The modern study of personality traces its origins to Carl Gustav Jung and his magnum opus Psychologische Typen. Jung postulated that there are functionally 2 axes of personality, the perceiving function and the judging function. The perceiving function involved sensation and intuition whereas the judging function was comprised of thinking and feeling. Katharine Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Myers, based their groundbreaking questionnaire on Jung’s analysis while offering minor modifications of the theory. The original goal of the questionnaire was to aid in the empowerment of women in the workplace by determining what jobs they would feel most comfortable performing. (Myers & Briggs 1980)
There are two main approaches to understanding a normal personality, they are nomthethic and ideographic. Nomothetic is seen in terms of characteristics shared by individuals, and there are two divisions 1) type and 2) trait approaches. Type approaches describe a variable number of predefined archetype (type A vs. type B personality), trait approaches view traits along a continuum with people falling somewhere along them (Oxford Handbook of Pyschiatry, 2005.) A review of the literature will quickly reveal that the trait approach exemplified by the Five Factor Model (FFM) of Costa and McCrae is the dominant theory today.
Personality theorists have always been embroiled in controversies of one type or another. By its very nature it is controversial theorizing. The study of people and how they interact and how they respond may seem alarming to many. Freud developed his theories of psychodynamics that, while not wholly discredited, have fallen out of academic favor (Oxford Handbook of Pyschiatry, 2005). Needless to say, Freud was and remains controversial for both his use of drugs and postulations on the role sexuality plays in developing the psyche. Remaining with psychodynamic theory, Erikson (a student of Freud,) seemingly tried to sanitize the sexual aspects of Freudian theory and generated an eight-stage developmental process based on the original five (Oxford Handbook of Pyschiatry, 2005).
Behavioral theories originated with John B. Watson. Watson’s theory can be summed up with the following quotation: “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select.” B.F. Skinner further sought to dilute the agency of the individual in determining personality, and by a series of experiments culminating in the beloved “Skinner Box,” attempted to show that psychology and personality were essentially dictated by circumstance –everything could be explained as some sort of conditioned response. Skinner’s theories were attacked by luminaries such as Chomsky - which culminated in the new school of mentalism – after a critique which likely became more famous then the work it was critiquing (Hergenhahn, 2008).
In contrast to both the psychodynamic model and the behavioral model, came the humanistic approaches of Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, both of whom expounded a theory of self-actualization in which a person had much more control over his outcomes than what the behaviorists would concede. Maslow however thought of himself as a complement to the Freudian tradition of psychodynamics. Insofar as psychological schools and personality theory hitherto had focused on the pathologies of mind, the humanists sought to expound a theory of healthy individuals. Towards this end of self-actualization he stated it “is as if Freud supplied us the sick half of psychology and we must now fill it out with the healthy half” (Hergenhahn, 2008). The greatest contribution of Maslow (in this authors opinion) was the hierarchy of needs.
Personality, as we have come to understand it, is probably an intricate interplay of nature versus nurture. None of the individual schools forms a compelling basis for a psychiatric understanding of personality. However, by blending the movements a more complete image is attainable.
The American Psychological Association says that: Personality refers to individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. The study of personality focuses on two broad areas: One is understanding individual differences in particular personality characteristics, such as sociability or irritability. The other is understanding how the various parts of a person come together as a whole (Kaplan, 2007, p. 792).
Abstractly, personality is what enables an individual to respond to the environment around them. A personality should be labile enough to recognize similarities in things perceived to what came before, while at the same time be strong enough to appreciate the differences in similar things. Both are necessary functions of a personality. A large animal with big teeth is potentially a threat and should be recognized as such, however a large Labrador also has teeth and the majority of the time there is no threat emanating from it. To respond to the Labrador the same way we’d respond to a lion or a bear in the wild would be foolish and could lead a person into more harm than otherwise would come. Personality is thus a patterned way of behaving while remaining adaptive.
Personality is also made up of social responses, because, after-all, humans are social creatures that would be fundamentally defenseless and useless if entirely removed from other humans. The person should not always interact smoothly with all other persons, however, they should be able to do so the majority of the time without leaving another exasperated, frustrated, or unable to cope with the situation at hand. So, a “normal” personality is one that grows and learns while maintaining a memory of what was, and can interact with others towards a common goal while maintaining a certain universal happiness in his or her society. By happiness, we don’t mean to say that everyday should be somebodies birthday, but rather there must be recognition of other people’s emotional being. Responses should be appropriate, meaning, if everyone is crying at a funeral – it would be quite odd to be the sole person smiling and making jolly. Human cognition is primed towards social ends and personality is designed to enable humans to fit into society. However, it is not solely towards social ends and a lone wolf has just as much a need of personality as the social butterfly.
According to theorists, human needs are divided into two categories: primary, and secondary. Primary needs relate to basic needs of living, such as: water, food, and shelter. Secondary needs were more psychological in nature and related to nurturing and achievement. The noted American psychologist, Henry Murray, proposed a list of 24 needs that related to personality development. Needs were broadly categorized as: ambition needs, materialistic needs, power needs, affection needs, and information needs. Murray thought that these needs operated unconsciously, however, they play a major role on personality (Frame, 1996).
Motivation revolves around the desire to fulfill needs. Abraham Maslow proposed his hierarchy of needs in 1943. The hierarchy of needs is a pyramid with the base being physiological needs, followed by safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization in ascending order. Needs at the bottom of the pyramid are more related to live-dependent needs and higher up on the pyramid the needs are more of a social nature. Maslow implied that motivation to fulfill the lower needs before advancing to fulfill more social needs (Maslow, 2011).
In sum, personality is composed of many complex parts. How individuals fulfill their needs and motivations is dependent on their circumstances. Needs and motivation are just one part of personality and perhaps a more important aspect clinically is behavior which is a result of the individuals understanding of his needs and motivations and attainment thereof.
Frame, D. (1996). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs revisited. Interchange, 27(1), 13-22.
Maslow, A. (2011). A Theory of Human Motivation [Kindle Edition]. Amazon.com:
Sadock, B.J., & Sadock, V.A., (2007). Kaplan and Sadock’s Synposis of Psychiatry.
Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins