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An individual's personality encompasses his or her unique patterns of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Although many of Sigmund Freud's theories about personality shaped the field of psychology, his contributions do not align with modern understanding of the brain and behavior. Neo-Freudian theorists such as Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, and Karen Horney moved away from Freud's teachings and introduced their own personality theories. Contemporary personality theories have been shaped by behaviorists, social learning theorists, humanistic psychologists, and behavioral geneticists. Personality traits have been found to be more useful for explaining individual differences than for predicting specific behaviors—people exhibit behavioral inconsistencies across environments. Projective tests were the first personality assessment tools, but have been supplanted by more reliable and valid measures.

At A Glance

  • Psychodynamic theory suggests that the mind is composed of the id, ego, and superego, with most mental activity taking place outside conscious awareness.
  • According to psychodynamic theory, people experience anxiety due to conflicts between the id and the superego. Defense mechanisms are unconscious attempts to manage that anxiety.
  • The five psychosexual development stages include the oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital stages and were believed to be crucial to the formation of adult personality.
  • Neo-Freudian theorists de-emphasized the importance of sexual drives as motivators of behavior, focusing instead on how social needs shape personality.
  • Social learning theory emphasizes the interaction between personality, thoughts, behavior, and the environment.
  • Humanistic models of personality share an optimistic view of humanity, focusing on free will and a person's potential for growth.
  • Both biological and environmental factors shape personality. Personality traits are heritable and related to differences in brain structure and function, as well as home environment, parenting style, peers, etc.
  • Statistical models tested with samples from around the world support the Five Factor Model of personality. The five core traits are neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experience.
  • Trait models of personality have limits, as people behave inconsistently across environments. Personality traits are more useful for explaining individual differences than for predicting specific behaviors.
  • An individualistic culture emphasizes independence and uniqueness, whereas a collectivistic culture focuses on interpersonal connections.
  • Projective personality assessments use unstructured tasks designed to reveal a person's unconscious desires. These tools lack reliability and validity but are still used in some clinical settings.
  • Psychologists have developed many reliable and valid questionnaires to assess personality traits. Normed tests can reveal how a person's personality traits compare to a selected group of people in general.