetic make-up ( Dean Hamer). Stimulus–response or learning theories, including those of B. F. Skinner and Albert Bandura, have taken an opposite tack, explaining personality on the basis of external stimuli and the individual's responses to them. Within these theories, patterns of behaviour are believed to develop as the result of reinforcement of personal experiences or imitations of others, and differences between individuals derive from the varied sets of stimuli experienced from early childhood. Finally, in recent years the cognitive revolution has engendered social–cognitive theories that explain behaviour on the basis of internal representations of context-specific situations. Behavioural consistency (personality) exists because most individuals operate on the basis of a small repertoire of interpretive schemas or scripts, which they then use to guide action in a wide variety of particular circumstances.

These academic constructions of personality, however, do not exhaust its post-Enlightenment resonances. Coming into vogue as part of a reaction against the heavily freighted Victorian conception of character, personality came within popular culture to signify more external affect than internal essence. In this guise, while personality has been in one respect understood as synonymous with identity, at the same time it has also been indicative of a kind of surface feature, a way of being seen by the external world rather than a reflection of an internal self. This tension between the internal and the external, and between the persistent and the contextual, visible as well within psychological theory, continues to characterize notions of personality up to the present day.

John Carson


Danziger, K. (1997). Naming the mind: how psychology found its language. London.
Harré, R. and and Lamb, R. (1986). The dictionary of personality and social psychology. Cambridge, MA.


views updated Jun 11 2018


The Neighbors

What Is Personality?

Personality refers to the collection of traits or characteristics that determine how people usually think and feel about themselves, relate to others, and react to the world around them.


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Personality type

The Neighbors

Dan is a warmhearted, energetic man who knows everyone in the neighborhood. He is always ready to lend a hand or a tool from his well-stocked garage. He loves to organize neighborhood activities. Dan hosts backyard cookouts, plans the yearly spring cleanup and planting of the neighborhood park, and serves mugs of hot chocolate when neighbors shovel snow from the walks in winter. People say that Dan is friendly, outgoing, and enthusiastic.

Pradeep, his next-door neighbor, has a quiet nature and prefers to keep to himself. Pradeep is always on time and very organized. He keeps to a set routine every dayhe walks his dog at 6:30 A.M., has coffee and reads the morning paper at 7:00, and then heads off to work at 7:30. At 5:30 every weekday evening, he pulls into his driveway again. Early on Saturdays he shops for groceries for himself and for Mrs. Dunn, a neighbor who cares for her elderly mother. People say that Pradeep is shy, reliable, and thoughtful.

Erik Erikson (19021994), a Pulitzer Prizewinning psychoanalyst, was interested in the ways culture influences peoples personalities. He is known for his term identity crisis, which he used to describe an event in adolescent personality development. Ted Streshinsky/Corbis

Rudy, who lives at the end of the block, annoys everyone with his grouchy mood and self-centered attitude. He scowls at the neighborhood kids who walk past his house, warning them not to step on his lawn and scolding them to keep the noise down as they get off the school bus on his corner. People say Rudy is selfish and has little patience and a bad temper.

What Is Personality?

The brief descriptions of these three men highlight some of the ways they are different from one another. They capture a few of the main characteristics of each man. These characteristics are what psychologists (sy-KAH-lo-jists) call personality traits.

Personality traits are the ways people usually think and feel about themselves (like insecure, self-centered, or humble), how they relate to others (like suspicious, critical, or friendly), and how they react to events (like easygoing, pessimistic, or short-tempered). Personality is a persons own special blend of these traits. Although each person has a unique personality, there are some groups of personality traits that produce common personality styles.

Some normal and common personality styles have been described with terms like self-confident, dramatic, sensitive, leisurely, adventurous, solitary, and aggressive. Personality style influences how someone will think, feel, and behave in most situations. Well-adjusted people also can adapt to situations that call for a way of thinking or reacting that is different from their usual personality style.

Some individuals have a personality style that causes them to have serious problems in most areas of their lives. Such individuals are set in their ways. They are inflexible and unable to adjust to the demands of a situation that calls for a different way of responding. Such a problematic personality style is called a personality disorder. There are ten different personality disorders that mental health professionals may diagnose. Personality disorder has a harmful effect on most aspects of peoples lives, leading to long-term difficulties in relationships with other people.

See also

Antisocial Personality Disorder

Personality Disorders



views updated May 14 2018

per·son·al·i·ty / ˌpərsəˈnalitē/ • n. (pl. -ties) 1. the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual's distinctive character: she had a sunny personality that was very engaging| fig. each brand of gin has its own personality | she has triumphed by sheer force of personality. ∎  qualities that make someone interesting or popular: she's always had loads of personality.2. a famous person, esp. in entertainment or sports: an official opening by a famous personality.3. archaic the quality or fact of being a person as distinct from a thing or animal.4. (personalities) archaic disparaging remarks about an individual.