What Are Personality Theories?

An outward expression of inner feelings, personality has many roots.
An outward expression of inner feelings, personality has many roots. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Psychologists maintain different views regarding what the definition of personality is as well as how the study of personalities can further understanding of the psyche. The theories of personality give therapists a jumping off point to help you better understand yourself as well as fix or change any perceived problem you may have regarding your personality or actions.

Biological or Trait

Trait and biological theory are the non-human beginnings of personality study. These theories hold you are born with particular traits and these traits irrevocably determine your personality. Many people take exception to this theory. Most psychologists believe this has an effect on your overall personality but freewill takes lead over simple biology. Particular personality disorders that cannot be overcome by will; biological issues must be addressed, especially given particular chemical imbalances possible in the brain. These chemistry problems can entirely alter who you are and how you react to things.

Psychoanalytic Theory

Erik Erikson developed the standard stages of development or psychosocial theory of adjustment. Teachers and doctors use these stages to measure the success and health of children throughout childhood and adolescence. This has been used to define how children start to understand themselves and the difference between self and others. Freud worked heavily in this arena, studying the balance between personalities focused on fun, self and social responsibility. Freud believed part of your brain could override the other parts without you even being aware. This type of personality study was the foundation for psychotherapy and discovering your true motives.

Learning Organization or Social

Learning theories attempt to expand on psychoanalytic theories in a way that can be studied scientifically. This includes stimulus response, which helps personalities or people develop habits. This theory allows for greater control over changing unwanted behavior or in childhood developing proper behavior instead of correcting the ills of personality. This can be paired with Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning. In Skinner’s theory, everything is learned; your personality is entirely taught. This flies in the face of any biological or trait theory and Freud’s unconscious urge theory. Bandura's social learning theory incorporates behavior, your response to the environment around you and your inner belief in yourself and your abilities. This personality theory allows for correction in both behavior and base emotion.

Humanistic Theories

Rogers married personality theory based at a biological level with the idea of humanity. He theorized that “behavior is the goal-directed attempt of the organism to satisfy its needs.” This attempt becomes adjusted as you try to reach self-actualization, or the best human you can be. This relies on you putting a value to everything you do. This leaves much room for manipulation by environment as well as dealing with external factors beyond your control. Maslow disagreed with the theory at the base, stating the needs of the whole must be met before a person could go on to reach perfection. Maslow’s holistic approach to personality states your personality is a result of access to meeting your needs. You would have an entirely different personality if you were born in Ethiopia as opposed to the United States.

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