For your supplementary task, you are asked to provide a 1500 -2000 word essay on the evolution of personality theory. You should start with Freud, and conclude with the perspective that is most widely used today, trait theory. In your essay, you will need to describe the various perspectives, as well as their strengths and weaknesses with respect to understanding personality, and, where applicable, personality measurement and therapeutic applications.
The Evolution of Personality Theory
The idea that it is possible to categorize individuals according to their personality types dates as far back as Hippocrates. During that time, people believed the kind of personality traits that an individual developed depended on the bodily fluids including bile, phlegm, and blood. Carver and Scheier (2004) examined the notion of personality during this historical period and gave an example of a depressed individual who would have black bile in excessive amounts. Importantly, over time, personality has been conceptualized differently, with thinkers employing different approaches and formulating various theories in an attempt to explain their take on the concept. This paper discusses the evolution of personality theory, starting with Freud’s ideas and ending with the more recent trait theory.
Before examining the evolution of personality theory, it is imperative to comprehend what personality means. Indeed, many definitions have been given regarding this concept and while they may be exploring it from different dimensions, what becomes clear is that personality is an all-inclusive concept that encompasses the sum total of traits that distinguishes an individual from other human beings. It entails the external and internal properties that make an individual unique and set him or her aside from others. According to Hockenbury and Hockenbury (2001), personality refers to an individual’s consistent and unique patterns of behavior, feelings, and thoughts. In fact, it can simply be conceptualized as the manner in which an individual thinks, behaves, and acts.
Personality theory was formulated in a bid to explain the differences and similarities among different personality types. Sigmund Freud stands as one of the most influential thinkers in psychology, perhaps contributing the most to understanding of personality through his psychoanalytic approach. In this vein, his psychoanalytic theory emphasizes the role of mental processes, sexual instincts, and experiences during early childhood in shaping an individual’s personality (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, 2001). Indeed, Sigmund had a lot to say about the workings of the brain and how that relate to sex, but his deliberate attempt to relate everything to sex attracted wide criticism. Nevertheless, he was to become one of the most recognized figures in psychology whose ideas later on formed the basis of many theories in the field, particularly in relation to the concept of personality.
At the core of personality theory is Freud’s dynamic theory that considers the unconscious, preconscious, and conscious as the center of everything, and as such, an iceberg. To take the picture of an iceberg, Freud presents that the unconscious, preconscious, and conscious are under the water, in the middle, and on top of the water respectively. Just as the tip of the iceberg does not show much of the ice under the water, the outer part (called the ego) of an individual’s personality cannot really say much about him or her. Rather, it is the inner part (called the id) that reflects the bulk of an individual’s personality, just as most of an iceberg is usually submerged in water (Freud, 2018). By and large, personality can be explained on the basis of these three elements whereby the id makes up the illogical, irrational impulses that move an individual to seek fun/pleasure. In this context, the personality theory presents that individuals are motivated to act and engage in activities that bring them pleasure; in other words, make them feel good (Jordan, 2011). Thus, at any given moment, an individual can be considered to be seeking pleasure, thereby avoiding any form of discomfort and tension (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, 2001).
As for the ego, its role is to regularize and rationalize thoughts as well as behaviors that are depicted outwardly. It operates on the principle of reality such that gratification has to be pushed forward or postponed until such a time as may be considered appropriate. In the context of the implied regulation, the ego plays the role of defense through mechanisms namely denial, sublimation, displacement, repression, regression, undoing, reaction formation, projection, and rationalization (Freud, 2018). With time, internalization of ego thoughts leads to the formation of the superego that enables an individual to conform to societal values, norms, and expectations. Freud (2018) explores this in the context of his famous Oedipus Complex where a child overcomes the sexual feelings for his or her parents and learns to be conform to societal norms, hence be rational in thought and deed.
Freud then proceeds to explore personality through the five stages of psychosexual development namely the oral stage, the anal stage, the phallic stage, the latency stage, and the genital stage. Each of these stages markets an important step in the development of one’s personality, and being stuck in any one of them can cause serious developmental problems to an individual (Elliot, 2017).
While Freud’s advancement of personality theory has strength in the interrelatedness of his concepts, he seems to pay too much attention to sex, as if all of personality depends on it. This is a major weakness of his presentations, but he has to be given credit for the manner he explores the different stages of psychosexual development. After all, it is his ideas that have mainly been built upon to come up with the more recent theories that explain personality. Personality psychology as laid out by Freud does well in describing and explaining the structure of personality and how contextual mechanisms responsible for individual differences (in terms of behavioral patterns) work, they do not address the root causes. In other works, Freud and other personality theorists that he has influenced approximate and explain well individual differences, particularly how mechanisms responsible for these differences work, but fail to address what really causes them, or why these mechanisms work in the manner they do.
Away from Freud’s explanation, other theoretical frameworks that have been developed for understanding personality are rooted in evolutionary theory. Indeed, an evolutionary perspective is also recognized in the manner it enhances personality theory through generation of original predictions regarding mechanisms that govern personality. Theories on personality traits’ ultimate function have been used to derive/generate novel hypotheses on not only the structure of personality, but how this concept works. From an evolutionary perspective, all psychological phenomena are examined through an evolution theory lens. As such, much of what the evolutionary perspective focuses on entails the “psychic unity of mankind”, hence the sole exploration of human nature in general as opposed to individual differences in specific (Tooby, & Cosmides, 1992: p.19). This is a major weakness of the evolutionary perspective. Thus, a larger body of personality psychology from an evolutionary lens has concentrated on psychological mechanisms that are universally-shared as to culminate in phenotypical plasticity as a result of varying environmental conditions (Figueredo et al., 2006). The role of heritable traits (therefore genetic variability) is thus disregarded in the context of an evolutionary lens. Yet, this approach of examining personality based on a natural as well as sexual selection framework proves convenient in uncovering and explaining the array of adaptive complex psychosocial and psychological mechanisms and the adaptive issues each addresses.
As exhaustively exploring the broader personality theory in its entirety is not possible within the limited scope of this paper, attention is now turned to the perspective that is most widely used today: the trait theory. According to Stelmack and Stalikas (1991), the tenets of the trait theory can be traced as far back as antiquity. Importantly, credit for their current form is owed to Hans Eysenck, Raymond Cattell, and GordonAllport, scholars who have without doubt left a mark in modern trait psychology. Working as faculty members at the respected Harvard University, Allport and Cattell figured out that any mature individual’s conduct depicts underlying characteristic dispositions, more precisely traits. As per the trait theory, these traits are peculiar to individuals and have the capacity to initiate and provide guidance for consistent forms of stylistic as well as adaptive behavior. Allport is quoted by Matthews et al. (2003) for having famously said that “in everyday life, no-one, not even a psychologist, doubts that underlying the conduct of a mature person there are characteristic dispositions or traits (p. 12).”
The central assumptions of this theory as employed in modern times include capacity of traits to generate consistent responses even in relation to the pursuance of expressive and adaptive goals. While the trait theory as formulated by Allport and colleagues does well to explain what dictates an individual’s behavior, its description of traits (characteristic dispositions) is wanting because by asserting that such traits are unique to an individual, it depicts a predominantly idiographic position. This way, it becomes problematic to employ the theory in identifying traits that all individuals find meaningful.
Imperatively, a wide range of psychometric approaches have been adopted to help identify various personality dimensions. As the trait theory in its early form seemed to stress a more idiographic approach to understanding personality, personality psychologists have found the need to expand on the overall meaning of what traits are. Subsequently, it is now possible to adopt deeper psychological approaches in conceptualizing traits and identifying different dimensions of personality by, for instance, employing projective texts and biographical interviews (Matthews et al., 2003). In this regard, the nomothetic trait frameworks grounded in the work of Cattell (1973) hold that it is possible to describe many personality attributes using various discrete dimensions, a good example being the 16PF (16 Personality Factor Questionnaire). When employing such quantitative tools (and models) the researcher needs to bear in mind the nature of the personality dimensions he or she is interested and formulate relevant/suitable hypotheses. A validated questionnaire can then be used or the researcher can formulate his or her own; necessary steps should be taken to make sure such an instrument is suitable for uncovering the desired dimension. Regarding the therapeutic application of the trait theory, contextual quantitative models can be employed to in psychopathology and personality assessment to identify various personality dimensions; hence aid clinicians comprehend the emotional/psychological causes as well as consequences of various medical conditions. The significance of this in medical circles cannot be underestimated.
In conclusion, the concept of personality remains a subject of interest in many disciplines today, particularly those related to psychology. Examination of the historical developments (on the concept of personality) leaves no doubt that various controversies have divided theorist/researchers, a fact that has worked to the effect of further enhancing evidence of the trait theory, which is the most commonly used perspective today. From Freud’s psychoanalytic model to the evolutionary perspective and the biological basis (as revealed through traits), the accounts that have been fronted are not without controversy. There is need for more research in this field to help resolve the tensions that remain between the different models. Importantly, perfecting current models by addressing the weaknesses of each would be helpful to fields like medicine and psychology where the personality theory finds application.
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