Why are some people shy and others are outgoing? Why are some people kind and gentle, while others are hostile and aggressive? The answer to these questions can be found in three of the theories that describe personality. These theories are; psychoanalytic, humanistic, and social cognitive. Founded by Sigmund Freud, psychoanalysis is a theory that “stresses the influence of unconscious mental processes, the importance of sexual and aggressive instincts, and the enduring effects of early childhood experience on personality.” (Hockenbury 2014) This theory states that a person’s behavior and attitude are a result of past experiences, unconscious thoughts, buried memories, as well as a desire for pleasure.
The second theory, based upon the potential that all humans have, is called the humanistic perspective.
Rather than focusing on negative personality aspects, humanists think of all people as good and completely self-aware. An important concept to be aware of within this area of self-awareness is passed on to children from their parents. This concept is known as conditional positive regard.
Hockenbury (2014) describes this as, “the sense that the child is valued and loved only when she behaves in a way that is acceptable to others.” While it is important to feel loved and valued, placing limitations on those feelings can be detrimental to a child, as they may end up in denial and never learn how to express their true feelings. The third theory is the social cognitive perspective.
This perspective focuses on how conscious thought affects the beliefs and goals that a person has. Hockenbury (2014) paraphrases a leading theorist, Albert Bandura by saying, “collectively a person’s cognitive skills, abilities and attitudes represent the person’s self-system… it is out self-esteem that guides how we perceive, evaluate, and control our behavior in different situations.” What gives this perspective more credibility is that there is a way to measure its’ success, unlike the other theories.
There are two widely known ways to assess personality, Projective testing, and self-report testing. One of the better-known projective tests born from the psychoanalytic approach is the Rorschach inkblot test. This test takes inkblot images and asks the person to describe what they see in that image. Because there is no specific or correct way to score that test, the answers are subject to the interpretation of whoever is issuing the test. One benefit is that the person taking the test can consciously decide how they want to answer it, and effectively predict the outcome. There are also more structured tests known as self-report inventories, which is a structured question and answer test that rates the findings against a compiled average scoring from others. According to Cherry (n.d.), “Self-report inventories are often an [sic] good solution when researchers need to administer a large number of tests in relatively short space of time. Many self report inventories can be completed very quickly, often in as little as 15 minutes. This type of questionnaire is an affordable option for researchers faced with tight budgets.”
Cherry goes on to say, “results of self report inventories are generally much more reliable and valid than projective tests. Scoring of the tests a standardized and based on norms that have been previously established.” Although there are valid benefits that can come from personality assessments, there are also concerns regarding how truthful the answers may be, and how the answers may convey thought rather than behavior. Flagg (2010) regards these tests as, “what people think and/or [sic] feel at any given moment. They do not reveal what someone can do.” An example of this would be answering yes to a question regarding a skill in a certain area, though there is no way to prove the possession of that skill.
Flagg goes on to say that the “test scores box people into a set of definitions based on gross generalizations, which make them about as effective and applicable as horoscopes.” The Myers-Briggs personality assessment is a self-report test that was purposely designed to “box” a person into a defined category. Based on the answers to questions a person is labeled as either: introvert or extrovert, sensing or intuition, thinking or feeling, and judging or perceiving. Many large companies today offer this assessment to their employees in order to achieve a more efficient and successful work environment. While these tests are an effective way to gain answers, the truth is that the best way to learn about someone is to get to know them.
Cherry, K. (n.d.). What is a self report inventory. Retrieved 9/27/14 from
Flagg, D. (2010). The problem with personality tests. Retrieved 9/27/14 from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/office-diaries/201007/the-problem-personality-tests
Hockenbury, D. H., & Hockenbury, S. E. (2014). Discovering Psychology (6th ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishing