Personality is the study of who we are. It’s composed of many theories about how and why we behave as we do. Before we create our own theory of personality, it’s wise to see what others have said on the subject.
The theories are presented in semi-chronological order. But you’ll soon discover that ideas are not limited to one period of time. They pop up, are popular for a while, subside and vanish. But these same ideas will pop up again years, decades or centuries later.
Trait theory gives an external explanation of personality. Your personality is the result of some external force: the planets, essential fluids, body type, or inherited propensity. Read more
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was the father of psychoanalysis. He gave us defense mechanisms, dream analysis, psychosexual stages of development, the Oedipus complex, and the id, ego and superego. Read more
The followers of Freud developed their own theories. Although based on, or a reaction to, their experiences with Freud, two major psychodynamic theories stand out. Read more
After Freud, Adler and Jung, psychoanalysis began to change. These shifts weren’t so much the work of outsiders but by those who believed in the psychodynamic model. Read more
Behaviorism starts with the idea that personality is simply what you do. You are the sum of your behaviors. If you want to change your personality, change your behavior. Read more
Social learning theories are an extension of behaviorism. They use an empirical approach but emphasize social influence and environmental adaptation. Think of them as behaviorism with a context. Read more
Humanism was a reaction to behaviorism. It was a return to valuing being human. According to this view, people can’t be reduced to stimulus-response explanations. We’re more complex than that. We’re more valuable than that. Read more
Like humanistic psychology, existential psychology was more of a movement or philosophy than a systematic school of thought. Basically a reaction to behaviorism, existential philosophers differentiated between existence (being) and essence (how things are). Existence is primary, and essence is fleeting. Read more
Cognitive approaches to personality emphasize our ability to think. In general, this view comes out of behaviorism and social learning theory. It takes the empirical approach of behaviorism, and applies it to how people think. It takes the concepts of social learning theory, and formulates them as internal representations. Essentially, cognitive science believes you are what you think. Read more