Chapter 13: Personality and the Uniqueness of the Individual






  • Personality refers to the unique and relatively enduring set of behaviors, feelings, thoughts, and motives that characterize an individual.
  • Two key components to this definition:
    • Personality is what distinguishes us and makes us unique from one another.
      • Personality is about uniqueness or individual differences.
      • Personality psychology is concerned with the fact, that in any given situation, people act differently.
      • CONNECTION: Are there extreme situations that can push people to behave in ways we would not expect from their personalities? (See Chapter 14.)
    • Personality is relatively enduring or consistent.
      • Consistency across situations refers to the notion that people behave the same way in different situations and carry who they are into almost every situation.
      • Consistency over time is the extent to which people behave the same way over time.
  • Traits are dispositions to behave consistently in a particular way.
    • Don’t confuse this term with personality.  Personality is the broader term because it is made up of traits, motives, thoughts, self-concept, and feelings.
    • Personality traits are normally distributed in the population.
    • Traits lower behavioral thresholds – the point at which you move from not behaving to behaving.
      • A low threshold means you are very likely to behave in a particular way, whereas a high threshold means you are not.



  • The interaction between nature and nurture can be seen in at least four lines of reasoning and research: evolutionary theory, genetics, temperament and fetal development, and cross-cultural universality.


The Evolution of Personality Traits

  • Human personality traits evolved as adaptive behavioral responses to fundamental problems of survival and reproduction.
  • Heightened anxiety would provide a signal of danger and threat; its absence would quickly lead to extinction of the species. Hypersensitivity, however, would be debilitating and disruptive to everyday functioning.
  • Nature-Nurture Pointer: The evolution of personality traits demonstrates how our bodies, brain, and behavior can be shaped by environmental forces over long periods of time.
  • Naturally selected traits are favored if they increase one’s chances of survival and reproductive success.
  • Sexually selected traits make one more attractive to the opposite sex.


Genetics and Personality

  • CONNECTION: Behavior and personality traits are not the result of single genes, but are influenced by many genes. For discussion of single-genetic and poly-genetic influence on behavior, see Chapter 3.
  • Behavioral genetics researchers use two major methods to study the relationship among genetics, behavior, and personality.
    • The quantitative trait loci (QTL) method looks for the location on genes that might be associated with particular behaviors. It is quantitative because there are markers for behaviors that are expressed on a broad continuum, from very little to very much.
      • QTL research points to genetic markers for novelty- or thrill-seeking, impulsivity, and neuroticism/anxiety.
    • The second method is to study identical and fraternal twins who have been raised together or apart. This allows researchers to obtain estimates of how heritable personality traits are. If a trait is genetically influenced, identical twins should be more similar on that trait than fraternal twins. If genetics plays no role, identical twins will be no more similar on that trait than fraternal twins. These studies have found that most basic personality traits have heritability estimates of between 40 and 60 percent.
      • Roughly 50% of the variance to be explained by three nongenetic sources: shared environment, unshared environment, and error.
        • Shared environment consists of what siblings share in common, such as parents or household.
        • Unshared environment consists of things like birth order, different friends, different teachers, and different social groups.
        • Most of the environmental effects are unshared and almost no variance is explained by shared environment.


Temperament and the Fetal Environment

  • CONNECTION: Are some babies and toddlers temperamentally fussy and more difficult to predict and take care than others? See Chapter 5 for discussion of the differences between the “easy” and “difficult” temperaments of young children.
  • Nature-Nurture Pointer: Fetal activity and heart rate can reveal something about temperament differences over the first year of life.
  • The amount of stress the mother experiences during pregnancy changes the infant’s permanent stress response.




Personality and Culture: Universality and Differences

·         Environment and culture modify temperament and make certain traits more likely in some societies than in others.

·         People from vastly different cultural backgrounds (e.g., U.S., China, Japan, Germany, Australia, Portugal, and Zimbabwe) exhibit the traits of extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, openness to experience, conscientiousness, and psychoticism (a combination of warmth, impulse control, and conventional attitudes).  This provides evidence of their universal and biological basis.

·         People in Asian cultures tend to be more concerned about the impact of their behavior on their family, friends, and social groups (known as collectivism).  People in Western cultures are more concerned with how their behavior will affect their personal goals (known as individualism).

o       People in Asian cultures exhibit qualities that fit a dimension of “interpersonal relatedness” that is rarely seen in Western cultures.

§         Interpersonal relatedness includes such behaviors and attitudes as a respectful, obedient demeanor toward others, a belief in saving “face,” and an emphasis on harmonious relationships.




Psychoanalytic Theories

  • Sigmund Freud
    • Psychoanalysis is the idea that the unconscious is the most powerful force in our personality.
      • Three layers of consciousness: unconscious, preconscious, and conscious.
        • The conscious layer is simply what we are aware of at any given moment of time.
        • The preconscious is just below the surface of awareness. It is not currently conscious but can become so relatively easily.
        • According to Freud, the unconscious contains all the drives, urges, or instincts that are outside awareness but nonetheless motivate most of our speech, thoughts, feelings, or actions.
          • Freud believed that much of what we do and the reasons that we do it are hidden from our awareness and revealed to us only in distorted forms, such as slips of the tongue and dreams (Freud, 1900/1953, 1901/1960).
          • Freud developed an elaborate system for interpreting the meaning of dreams, because they were the best way to understand a person’s unconscious.
          • CONNECTIONS: Cognitive psychologists refer to mental processes that occur outside awareness as “implicit” or “automatic.” Much of what we learn and remember is implicit. (See Chapters 7 and 8.)
          • Slips of the tongue are defined as saying, writing, or typing one thing when you mean another.
    • Three distinct “provinces,” or regions, involve control and regulation of impulses.
      • The first province—developed in infancy—is the id, and it is the seat of impulse and desire. The id works on the “pleasure principle” and operates on the “do it” principle.
      • By the end of the first year of life, a sense of self, or ego, begins to emerge. It is the only part of the mind that is in direct contact with the outside world, and it operates on the “reality principle.” In a healthy person, the ego mediates this conflict between impulse and control.
      • The last part of the mind to develop, around age 2 or 3, is the superego, the part of the self that monitors and controls behavior. It operates on the “moralistic principle” and gives us a sense of what we should and should not do.
    • Defense mechanisms are tools the mind uses to protect itself from harmful, threatening, and anxiety-provoking thoughts, feelings, or impulses. All defense mechanisms share two qualities: (1) they operate unconsciously; (2) they deny and distort reality in some way.
      • Repression underlies all the other defense mechanisms.  It is the unconscious act of keeping threatening or disturbing thoughts, feelings, or impulses out of consciousness.
      • Reaction formation occurs when an unpleasant idea, feeling, or impulse is turned into its opposite. This often results in exaggerated or compulsive feelings and behavior.
      • In projection, we deny and repress particular ideas, feelings, or impulses, but project them onto others.
      • Sublimation involves expressing a socially unacceptable impulse in a socially acceptable and even desirable way.
    • Psychosexual stage theory is that adult personality stems from early childhood experiences and that sexual feelings move us through each stage.  Note: This idea that adult personality has its origin in childhood is now widely accepted but the psychosexual stages themselves have received little empirical support. 
      • Even Freud’s followers, as we see in the next section, did not agree with many of the details of his theory of psychosexual development.
      • The oral stage is the first 12 to 18 months of life when the mouth is the center of pleasure.
      • The anal stage takes place during the second and third year of life when the infant is toilet training.  This stage therefore focuses on the pleasure gained from holding and releasing one’s bladder and bowels.
      • The third stage occurs from approximately ages 3 to 6 and is the phallic stage because the child discovers that the genitals are a source of pleasure (note that Freud used the male term “phallic” [penis-like] to apply to both boys and girls).
        • Children not only discover pleasure from manipulating their genitals, but they also harbor unconscious feelings of attraction for their opposite parent and hostility for their same-sex parent. Desire for the opposite-sex parent and hostility toward the same-sex parent is known as the Oedipal complex. 
          • For the boy, the Oedipal complex consists of castration anxiety when the boy realizes that not everyone has a penis and that the same fate may await him (castration) if his father punishes him for these feelings. He ends up resolving this conflict by identifying with his father, and instead of wanting to defeat his father in the battle for his mother’s affection, he decides to be like his father.
          • The girl, however, does not develop castration anxiety, but rather penis envy, or the envy of having “something extra” when she discovers the differences in genitalia between boys and girls. As girls move through this stage, they too identify with their same-sex parent and want to be like their mother.
      • After the phallic stage, Freud argued that children go through a “latency” period where no region of the body is erogenous and the sense of sexuality goes beneath the surface (latent).
      • The last stage is the genital stage, which starts with puberty and lasts for the rest of one’s life. The genital stage is where the source of pleasure is once again the genitals, but this time in a mature adult fashion.
        • A key offshoot to Freud’s psychosexual stages was his idea of fixation, which is a defense mechanism whereby a person continues to be concerned and even preoccupied with an earlier stage of development.
        • CONNECTION: Clinical psychologists refer to “anal fixations” as obsessive-compulsive disorder. See Chapter 15 for a fuller discussion.
    • Freud had many disciples but he took issue if any of them seriously challenged his ideas.  In some cases they were actually expelled from his inner circle or official society. Some of the most famous of these cases include Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, and Karen Horney.
  • Alfred Adler 
    • Adler disagreed with Freud on the major motives underlying behavior.
    • His first major assumption was that humans strive for superiority and this is the major drive behind behavior.  That is, they naturally strive to overcome their inherent inferiorities or deficiencies, both physical and psychological.
      • Adler believed that all people begin life as young, immature, and helpless. As they grow, they strive toward growth and completion. In the process, they attempt to compensate for their feelings of weakness or inferiority.
        • Some develop an inferiority complex – an unhealthy need to dominate or upstage others as a way of compensating for feelings of inferiority.
    • Adler also examined birth order. 
      • First-born children tend to have strong feelings of superiority and power. They can be nurturing of others but they are sometimes highly critical and have a strong need to be right.
      • Second children tend to be motivated and cooperative, but they can become overly competitive.
      • Youngest children can be realistically ambitious but also pampered and dependent on others.
      • Only children can be socially mature, but they sometimes lack social interest and have exaggerated feelings of superiority.
  • Carl Jung      
    • Jung’s signature idea was that the unconscious has two distinct forms: personal and collective.
      • The personal unconscious consists of all our repressed and hidden thoughts, feelings, and motives. This is similar to Freud’s notion of unconscious.
      • The collective unconscious consists of the shared experiences of our ancestors—God, mother, life, death, water, earth, aggression, survival—that have been transmitted from generation to generation.
        • Jung decided that there must be some kind of collective unconsciousness that would explain the many instances in which dreams, religions, legends, and myths share the same content even though the people who created them have never directly or even indirectly communicated with one another.
        • The collective unconscious is made up of archetypes – ancient or archaic images that result from common ancestral experiences.
          • The shadow is the dark and morally objectionable part of ourselves.
          • The anima is the female part of the male personality.  The animus is the male part of the female personality.
            • All people possess characteristics and traits of both genders, but men tend to deny and repress their feminine side, or anima. Women likewise tend to deny or repress their masculine side, or animus.  Full personality development requires acknowledging and being receptive to these unconscious or less well-developed sides of one’s personality.
  • Karen Horney          
    • Compared to Freud, Horney focused more on the social and cultural forces behind neurosis and the neurotic personality.
    • The essence of Horney’s theory is that neurosis stems from basic hostility and basic anxiety.
      • Basic hostility is anger or rage that originates in childhood and stems from fear of being neglected or rejected by one’s parents. 
      • When hostility toward one’s parents is so threatening that it is turned inward, it is converted into basic anxiety – a sense of being alone and helpless in a hostile world.
    • Horney argued that all people defend themselves against basic anxiety by developing particular needs or trends. If these needs become compulsive and the person is unable to switch from one need to another as the situation demands, that person is neurotic. The three neurotic trends or needs are:

1.      Moving toward others (the compliant personality)

·         Neurotically moving toward others involves consistently needing or clinging to other people, belittling oneself, eliciting feelings of pity from others, and repressing feelings of anger and hostility.

2.      Moving against others (the aggressive personality)

·         Neurotically moving against others involves puffing oneself up in an obvious and public manner, competing against others at almost everything, and being prone to hostility and anger.

3.      Moving away from others (the detached personality)

·         Neurotically moving away from others involves developing a detached and “cool” demeanor – not responding emotionally, not caring, and being “above it all.”


Humanistic/Positive Psychology Theories     

  • The humanistic approach is optimistic about human nature, believing that humans are naturally interested in realizing their full potential.
    • The term humanism is not commonly used today because these theorists did not conduct empirical research.
  • The humanistic movement now operates under the name positive psychology.
    • This view embraces and generates empirical research while theoretically staying in line with Maslow and Rogers.
  • Abraham Maslow
    • CONNECTION: At the lowest level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are the physiological needs. At the highest level is self-actualization. For the needs between these extremes, see Chapter 11.
    • Self-actualization refers to people’s inherent drive to realize their full potential. Very few people achieve this level of need fulfillment (i.e., are “fully human”). 
    • The following set of characteristics is held in common more by self-actualizing individuals than the average population:

1.      Spontaneity, simplicity, naturalness

2.      Problem-centered (have a “calling”)

·         Self-actualizing people often experience peak experiences

moments of profound personal importance or personal meaning—

which shape the rest of their lives.

3.      Creativity (self-actualizing rather than specialized)

4.      Deep interpersonal relations

5.      Resistance to enculturation

  • Carl Rogers
    • Rogers developed a form of psychotherapy based on the assumption that people naturally strive toward growth and fulfillment and need unconditional positive regard for that to happen.
    • Unconditional positive regard is the ability to respect and appreciate another person regardless of their behavior.
    • Rogers believed that the primary function of a counselor (his preferred term for a psychotherapist) is to treat each client with empathy and unconditional positive regard.
    • Rogers felt all of us have two distinct ways of seeing and evaluating ourselves: real self (ourselves as we really are) and our ideal self (who we would like to be).
      • Rogers then defined psychological adjustment as congruence between the real and ideal selves.


Social-Cognitive Learning Theories   

  • The social-cognitive learning perspective is exemplified Walter Mischel.
  • Mischel believes that people change their behavior based on their current situational constraints. What qualities a person brings to each situation interacts with the situation to make one person act somewhat differently when the situation changes.


Trait Theories 

  • The trait approach assumes that traits or dispositions are the major force behind personality.
  • To determine what traits are important, Allport and Odbert (1936) counted up each word in the English dictionary that described a person. They found over 18,000 words.  After accounting for synonyms, physical trait terms, and personal evaluations, they were left with over 4,000 words.
  • Today, it is commonly accepted that there are five universal dimensions of personality called the Big Five or five-factor model. 
    • The five dimensions are openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.
    • Robert McCrae and Paul Costa have documented the basic tendencies (aptitudes, talents, and cognitive abilities) that correlate with these personality traits.


Biological Theories

  • The biological approach assumes that differences in personality are partly based in differences in structures and systems in the central nervous system, such as genetics, hormones, and neurotransmitters.
  • Hans Eysenck argued for the fundamental importance of biology in shaping personality. 
    • He proposed three fundamental dimensions of personality (PEN): extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism (a combination of openness, conscientiousness, and agreeableness).
    • Eysenck developed a model in which differences in personality are caused by the combined influences of genes, neurochemistry, and certain characteristics of the central nervous system.
      • Nature-Nurture Pointer: Biological and social factors together are both part of Eysenck’s model of personality.
        • Differences in individuals’ genome (DNA) create different levels of arousal and sensitivity to stimulation, which lead to differences in personality traits.  The personality differences lead to differences in learning, conditioning, perception, and memory. These cognitive-perceptual-learning differences lead to differences in social behaviors, such as sociability, criminality, sexual behavior, and creativity.
        • Differences in cortical arousal (how active the brain is at a resting state as well as how sensitive it is to stimulation) and sensory thresholds lead to differences in extraversion-introversion.
          • Introverts have a higher baseline level of cortical arousal and therefore require a lower stimulus level to arouse them and reach their “comfort zone” than do extraverts.


Breaking New Ground: Animal Personality

·         See separate section for detailed explanation.




Behavioral Observation

·         The most direct and objective  method for gathering personality data is to observe behavior and simply count specific behaviors that are associated with particular traits, such as aggression, hostility, friendliness, anxiety, or conscientiousness.

o       When children, animals, or others who cannot evaluate and/or report on their own personalities are being assessed, behavioral observations are required.

·         It is important that raters of behavior are highly trained because they define what behaviors constitute each trait.  In other words, there needs to be evidence of inter-rater reliability - two or more raters accurately rate and agree upon their ratings.

o       The researchers must first establish an exact definition of the trait.

o       They need to then identify the behaviors that make up that trait.

o       They then need to practice rating it against experienced, expert, and reliable raters. The new raters are deemed “reliable” if their ratings compare well with established norms or expert ratings, usually a correlation of .80 or higher.

·         Pros: These measures are desirable because they do not depend on people’s view of themselves, as self-report measurements do. They are direct and objective.

·         Cons: They are costly and time-consuming, and not all personality traits can be observed by other people.

·         Self-reports can be carried out in three different ways: interviewing, projective tests, and questionnaires.



·         Sitting down with another person face-to-face is probably the most natural and comfortable of all personality assessment techniques.

·         From the participant’s perspective, interviewing is usually more engaging and pleasant than filling out a questionnaire.

·         Pros:  The open-ended nature of the interview.

·         Cons: As with behavioral ratings, coding is an issue.


Projective Tests

·         Projective tests present an ambiguous stimulus or situation to participants and ask them to give their interpretation of or tell a story about what they see. These techniques are based on the assumption, stemming from psychoanalysis, that unconscious wishes, thoughts, and motives will be “projected” onto the task.

·         The two most widely used projective tests are the Rorschach Inkblot Test and the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT).

o       In the Rorschach Inkblot Test, a series of ambiguous inkblots are presented one at a time, and the participant is asked to say what he or she sees in each one. The responses are recorded and then coded by a trained coder as to how much human and nonhuman “movement,” color, form, and shading the participant sees in each card.

o       The Thematic Apperception Test consists of a series of hand-drawn cards depicting simple scenes that are ambiguous. The participant’s task is to make up a story about what he or she thinks is going on in the scene.



·         The most common way of measuring personality is asking participants to summarize their own behavioral tendencies by means of questionnaires.

·         Personality questionnaires consist of individual statements, or items; respondents indicate the extent to which they agree or disagree with each statement as it applies to their personality.

·         Responses are usually arranged on a Likert scale, which uses response categories such as “completely disagree,” marked 1; “neither agree nor disagree,” marked  3; and “completely agree,” marked  5.

·         Questions are based on either the rational or the empirical method.

o       The rational or face valid method involves using reason or theory to come up with a question. The problem with such questionnaires, however, is that because the questions are transparent, participants might give socially desirable or false answers rather than honest ones.

o       The empirical method focuses instead on simply whether a question distinguishes groups it is supposed to distinguish. A standard way to empirically validate questions on an anxiety measure would be to develop a series of questions and then administer them to people known to suffer from anxiety disorders (as diagnosed by a therapist) and to people known to not suffer from anxiety disorders. If the questions are answered differently by the two groups, they are valid and should be included in the questionnaire. If they are not answered differently, they do not distinguish anxious from non-anxious people and should be discarded.


Psychology in the Real World: Screening and Selecting Police Officers

  • In police work it is of the utmost importance to have officers who are conscientious and dependable, can handle stress, and can control their impulses.
  • Personality tests are more useful in screening than in selecting police officers.  They alert those making hiring decisions to candidates who might be better suited to another line of work rather than indicating which ones will perform best as police officers. 
  • Authorities used a cluster of personality scales from the widely used California Psychological Inventory (CPI) to reliably identify police officers who consistently used excessive force and provided drugs to inmates.
    • Problematic officers score unusually low on the CPI’s Self-control, Socialization, and Responsibility scales. These dimensions tap into what some psychologists refer to as conscientiousness – the tendency to plan and to be organized, controlled, and careful.