Chapter 12: Theories of Personality

Intro to Psychology

Psychodynamic Theories of Personality

  • Freud’s theories were psychodynamic: explanations of behavior and personality in terms of energy dynamics within the individual.
    • Today’s psychodynamic theories differ from Freudian theory, but emphasize unconscious processes and that adult personality stems from childhood experiences.
    • Freud’s theory:
      • Three major systems: id, ego, superego
        • id: primitive motives to obtain pleasure and avoid pain
        • ego: a referee between what instinct wants and what society demands
          • Slows down id’s desire for sex and aggression until a suitable / socially appropriate outlet can be found
        • superego: voice of conscience, learned sense of morality
          • Judges activities of the id
          • Partly conscious but largely unconscious
      • Healthy personality means keeping these three systems in balanced
    • Defense mechanisms according to Freud:
      • Repression
        • Like repressing a memory
      • Projection
        • Projecting your feelings on someone else
      • Displacement
        • Taking out your anger on someone / something
        • Sublimation: transforming “bad” urges into positive or productive activities
      • Regression
        • Reverting to a previous state of psychological development
      • Denial
        • Refusing to admit that something unpleasant is happening / they have a problem / they are feeling a forbidden emotion
    • Psychodynamic theories are lacking in multiple ways:
      • Impossible to confirm or disconfirm (violating principle of falsifiability)
      • They draw universal principals from the experiences of a few atypical patients
      • They base theories of personality development on the retrospective accounts of adults
    • Freud was not an impartial scientist, and ignored evidence disconfirming his ideas.
    • However, Freud welcomed women into the profession, recognized society’s suppression of female sexuality, and argued that homosexuality was nothing to be ashamed of.
    • Carl Jung argued that human beings share a vast collective unconscious, containing universal memories and stories, including symbols (archetypes).

The Modern Study of Personality

  • Personality tests need validity (they measure what they’re supposed to) and reliability (consistency) to be scientific.
  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test does not have reliability, and its results don’t predict a person’s behavior on the job or in relationships.
  • Factor analysis: identifying clusters (for example, in personality traits).
  • Big Five (“robust factors” of personality):
    • Openness
    • Conscientiousness
    • Extraversion
    • Agreeableness
    • Neuroticism

Genetic Influences on Personality

  • Babies are born with a genetically influenced temperament (including reactivity and soothability).
  • Animals (even like octopi) have discernible personalities.

Environmental Influences on Personality

  • People can have a core set of stable traits but their behavior can vary across situations.
    • Reciprocal determinism: the two-way interaction between the environment and personality traits.
  • Nonshared environment: any unique and chance experiences that are not shared with other family members.
    • e.g. being in school play; being bullied
  • What parents do profoundly affects the quality of their relationship with their children (whether children feel loved, secure, valued, or humiliated, frightened, worthless).
  • However, parents have less influence on a child’s personality than one may assume.
    • Also, because of reciprocal determinism, children also affect parents.
  • Usually, peers’ views win out over parents’ views.

Cultural Influences on Personality

  • Cultural background influences who you are.
    • Individualist cultures: independence of the individual takes precedence over the needs of the group, and the self is defined as a collection of personality traits.
    • Collectivist cultures: group harmony takes precedence over the wishes of the individual, the self is defined in the context of relationships and the community.
  • Americans tend to value “being true to yourself” and having a “core identity”, while other cultures perceive their sense of self changing 90-99% depending on the situation.

The Inner Experience

  • Humanist psychology: a movement to replace psychoanalysis and behaviorism with an approach that emphasizes our uniquely human capacity to determine our own actions and futures.
  • Maslow thought that psychology ignored positive experiences of life.
  • Carl Rogers (clinician) said that we need unconditional positive regard (unconditional love and support for the people we are) to become fully functioning people.
    • Conditional positive regard: “I will love you if you behave well, and I won’t love you if you behave badly.”
      • Adults often treat each other like this.
  • Existentialism: philosophical approach that emphasizes the inevitable dilemmas and challenges of human existence.
    • European philosophy brought to America by Rollo May.
  • Humanist theories have not received much attention from laypeople in society at large.