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Approaches to Personality

Personality refers to different ways of explaining the consistent and coherent patterns of behaviors, affects, desires, and cognitions in an individual. These patterns of thoughts, feelings, desires, and actions can change from time to time, and, therefore, provide insights into an individual’s personality, which can be used to recognize, understand, or describe such a person (Revelle, 2007). Here, a person can be described as funny, extroverted, egotistical, altruistic, wary, or passionate relative to what that person does, feels, or desires. Accordingly, researchers studying personality tend to investigate the differences or consistencies in personalities and explaining these differences or consistencies in comparison to testable hypotheses.

As a result, personality research requires an in-depth understanding and familiarity with various mathematical measurements of personality, the genetic and environmental mechanisms driving various personalities, and the physiological systems influencing personality at different stages of lifespan development. It is also important for researchers to understand various ways of measuring and manipulating the affects and cognitions underlying various personalities in order to explain cases of normal and abnormal behaviors (Cheung, van de Vijver, & Leong, 2011; Akrami, Ekehammar, & Yang-Wallentin, 2011). Over the years, researchers have developed various ways of personality assessment with the successful investigation and understanding of individual’s actions, feelings, thoughts, and desires, however, there are no studies explaining why personality exists. This essay highlights various theoretical and methodological approaches to personalities, which have been used over the years and produced reliable results.

Many personality studies are centered on correlation techniques in which responses or observations at a given point in time or situation are related to responses or observations in other times or situations. However, recent studies have shown that causal relations in personality can also be examined through experimental models. Whether one chooses to employ correlation or experimental techniques, personality research should start by distinguishing between personality traits and states. While personality is a pattern of characteristic behaviors, thoughts, and feelings in a person, personality traits are more of consistent and long-lasting behaviors and feelings in a person. In comparison to personality traits, which tend to be more stable attributes, personality states are temporary thoughts, feelings, or behaviors, which vary relative to time or situation (Revelle, 2007). For example, a person whose personality can be described as calm can experience instances of anxiety when faced with difficult challenges.

Accordingly, personality studies can be traced back to the Ancient Greek’s ideas on personality; it was believed that personalities were influenced by humor or body fluids including phlegm, blood, black bile, and yellow bile. As a result, personalities were categorized into sanguine (blood; cheerful or passionate), phlegmatic (phlegm; dull or unemotional), melancholic (black bile; unhappy or depressed), and choleric (yellow bile; angry or hot-tempered). These characteristic traits are considered to be the basic personality traits, and have been used by modern researchers to form additional traits through combining the basic traits with other traits (Magnavita, 2002). For instance, Raymond Cattell coined the factor analysis procedure in which he identified additional traits from a list of English words representing other traits. In the long run, Cattell noted that traits can be clustered into sixteen basic dimensions relative to their similarities. Other researchers based their investigations on Cattell’s factor analysis approach and came up with fewer trait categories such as the Big-Five, which include neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, consciousness, and openness to experience. Here, the researchers believe that other personality traits can be derived from these five basic traits. Furthermore, it is widely accepted that these five basic traits remain stable across the lifespan (Revelle, 2007; Magnavita, 2002).

Due to increased criticism of the Big-Five model in that it lacked a strong theoretical basis that can stand scrutiny through experimental models, other researchers proposed theories to explain the basis of personality traits. For instance, Sigmund Freud proposed the psychodynamic theories, which are centered on unconscious motives or desires and childhood experiences as the major factors that shape personality. Through the psychoanalytic theory, Freud observed that personalities arise from attempts made by individuals to resolve certain conflicts. One of such conflicts exists between unconscious sexual impulses and the social factors restraining such impulses. Freud further noted that personalities consist of three major components, including the Id, the Ego, and the Superego. Here, Freud observed that there is a constant conflict between the three components, which underlies various personalities. For example, internal conflicts can make people feel anxious. As a result, to prevent the internal conflicts, people employ certain defense mechanisms such as denial, repression, reaction formation, or projection to decrease the anxiety (Magnavita, 2002).

On the other hand, through the psychosexual stages of development, Freud noted that personalities begin to stabilize during childhood. Here, Freud identified five stages of development including the oral, the anal, the phallic, the latency, and the genital, which play different roles in the development of personalities through presenting individuals with various conflicts at each stage. These conflicts must be solved adequately in order for an individual to move from one stage to another. Apart from the psychodynamic theories, other researchers developed behaviorist theories in the 1910s to study observable behaviors. Various theorists such as Skinner, Bandura, and Mischel proposed different behaviorist theories, in which the environment was implicated in different response tendencies that influenced behavior (Magnavita, 2002). For example, B.F. Skinner noted that people demonstrate consistent behavior patterns relative to various response tendencies, which implies that as time passes, people learn different behaviors. B.F. Skinner further noted that behaviors with positive attributes tend to increase while those with negative consequences decrease. But since behaviorist theories relied on animal studies, which were generalized for human beings, many critics felt that they were not adequate, hence promoting the development of humanistic theories. Through humanistic theories, psychologists such as Maslow and Carl Rogers noted that human beings have the potential to think consciously and rationally, and, therefore, they can control their urges as they struggle to achieve full potential. As a result, people control their lives and actions by exploiting the freedom to change from one behavior or attitude to another relative to time and situation (Revelle, 2007; Magnavita, 2002).

Unfortunately, many humanistic theories tend to be overly optimistic, and they are not easily tested. As a result, modern researchers have developed ways of studying personality by measuring various changes in human biological components. For example, the biological approaches to personality recognize the significance of environmental factors, which interact with various genetic factors to influence personality. As a result, studies of temperaments such as reactivity and soothability have been studied using various experimental models, and the results indicate that they tend to remain stable from infancy to adolescence in the absence of various environmental modifications. Other studies, which have utilized biological approaches to study personality, include heritability studies, the influence of family environments, environmental influences on personality, and the adaptive value of the environment (Magnavita, 2002). On the other hand, culture has also been shown to influence certain aspects of personality. For instance, Americans view individuals as being independent while Asians, particularly the Japanese and the Chinese, view individuals as being interdependent. Therefore, children from the two cultures perceive individuality in different ways. Moreover, culture has been shown to influence aggressiveness and altruism across various cultural groupings (Cheung et al., 2011; Akrami et al., 2011). Ultimately, there are many approaches to studying personality as described in the foregoing discussions. These approaches rely on various theories and experimental methods to study behaviors, thoughts, desires, and actions against a set of hypotheses. However, with technological advancements, the most promising approach to studying personality will be biological approaches, because they utilize biological components which tend to remain stable across the lifespan. 

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