Explain How Psychology Has Approached the Study of Personality.

February 9, 2017 Psychology


“Explain how psychology has approached the study of Personality.”

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The purpose of the essay at hand will be to explain how psychology has approached the study of Personality, by firstly looking at the concepts of person and identity in psychology and analysing the meanings of these terms. Secondly, explain the main elements of three psychological approaches to personal identity, in this case trait theories, psychoanalytical theories and humanistic theories. And lastly, evaluate the validity of different approaches to the question of concept of personal identity.
Personality is derived from the Latin word Persona which means mask. Therefore personality stands for the way we present ourselves to others or the way others view us. It is generally considered as a dynamic system of all the attitudes, habits and motives of a person which helps in adjusting to the environment. It is the total behaviour of the individual and is relatively consistent over time and across situations.
So it can be defined as an individuals relatively stable and enduring pattern of thoughts, feelings and actions. In other words our personality defines us as a person, how we are different from others, or what behaviour patterns are typical of a person. For instance, a person may be called an extrovert if he likes meeting people and is outgoing most of the time or an introvert if he is quiet and reserved.
One of the most crucial and fundamental characteristics of personality is consistency, which proclaims that there is generally a recognisable order and regularity to behaviours. Essentially people act in the same ways or similar ways in a variety of situations. Another important characteristic of personality is psychological and physiological. Personality is a psychological construct, but research suggests that it is also influenced by biological processes and needs.
Impact behaviours and actions is another characteristic of personality, which claims that the latter does not just influence how we move and respond in our environment, but it also causes us to act in certain ways. Lastly, multiple expressions is further characteristic of personality, which states that the latter is displayed in more than just behaviour. It can also be seen in our thoughts, feelings, close relationships and other social interactions.
A number of theories have been put forward to try and explain as to how personality develops. Some of these major perspectives on personality include the trait theories, the Psychoanalytic theories and the Humanistic theories.
The trait approach to personality is one of the major theoretical areas in the study of personality. The trait theory suggests that individual personalities are composed broad dispositions. For example, considering how we would describe the personality of a close friend. Chances are that we would list a number of traits, such as outgoing, kind and even-tempered. Therefore, a trait can be thought of as a relatively stable characteristic that causes individuals to behave in certain ways.
However, unlike many other theories of personality, such as psychoanalytic or humanistic theories, the trait approach to personality is focused on differences between individuals. The combination and interaction of various traits combine to form a personality that is unique to each individual. Trait theory is focused on identifying and measuring these individual personality characteristics.

Though most agree that people can be described based upon their personality traits, theorists continue to debate the number of basic traits that make up the human personality. While trait theory has objectivity, which some other personality theories lack (such as Freud??™s psychoanalytic theory), it also has weaknesses.
Some of the most common criticisms of trait theory centre on the fact that traits are often poor predictors of behaviour, and while an individual may score high on assessments of a specific trait, he or she may not always behave that way in every situation. Another problem is that trait theories do not address how or why individual differences in personality develop or emerge.
Conversely, the psychoanalytical theory, which is heavy influenced by the works of Sigmund Freud, emphasise the influence of the unconscious mind and childhood experiences on personality. Psychoanalytical theories include Sigmund Freud??™s psychosexual stage theory and Erik Erikson??™s stages of psychosocial development.
According to Freud, he divides human personality into three significant components: the ego, superego, and id. The id acts according to the pleasure principle, demanding immediate satisfaction of its needs regardless of external environment; the ego then must emerge in order to realistically meet the wishes and demands of the id in accordance with the outside world, adhering to the reality principle.
Finally, the superego involves moral judgment and societal rules upon the ego, thus forcing the demands of the id to be met not only realistically but morally. The superego is the last function of the personality to develop, and is the embodiment of parental/social ideals established during childhood. Freud believed that personality is based on the dynamic interactions of these three components
Erikson, on the other hand, believed that personality progressed through a series of stages, with certain conflicts arising at each stage. Success in any stage depended upon successfully overcoming these conflicts.
The psychoanalytical approach to personality is another major theoretical area in the study of personality; however, it focuses almost entirely on male development with little mention of female psychosexual development. Furthermore, Freud??™s theories are difficult to test scientifically. Concepts such as the libido are impossible to measure, and therefore cannot be tested. The research that has been conducted tends to discredit Freuds theory.
Future predictions are too vague. How can we know that a current behaviour was caused specifically by a childhood experience The length of time between the cause and the effect is too long to assume that there is a relationship between the two variables. Freuds theory is mostly based upon case studies and not empirical research. Also, Freud based his theory on the recollections of his adult patients, not on actual observation and study of children.
The Humanistic psychology approach to personality which has Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers as two of its major thinkers, unlike Freuds theory and the biological approach, which focus on determinism or our lack of power over ourselves, Maslow and others see the individual as very powerful by stressing the importance of growth and self-actualization. The fundamental belief of humanistic psychology is that people are innately good, with mental and social problems resulting from deviations from this natural tendency.
It also takes environmental influences into account, rather than focusing solely on our internal thoughts and desires. Humanistic psychology also credits the environments influence on our experiences and continues to influence therapy, education, healthcare and other areas. Furthermore, Humanistic psychology has also helped remove some of the stigma attached to therapy, and made it more acceptable for normal, healthy individuals to explore their abilities and potential through therapy.
However, humanistic theories are often seen as too subjective; the importance of individual experience makes it difficult to objectively study and measure humanistic phenomena. How can we objectively tell if someone is self-actualized The answer, of course, is that we cannot. We can only rely upon the individuals own assessment of their experience. In addition observations are unverifiable, as there is no accurate way to measure or quantify these qualities.
However, it is not necessary to think of these three schools of thought as competing elements. Each branch of psychology has contributed to our understanding of the human mind and behaviour. Humanistic psychology has added yet another dimension that took a more holistic view of the individual and has been incorporated into many differing views on psychotherapy and human change.
Many argue now that a humanistic undertone in treatment provides a nice foundation for change, while it may not be sufficient, it may still be necessary for a significant personality change to occur. On the other hand, psychoanalysis which was developed a century ago is still considered to be credible and an effective method of treating illnesses.
Despite the weaknesses of psychoanalysis, it should not be disregarded as a theory completely, because there are at least significant parts of the theory, which are accurate. After all, psychoanalysis is a substantial theory of personality because it is directly responsible for the development of additional psychological theories and hypotheses that otherwise may have been missed.
Last but not least, the trait theory approach to personality has been used to develop a number of assessment devices. It provides an easy to understand continuum that provides a good deal of information regarding a persons personality, interaction, and beliefs about the self and the world. Understanding traits allows us to compare people, to determine which traits allow a person to do better in college, in relationships, or in a specific career, which has helped guide people toward a more agreeable future by knowing how they interact with the world.

Word Count: 1454


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