Everything You Need To Know About Personality

Everything You Need To Know About Personality

Personality psychology studies why different personalities develop and how they function. Read on to find out more about this fascinating field.

Personality psychology studies individual differences in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that persist over time and place (Roberts & Yoon, 2022). It also attempts to define personality, determine how it develops and operates, and investigate unique variations including personality disorders (APA, 2023a). That is, personality psychology studies individual differences that make us who we are.

Most of us have probably taken some kind of personality test—they’re all over the Internet. These are designed to get a better idea of our unique characteristics. They’re used by employers to help with hiring, by mental health professionals as diagnostic tools, and for entertainment. We also use them as a guide to gain self-awareness for things like helping to decide on a career.

Researchers continue to debate how accurately these tests reflect individual personalities, and some show more validity than others (Laajaj et al., 2019). So although these personality surveys are popular and can be fun to take, I’d view them with some healthy skepticism.

“One of the greatest regrets in life is being what others would want you to be, rather than being yourself.”
― Shannon L. Alder

Below are some widely used tests:

● Big Five Personality Test – This test measures personality based on the combination of five personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, extroversion, and neuroticism. These traits are seen as being present in everyone to varying degrees.

● HEXACO Personality Inventory – This is similar to the Big Five as it consists of a questionnaire to measure personality traits. But in addition to the traits in the big five, it also measures honesty-humility. This test is often used in research.

● Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – This questionnaire assigns you one of sixteen personality types. Your type is determined based on where you fall on a spectrum for these four categories: introversion/extroversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving.

● Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) – This one is used mostly in a clinical setting to diagnose mental health disorders. It consists of 567 true-false questions that are intended to measure nine common mental health and behavioral issues.

● Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF) – This measures 16 traits with a lengthy questionnaire. It’s considered one of the more reliable personality tests and is used for hiring, counseling, and research (Boyle et al., 2008).

Personality Psychology Theories


Psychodynamic theories focus on the interactions between the conscious and unconscious processes of the mind (Coaley, 2014). Also, these theories claim that our personalities develop in childhood and remain stable.

The first (and most well-known) psychodynamic theory is psychoanalysis. It was developed by psychologist Sigmund Freud in the 1890s and is considered both a theory and a treatment. Freud believed that the mind is made up of three components: the id, our instincts and impulses that operate beneath awareness; the superego, which is our conscience and guides morality; and the ego, which is the rational part of the mind. He believed our personalities are a reflection of how these components interact with each other. He also believed that many causes of behavior, and thus our personality, come from the subconscious.

Trait Theories

We tend to describe people based on characteristics. It’s natural to see one person as outgoing, charismatic, and a leader or another person as quiet and hard-working. Categorizing people in this way helps us to make sense of our complex social world (Coaley, 2014).

Trait theories “explain personality in terms of internal characteristics that are presumed to determine behavior” (APA, 2023b). They usually measure personality characteristics through questionnaires that place people on a continuum of specific traits. The Big Five personality test does this. For example, one part of the survey aims to measure how extroverted you are. According to your answers, you’re placed somewhere on the spectrum between completely extroverted to completely introverted. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle.


Behaviorism is based on the principle that behavior, and therefore personality, is exclusively determined by the environment. It doesn’t take into account internal processes such as thoughts and feelings. It states that behaviors are either reinforced by rewards or discouraged by punishments. Some researchers even asserted that if they could completely control someone’s environment, they could also control their thoughts and feelings. Unlike psychodynamic theories, behaviorists believe that personality develops and changes over your lifetime and adapts to your situation.

Social-Learning Theory

The social-learning theory grew out of behaviorism and was developed by Albert Bandura in the 1960s. In addition to considering rewards and punishments that shape our behavior, the social-learning theory also considers the effect of cognitive processes, or mental functions, as a major driver of personality. Cognitive processes such as perception and judging interact with the environment to influence behavior. Bandura even thought that how we interpret our environment has a greater effect than the reality of the environment itself.

Social learning theory also says that observing and then imitating others’ behavior is a primary way we learn behaviors. Especially when watching others receive rewards or punishment.

Humanistic Theories

Humanistic theory sees people as inherently good and able to change and control their futures to obtain positive outcomes.

These theories stress subjective experiences and free will in determining our personality. In opposition to behavioral theory, humanistic theories assert that free will plays a big role in creating personality despite inherent traits or our environment (Hersen et al., 2006). They also stress the influence of phenomenology, which is how our minds create our reality based on our experiences and how we interpret the world. Self-actualization, or the need to reach your full potential, is seen as another important driver of human behavior.


Biological theories emphasize physiological and genetic influences on personality (Khatabi & Khormaee, 2016). Although we can’t point to specific genes that cause a personality trait, researchers believe that genetics plays a significant role in personality development. Your DNA controls how your brain is structured, which is related to physiological processes such as chemicals and hormones that influence personality. For example, studies suggest that testosterone contributes to sociability (Khatibi & Khormaee, 2016). Other researchers claim that introverts have higher cortisol levels which leads them to avoid too much stimulation (Khatibi & Khormaee, 2016).

In Sum

Personality psychology is an interesting and evolving field with many theories and differing viewpoints. People are complex. Although no single theory gives a full explanation of personality differences and how it affects behavior, they all have something to offer, and each raises thought-provoking perspectives. Ultimately, personality psychology can help us understand ourselves better. This can lead to better decisions about relationships and careers, and therefore more fulfilling lives.


● APA. (2023a). Apa Dictionary of Psychology. American Psychological Association. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from https://dictionary.apa.org/personality-psychology

● APA. (2023b). APA Dictionary of Psychology. American Psychological Association. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from https://dictionary.apa.org/trait-theory

● Boyle, G. J., Matthews, G., Cattell, H. E. P., & Mead, A. D. (2008). The Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF). In The sage handbook of personality theory and assessment (pp. 135–159). essay, SAGE.

● Coaley, K. (2014). Theories and Measurements of Personality Characteristics. In An introduction to psychological assessment & psychometrics (pp. 224–264). essay, SAGE.

● Hersen, M., Thomas, J. C., Segal, D. L., Andrasik, F., Ammerman, R. T., & Wong, P. T. P. (2006). Existential and Humanistic Theories. In Comprehensive handbook of personality and psychopathology (pp. 192–211). essay, John Wiley & Sons.

● Khatibi, M., & Khormaei, F. (2016, March 30). Biological basis of personality: A brief review. J. Life Sci. biomed. 6(2): 33-36. Docslib. Retrieved March 21, 2023, from https://docslib.org/doc/11809753/biological-basis-of-personality-a-brief-review-j-life-sci-bi omed-6-2-33-36

● Laajaj, R., Macours, K., Pinzon Hernandez, D. A., Arias, O., Gosling, S. D., Potter, J., Rubio-Codina, M., & Vakis, R. (2019). Challenges to capture the big five personality traits in non-weird populations. Science Advances, 5(7). https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aaw5226

● Roberts, B. W., & Yoon, H. J. (2022). Personality psychology. Annual Review of Psychology, 73(1), 489–516