Theories of Personality

Theories of Personality. Based on the paper titled “Personality Paper” by Misty Smith. Originally published on March 17, 2014, for PSY 211 at the University of Phoenix.


As humans, our personalities define whom we are compared to other individuals. Are we outgoing or shy? Are we optimistic or pessimistic? Do we go by the rules or against them?


Theories of Personality

There are numerous theories on personality; however, most are grouped within four major perspectives. These four major perspectives of personality are psychoanalytic perspective, humanistic perspective, social cognitive perspective, and the trait perspective (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, p. 419, 2014).

Psychoanalytic Perspective

Sigmund Freud

The psychoanalytic perspective was founded by Sigmund Freud and states the importance of our unconscious processes and influences we experienced in our early childhood (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, p. 419, 2014). Freud believed that our personalities and behaviors are the results of three psychological forces that work on different levels of awareness. These psychological forces are the conscious, the preconscious, and the unconscious (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, p. 421, 2014). For example, when we experience or learn something as a child, we can suppress the experience; however, our subconscious can use the experience to shape or behavior or personality in the future. Furthermore, Freud believed that aggression was a basic instinct that was always present (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, p. 435, 2014). As a result, an individual who acts in an aggressive behavior is simply doing what is normal, not what is expected of society.


Humanistic Perspective

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Next, the humanistic perspective, also known as the third force, was developed with major contributions by Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. This perspective stresses the individual’s free will, self-awareness, and psychological growth. As an opposite view of the psychoanalytic perspective, the humanistic perspective is optimistic when it comes to human nature. This viewpoint states that individuals are inherently good and full of potential and self-actualization. Using Maslow’s theory that individuals are motivated by a hierarchy of needs, Rogers believed that humans strive to fulfill their potential (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, p. 433, 2014). Therefore, humans act upon how they believe in their self. If someone believes that they are good, they will behave in a manner which is acceptable to society. On the other hand, if an individual believes that they are bad they will be bad.

Social Cognitive Perspective

The third major perspective is the social cognitive perspective. Social cognitive perspective stresses the importance of an individual’s conscious thought processes, self- regulation, and situational influences. With proponents such as Albert Bandura, the social cognitive perspective stresses the importance of the influence of other people’s behavior on our own behavior. So as an individual who is confident in a situation expresses the confidence in a positive manner, however, if the individual is unsure or unhappy with a situation the expressed behavior is negative (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, p. 437, 2014). For example, if an individual is praised for being a good employee or is greeted happily by their employer they may be happy about their employment. As a result, they are more likely to continue to perform in a positive and gainful manner.

Trait Perspective

Trait Perspective Theory

Finally, the trait perspective theory gives emphasis to the personality differences between individuals (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, p. 419, 2014). One outlook of the trait perspective is that psychologists look at are a variety of surface traits such as “happy,” “exuberant,” “spacey,” and “gloomy” to gauge an individual’s personality type (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, p. 440, 2014). Whereas, one individual may be “serious” about their life and everything they do another may be “Happy-go-lucky” and not take much if anything at all serious. Furthermore, according to Robert McCrae and Paul Costa, Jr., there are five basic dimensions of personality: neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, p. 446, 2014).


Personality Development Theory Comparisons

As a result of the major perspectives, we can establish that our personality development can come from various means. However, within each perspective, we can find numerous theories on how our personalities develop. Three contributors to such theories were Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Alfred Adler. (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, Chapter 10, 2014).

Psychosexual Stages

Sigmund Freud believed that personality development came from periods that he called psychosexual stages. From birth through the first five years of life an individual experiences the oral, anal, and phallic stages. Then, starting in late childhood one goes through the latency stage, and finally in adolescence the genital stage. Each stage represents a milestone in the development of personality that comes from parental attitudes and timing of child-rearing events. As a result, if the experience is good the outcome of the personality will be positive. However, if the experience is negative, a negative behavior will be formed. For example, smoking may be the result of unresolved oral psychosexual conflicts such as being weaned too early (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, pp. 425-428, 2014).

Psychosexual stages according to Freud

Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

Carl Jung

However, Carl Jung rejected the theory of Freud’s psychosexual stages. Jung believed that our personalities developed continually throughout our lifespans, unlike the five early stages of Freud’s theory. Furthermore, he believed that our personalities were the cause of evolutional processes and were passed down from generation to generation from past experiences. As a result, Jung’s theory has been criticized as being unscientific or mystical as there is no proof that personal experiences can be passed from one generation to another (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, pp. 428-429, 2014).

Feelings of Inferiority and Striving for Superiority

Alfred Adler

Alternatively, Alfred Adler worked hard to overcome the physical infirmities he suffered during a sick childhood. As a result, he developed the theory that human motivation was responsible for personality development. He believed that, as humans, our most fundamental motive is to strive for superiority. He believed that if an individual could not overcome a “weakness” that they could develop an inferiority complex. On the other hand, some individuals may overcompensate for their weaknesses and develop a superiority complex (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, pp. 430-431, 2014).

Personality Assessments – Benefits and Considerations

There are two basic categories of personality testing: projective tests and self-report inventories. Projective tests, such as the Rorschach Inkblot or the Thematic Apperception Test, were developed from the psychoanalytic perspectives on personality. An individual’s response to the images shown is thought to be projections of the unconscious such as personal conflicts, motivators, defenses and personality traits (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, pp. 447-449, 2014).

Benefits of projects tests are the wealth of information about how the individual functions psychologically. However, there are numerous drawbacks, such as the influence of the examiner on the individual being tested, and the fact that the examiner may come to a different conclusion of an individual that may have been previously tested and assessed. Therefore, the validly of the testing could be called into question (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, p. 449, 2014). Self-report inventories, such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, rely on the written responses of an individual to questions pertaining to their own personalities (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, p. 449, 2014). Benefits of these inventories are that they are more reliable as they are designed to know when an individual is being deceptive, but they can be easily compared to other results. However, some individuals are capable of successfully deceiving the results or are prone to answering in a set way which can conclude with inaccurate results (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, p. 451, 2014).


In summary, there are various perspectives and theories on how we develop our personalities. Whether it be from genetics, childhood experiences, or social interactions we are all unique individuals with unique personalities. There are numerous tests that can pinpoint our unique traits and determine what makes us who we are.



Hockenbury, D.H., & Hockenbury, S.E. (2014). Discovering Psychology (6th ed.). Retrieved from The University of Phoenix eBook Collection.

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