Theories of Personality Psychology


Theories of Personality Psychology

Personality psychology is the scientific study of people’s characters, nature, and variations (Almlund, Duckworth, Heckman, & Kautz, 2011). It is a branch of psychology. It aims at showing how people may be individually different through psychological drivers. Personality psychology focuses on building a coherent image of a person and considering their psychological processes. It also focuses on identifying individual psychological differences and, lastly, investigating human nature and the similar personalities that human beings exhibit. Personality is an ever-changing and organized group trait that is developed by individuals in their unique ways and affects their emotions, environment, behaviors, cognitions, and motivations in different situations. Personality may also refer to how the individuals’ thoughts, social adaptations, feelings, and behaviors are packaged consistently (Aipas, 2014). This paper focuses on Gerald, a character in the celebrity hangout television show. It provides an analysis of his personality based on various social environments. The paper uses three personality analysis approaches: trait, psychoanalytic, and neo-analytic approaches to personality analysis. Further, it gives an overview of each approach’s strengths and weaknesses and characteristics that overlap between them and finally suggests how to best get optimal personality analysis results.

Trait Approach

The theory of the five-factor model of personality uses an approach that focuses on personalities from a set of dimensions of five traits  (Novikova, 2013). These personalities are Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism, and Openness to Experience (Ackerman, 2019). This is arguably the most preferred personality model for measurement and research purposes. These five traits are also referred to as the big five. Each of the trait dimensions is made up of specific facet traits and can be recognized in different behaviors.

Extraversion is the degree to which one is outgoing in the social environment and talkativeness. It comprises facet traits: assertiveness versus submissiveness, sociability versus shyness, and activity versus lack of energy. The behavior of the extravert people is talking too much in social areas, taking charge, and having positive emotions. The introverts, on the other hand, tend to have uncomfortable feelings in social places and tend to keep whatever they think or feel to themselves.

Agreeableness is measured by the degree to which one acts towards other people and how they maintain satisfactory and amicable relations (Brandstätter & Opp, 2014). The specific facets of this trait are politeness versus antagonism, compassion versus lack of concern, and trust versus suspicion against other people. People who have a high degree of agreeableness tend to be more willing to assist others, and easily forgive and respect others, while those with low levels of agreeableness look down on others, hold grudges, and easily pick arguments.

Conscientiousness is measured to evaluate one’s ability to organize tasks well, complete them, and focus on executing long-term goals. It is made up of specific facet traits, which include orderliness versus disorderliness, self-discipline versus inefficiency, and reliability versus inconsistent. People, who exhibit this trait, like orderly and structured systems, are likely to be productive at work, follow the rules, and do not seek instant gratification. Those with less conscientiousness hardly control their urge and get distracted from their tasks easily (Heaven, Ciarrochi, Leeson, & Barkus, 2012).

Neuroticism is a trait used to measure the degree to which one is affected by negative emotions. It is made up of anxiety versus calmness, volatility versus stability, and depression versus contentment. The people who have high neuroticism are prone to high negative emotions like sadness, fear, and feeling frustrated and often have mood swings. Those who are less neurotic mostly remain hopeful and calm even during challenging situations and easily manage their emotions (Widiger & Oltmanns, 2017).

Openness to Experience measures the individual’s artistic, intellectual, and life experience. It comprises imaginativeness versus lack of creativity, intellect versus low intellectual curiosity, and sensitivity versus insensitivity.  People with high openness tend to have a variety of interests and take delight in trying new things. Those with low openness have few interests and enjoy routine and familiarity more than a variety of things (Peterson, 2014).

Gerald has high extraversion meaning that he is likely friendly, assertive, gregarious, seeks excitement, and is cheerful. However, he has a low activity level. He trusts others more on agreeableness but has low levels of cooperation, altruism, modesty, sympathy, and morality. His conscientiousness levels are moderate, too, with high efficacy, low orderliness, and dutifulness; he strives for achievement, discipline, and moderate cautiousness. His neuroticism is high, with high levels of anxiety, anger, self-consciousness, moderation, ad low vulnerability, and anger. Finally, he has low openness levels with minimal imagination, interest in art, emotionality, intellect, and high liberalism and adventure. Gerald is likely to make friends in a social situation easily. He is also likely not to perform his tasks satisfactorily.

Psychoanalytic Approach

The theory of psychoanalytic approach was introduced in 1894 by Freud as a mental issue. A defense mechanism is the reaction of an individual to emotional conflicts and stressors which are external (Holland & Legg, 2019). The defense mechanism allows the mind to hide other materials to avoid painful experiences of feelings. The defense mechanism acts as a force that counters the push of drives (Cramer, 2015). Various defense mechanisms protect the ego from instinctual demands. The defense mechanism has two concepts which are repelling the instinctual drives and avoiding painful feelings and affect (Loeffler-Stastka, 2014). Some analysts consider Defense a pathological occurrence, while others warn about equating it to pathology. There has not been a consensus on whether it is pathological or not. However, some defense mechanisms like acting out, splitting, and projection are maladaptive, while others like denial and suppression are maladaptive or adaptive, and that depends on how severe and inflexible they are and the contextual factors in which they occur. The defense mechanism comes in between a person’s wishes, needs, and effects and internalized relations to an object and the external reality. Defense mechanisms, also known as coping styles, are psychologically automatic and protect one from the anxiety of understanding the internal and external adverse effects of stressors (Grohol, 2016).

The coping styles may lead to positive or negative effects depending on the situation and how frequently the mechanism is applied. In looking at it from the psychoanalytic approach, the unconscious mind applies a defense mechanism to distort, manipulate or deny reality in defense against one’s feelings of anxiety and urges that are unacceptable to the person and to maintain the desirable confidence.

Healthy people use defense mechanisms throughout their lifetimes.  The ego becomes pathological after being used repeatedly, making it maladaptive, which leads to the person’s mental and physical health being poorly affected (Parekh et al., 2010).

There are two basic approaches to defense mechanisms: dissociation and cognitive distortions. Dissociation gives one the ability to separate themselves successively from stressful emotional states while cognitive distortions include a positive ego that helps one to adapt and get used to the experience of such emotional states. The common defense mechanisms are divided into two, namely tactical and formal. The tactical defense mechanisms include: speaking in generalities, vagueness, changing the subject matter, argumentativeness, and blame, being dismissive, distancing, acting-out, being sarcastic, and speaking statements that are contradictory and non-verbal communication, among others. The formal coping styles, however, include repression, denial, regression, projections, reaction formation, intellectualization, and splitting.

Gerald displayed a defense mechanism of contradictory speaking statements. He first said that he takes charge of social situations and loves to help others, while later admitted that he takes time to initiate actions and thinks much about others. The circumstance that led him to contradict himself is that he did not want to appear as an introvert in the first statement, which he feels bad about. He did not realize that he was contradicting his statements or, rather, using a coping style to feel better about himself. His use of defense mechanisms made their character more friendly and talkative to maintain the artificial extraversion, which he feels good about. This, therefore, did not have any adverse effects on him.

Neo-Analytic Approach

A Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung introduced the concept of archetypes. He presented archetypes as approaches to personalities, people, and behaviors. He argued that their archetypes were inborn behaviors that affect human behavior as a whole (Cherry & Gans, 2019). According to him, the human psyche consists of three elements: the personal unconscious, the ego, and the collective unconscious. Jung established that the collective unconscious is unique in that it is psychologically inherited and consists of all the experiences and knowledge people share. According to Jung, these archetypes present universal patterns and images consisting of the collective unconscious. These archetypes are inherited the same way instinctive behavior patterns are inherited. According to Jung, the human mind keeps important unconscious biological aspects of the ancestors. All the archetypes play a role in forming the personality of a person. However, there is one archetype that is predominant for many people. How these archetypes are exhibited depends on factors such as the influences of culture and unique personal experiences. Four major archetypes were identified; however, they are not limited, as having more than them is possible. The four major ones are persona, shadow, anima or animus, and the self. In this paper, only two, namely the persona and the shadow, will be discussed.

The persona

Persona is a Latin word that means mask. In this context, it doesn’t mean an actual mask, though. The persona is how people present themselves to the world (J, 2014). It shows all the various masks one puts on in different social groupings or situations. It protects the ego from being exposed to adverse effects. The persona can sometimes appear in dreams and assume various forms.

During the socialization process and human development, children learn how to behave or conform to fit and to live by the expectations and norms of society. Therefore the persona grows into a social mask to cover the unpleasant urges, desires, and emotions that are otherwise socially unacceptable (Stead, 2019). This archetype helps us camouflage in the world that surrounds us and allows us to fit into the society we live in. Having an archetype that dominates one behavior to the extent of being identified with it however may lead one to forget their true selves.

The Shadow

The shadow archetype is made up of the sex and instincts of life. It is part of the unconscious mind and consists of desires, ideas, weaknesses, instincts, and shortcomings that are repressed (Jacobson, 2017). This archetype is formed to adapt to the cultural norms and what society expects of people. The shadow archetype contains all the unpleasant things that are not only bad in the face of society but also in the face of their values and morals. Some things that may be contained in the shadow are prejudice, greed, envy, aggression, and hate. Jung terms the shadow archetype as the inferior personality that everyone has (Bolea, 2016).

This archetype forms the unpleasant side of the psyche, with the unpredictable, chaos, and being wild. Despite that, people deny having this psyche and identifying it in others; it is an archetype in everyone. Like the persona, the shadow archetype can appear in visions and dreams, taking different forms (Traversa, 2017).

Gerald exhibits the two archetypes described above. Besides being extraverted in social situations, he keeps calm in new social situations and more formal and calm environments like professional conferences. His extravert trait, however, exhibits itself after he becomes used to the social environment. The archetype Gerald exhibits in the new social environment is the persona that tries to put on a social mask that makes him look like an introvert before getting used to the environment around him.

He is very friendly and makes friends fast. However, his temper tends to be short, and he may turn in seconds from being friendly, sensitive, and considerate to an abusive and angry person. He, however, never wants this side of him to come out in any situation. He even feels that it contradicts his values and morals. This darker side of Gerald makes up the shadow archetype of him.


The trait and psychoanalytic approaches are antagonistic in terms of popularity. They have strengths and shortcomings; sometimes, they are used to bring optimal understanding and analysis of people’s behavior. On the other hand, the neo-analytic approach seems to borrow much from the trait approach. The trait approach, however, has more research backing than the psychodynamic approach, which includes the psychodynamic approach and the neo-analytic approach (Northouse, 2010). For this reason and other reasons like not being built on appeal like the trait approach, the psychodynamic is taken with less seriousness although it provides informative arguments on behavior analysis. The psychodynamic theories are weak in that they cannot be tested in research, making them not to be proven (Pennsylvania State University, 2012). However, besides being unable to be proven, psychodynamic contains valuable lessons and ideas that can be used to analyze behaviors.

On the other hand, the trait approach is incomplete in terms of how it presents traits and ignores the observers and the other social environments. It also ignores talking about the outcomes of the traits it lists. It banks on the fact that it is more trusted and widely used because of its ability to be proven.

Both the trait and psychodynamic approaches (psychoanalytic and neo-analytic approaches) share a weakness in that they are subjective to one’s judgment. The psychodynamic approaches are subjective in their findings, while the trait approach may be subjective to people’s interpretation.

From the above, it is evident that both the trait and psychodynamic approaches have strengths and weaknesses. Some of these strengths and weaknesses are common in the approaches. It is, therefore, to abandon one approach and adopt the other without encountering some shortcomings. The best way to utilize the three approaches is by holistically approaching them and incorporating them in the analysis of behaviors.


From the above discussion on the three approaches to analyzing the behavior of Gerald, it has been evident that the approaches are essential in offering insights into different behavior and traits of people. They are powerful tools for psychologists and provide informative ideas, attributes, and analysis points. However, there has been a pretty notable shortcoming in each approach, as described in the discussion section. Therefore, for one to come up with the optimal analysis of Gerald’s behavior, they need to integrate the three approaches to and see the analysis from the three different angles. In conclusion, all psychologists need to examine the theories they use and critique them to develop optimal results of their analysis liberally.


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