Personality, understood as the relatively stable set of tendencies and thought patterns, information processing and behavior that each of us manifests throughout our lives and through time and different situations, is one of the main aspects that have been studied and analyzed by Psychology. Different currents and authors have established different theories and models of personality.

Some of the main theories of personality are briefly explained below , which are based on different approaches such as the internalist, the situationist and the interactionist or the correlational, the experimental or the clinical approach.

The most important personality theories in Psychology

These are the contributions to the study of personality that have traditionally had more weight throughout the history of Psychology.However, not all of them are still valid today.

1. Freud’s Personality Theory

The psychodynamic current has contributed various theories and models of personality , the most well known being those of the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. For him, behaviour and personality are linked to the existence of impulses that we need to put into practice and the conflict that this need and the limitation that reality implies for its fulfilment. This is a clinical and internalistic model.

In his first topic, Freud proposed that the human psyche was structured in three systems , an unconscious one governed by the search for the reduction of tensions and functioning through the principle of pleasure, a conscious one that is governed by the perception of the external world and logic and the principle of reality and a preconscious one in which unconscious contents can become conscious and vice versa.

In the second topic Freud determines a second great structure of the personality compatible with the previous one, in which the psyche is configured by three psychic instances, the Id or It, the Self and the Overself. The Ego is our most instinctive part, which governs and directs the internal energy in the form of impulses and from which all other structures start.

The Ego would be the result of the confrontation of the impulses and drives with reality , being a mediating structure in continuous conflict that employs different mechanisms to sublimate or redirect the energies coming from the impulses. Finally, the third instance is the Overself or the part of the personality that is given by society and whose main function is to judge and censure behaviours and desires that are not socially acceptable.

The personality is built up throughout the development, in different phases, based on the existing conflicts between the different instances and structures and the defense mechanisms applied to try to solve them.

2. Jungian Personality Theory

Besides Freud, many other components of the psychodynamic current have proposed their own personality structures . For example, Carl Jung proposed that personality is configured by the person or part of our personality that serves to adapt to the environment and that relates to what others can observe and the shadow or the part that includes those parts of the self that are not admissible for the subject himself.

Likewise, from the archetypes acquired by the collective unconscious and the different complexes that we adopt in our development towards identity, different types of personality are generated depending on whether the concerns are directed towards the interior or the exterior, if they are more sensitive or intuitive and if they tend to focus more on thought or feeling , being thinking, feeling, intuiting and perceiving the main psychological functions.

3. Carl Rogers’ phenomenological theory

From a humanistic-phenomenological perspective of clinical approach, Carl Rogers proposes that each person has his phenomenological field or way of seeing the world, depending on the behavior of such perception .

Personality is derived from the self-concept or symbolization of the experience of one’s own existence, which arises from the integration of the tendency to update or improve oneself with the needs to feel love on the part of the environment and self-esteem derived from the contrast between one’s behavior and the consideration or response that this receives from the environment. If there are contradictions, defensive measures will be used to hide such inconsistency.

4. Kelly’s personal construct theory

As an example of a theory of personality derived from cognitivism and constructivism we can find Kelly’s theory of personal constructs, also with a clinical focus. For this author each person has his own mental representation of reality and acts in a scientific way trying to give an explanation to what surrounds him.

Personality is considered as a hierarchical system of dichotomous personal constructs that influence each other, which form a network with nuclear and peripheral elements through which we try to respond and make predictions of the future. What motivates the behaviour and the creation of the system of constructs is the attempt to control the environment thanks to the predictive capacity derived from them and the improvement of this predictive model through experience.

5. Allport’s Ideographic Personality Theory

Allport considers that each individual is unique in the sense that he has an integration of the different characteristics different from the rest of the people (it is based on the ideographic, on what makes us unique), as well as that we are active entities that focus on the fulfillment of goals .

This is one of the authors who considers that personality works from structural and stable elements, the traits. For him, we try to make our behaviour consistent and act in such a way that we create a system from which we can make different sets of stimuli equivalent, so that we can respond in a similar way to different stimuli.

Thus, we develop ways of acting or expressing behavior that allow us to adapt to the environment. These features have different importance depending on the influence they have on our behaviour , and they can be cardinal, central or secondary.

The set of traits would be integrated into the propium or self, which derives from self-perception and self-awareness generated and composed of the experience of identity, perception, corporeality, interests and self-esteem, rationality and intentionality.

6. Cattell’s Personality Theory

Raymond Cattell’s theory of personality is one of the most famous and recognized factorial theories of personality. Structuralist, correlational and internalist like Allport and based on lexical analysis, it considers that personality can be understood as a function of a set of traits, which are understood as the tendency to react in a certain way to reality .

These traits can be divided into temperamental (the elements that tell us how to act), dynamic (the motivation for the behavior or attitude) or aptitudinal (the subject’s abilities to carry out the behavior).

The most relevant are the temperamentals, from which Cattell would extract the sixteen primary personality factors measured in FP16 (which would refer to affectivity, intelligence, stability of self, dominance, impulsiveness, daring, sensitivity, suspicion, conventionality, imagination, cunning, rebellion, self-sufficiency, apprehension, self-control and tension).

The dynamics of the personality also depends on motivation , finding different components in the form of dynamic traits or attitudes among which are ergios (way of acting when faced with concrete stimuli such as sex or aggression) and feelings.

7. Eysenck’s Personality Theory

From an internalist and factorial position centered on the biological, Eysenck generates one of the most important explanatory hypotheses of personality from a correlational approach . This author generates the PEN model, which proposes that personality differences are based on biological elements that allow processes such as motivation or emotion.

Personality is a relatively stable structure of character, intellect, temperament, and physique, each providing the will, intelligence, emotion, and biological elements that enable them.

Eysenck finds and isolates three main factors into which all the others can be grouped, being psychoticism or tendency to act harshly, neuroticism or emotional stability and extraversion/introversion or focus on the outside or inside world.

The author would consider that the level of extraversion depended on the activation of the ascending reticular activation system or SARA, limbic system neuroticism and psychoticism, although no clear correlate has been identified, tend to be linked to the level of androgens or the relationship between dopamine and serotonin.

The three factors of the PEN model integrate the different personality traits and allow the organism to react in certain ways to environmental stimulation based on more or less specific and frequent behavioural responses.

8. Costa and McCrae’s Big Five Theory

Another of the great factorial theories and based on a lexical approach (based on the idea that the terms with which we explain our behaviour allow, after a factorial analysis, to establish the existence of groupings of characteristics or personality traits), the Big Five or theory of the Big Five of Costa and McCrae is one of the most extended models of personality .

Through factor analysis this model indicates the existence of five major personality factors that we all have to a greater or lesser degree. These are neuroticism or emotional adjustment , extraversion as the quantity and intensity of personal relationships, cordiality as the qualities poured out in interaction, responsibility or awareness, organization, control and motivation towards goals and openness to experience or interest in experiencing.

Each of these major factors is made up of features or facets. The different features are related to each other, and together they account for the way of perceiving the world and reacting to it.

9. Gray’s BIS & BAS model

Gray proposes a factorial and biological model in which he considers that there are two dimensions that allow for elements such as emotion and learning, based on the combination of extraversion and Eysenck’s neuroticism .

In this case, it is proposed that anxiety, as a combination of introversion and neuroticism, would act as a behavioral inhibitory mechanism (BIS or Behaviour Inhibition System), while impulsivity (which would be equivalent to a combination of extraversion and neuroticism) would act as a mechanism of approximation and motivation to action (BAS or Behaviour Approximation System). Both systems would act together to regulate our behavior.

10. Cloninger model

This model contemplates the existence of temperamental elements, these being the avoidance of pain, dependence on reward, the search for novelty and persistence. These elements of a biological and acquired nature would account for the behavioural pattern that we apply in our lives, and depend largely on the neurochemical balance of the brain in terms of neurotransmitters.

It also incorporates elements of character that help to situate the self in reality, these being cooperation as social behaviour, self-direction or autonomy and self-transcendence as an element that integrates us and gives us a role in the world.

11. Rotter’s social learning theory

This author considers that the pattern of behaviour we usually use is an element derived from learning and social interaction . He considers the human being an active element and uses an approach close to behaviourism. We act on the basis of the existence of needs and the visualization and assessment of these as well as of the possible behaviours that we have learned to carry out. Although close to interactionism, it is situated in a situationist perspective

Behavioral potential is the probability of performing a certain behavior in a given situation. This potential depends on elements such as expectations (both the capacity to influence the results and the result itself and the possible obtaining of benefits after the behaviour) and the consideration or value given to the consequences of carrying out the behaviour in question, as well as the way in which the person processes and values the situation (known as psychological situation).

12. The interactionist approach

Throughout history, many authors have taken one of two positions: that personality is something innate or that it is derived from learning. However there is a third option, defended by authors like Mischel , in which personality is formed by the interaction between innate elements and the phenomena we live.

This position explores personality characteristics through the study of the existence of consistency of behavior across situations, temporal stability and predictive validity of traits. The conclusions indicated that another type of categorization should be used that is different from the traits , as these do not reflect a totally valid predictive model as they are more innate. They argue that it is more efficient to talk about competencies, values, expectations, constructs and self-control.

Other authors such as Allen reflect that consistency may vary from person to person, as well as the core values and aspects that best predict behavior. Thus, the traits would be consistent but only if those that are most relevant to each person are taken into account.

Bibliographic references:

  • Bermúdez, J. (2004). Personality psychology. Theory and research. (Vol I and II). Didactic Unit of the UNED. Madrid.
  • Hermangómez, L. & Fernández, C.(2012). Personality and Differential Psychology. Manual CEDE de Preparación PIR, 07. CEDE: Madrid.