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 interrelated 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.

Freud's Structural and Topographical Models of Personality

Sigmund Freud's Theory is quite complex and although his writings on psychosexual development set the groundwork for how our personalities developed, it was only one of five parts to his overall theory of personality.  He also believed that different driving forces develop during these stages which play an important role in how we interact with the world.

Structural Model (id, ego, superego)

According to Freud, we are born with our Id.  The id is an important part of our personality because as newborns, it allows us to get our basic needs met. Freud believed that the id is based on our pleasure principle. In other words, the id wants whatever feels good at the time, with no consideration for the reality of the situation. When a child is hungry, the id wants food, and therefore the child cries. When the child needs to be changed, the id cries. When the child is uncomfortable, in pain, too hot, too cold, or just wants attention, the id speaks up until his or her needs are met.

The id doesn't care about reality, about the needs of anyone else, only its own satisfaction. If you think about it, babies are not real considerate of their parents' wishes. They have no care for time, whether their parents are sleeping, relaxing, eating dinner, or bathing.  When the id wants something, nothing else is important.

Within the next three years, as the child interacts more and more with the world, the second part of the personality begins to develop. Freud called this part the Ego. The ego is based on the reality principle. The ego understands that other people have needs and desires and that sometimes being impulsive or selfish can hurt us in the long run. Its the ego's job to meet the needs of the id, while taking into consideration the reality of the situation.

By the age of five, or the end of the phallic stage of development, the Superego develops. The Superego is the moral part of us and develops due to the moral and ethical restraints placed on us by our caregivers. Many equate the superego with the conscience as it dictates our belief of right and wrong.

In a healthy person, according to Freud, the ego is the strongest so that it can satisfy the needs of the id, not upset the superego, and still take into consideration the reality of every situation. Not an easy job by any means, but if the id gets too strong, impulses and self gratification take over the person's life. If the superego becomes to strong, the person would be driven by rigid morals, would be judgmental and unbending in his or her interactions with the world. You'll learn how the ego maintains control as you continue to read.

Topographical Model

Freud believed that the majority of what we experience in our lives, the underlying emotions, beliefs, feelings, and impulses are not available to us at a conscious level. He believed that most of what drives us is buried in our unconscious. If you remember the Oedipus and Electra Complex, they were both pushed down into the unconscious, out of our awareness due to the extreme anxiety they caused. While buried there, however, they continue to impact us dramatically according to Freud.

The role of the unconscious is only one part of the model. Freud also believed that everything we are aware of is stored in our conscious. Our conscious makes up a very small part of who we are. In other words, at any given time, we are only aware of a very small part of what makes up our personality; most of what we are is buried and inaccessible.

The final part is the preconscious or subconscious. This is the part of us that we can access if prompted, but is not in our active conscious. Its right below the surface, but still buried somewhat unless we search for it. Information such as our telephone number, some childhood memories, or the name of your best childhood friend is stored in the preconscious.

Because the unconscious is so large, and because we are only aware of the very small conscious at any given time, this theory has been likened to an iceberg, where the vast majority is buried beneath the water's surface. The water, by the way, would represent everything that we are not aware of, have not experienced, and that has not been integrated into our personalities, referred to as the nonconscious.

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 learn- ing 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).

The concept of personality refers to the profile of stable beliefs, moods, and behaviors that differentiate among children (and adults) who live in a particular society. The profiles that differentiate children across cultures of different historical times will not be the same because the most adaptive profiles vary with the values of the society and the historical era. An essay on personality development written 300 years ago by a New England Puritan would have listed piety as a major psychological trait but that would not be regarded as an important personality trait in contemporary America.

Contemporary theorists emphasize personality traits having to do with individualism, internalized conscience, sociability with strangers, the ability to control strong emotion and impulse, and personal achievement. An important reason for the immaturity of our understanding of personality development is the heavy reliance on questionnaires that are filled out by parents of children or the responses of older children to questionnaires. Because there is less use of behavioral observations of children, our theories of personality development are not strong. There are five different hypotheses regarding the early origins of personality (see accompanying table). One assumes that the child’s inherited biology, usually called a temperamental bias, is an important basis for the child’s later personality. Alexander Thomas and StellaChess suggested there were nine temperamental dimensions along with three synthetic types they called the difficult child, the easy child, and the child who is slow to warm up to unfamiliarity. Longitudinal studies of children suggest that a shy and fearful style of reacting to challenge and novelty predicts, to a modest degree, an adult personality that is passive to challenge and introverted in mood.

A second hypothesis regarding personality development comes from Sigmund Freud’s suggestion that variation in the sexual and aggressive aims of the id, which is biological in nature, combined with family experience, leads to the development of the ego and superego. Freud suggested that differences in parental socialization produced variation in anxiety which, in turn, leads to different personalities. A third set of hypotheses emphasizes direct social experiences with parents. After World War II, Americans and Europeans held the more benevolent idealistic conception of the child that described growth as motivated by affectionate ties to others rather than by the narcissism and hostility implied by Freud’s writings. John Bowlby contributed to this new emphasis on the infant’s relationships with parents in his books on attachment. Bowlby argued that the nature of the infant’s relationship to the caretakers and especially the mother created a profile of emotional reactions toward adults that might last indefinitely.

A fourth source of ideas for personality centers on whether or not it is necessary to posit a self that monitors, integrates, and initiates reaction. This idea traces itself to the Judeo-Christian assumption that it is necessary to award children a will so that they could be held responsible for their actions. A second basis is the discovery that children who had the same objective experiences develop different personality profiles because they construct different conceptions about themselves and others from the same experiences. The notion that each child imposes a personal interpretation to their experiences makes the concept of self critical to the child’s personality. An advantage of awarding importance to a concept of self and personality development is that the process of identification with parents and others gains in significance. All children wish to possess the qualities that their culture regards as good. Some of these qualities are the product of identification with each parent. A final source of hypotheses regarding the origins of personality comes from inferences based on direct observations of a child’s behavior. This strategy, which relies on induction, focuses on different characteristics at different ages. Infants differ in irritability, three-year-olds differ in shyness, and six-year-olds differ in seriousness of mood. A major problem with this approach is that each class of behavior can have different historical antecedents. Children who prefer to play alone rather than with others do so for a variety of reasons. Some might be temperamentally shy and are uneasy with other children while others might prefer solitary activity.

The current categories of child psychopathology influenced the behaviors that are chosen by scientists for study. Fearfulness and conduct disorder predominate in clinical referrals to psychiatrists and psychologists. A cluster of behaviors that includes avoidance of unfamiliar events and places, fear of dangerous animals, shyness with strangers, sensitivity to punishment, and extreme guilt is called the internalizing profile. The cluster that includes disobedience toward parent and teachers, aggression to peers, excessive dominance of other children, and impulsive decisions is called the externalizing profile. These children are most likely to be at risk for later juvenile delinquency. The association between inability of a three-year-old to inhibit socially inappropriate behavior and later antisocial behavior is the most reliable predictive relation between a characteristic scene in the young child and later personality trait.


Influences on personality development

The influence comes from a variety of temperament but especially ease of arousal, irritability, fearfulness, sociability, and activity level. The experiential contributions to personality include early attachment relations, parental socialization, identification with parents, class, and ethnic groups, experiences with other children, ordinal position in the family, physical attractiveness, and school success or failure, along with a number of unpredictable experiences like divorce, early parental death, mental illness in the family, and supporting relationships with relatives or teachers. The most important personality profiles in a particular culture stem from the challenges to which the children of that culture must accommodate. Most children must deal with three classes of external challenges: (1) unfamiliarity, especially unfamiliar people, tasks, and situations; (2) request by legitimate authority or conformity to and acceptance of their standards, and (3) domination by or attack by other children. In addition, all children must learn to control two important families of emotions: anxiety, fear, and guilt, on the one hand, and on the other, anger, jealousy, and resentment. Of the four important influences on personality— identification, ordinal position, social class, and parental socialization—identification is the most important. By six years of age, children assume that some of the characteristics of their parents belong to them and they experience vicariously the emotion that is appropriate to the parent’s experience. A six-year-old girl identified with her mother will experience pride should mother win a prize or be praised by a friend. However, she will experience shame or anxiety if her mother is criticized or is rejected by friends. The process of identification has great relevance to personalty development. The child’s ordinal position in the family has its most important influence on receptivity to accepting or rejecting the requests and ideas of legitimate authority.

First-born children in most families are most willing than later-borns to conform to the requests of authority. They are more strongly motivated to achieve in school, more conscientious, and less aggressive. The child’s social class affects the preparation and motivation for academic achievement. Children from middle-class families typically obtain higher grades in school than children of working or lower-class families because different value systems and practices are promoted by families from varied social class backgrounds. The patterns of socialization used by parents also influence the child’s personality. Baumrind suggests that parents could be classified as authoritative, authoritarian, or permissive. More competent and mature preschool children usually have authoritative parents who were nurturant but made maturity demands. Moderately selfreliant children who were a bit withdrawn have authoritarian parents who more often relied on coercive discipline. The least mature children have overly permissive parents who are nurturant but lack discipline.


Personality inventory

A method of personality assessment based on a questionnaire asking a person to report feelings or reactions in certain situations. Personality inventories, also called objective tests, are standardized and can be administered to a number of people at the same time. A psychologist need not be present when the test is given, and the answers can usually be scored by a computer. Scores are obtained by comparison with norms for each category on the test. A personality inventory may measure one factor, such as anxiety level, or it may measure a number of different personality traits at the same time, such as the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16 PF).

The personality inventory used most often for diagnosing psychological disorders is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, generally referred to as the MMPI. It consists of 550 statements that the test taker has to mark as “true,” “false,” or “cannot say.” Answers are scored according to how they correspond with those given by persons with various psychological disorders, including depression, hysteria, paranoia, psychopathic deviancy, and schizophrenia. The MMPI was originally developed (and is still used) for the diagnosis of these and other serious psychological problems. However enough responses have been collected from people with less severe problems to allow for reliable scoring of responses from these persons as well. Many people with no severe disorder are now given the MMPI as an assessment tool when they begin psychotherapy, with scoring geared toward personality attributes rather than clinical disorders. The California Psychological Inventory (CPI), based on less extreme measures of personality than the MMPI, assesses traits, including dominance, responsibility, selfacceptance, and socialization. In addition, some parts of the test specifically measure traits relevant to academic achievement. Another inventory designed to measure a spectrum of personality variables in normal populations is the Personality Research Form (PRF), whose measurement scales include affiliation, autonomy, change, endurance, and exhibition. The Neuroticism Extroversion Openness Personality Inventory, Revised (NEO-PIR) also measures common dimensions of personality such as sensitivity and extroversion, but it differs from other tests in its inclusion of both “private” and “public” versions. The questions in the private version are answered like those in other personality inventories, but the public version consists of having another person acquainted with the test taker answer questions about him or her. Significant discrepancies between the two versions can be an important source of information for those interpreting the test.

The need to form attachments with others is termed affiliation. Attachment is one of 20 psychological needs measured by the Thematic Apperception Test, a projective personality test developed at Harvard University in 1935 by Henry Murray. Subjects look at a series of up to 20 pictures of people in a variety of recognizable settings and construct a story about what is happening in each one. The need for affiliation (referred to as “n Aff”) is scored when a test-taker’s response to one of the pictures demonstrates concern over “establishing, maintaining, or restoring a positive affective relationship with another person.” In the hierarchy of needs outlined by Abraham Maslow, the need for affiliation (or “belongingness”) appears midway between the most basic physical needs and the highest-level need for self-actualization.



Anxiety has been observed to strengthen one’s need for affiliation. In addition, females generally show a higher need for affiliation than males. Traditionally, affiliation has been negatively correlated with achievement. While achievement centers on one’s personal self-improvement, affiliation focuses on concern for others, even to the extent of deliberately suppressing competitive tendencies or accomplishments that may make others less comfortable.

Allport’s first major book, Personality: A Psychological Interpretation (1937), distinguished between traits that are common to many people, such as assertiveness, and personal dispositions which are traits that are characteristic of the individual. The latter were classified according to their degree of influence on an individual personality. Allport also identified how individuals develop self-awareness throughout childhood and adolescence. One of Allport’s most important concepts, functional autonomy, encompassed his theories of motivation. Finally, he attempted to define the mature personality. Personality: A Psychological Interpretation remained the standard text on personality theory for many years. In 1961, following years of study and research, Allport published a major revision of this work, Pattern and Growth in Personality. He also helped to develop methods of personality assessment, including the A-S Reaction Study (1928), with his brother Floyd Allport.



A central concept in the theory of personality developed by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. Archetypes are primordial images and symbols found in the collective unconscious, which—in contrast to the personal unconscious—gathers together and passes on the experiences of previous generations, preserving traces of humanity’s evolutionary development over time. Carl Jung began to evolve his theory of archetypes around 1910 while working with patients at the Burghölzli Mental Hospital. Noting the presence of universal symbols from religion and mythology in the dreams and fantasies of uneducated patients, who would have had no conscious way of learning them, he concluded that these images belonged to a part of the unconscious not derived from personal experience. Jung proposed that universal images and ideas can be passed from generation to generation like biological traits, and he formulated the concept of the collective unconscious, whose contents become conscious when called forth by appropriate experiences in one’s life.

In formulating his ideas about archetypes, Jung supplemented his clinical observations with a comprehensive study of myths and symbols that later included investigations into the religions and mythologies of preliterate peoples in Africa and the southwestern United States. Jungian archetypes are like prototypes or molds that each person fills in differently depending on his or her individual experience. For example, although the term “mother” has certain universal connotations that come to mind for most people, the details of this archetype will be different for everyone. For Jung, archetypes were more than a theoretical construct—his interest in them was primarily therapeutic. He claimed that his patients improved when they understood the ways in which their difficulties were related to archetypes. There is no limit to the number of possible archetypes: they are as varied as human experience itself. Many take the form of persons, such as the hero, the child, the trickster, the demon, and the earth mother. Others are expressed as forces of nature (sun, moon, wind, fire) or animals. They may also occur as situations, events (birth, rebirth, death), or places.

Jung considered four archetypes, in particular, important enough to form separate systems within the personality. These include the persona, the anima and animus, the shadow, and the self. The persona is a person’s public image, the self he or she shows to others (“persona” is derived from the Latin word for mask). The persona is necessary for survival, as everyone must play certain roles, both socially and professionally, to get along in society. However, management of the persona can cause emotional difficulties. A common problem occurs when a person comes to identify too strongly with the persona that he or she has created, a condition that Jung called inflation. Victims of this problem are often highly successful, accomplished people who have become so preoccupied with projecting a certain image—often for professional advancement—that their lives become empty and alienated. The anima and animus are the opposite of the persona— they represent a person’s innermost self. They are also distinguished by gender: the anima is a man’s feminine side, and the animus is a woman’s masculine side. Jung theorized that in order for persons of both sexes to understand and respond to each other, each sex had to incorporate and be able to express elements of the other, a belief that foreshadowed both the feminist and men’s movements in the United States by over half a century. The shadow is associated with a person’s animal instincts, the “dark side” that is outside the control of the conscious personality. However, it is also potentially a source of spontaneity, creativity, and insight. In contrast to the anima and animus, the shadow is involved in one’s relationships to persons of the same sex. Perhaps the most important archetype is that of the Self, which organizes and unites the entire personality. However, rather than combining all the other archetypes or aspects of personality, the Self has a dynamic all its own, which governs both inner harmony and harmony with the external world. It is closely related to the ability of human beings to reach their highest potential, a process that Jung called individuation, which he considered every person’s ultimate goal.


Assessment, psychological

The assessment of personality variables. Psychological assessment is used for a variety of purposes, ranging from screening job applicants to providing data for research projects. Most assessment methods fall into one of three categories: observational methods, personality inventories, or projective techniques. Observational assessment is performed by a trained professional either in the subject’s natural setting (such as a classroom), an experimental setting, or during an interview. Interviews may be either structured with a standard agenda, or unstructured, allowing the subject to determine much of what is discussed and in what order. Impressions gained from interviews are often recorded using rating scales listing different personality traits. Expectations of the observer, conveyed directly or through body language and other subtle cues, may influence how the interviewee performs and how the observer records and interprets his or her observations. Personality inventories consist of questionnaires on which people report their feelings or reactions in certain situations. They may assess a particular trait, such as anxiety, or a group of traits. One of the oldest and best known personality inventories is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), a series of 550 questions used to assess a number of personality traits and psychological disturbances for people over age 16. The MMPI is scored by comparing the subject’s answers to those of people known to have the traits or disturbances in question. While initially designed to aid in the diagnosis of serious personality disorders, the MMPI is now widely used for persons with less severe problems, as enough data has been collected from this population to allow for reliable interpretation of test results. One problem with personality inventories is that people may try to skew their answers in the direction they think will help them obtain their objective in taking the test, whether it is being hired for a job or being admitted to a therapy program. Validity scales and other methods are commonly used to help determine whether an individual has answered the test items carefully and honestly. A projective test gives the subject a greater opportunity for imaginative freedom of expression than does a personality inventory, where the questions are fixed beforehand.

Projective tests present individuals with ambiguous situations which they must interpret, thus projecting their own personalities onto those situations. The best known projective test is the Rorschach Psychodiagnostic Test, or inkblot, test first devised by the Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach in the 1920s. The test subject describes his or her reactions to elaborate inkblots presented on a series of ten cards. Responses are interpreted with attention to three factors: what parts or parts of each inkblot the subject responds to; what aspects of the inkblot are stressed (color, shape, etc.); and content (what the inkblot represents to the subject). Another widely used projective test is the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), developed at Harvard University in the 1930s. In this test, the subject is shown a series of pictures, each of which can be interpreted in a variety of ways, and asked to construct a story based on each one. Responses tend to reflect a person’s problems, motives, preoccupations, and interpersonal skills. Projective tests require skilled, trained examiners, and the reliability of these tests is difficult to establish due to their subjective nature. Assessments may vary widely among different examiners. Scoring systems for particular traits have been fairly reliable when used with the Thematic Apperception Test.

Many developmental psychologists view attachment— the special relationship between infant and caregiver— as an important building block for later relationships and adult personality. Since attachment plays a central role in theories of social and emotional development, the scientific study of attachment has remained in the forefront of developmental psychology for the past several decades.

Personality type is another determinant of interpersonal attraction. In areas involving control, such as dominance, competition, and self-confidence, people tend to pair up with their opposites. Thus, for example, the complementary pairing of a dominant person with a submissive one. People gravitate to others who are like themselves in terms of characteristics related to affiliation, including sociability, friendliness, and warmth. Another important factor in interpersonal attraction, especially during the initial encounter, is that of physical appearance, even among members of the same sex. Each culture has fairly standard ideas about physical appearance that serve as powerful determinants in how we perceive character. Kindness, sensitivity, intelligence, modesty, and sociability are among those characteristics that are often attributed to physically attractive individuals in research studies. In one study, attractive job applicants (both male and female) were given markedly preferential treatment by prospective employers compared with equally qualified candidates who were less attractive. There is also evidence that physical appearance has a greater role in the attraction of males to females than vice versa. Behavior, as well as appearance, influences interpersonal attraction. No matter what the circumstances are, behavior is often seen as reflecting a person’s general traits (such as kindness or aggression) rather than as a response to a specific situation.



General term in psychology used to describe behavior motivations and personality traits that make each person an individual. Character is most often used in reference to a set of basic innate, developed, and acquired motivations that shape an individual’s behavior. These qualities of an individual’s motivation are shaped during all stages of childhood. By late adolescence, around age 17, the traits that make up individual’s character are normally integrated into a unique and distinctive whole. The term character is sometimes used as roughly synonymous with the term personality, although such usage does little to reduce the imprecision of either term. Some psychologists believe that differences in character among individuals largely reflect affective, or emotional, differences, that are the result of biochemical or other organic variations. Many psychologists claim that character, to some extent, is a function of experience. These psychologists, generally, believe that, as the early behavior of an individual directed toward a primary, instinctive goal is modified by environmental circumstances, the motivational system of the individual is also modified, and the character of the individual is affected. There is some dispute among psychologists about whether, or to what extent, character may be controlled by conscious or rational decisions, and about whether, or to what extent, character may be dominated by unconscious or irrational forces. At the same time, there is widespread agreement among psychologists that, while much research remains to be done to delineate the genetic, instinctive, organic, cognitive, and other aspects of character, the development of a reasonably stable and harmonious character is an essential part of a psychologically healthy existence. Character education, a periodic but recurring theme for schools to teach basic values and moral reasoning to primary and secondary students, attracted renewed popularity in the 1990s. Character education initiatives have developed at the local and state levels, but reflect a national trend. In 1995, President Bill Clinton and the U.S.

Congress declared October 16-22 “National Character Counts Week.” In character education, teachers confront students with moral dilemmas and ask them to formulate and defend courses of action. Many prominent educators, politicians, and academics support character education. Opponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union, object to character education because it could lead to teaching religious beliefs. Some religious groups oppose it as well, since public school teachers must avoid teaching religion and could make character a virtue that is anti-religious.


Personality development

Personality is what makes each person unique. Where do individual differences come from and how stable are they from birth to adulthood? There is strong evidence for a biological component to personality dimensions like sociability, irritability, neuroticism, and conscientiousness, but environmental effects are also present. A baby’s innate sociability, for example, can be squelched by a depressed mother, or a child’s innate irritability increased by a punitive teacher. In general, however, personality characteristics remain stable from infancy to adolescence.


Social development

Children grow up in a web of social relationships. The first and most important is the bond between infant and mother called attachment. Attachment is crucial because securely attached babies tend to become sociable, confident, independent, and emotionally mature children. Adolescents who feel close to their parents also enjoy more friendships and higher self-esteem. Another predictor of social success is physical attractiveness. Even infants prefer attractive faces, as do older children. Boys who physically mature early are also more popular. Not surprisingly, aggressive, disruptive, and uncooperative behaviors are predictors of social rejection. A cycle of aggression and rejection often persists into adulthood.


Nature and nurture

The most contentious issue in the study of childhood is the relative importance of genetics (nature) and environment (nurture). Purely environmental models such as behaviorism have been contradicted by numerous studies showing a strong genetic influence for everything from intelligence to shyness to sexual orientation. On the other hand, even clearly genetic traits interact with environment. Tall children, for example, are often treated as more mature. Intelligence is even more complicated. Twin studies show that between 50 and 60 percent of IQ is determined by genes. A child’s genetic intellectual potential, then, is actually a range that can be maximized by a rich environment or minimized by a deprived one. In general, a child’s development follows a genetic blueprint, but the final result is constrained by the building materials of the environment.


Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

A personality test that categorizes people according to stated preferences in thinking and perceiving. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assigns people to one of sixteen different categories or types, based on their answers to 126 questions, such as: “How easy or difficult do you find it to present yourself, consistently, over a long period as a person who is patient?” There are 4 different subscales of the test, which purport to measure different personality tendencies. Extraversion- introversion (E-I) distinguishes between people who are sociable and outgoing, versus those who are more inward looking. Sensing-intuition (S-I) sorts people according to their attention to practical realities as opposed to relying on their imagination. Thinking-feeling (T-F) shows the difference between relying on logic versus intuition when making decisions. Finally, judging- perceiving (J-P) refers to one’s tendency to analyze and categorize one’s experiences, as opposed to responding spontaneously. Sixteen different types emerge from the combination of the above four pairs of traits. The MBTI is probably the most popular self-insight psychological test in use today, with at least a million people per year completing it. It is widely used in business, industry, educational settings, and government because of its assumed ability to capture people’s interests, needs, and values. MBTI profiles are often used in career counseling or as a basis for matching work partners or for selecting tasks that are best suited for one’s MBTI type.

With any psychological test, its utility is dependent on its reliability and validity. A reliable test is one that produces consistent results over time. For example, IQ tests have high reliability, inasmuch as your IQ as measured today will not be appreciably different a year from now. The MBTI’s reliability is only fair. One study showed that fewer than half of the respondents retained their initial types over a 5-week period. Consequently, we should be careful about making career decisions based on a classification system that is unstable. People change over time as a result of experience. The MBTI may capture a person’s current state, but that state should probably not be treated as a fixed typology. Does the MBTI assist in career counseling? Is the test diagnostic of successful performance in particular occupations?

These questions pertain to validity—the ability of the test to predict future performance. There have been no long-term studies showing that successful or unsuccessful careers can be predicted from MBTI profiles. Nor is there any evidence that on-the-job performance is related to MBTI scores. Thus, there is a discrepancy between the MBTI’s popularity and its proven scientific worth. From the point of view of the test-taker, the MBTI provides positive feedback in the form of unique attributes that are both vague and complimentary, and thus could appeal to large numbers of people. It is possible that the MBTI could be useful as a vehicle for guiding discus- sions about work-related problems, but its utility for career counseling has not been established.


The American Psychiatric Association publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, widely referred to as DSM-IV, a reference work designed to provide guidelines for psychologists and others to use in the diagnosis and classification of mental disorders. Axis II is for assessment of personality disorders— lifelong, deeply ingrained patterns of behavior that are destructive to those who display them or to others. Some examples are narcissistic, dependent, avoidant, and antisocial personality types. This axis also includes developmental disorders in children.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition (DSM-IV), is a classification system of abnormal behaviors which aids psychologists and other mental health professionals in diagnosing and treating mental disorders. DSM-IV includes the major categories of abnormal behavior which are anxiety disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorders and phobias; affective disorders, which are disturbances of mood such as depression; schizophrenic disorders, which are characterized by major disturbances in personality and distortion of reality; and various personality disorders. Substance abuse and dependence (substance-related disorders) are among the psychological disorders in the list of major clinical syndromes (Axis I) found in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.