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Big Five personality traits Essay

In 400 BC, Hippocrates, a physician and a very acute observer, claimed that different personality types are caused by the balance of bodily fluids. The terms he developed are still sometimes used today in describing personality. Phlegmatic (or calm) people were thought to have a higher concentration of phlegm; sanguine (or optimistic) people had more blood; melancholic (or depressed) people had high levels of black bile; and irritable people had high levels of yellow bile.

Hippocrates’ views about the biological basis of personality are echoed in contemporary theories that link the presence of brain chemicals such as noradrenaline and serotonin to mood and behaviour.

But how do we define ‘personality’? Within psychology two classic definitions are often used:
Personality is a dynamic organisation, inside the person, of psychophysical systems that create the person’s characteristic patterns of behaviour, thoughts and feelings. G.W. Allport, 1961 More or less stable, internal factors . . . make one person’s behaviour consistent from one time to another, and different from the behaviour other people would manifest in comparable situations. Child, 1968

Both these definitions emphasize that personality is an internal process that guides behaviour. Gordon Allport (1961) makes the point that personality is psychophysical, which means both physical and psychological. Recent research has shown that biological and genetic phenomena do have an impact on personality. Child (1968) makes the point that personality is stable – or at least relatively stable. We do not change dramatically from week to week,

we can predict how our friends will behave, and we expect them to behave in a recognizably similar way from one day to the next. Child (1968) includes consistency (within an individual) and difference (between individuals) in his definition, and Allport (1961) refers to characteristic patterns of behaviour within an individual. These are also important considerations. So personality is what makes our actions, thoughts and feelings consistent (or relatively consistent), and it is also what makes us different from one another.

By the early years of the twentieth century, Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) had begun to write about psychoanalysis, which he described as ‘a theory of the mind or personality, a method of investigation of unconscious process, and a method of treatment’ (1923/62).

Central to a psychoanalytic
unconscious mental processes proapproach is the concept of cesses in the mind that people are not unconscious mental processes normally aware of
– the idea that unconscious motivations and needs have a role in determining our behaviour. This approach also emphasizes the irrational aspects of human behaviour and portrays aggressive and sexual needs as having a major impact on personality.

How do personality theorists define personality?
Why are both consistency and difference important concepts for the personality psychologist? Why is the unconscious so important in Freud’s theory of personality? In what ways did Freud link personality development to physical development? According to Eysenck, what are the three primary dimensions of personality? What are the Big Five?

What is more important in determining behaviour – the person or the situation? Is extraversion related to brain-wave activity?
Are identical (monozygotic) twins more similar in personality than non-identical (dizygotic) twins? Is our personality an effect of how we interpret the world, or does it cause it? Does the way we perceive stress determine how we cope with it? How do internalized standards affect our behaviour?

Carver, C.S., & Scheier, M.F. (1996). Perspectives on Personality. 3rd edn. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon. Divides personality into different perspectives and includes a considerable amount of material on self-regulation. Mischel, W. (1999). Introduction to Personality. 6th edn. Orlando: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. An interesting introduction to personality research.

Pervin, L.A. (1996). The Science of Personality. New York: John Wiley & Sons. A readable and reasonably comprehensive account of personality research. Peterson, C., Maier, S.F., & Seligman, M.E.P. (1993). Learned Helplessness: A Theory for the Age of Personal Control. New York: Oxford University Press.

The history and development of learned helplessness theory.
Plomin, R. (1994). Genetics and Experience: The Interplay Between Nature and Nurture. London: Sage. Examines the role of both nature and nurture in the
development of individual differences. Plomin, R., DeFries, J.C., McClearn, G.E., & Rutter, M. (1997). Behavioral Genetics. 3rd edn. New York: Freeman. Introduces the field of behavioural genetics, including genetic factors in ability and disability, personality and psychopathology. Contributing author:

Diane M. Houston

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