Personality: An Introduction


Personality: Definitions

Cloninger’s definition: the underlying causes within the person of individual behavior and experience

An alternate definition (Korte’s--and others):  the characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving that determine a person’s adjustment to his/her environment

Three Major Issues that Are Addressed by Personality Theories:

      1-Description and Structure: Structural Concepts

            What concepts (e.g., traits) help us describe people—both similarities and differences?

            What constructs help us understand personality

            How can these constructs be measured?

      2-Dynamics: Interplay of forces and energy

            Adaptation and Adjustment

            Motivational aspect of personality—what energizes and directs behavior?

            How do people adapt to life’s demands?

            What thoughts and behaviors are considered healthy or adaptive?

            What thoughts and behaviors are considered unhealthy or maladaptive?

            How do cognitive and emotional processes affect personality

            How does society and culture affect personality

      3-Development: How do personality structure and dynamics change over time?

            Biological Influences

                  To what extent is personality inherited?

                  How do biological processes affect personality?

            Child Development and Adult Development

                  How should children be treated?

                  What do children learn that affects personality?

                  Does childhood experience determine adult personality?

            Do adults change? Or has personality been determined earlier?

                  What experiences in adulthood influence personality?

            How does the “normal”, healthy personality develop?

            How does the “abnormal”, maladjusted personality develop?


Types, Traits, and Factors: Three Ways of Describing Personality


            Type membership is an “all or nothing” thing (a qualitative variable).

            A person belongs to one and only one category type.

            Theoretically, a small number of types describe everyone.


            Trait scores are continuous (quantitative) variables.

            A person is given a numeric score to indicate how much of a trait the person possesses.

            Theoretically, there are a great many traits to describe everyone.

            A person can be described on every trait.

            Trait Profiles: we can graph a "profile" of a person's trait scores


            Factors are statistically derived dimensions of personality that are broader than most traits.

            Factor scores are also continuous (quantitative) variables.

            A person is given a numeric score to indicate how much of a factor the person possesses.

            Theoretically, a small number of factors describe everyone.

            A person can be described on every factor.

Some of the words used to describe traits (e.g., extraverted, neurotic) have been found, by statistical analyses, to be so broad that they can be considered factors.


Nomothetic vs Idiographic Approaches


        Involves comparisons with other individuals; research based on group data

Studies variables rather than the whole person


        Focuses on one individual

Studies the whole person



The Scientific Method


Knowing based on systematic observation

Determinism is an underlying assumption—phenomena have causes that can be discovered by empirical research

Theory: An unsubstantiated speculation about reality. 

     Different theoretical levels:

      Theoretical level

      Theoretical constructs

      Theoretical propositions or hypotheses

      Observable level

      Operational definitions

Theory: Criteria of a Good Theory


      Can the theory’s constructs be “operationalized”?

      It can predict correctly or incorrectly (confirmation or disconfirmation).


      It applies to a variety of phenomena.

Functional significance--applied value

      Useful in helping us understand people’s everyday behavior

      Useful in helping people improve their lifes.

      Applied research vs. basic research


      Not critical for something as complex as personality

Heuristic value

      The theory stimulates interest (maybe even controversy) and research

What about your own values?

      Whether a personality theory is consistent or inconsistent with your values (e.g. is too pessimistic or optimistic) is not a criterion for evaluating a theory. Scientific psychology is not a philosophy of life.

A complementary relationship between theory and research.

Implicit theories of personality:

        Ideas about personality that are held by ordinary people (not based on formal theory)


Personality Research





        When a measurement is repeated at another time or by another observer, are similar results obtained?

     Types of Reliability

      Test-retest reliability:  same form of the test is given on two different days

      Alternate forms reliability: different forms of the test given on two different occasions

      Split-half reliability: one form of test given only once but divided into two halves

                        For example, odd vs. even items summed to get two subscores

What does reliability mean?  A person gets essentially the same score, on various days and/or with various forms.



Validity--does the test accurately measure the concept or construct that it is intends to measure?

Types of Validity

            Face or content validity--do the items appear to assess aspects of the construct being measured?

Predictive validity--does the measure predict some other behavior (e.g., academic or occupational success) that should be related to the construct being measured?

Concurrent validity--does the instrument correlate highly with another test (already considered valid) that has been designed to measure the same construct?

Construct validity--is the measure related to the assessment of other constructs in ways that would be expected by the theory?

                  Often based on an accumulation of research findings



Interview Techniques

      Can be structured or unstructured

Self-Report Measures

      Direct methods--fairly “transparent”, i.e., what is being measured is rather obvious to the subject.

Can be single trait or multidimensional tests

      Indirect methods--what is being measured is not as obvious to the subject.

                  Projective measures; examples include

                  Rorschach Inkblot Test

                  TAT: picture à story

                  Sentence Completion Test

                  Draw a Person

Other-Report Measures--for example, parent, teacher, supervisor may complete the measure

Behavioral Observations



Case Study Method:  Studying individuals and psychobiography

Provides an in-depth analysis of a single individual

      Intensive clinical observations and assessment (or)

      Psychobiography—the application of a personality theory to the study of a person’s life—as in your text

Reflects the complexity and uniqueness of the individual

Avoids the artificiality of laboratory experiments

Correlational Method

      Determines the relationships among two or more measures/variables

      Variables may be studied in more natural, real world settings

      May perform factor analyses on a list of variables

      May allow prediction of one variable from another

      However, cannot conclude that one variable causes another

Experimental Method

Manipulates a cause to determine its effect

Permits isolation and manipulation of specific variables

      Independent vs. Dependent variables

    Manipulate the variable thought to be a "cause"--the "independent variable”

            Determine the effect on another variable—the “dependent variable”

Can establish cause-effect relationships

However, can be artificial and the findings may not generalize to the real world

Ethical concerns can restrict the range of things that can be studied experimentally.


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