Monday, April 9, 2012

Personality Theories’ General Classification


Personality theories are mainly concerned with the structure of the human mind or psyche, which subsumes explaining how individual psychological processes are organized and made coherent. As such, personality theories serve as the basis and synthesizing element for many other fields in psychology.

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Each of the following grand theories provides an overarching framework within which most psychological research is conducted. Each of these theories has a different point of emphasis when approaching the core psychological questions of why, how, and what.

Most personality theories can be classified in terms of two broad categories, depending on their underlying assumptions about human nature. On the one hand, there are a group of theories that see human nature as fixed, unchanging, deeply perverse, and self-defeating. These theories emphasize self-understanding and resignation; in the cases of Freudian psychoanalysis and existentialism, they also reflect a distinctly tragic view of life—the sources of human misery are so various that the best that can be hoped for is to control some of the causes of suffering. On the other hand, there are a group of theories that see human nature as plastic, flexible, and always capable of growth, change, and development. Human nature is basically benevolent; therefore bad societies are the source of personal misery. Social reform will produce human happiness if not actual perfection. These theories emphasize self-expression and self-actualization—in the cases of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, they reflect a distinctly optimistic and romantic view of life.

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Classes of Theories

Biological Theories

Biological approaches focus on the biological underpinnings of behavior and the effects of evolution and genetics. The premise is that behavior and mental processes can be explained by understanding human physiology and anatomy. Biological psychologists focus mostly on the brain and the nervous system. Research on heritability suggests that there is a link between genetics and personality traits.

One of the best known biological theorists was Hans Eysenck, who linked aspects of personality to biological processes. For example, Eysenck argued that introverts had high cortical arousal, leading them to avoid stimulation. On the other hand, Eysenck believed extroverts had low cortical arousal, causing them to seek out stimulating experiences.

Behavioral Theories

Behavioral theories suggest that personality is a result of interaction between the individual and the environment. Behavioral theorists study observable and measurable behaviors, rejecting theories that take internal thoughts and feelings into account.

These theories emphasize the role of previous learning experiences in shaping behavior. Behaviorists don't traditionally focus on mental processes because they believe that mental processes are too difficult to observe and measure objectively. Behaviorism is involved, for example, in the ongoing controversy of the influence of television and videogame violence on children.

Advocated by famous psychologists such as John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner, behavioral theories dominated psychology during the early half of the twentieth century. Today, behavioral techniques are still widely used in therapeutic settings to help clients learn new skills and behaviors.

Psychodynamic Theories

Psychodynamic theories of personality are heavily influenced by the work of Sigmund Freud, and emphasize importance of unconscious mental processes and early child-development issues as they relate to childish impulses, childish wishes, immature desires, and the demands of reality. Psychodynamic theories include Sigmund Freud's psychosexual stage theory and Erik Erikson's stages of psychosocial development.

Freud believed the three components of personality were the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is responsible for all needs and urges, while the superego for ideals and moral. The ego moderates between the demands of the id, the superego, and reality.

Erikson believed that personality progressed through a series of stages, with certain conflicts arising at each stage. Success in any stage depended upon successfully overcoming these conflicts.

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Humanist Theories

Humanist theories emphasize the importance of free will and individual experience in the development of personality. Humanist theorists emphasized the concept of self-actualization, which is an innate need for personal growth that motivates behavior. Humanist theorists include Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow.

Cognitive Theories

Cognitive theories focus on the mental processing of information, including the specific functions of reasoning, problem solving, and memory. Cognitive psychologists are interested in the mental plans and thoughts that guide and cause behavior.

Albert Bandura and Walter Mischel offer theoretical analysis of personality, highlighting cognitive variables, because they emphasize the human capacity to think as the cornerstone of the personality.  

Trait Theories

The trait theory approach is one of the largest areas within personality psychology. According to this theory, personality is made up of a number of broad traits. A trait is basically a relatively stable characteristic that causes an individual to behave in certain ways. Some of the best known trait theories include Eysenck's three-dimension theory and the five factor theory of personality.

Theorists have not agreed so far on the basic set of fundamental traits of personality, so the theoretical debates are still open on the framework for these theories.

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Socio-cultural Theories

 Socio-cultural theories focus on the social and cultural factors that affect our behavior. The tattoo phenomenon of the 1990s is a good example of the power of socio-cultural events. Before the 1990s, people who got inked were seen as acting outside of the status quo. Nowadays, tattoos are widely accepted.

Feminist Theories

Feminism focuses on the political, economic, and social rights of women and how these forces influence both men's and women's behavior. The feminist perspective originated in the women's movement of the 1960s.


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Postmodernism Theories

Postmodernism theories question the very core of psychological science, challenging its approach to truth and its focus on the individual. Postmodernists propose, for example, that in order to understand human thinking and reason, we need to look at the social and communal processes involved in thinking and reason. They make the argument that people in powerful positions have too much to say about what is "real" and "true" in psychology. They advocate a social constructionist view of reality, which states that the concepts of "reality" and "truth" are defined, or constructed, by society. These concepts have no meaning apart from the meanings that society and its "experts" assign to them.

Intellectual Mistakes and Misinterpretations

I would like to make a point, that psychology is not mathematics, so multiple, sometimes controversial views exist between the supporters of different theories. Just keep in mind for now that personality theorists in some cases make clear intellectual mistakes in their theories, even the geniuses like Freud. Just a few of these mistakes are outlined below:
  • Ethnocentrism - biases due to one's culture. For example, Freud grew up in Vienna, not Tokyo or Africa. Hence, we expect his theories to be influenced by Viennese culture.
  • Egocentrism - biases due to one's individuality. These include temperament, genetics, family structure and dynamics, special personal experiences, education, etc. It could be said, not without too much exaggeration, that every personality theory may be explained in terms of the personality theorist's life experiences, and in fact, is limited by them.
  • Dogmatism - biases due to dogmatism; i.e. not allowing for questions, doubts, or new information. Often, dogmatic people will employ circular reasoning to validate their theories.

In addition, when trying to make sense of a personality theory, people will often run into the pitfall of misinterpretation. This is because words have many different associations and shades of meaning, and often we encounter a word used by a personality theorist that we unintentionally assign all sorts of associations and meanings to that the theorist did not have in mind.

For example, Freud's id, ego, and superego are all words used by his translators, though the original German terms were es, ich, and überich, which would be more properly translated as 'it', 'I', and 'over-I'.

In general, misinterpretations are prone to occur 1) when words are translated from other languages, 2) with neologisms (altogether new words), and 3) metaphors.



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