Personality as ~ Field of Study

For most people, an assessment of personality (their own or someone else's) leads only to a value judgment, e.g. good, bad, pleasing, or irritating. Psychologists, however, study personality in order to explain and predict behavior. Whatever value judgments they may make are personal, not professional.

As you read the text, try to answer the following questions.

It is difficult to be precise about personality. Personality refers to the fact that the behavior of any individual shows some consistency. We expect certain kinds of behavior from some individuals and not from others, depending on how we assess their personality.

The field of personality is the study of individual differences. In this area we are interested in how one individual's feelings, attitudes, and behaviors differ from another's. We are especially interested in what the causes are for such differences.


Personality cannot be examined scientifically unless it is defined meaningfully

In 1937, Gordon Allport listed 50 definitions of personality. Some are "holistic." That is, they view personality as a whole. These definitions imply that behavior and personality can be understood only in the context of the whole person. This does not necessarily indicate that parts of the personality cannot be studied separately. It implies only that those studies cannot lead to complete understanding.

A useful distinction can be made between subjective and objective definitions of personality. An example of a subjective definition is: "Everything you think when you say '1' is your personality." Two examples of objective definitions of personality are:

Personality is that which permits a prediction of what a. person will do in a given situation (Cattell, 1950).

Personality is the most adequate conceptualization of a person's behavior in all its detail that a scientist can give at a moment in time (McClelland, 1950).

We see then that personality has two meanings. Personality is the private world of one's inner experiences. It is also a scientific assessment of a person that makes possible predictions of future behavior. An interesting question is, "How do these two meanings relate to each other?" Can psychologists ever measure arid analyze anyone's inner experience?


Types are either present or absent

From the beginning of recorded history, attempts have been made to classify people into groups or types. They may be "phlegmatic" or "Aquarian" or "introverted." Some people believe that something significant about personal- ity is revealed in such classifications. We hear that phlegmatic individuals are apathetic and self-possessed, that Aquarians are unconventional and humane, that introverted people are shy and retiring, that asthenics are asocial and withdrawn, that redheads are quick-tempered, and so on.

One difficulty with these type approaches to personality is that the extent or degree of each characteristic is not measured. An individual either does or does not belong to a type, according to these classification schemes. But personality is not that simple. Psychologists have measured many dimensions of personal- ity. Most of these qualities are distributed among all people. Some have a characteristic in abundance, others have very little, and the bulk of the popula- tion falls somewhere in between. The distribution need not be normal, though it often is. There are very few characteristics for which people fall into dichoto- mies. (A classification into males and females is one exception.)

Traits may exist in degrees

Trait approaches have been developed to accommodate the various degrees to which people may possess a feature. All individuals can be scaled or as- signed a value along a trait dimension. Some will have very little, others very much; they represent the extremes of the distribution. Most people would show moderate amounts of any trait.

Some views look like type approaches but, on closer examination, may prove to be based on traits. For example, Freud (1931 ) classified people into libidinal types. The erotic type. . . are those whose main interest is turned towards love. Loving, but above all being loved, is the most important thing for them. They are dominated by the fear of loss of love . . . The second type is . . . the obsessional type . . . The people of this type are dominated by fear of their conscience instead of fear of losing love. The third type . . . the narcissistic type. . . [has A main interest directed to self-preservation. His ego has a large amount of aggressiveness at its disposal

This appears to be a type approach until we read further.

These pure types will hardly escape the suspicion of having been de- duced from the theory of the libido. But we feel ourselves on the f ran ground of experience when we turn to the mixed types, which are to be observed so much more frequently than the unmixed types

This is a trait approach because the classification into libidinal types permits degrees of each type. Freud himself never considered the problems of trait measurement; nevertheless his system implied the existence of traits.


Now test yourself without looking back.

1. Match.

1 ) Subjective definition ____________________

2) Objective definition _____________________

a. Personality is "everything you think of when you say "I'"

b. Personality is "that which permits a prediction of what a person will do in a given situation."

2. Match.

1 ) Trait approach____________________

2) Type approach_________________ a. individuals are classified into a limited number of groups.
b. Individuals are assigned a value along a dimensional scale.
c. This approach does not consider different degrees of characteristics.

3. Freud classified people into libidinal types. He felt that there were erotic, obsessional, and narcissistic people. He also felt that most people were mixed types, combining characteristics of the pure types.

Freud's approach was the______________________________

4. Write the name of the approach after each of the following descriptions.
a. People are classified according to the degree of assertiveness or submissiveness.
b. People are classified as assertive or submissive.
c. People are classified as completely assertive, completely submissive, or anywhere in between.



"Personality is everything you think of when you say '"I' " This definition is:
a. subjective.
b.. objective.
c. based on the person's private world.

_______________________ 5

"Personality is self." This is a(c)_________________________________________ (subjective/objective) definition.

______________________________________ 7

Which of the following definitions of personality is a subjective definition?
a. It is the private world of one's inner experience.
b. It is an area of knowledge that can be measured and analyzed.


Which of the following is an objective definition of personality?
a. Personality is "that which permits a prediction of what
a person will do in a given situation."
b. Personality is self
c. Personality is "the most adequate conceptualization of a person's behavior in all its detail that a scientist can give at a moment in time."


Personality is an area of knowledge that can be measured and analyzed. This idea is based on _______________________________ _ (subjective/objective) definitions of personality.

_____________________________________________6 _

Lord Kelvin, a physicist, has said that "when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind." Lord Kelvin

would prefer a(n) _________________________________________
(subjective/objective) definition of personality.


There are two basic approaches to personality theory: the type approach and the trait approach. The type approach classifies people into a limited number of categories. The trait approach classifies people by assigning them to some point on a continuous scale; it allows all possible degrees. Write type or trait to describe the approach of each classification below.

a. People are classified as fat, thin or muscular.______________________

b. People are classified along a scale according to weight._____________________________

c. People are classified according to degree of expressiveness._____________________________

d. People are classified as outgoing or withdrawn.__________________________



3 Match.

1 ) Type approach________

2) Trait approach_______

a. Classifies people according to degree of some factor
b. Classifies people on the basis of presence or absence of some factor
c. Has a limited number of categories
d. Allows the use of a scale of measurement



1 a

2 a. type c. trait b. trait d. type 3 a, c

4 1) b, c
2) a, d
5 a, c
6 objective
7 subjective
8 objective


1. Which of the following is a subjective definition of personality?
a. Personality is what can be measured by a personality test.
b. Personality is "everything you think of when you say "I'"
c. Personality is "that which permits a prediction of what a person will do in a given situation."
d. Personality is self.

2. A subjective definition of personality is:
a. based on one's private world.
b. ". . . the most adequate conceptualization of a person's behavior in all its detail that a scientist can give at a moment in time."

3. What are the two approaches to the study of personality?__________________________________________________________________

4. Write the type of approach after each example.
a. People are classified as expressive or withdrawn.___________________________________________

b. People are rated according to how expressive they are._______________________________

c. People are assigned a point along a scale.____________________________________

d. People are classified into a limited number of groups._________________________________

5. Sheldon (Sheldon, Stevens, and Tucker, 1940) suggested that three basic somatotypes, or body structures, underlie certain characteristics of temperament. He concluded that any person could be classified in terms of these three basic types. He developed a scale that indicated relative amounts of each component, resulting in a three-digit number for any individual.

a. Which approach to personality did Sheldon use? ____________________(trait/type)

b. What detail in the paragraph above indicates that he used this approach?_____________________________


Unit 12 Table of Contents

Psych 200 Home Page

Nov. 12, 2005