Personality and Psychologypsychologists and their Theories on Personality Development

Psychologists approach personality from a number of different perspectives, hence the many different theories of personality that are discussed in this article.

Biological theorists such as Hans Eysenck suggested that genetics are responsible for personality. Psychologists and Personality Behavioural theorists such as Bandura and Skinner argued that personality is a result of the interaction between the individual and the environment. Pscychodynamic theorists such as Sigmund Freud highlighted the influences of childhood experiences and the unconscious mind on personality. How does one define the word “personality?”

The term in itself conjures up a number of different interpretations. Because of this, the “reliable, testable substance” that can be measured that useful theories need for practical application has not yet been fully developed. Nevertheless, there are many stimulating theories that provide interesting notions and suggestions and these have lead to useful applications.

Definition of Personality ~

One possible definition of personality could be: “the characteristic patterns of behaviour and modes of thinking that determine a person’s adjustment to the environment.” Skinner might have agreed with this.

Mischel, on the other hand, would have seen it as rubbish to class personality in terms of an “automatic response to the environment”. And whereas Skinner’s entire system is based on operant conditioning, reinforcement, and copying, Mischel’s theory is based on three factors: The situation, person variables, and behaviour.

Mischel’s Theory of Personality ~

According to Mischel’s Theory of Personality a person’s actions in a given situation depend on the specific characteristics of the situation and how the individual appraises the situation. Traditional social behaviour theory tends to focus on the characteristic inclinations to behave in particular ways in similar situations, i.e. a certain type of situation will produce a certain type of behaviour. Mischel, however, argued that people will behave consistently across situations only if consistent acts are likely to lead to the same consequences. So how does one predict how a person will behave in a specific situation?

Mischel’s theory emphasizes the importance of individual differences in cognitive development and in social learning experiences. He argues that expectancies and values are important in guiding people’s choices between alternative courses of action in any given situation. Psychological Approaches to Personality – Mischel’s Theory: There are five broad person variables which include:competencies, cognitive strategies, expectancies, subjective values and self-regulatory systems and plans.

To quickly describe these: Competencies include intellectual abilities and social skills. Cognitive strategies are the way in which people differ in how they selectively assimilate and code events into meaningful categories. (An event perceived by one person to be “threatening” may be seen as a “challenge” by someone else.) Expectancies cover the expected consequences of different behaviours which will guide the individual’s choice of behaviour. Subjective values refer to the assigned value or worth placed on possible outcomes.

Self-regulatory systems, personal assessments and plans are the ways in which people differ in the techniques they adapt for regulating their behaviour.These person variables interact with the conditions of a particular situation to determine what an individual will do in that situation. He might therefore ask himself questions such as, “What can I do?” “How do I see the situation?” “What will happen?” “What is it worth?” and “How can I achieve it?”

Mischel therefore, sees man as thoughtful, rational and intelligent. Choices are made between possibilities of action in a given situation. On the other hand, Skinner challenges this notion that humans are autonomous beings whose behaviours are influenced by self-actualizing tendencies. Skinner’s theory highlights differences in behaviour that are largely the result of various learning experiences.

So whereas some psychologists might look at genetics and the unconscious in forming personality, others like Skinner would recommend the psychologist focus on “observables” such as the environment and people’s “response” to that environment.

Carpenter F., The Skinner Primer – Behind Freedom and Dignity. The Free Press (Macmillan Publishing Co. Inc.). 1974.

 Gross, R D., Psychology, the Science of Mind and Behaviour. Hodder & Stoughton, London. 1972.

Leibert R M & Spiegler, M., Personality Strategies and Issues. Brooks/Cole Publishing Co. 1973.