Chapter 11: Personality

Part One: What is Personality?

Part Two: Freud's Theory

Part Three: NeoFreudian Theories

Overview of Chapter 11: Personality

A philosopher once said that whenever a person dies, a universe ends. Personality theories attempt to describe this universe and where it comes from. Of course, all the theories come up short. Nobody can completely characterize an inner universe any more than we can completely describe the outer universe. But many psychologists have offered opinions or evidence about important formative influences and significant patterns of human personality. The opinions are often thought-provoking, and increasingly the evidence is thought-provoking as well.

We have already seen, in the earlier chapters of this book, evidence that personality is a complex multi-faceted system, modular as we said in Chapter 2, shaped by our species history as discussed in Chapter 8, full of interplay between unconscious processes and controlled, executive processes, as described in Chapters 3 and 7. The study of personality brings all that together in characterizing the individual human being, attempting to answer the question of who we are as individuals and how we get that way.

This chapter explores various approaches to studying personality. It ranges from modern approaches based on computer analysis of large amounts of data (trait theories) to classic ideas of Freud and Jung. Sigmund Freud was not even a psychologist, but he inspired many reactions that went in different directions, so he is important (like Hull in Chapter 9) partly because of the role he played in history. Jung has become increasingly popular and influential with time. The socially-oriented personality theories of Adler and Horney. Many of their ideas resonate with current developmental psychology and cognitive behavior therapy.

The newest approaches to personality, in recent decades, celebrate multiple creative selves: different identities or hats we put can put on for different occasions, allowing us to hold dialogs with ourself, or test different ways of looking at the world. In a multi-cultural world, it is perhaps fitting that a healthily functioning personality is now seen as one that is comfortable with its own diversity in response to different social demands and contexts.

How this chapter is organized

First we grapple with the basic issue: "What is Personality." This leads us to review Allport's categories of definitions, from the 1930s, and the three layers of personality every theorist seems to accept: masks or facades, ego, and unconscious processes. Then we examine modern trait theories, evidence for genetic influences on personality, and the topic of personality testing. We also look at multiple personality syndrome (Dissociative Identity Disorder).

Next we meet Sigmund Freud, one of the dominant influences on psychology for over 100 years. We discuss his model of the human psyche or mental universe and some of his basic concepts.

The third major part of the chapter discusses theories that reacted to Freud by going off in different directions. Jung shared Freud's fascination with uncosncious processes but de-emphasized sex and brought in an appreciation for other mythic elements. Adler and Horney focused on the influence of the early family environment. We end the third section with a quick look at ego psychologies, notably the stage theory of Erik Erikson and recent ideas of a multi-faceted self.

Relevant material in other chapters

Serious mental disorders such as schizophrenia and depression are the subject of Chapter 12 (Abnormal Psychology). The humanistic approach is found in the section on Abraham Maslow in Chapter 9 (Motivation and Emotion) and the section on Carl Rogers in Chapter 13 (Therapies), plus Erich Fromm in Chapter 16 (Sex, Friendship, and Love). The therapy ideas of Freud, Jung, Adler, and Horney are described in Chapter 13 (Therapies).

Write to Dr. Dewey at
Write to Dr. Dewey at

Don't see what you need? Psych Web has over 1,000 pages, so it may be elsewhere on the site. Do a site-specific Google search using the box below.

Custom Search

Copyright © 2007-2011 Russ Dewey