Cloninger's Theory of Personality

Cloninger's theory of personality takes into account the influence of biological and learning aspects on behavior. It's one of the most widely accepted theories today.
Cloninger's Theory of Personality
Sergio De Dios González

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Sergio De Dios González.

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 14 May, 2023

Cloninger’s theory of personality is also known as the Cloninger model. It proposes that personality should be approached as a system resulting from the neurochemical functioning of the organism and social learning. In fact, it suggests that both factors operate together and determine how we usually act.

This theory was proposed by C. Robert Cloninger. It claims that temperament is the element that integrates the functioning of biological systems. This allows the organism to regulate its behavior to adapt to the environment. To a great extent, this is determined by neurotransmitters

Cloninger’s theory proposes that character is the result of learning acquired throughout the life cycle. It allows the individual to relate to themselves and the world voluntarily, based on what they’ve learned from their experiences. These elements form the basis of Cloninger’s theory. In addition, he developed two widely accepted personality tests.

“Character is the regulator of well-being regardless of the underlying temperament.”

-Claude Cloninger-

Cloninger’s theory of personality and temperament

Cloninger’s theory proposes that temperament is the emotional core of personality. It’s observed from an early age and remains relatively stable over time. It comprises four dimensions. They’re all inherited tendencies and are as follows:

  1. Novelty seeking (NS). It regulates behaviors such as exploratory activity, response to novelty, impulsiveness, and active avoidance of frustration. It’s regulated by dopamine and its processes.
  2. Harm avoidance (HA). It leads to inhibition of behavior in response to novelty, absence of reward, or punishment cues. It results in passive avoidance of problems, pessimistic anticipation, shyness, etc. It’s regulated by serotonin and its processes.
  3. Reward Dependence (RD). It leads to an approach or attachment to social stimuli, depending on the reinforcements received from the environment. It makes individuals loving, devoted, sensitive, dependent, and in need of approval. It’s regulated by norepinephrine.
  4. Persistence (P). It involves maintaining a certain behavior, despite frustration or fatigue. It’s associated with behaviors that have been previously rewarded, and thus are maintained for this reason. It makes individuals persevering, ambitious, and extremely determined. They also tend to be perfectionists. This dimension is controlled by glutamate and serotonin.
According to Cloninger, temperament gives rise to cognitive habits
Temperament is a reflection of the individual’s emotions and is understood as the emotional focus of personality.

Character in Cloninger’s theory

The second great axis in Cloninger’s model of personality is character. It’s of a mental nature and is expressed deliberately. It corresponds to self-concept, personal values, and individual goals. It comprises three dimensions:

  • Self-directedness (SD). High SD makes an individual responsible, confident, resourceful, and self-sufficient. They’re also realistic and practical. On the contrary, low AD causes opposite kinds of behavior.
  • Cooperativeness (C). High C corresponds to people who feel part of humanity and have principles. Moreover, they behave in an empathic, tolerant, and compassionate way. Low C causes opposite kinds of behavior.
  • Self-Transcendence (ST). High ST refers to people who feel part of the universe. They possess spiritual insight, humility, and ease in the face of pain. On the other hand, those with low ST are pragmatic and materialistic.

Personality in the Cloninger model

Finally, Cloninger’s theory of personality addresses the central axis of personality itself. It’s seen as a synthesis of the interaction between temperament and character. In other words, it’s a blend of the emotional being and the cognitive or mental being.

The combination gives rise to different personality types. At their extreme, they become the following personality disorders:

  • Methodical – Obsessive.
  • Precautious – Avoidant.
  • Sensitive – Narcissistic.
  • Explosive – Borderline.
  • Adventurer – Antisocial.
  • Passionate – Histrionic.
  • Independent – Schizoid.
The combination of temperament and character originate different types of personality, according to Cloninger
The mixture of temperament, character, and personality defines conduct.

Cloninger’s theory leads to a cognitive schema

Cloninger’s theory of personality claims that temperament, character, and personality give rise to habits and cognitive schemata. They constitute the central core of an individual’s identity, thus determining their behavior.

Taking this argument as a basis, Cloninger developed two tests to classify individuals as well as personality disorders. In fact, they’re currently widely used in the fields of psychology and psychiatry.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.