Eysenck's personality theory

Eysenck's personality theory

Last update: 30 July, 2018

Eysenck’s personality theory is considered a true paradigm and the most solid theory that psychology has offered. The theory best explains why each person has their own personality.

The theory states that there are three large traits inside each of us. These three traits are psychoticism, extraversion, and neuroticism. According to Eysenck, each person has a different level of each trait. The levels of these three traits are what makes up our personalities.

Eysenck’s personality theory states that there are three traits from which psychologists can make prognoses at the biopsychosocial level.

Hans Eysenck’s approach

At the outbreak of World War II, this German psychologist had to migrate to England. In London he worked as an emergency psychologist at the Mill Hill Emergency Hospital where he was in charge of the military’s psychiatric treatment. Eysenck’s professional career and his over 700 published articles about personality have secured his spot as one of the most influential psychologists.

Eysenck was deeply skeptical about using psychotherapy and psychoanalysis in clinical cases. However, he defended behavioral therapy as the best treatment for mental disorders.

hans eysenck

Traits: personality scanner

Eysenck’s approach is based in personality theory. In order to understand this we must consider that human behavior is determined by a series of attributes. These attributes, or genetic traits, are the foundations of personality. They predispose us to act in a certain way.

In addition, Eysenck’s theory assumes that these traits vary among individuals. The theory also assumes that traits are coherent across different situations and remain more or less table over time within an individual. He also believes that by isolating these genetic traits, we can see the deeper personality structure.

Eysenck and individual differences

According to this psychologist, our traits are influenced by genetics, the source of individual differences. Of course, Eysenck didn’t rule out other types of environmental influences or situations. Meaning that our traits can be accentuated when they come into contact with the outside environment.

Let’s use family interactions during childhood as an example. Affection is the communication that exists between parents and children, and it can have a greater or lesser effect on child development. Eysenck’s approach is biophysical, a mixture of biological, psychological, and social factors. It combines all of these factors as determinants of behavior.


Personality structure according to Eysenck

Eysenck categorizes personality into four different tiers. At the base you find specific answers to questions that don’t really characterize a person. On the second level you would find responses that occur more frequently throughout different circumstances.

In the third tier are habits that the person does frequently. Finally, at the top of the pyramid and the fourth tier are the super factors, which we delve into below.

“The notion of personality is intimately related to the notion of stability, consistency, and repeated occurrence of actions. It refers to the covariation of a number of behavioral acts.”

-Eysenck, 1987-

Eysenck’s two-factor theory

Hans Eysenck based his two-factor theory on these ideas. In order to do this he analyzed the way the way people answered personality questionnaires. Eysenck performed a factorial analysis, which is a statistical data reduction and agglutination technique. In this case, he used this technique to reduce behaviors to a series of factors with common attributes: the super factors. Each set of factors is grouped under one dimension.

Eysenck identified three independent personality dimensions: Psychoticism (P), Extraversion (E), and Neuroticism (N), which is why it’s called the PEN model. According to him, these three super factors adequately describe personality.

eysenck personality

The three dimensions of Eysenck’s personality theory

Neuroticism (stability-emotional instability)

First, Eysenck understands neuroticism as the highest degree of emotional instability. Eysenck uses this dimension to explain why some people are more prone than others to suffer anxiety, hysteria, depression, or obsession. He defines neurotic people as those who react in an exaggerated way more frequently and find it difficult to return to a normal level of emotional activation.

At the other extreme of the dimension, there are emotionally stable, calm, reasonable people who have a high degree of self-control.

Extraversion (extraversion-introversion)

Second, people with higher scores in extraversion have greater traits of sociability, impulsiveness, lack of inhibitions, vitality, optimism, and ingenuity. On the other hand, the more introverted people are generally more tranquil, passive, are less social, and more pessimistic.

However, this personality theory considers that the main different between the two factors is physiological. It’s based off of the level of cortical arousal.

eysenck personality


Third, the level of a person’s psychoticism reflects their vulnerability to impulsiveness, aggressiveness, and a lack of empathy. These people are often insensitive, antisocial, violent, aggressive, and extravagant. If you score high on psychoticism, you may be predisposed to various mental disorders, such as psychosis.

Unlike the other two dimensions, psychoticism doesn’t have an opposite or inverse extreme. Instead, psychoticism is present at different levels in everybody.

To conclude, personality is one of the most interesting, studied, and essential topics in psychology. Personality is studied in depth with the goal of explaining why a person is they way they are. One of the most important theories in personality psychology is Eysenck’s theory, which has become a cornerstone theory. When Eysenck first created his theory it laid the foundation for the scientific study of personality and human behavior.

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