Personality Explained: Personality Psychology

What's personality? How is it defined by personality psychology? What does your personality consist of? We'll answer these questions, as well as others, in this article.
Personality Explained: Personality Psychology

Last update: 30 November, 2020

We’re all unique individuals, and our psychology is as individual and idiosyncratic as our personality. Every experience we have leaves its mark, and some leave more than others. And we now know that our personality comprises genetic, hereditary, and environmental components. Personality psychology is the discipline responsible for studying personality.

But what’s personality? Is it just related to our actions, for instance, or also to our inner world (our thoughts and memories)? In fact, it’s related to all of this and much more.

“All of our experiences fuse into our personality. Everything that ever happened to us is an ingredient.”

-Malcolm X-

A man showing images of himself with different expressions, showing what personality is.

What’s personality?

We might understand the concept of personality in various ways. However, we generally understand it as a hypothetical construct deduced from the way people behave. Therefore, personality encompasses a series of characteristic traits. Furthermore, it includes the way you feel or think and it’s forged throughout your life. This is due to your various experiences, particularly those in your childhood and adolescence.

Bermúdez proposed one of the most complete definitions of the concept of personality in 1996. He suggested that Personality is a relatively stable organization of structural and functional characteristics, innate and acquired under its special conditions of development, which make up the peculiar and defining system of conduct with which each individual faces different situations”.

But what’s personality for? As well as defining yourself as the unique person you are and helping you build your identity, personality is what allows you to successfully adapt to your environment. In other words, it has certain adaptive characteristics.

Personality psychology

Personality psychology is the discipline charged with studying the effect of individual differences in personality on behavior. More specifically, this branch of psychology studies personality and how individuals vary in their personalities (individual differences).

We consider American psychologist Gordon Allport (1897-1967) one of the most significant authors in this particular discipline. Allport wrote The Personality (1936). In fact, we think of Allport as one of the founders of this branch of psychology. He placed special emphasis on each individual’s unique character. Furthermore, he considered the present context to be more important than that of the past.

What elements does personality contain?

Personality psychology proposes that the concept of personality composes two large groups of behaviors or characteristics. These include:

  • Manifest behavior. For example, the actions you take or how you behave.
  • Private experience. For example, your desires, memories, thoughts, needs, opinions, etc.

Therefore, your personality is a distinct construct, which means you’re unique and inimitable. Nevertheless, it’s also true that there are specific personality patterns. These are the tendencies for people to behave in a certain way. These patterns include personality disorders.

Although you have your own particular characteristics, you share other patterns with others. These patterns are called traits. Personality psychology studies these patterns extensively.

How is it studied?

You can use three models to study personality. These models focus on studying behavior in order to establish hypotheses. This is because you can learn a lot about what someone is like from their behavior. The three models are:

  • Internalist. Personal variables determine how you behave.
  • Situationist. External causes determine how you behave.
  • Interactionist. Interaction between personal variables and context determines how you behave.

Personality traits and the Five Factor Model

Traits are the sets of common characteristics that shape certain personality types. Some examples of traits are positivity, joy, sincerity, transparency, pessimism, and introversion.

We consider one of the most important models in this field is Raymond Cattell’s Big Five model. Cattell suggests there are five major personality factors, and each factor includes a number of personality traits. The five factors are:

  • Extraversion (versus introversion).
  • Neuroticism (versus emotional stability).
  • Conscientiousness (versus irresponsibility).
  • Openness to experience (versus rigidity).
  • Agreeableness (versus insensitivity).

We sometimes call these five factors and their opposites by different names but they still have the same meaning. Furthermore, you can describe anyone’s personality using these five factors and their corresponding traits.

Personality disorders (PDs)

As we discussed earlier, your personality is unique. However, certain patterns are sometimes repeated in individuals. This shapes different types of personality. Sometimes, personality types exhibit extreme, dysfunctional, nonadaptive, or normatively deviated traits. These traits are called personality disorders.

In order to be diagnosed with a personality disorder, the patient must be suffering or have problems in functioning. The different personality disorders are listed in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and ICD-10 (International Classification of Diseases). Depending on their characteristics, personality disorders can be grouped into three clusters: A, B, and C.

  •  A. Paranoid PD, schizoid PD, and schizotypal PD.
  •  B. Antisocial PD, borderline PD, histrionic PD, and narcissistic PD.
  •  C. Avoidant PD, dependent PD, and obsessive-compulsive PD.
A woman looking thoughtful.

Final thoughts

Your personality is something that builds over time, especially during childhood and adolescence. However, there comes a time in your life when your personality stabilizes and stays that way for good. Luis Muiño, a psychologist, states that you can change small things in the way you are but your personality is what it is.

Your personality has a genetic basis, but it’s also built on learning, context, relationships, and your lived experiences. In fact, your personality includes everything you are on the inside as well as how you behave on the outside.

“Personality begins where comparison ends.”

-Karl Lagerfield-

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  • American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5a ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
  • Avia, MD (1995). Personalidad: aspectos cognitivos y sociales. Madrid: Pirámide
  • Bermúdez, J. (2003). Psicología de la personalidad. Teoría e investigación (vol. I y II). Madrid: UNED
  • Cattell, R.B., (1947). Confirmation and clarification of primary personality factors. Psychometrika, 12, 197-220.