Theories of Personality

We have briefly discussed the following four theories of personality.

1. Behaviourism Theory

The behaviorist school focuses on external environment and effects of conditioning and learning. The role of learning in personality development is important. What is meant by conditioning and learning? It means behaviour is moulded if individuals are put in certain condition which will either lead to increase in behavior or decrease in it. For example, reinforcements will lead to increase in behavior which will be more prominent in personality. Similarly, punishment will lead to decrease in behavior which will be less prominent in personality.

2. Social Learning or Social Cognitive Theory

This theory attributes differences in personality to socialization, expectations and mental processes. It combines conditioning principles, cognition and the effects of social relationships. The social learning theory puts personality as a sum of all the ways that an individual learns to act, think and feel from his social contacts. Parents, conditioning, mental processes and reciprocal determinism are all parts and parcels of an individual’s personality. Reciprocal determinism is the process of interacting with our environment in which behavior, internal personal factors, and environmental influences operate as interlocking determinants of each other.

3. Humanistic Theory

This theory focuses on personal growth. The humanistic theory envisages that there are internal forces which drive the development of personality. These internal forces are the ways in which humans strive to achieve self-determination and self-realization. According to the theory, humans have free choice which is the ability to choose and is not controlled by factors such as genetics, learning or other unconscious forces. Abraham Maslow developed the humanistic theory of self-actualization by studying the lives of people who were rich, healthy, creative and productive. These included lives of people like Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Eleanor Roosevelt. He studied how these individuals went through the process of fulfilling their potential and obtained high levels of self-growth.

4. Traits Theory

Trait means a unique or characteristic pattern of behaviour to feel and act. According to the trait theory, personality is defined in terms of stable and enduring behavior patterns. It is more concerned to describe behaviour patterns rather than to explain them.

Gordon Allport, an American psychologist, is considered to be an early pioneer of the trait theory. He divided traits (also called dispositions) into four kinds.

  1. Central Traits: These are the traits which are basic and unique to an individual.
  2. Common Traits: These are the traits which are recognized within a culture. These may vary from culture to culture.
  3. Secondary Traits: These are traits between central and common and are more peripheral in nature.
  4. Cardinal Traits: These are the most fundamental traits of strong individual recognition.
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