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Definition of Personality - Theoretical Approaches to Personality Study

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The mystery of human personality has provided researchers with many questions. The study of these questions can also result in many answers. These answers can lead to more questions. Theories narrow the questions asked and minimize the answers available to guide scientists and researchers in the study of personalities. This paper will provide a definition of personality, an examination of theoretical approaches to personality, and an analysis of influences on an individual's personality development.

Definition of Personality

Every person is unique. What makes each individual unique is his personality. A personality is defined as a pattern of permanent traits and characteristics developed together to result in consistent behavior (Freist & Feist, 2009). The personality is identified through the actions of an individual. How a person behaves, reacts, and responds to situations are important factors in determining personality. A person whose hobbies are skydiving or mountain climbing would have a different personality than someone who attends the theater or reads books as his hobby. Both of these people could be loving, generous, or creative, or they could be serious, determined, or methodical. The combinations of traits and characteristics that can be found in a personality are vast. The uniqueness of personalities is limited only by the combination of traits and characteristics available (Freist & Feist, 2009).

The Reason for Theories

A theory is "a set of related assumptions that allows scientists to use logical deductive reasoning to formulate testable hypotheses" (Freist & Feist, 2009, p. 4). Because of the vast amount of information involved when studying personalities, scientists develop theories to help guide them through the process. Theories allow researchers to narrow a search and dedicate efforts to a small portion of a question. The theory is not the answer to a question, but a question to the answer (Freist & Feist, 2009).

Theoretical Approaches to Personality Study

Sigmund Freud, along with Alfred Adler and Carl Jung were instrumental in developing the psychoanalytic and neoanalytic approaches to studying personalities (Thompson, 2008). These theories believe that personalities are filled with conflict and the individual has to find balance between good and bad. Understanding these conflicts and the contents of one's subconsciousness, a person could define his personality (Thompson, 2008).

The trait approach identifies behaviors exhibited by people over time and situations. Gordon Allport developed the trait approach and used personality tests and personal reporting to gather data. Research concluded that each personality is a unique mix of traits and characteristics. Abraham Maslow expanded the trait approach to create the motivational theory. He believed that personality traits were guided by immediate needs of the individual. Raymond Cattell also expanded the trait approach to develop the nomothetic approach. The nomothetic theory states there are surface traits, traits to be observed, and source traits, traits causing the surface traits (Thompson, 2008).

Unlike the psychoanalytic and trait approaches, the behavior approach believes the personality is created as a person experiences life. J. B. Watson concluded the environment was the basis for personality development. B. F. Skinner used the behavior theory for a basis to develop the operant conditioning theory.



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