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Personality Theories


There are almost as many different theories of personality as there are psychologists working in this field. Most models of personality functioning attempt to describe the processes by which people learn about, understand and respond to the world around them. With their emphasis on the processes that occur within individuals, most personality theories have developed out of clinical practice and,  not surprising most are closely associated with a particular school of psychotherapy. The early models of personality were mostly psychodynamic in nature, attempting to explain the interplay of different intrapsychic forces, infantile needs and desires. The most famous of these psychodynamic models of personality are those of Sigmund Freud (see Hall, 1954, for a summary of Freud’s thought) and Carl Gustav Jung (see Hall & Norby, 1973, for a summary of Jung’s thought). These early models were based on the 'insights' their proponents had gained from years of clinical practice, and by modern standards these theories often seem quite eccentric and implausible (e.g. Freud’s theory of infantile sexuality, Jung’s theory of transpersonal archetypes, etc.). In fact, these early (psychodynamic) theories of personality often provide more insight into the personal views, opinions and idiosyncrasies of their founders than they provide about the functioning of human personality. As such, it is not surprising that nowadays most psychodynamic models of personality are considered to be of only historical interest, with there being little if any evidence to support their main tenants.


The most important contemporary models of personality, which fall into this mould of attempting to explain the processes that occur within individuals, are Social Learning Theory (e.g. Bandura, 1977; Rotter, 1954) and the cognitive models of personality, such as those of George Kelly (1955) and Aaron T. Beck (Beck, et al., 1979). Like their psychodynamic predecessors, these contemporary models of personality are closely associated with different (modern) forms of psychotherapy. However, unlike the psychodynamic theorists, these modern theories of personality (and the therapies that are based on them and/or derived from them) are all grounded in research, rather than being based on the insights and/or introspection of their founders; as occurred with Freud, Jung and their followers.

The area of personality testing has developed from the psychology of individual differences, rather than developing out of clinical psychology and psychotherapy practice. As such, rather than being concerned with describing the processes that occur within individuals, it is concerned with describing the differences between people. All modern personality tests are based on the trait theory of personality, and most have been developed empirically using factor analysis.







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