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Diverse personality theories have evolved over a long period of time. People are different, and no person is exactly the same as the other. People’s behaviors are controlled by situations they find themselves in, as well as their innate characteristics. This study seeks to ascertain what makes one person different from another. It also provides a chapter-by-chapter summary of a book by Burger J. M. (2008) ‘Personality’. Following the summary, an extensive analysis of the book is done.
Personality psychology is a branch of psychology that examines and studies differences between people. Personality can be defined as regular behavioral patterns and intrapersonal processes coming from within a person. Personality theories are divided into six broad categories, such as: cognitive, humanistic, psychoanalytic, biological, trait and social learning, and behavioral approaches. Various personality theories focus on different aspects to explain individual behaviors. Some of these theories differ in their explanation of individual behaviors, but most of them complement one another. Psychologists have also come to a conclusion that culture plays an important role in understanding individual behavior (Burger, 2008).
Personality Research Methods
Personality psychologists use scientific research methods to examine personality processes. These scientific research methods involve logical derivation of hypotheses from various personality theories. The hypotheses are then tested to prove their validity. Good personality theories are characterized by many testable hypotheses. There are two elements in a personality research design, such as dependent and independent variables. Personality researchers vary in their research. Some psychologists examine manipulated, while others engage in research of non-manipulated variables. Examining the former variables offers the best results because they allow for hypothesis testing. Most personality researchers use the case study method. This is because the method offers unique advantages over other methods. Personality psychologist use tests to determine differences between groups and correlation coefficient to analyze their data (Burger, 2008).
The Psychoanalytic Approach
Sigmund Freud developed the personality theory about a hundred years ago. Freud’s theory divides human personality into unconscious, preconscious and conscious parts. In addition, Freud divides personality into superego, ego and id. According to Freud, psychic energy called libido powers psychological activity. Tension in human beings is caused by intrapsychic conflicts. Whenever the tension in human beings occurs, they change their behavior, so as to return to their normal state. Freud theory also describes the psychosexual stages of development. He explains that there are various stages of passage by children for a healthy sexual expression during the genital stage: oral, anal and phallic stages. Sigmund Freud developed psychoanalysis the first system of psychotherapy. Projective tests are used by many Freudian psychologists to measure psychological concepts of their interest (Burger, 2008).
Relevant Research in Freudian Approach
Various psychological researches have applied Sigmund Freud’s theory and methods of evaluation. Research conducted on dreams show that men are preoccupied with other men. Research has shown that men tend to dream twice as many characters of male than female. Dreams have also been proved to help in solving current problems of the person sleeping. Projective tests show that people using immature defense mechanisms have more difficulty in behavior adjustment than those using productive ones. Young children rely on simple defense mechanisms, such as denial. Adults, on the other hand, mostly use identification as a defense mechanism (Burger, 2008).
Some psychologists working in line with Sigmund Freud’s hypothesis broke away from them to form neo-Freudian personality theories. However, these psychologists still maintained Freudian basic concepts and assumptions. These psychologists argued that Freud’s emphasis was more on instinctual than social influences. They maintained that Freud failed to recognize change in personality of people over time. Some of these neo-Freudian psychologists include Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, Erick Erickson and Karen Horney. Neo-Freudian made significant contributions to the psychoanalytic theory. Generally, they influenced later approaches of personality. However, the neo-Freudian theories are criticized for their oversimplification of their theories. In addition, some of the neo-Freudian theories are incomplete. These personality psychologists have also used disputable and biased data to support their theories (Burger, 2008).
Relevant Research on Neo-Freudian Theory
Neo-Freudian theorists have carried out a number of studies on peoples’ reaction to anxiety-provoking situations. Research conducted by these psychologists show that people react differently when faced with anxiety-provoking situations. People may either avoid or become actively involved in them. Neo-Freudian psychologists have also studied the sources and consequences of aggression. According to these psychologists, frustration can be a source of aggression. Frustration is unpleasant, and that is why it causes aggression. Frustration-induced aggression can be inflicted on innocent targets. People being allowed to act on their aggression increase possibility of further aggression (Burger, 2008).
Traits approach maintains that differences can be identified through individual behaviors that assume stability in varied conditions over time. Trait theorists place emphasis on looking at behaviors of people at specific times in the trait continuum, rather than any person’s behavior. Researchers on traits normally rely on self-report assessment to accomplish their tasks. However, these reports have several weaknesses, including sabotage, negligence and counterfeiting. Various personalities, such as Gordon Allport, Henry Murray and Raymond Cartell, have contributed to trait development. Large amount of research, multiple application and strong empirical base are the advantages of trait theories. Lack of a universally agreed upon framework and limited usefulness of approach form the core challenges of the trait approach (Burger, 2008).
Relevant Research in Trait Approach
There have been a number of studies to ascertain the outcome of attributions and achievement objectives on behavior association with achievement. Research has proved that performance goals are less likely to lead to achievement, as compared to mastery goals. Research into socially anxious people revealed a number of characteristics about shy people. Shy individuals are normally self-conscious when speaking to other people. They rarely ask for help, interpreting feedback from engagements as rejection. Shy people, therefore, limit their social interaction, and if they have one, they make it brief and pleasant. Researchers of traits classify people along a large dispositional continuum from the most optimistic to the most pessimistic ones (Burger, 2008).
This approach was proposed by Hans Eysenck who argued that personality exists in three dimensions, such as: neurotism, introversion and extroversion. Research proves that extraverts are more attracted to rewards than introverts. Similarly, introverts respond more to stimulation than extroverts. Hans added that personality is largely a result of inherited genes. Personality theorists maintain that inherited genes work in conjunction with experiences to form peoples’ traits. Personality researchers have also found out that different moods affect the activity level of left and right halves of the brain. This theory is beneficial in that it incorporates biology as a discipline in its study. However, little information about behavior change is provided by this theory (Burger, 2008).
Relevant Research in Biological Approach
Biological research approach maintains that both environment and genetics contribute to personality development. Twin-study offers an insight into the extent genes influence personality development. Research proves that extroverts are happier than introverts. Extroverts seek and perform better in exciting environment than their introvert counterparts. Biological research has also proved that women like men who can provide for the family. Men, on the other hand, choose beautiful and younger women as partners (Burger, 2008).
The humanistic personality theory grew in opposition to the behavioral and psychoanalytic descriptions. The early proponents of the humanistic theory were Abraham Maslow and Carl Rodgers. According to Carl Rodgers, people progress to a state of fulfillment. In the course of the progress, people who grow up under situations that are against their self-concept rely on denial and distortion. Those who receive conditional positive regard deny some of their inherent attributes. Abraham Maslow, the founder of the hierarchy of needs, suggests that people are in constant progression to higher levels, as they fulfill needs of the lower hierarchy. The advantage of the humanistic approach is that it explores the positive dimension of personality. However, this theory makes many assumptions and does not use scientific methods in its study (Burger, 2008).
Relevant Research in Humanistic Approach
Research into humanistic theory, though not scientific, offers valuable insight into the personality theory. Studies into humanistic theory reveal that women and men alike are restricted in disclosing various issues due to societal morals. The theory also states that holding some traumatizing secrets is detrimental to one’s health. Research into loneliness reveals that lonely people approach lack basic social skills and approach dialogues with a pessimistic expectation. Research in humanistic theory shows varied preference for solitude. However, physically healthy people prefer solitude (Burger, 2008).
Behavioral/Social Learning Approach
Behaviorism as a theory finds its roots in the 1920s. The social learning theory, formulated by J.B. Watson, uses classical conditioning and operant conditioning to explain advent and maintenance of behaviors. This theory suggests that personality is a result of a long period of conditioning. Operant conditioning or behavior is a result of punishment or reinforcement. Classical conditioning results from pairing of existing stimulus-response bond with a new stimulus. Bandura enriched the humanistic theory by adding that environment, internal state and behavior interaction affect one another. Observation by others and self-examination are some of the assessment methods used by humanistic theorists (Burger, 2008).
Relevant Research in Behavioral/ Social Learning Approach
The available research into assignment of different gender roles by the society and its effect on behavior reveals that aggressive assigning of gender roles in the society affects behavior of different genders. Boys in these societies behave as boys and girls as girls. Research into learned helplessness indicates generalization of this perception even in new situations.
Cognitive theorists describe personality in terms of how people process information. George Kelly, an architect of this theory, asserts that people are motivated to make meaning out of the world. According to cognitive theorists, schemas, which are cognitive structures, help us make out, systematize and store information. We perceive information in an easier way when it is applicable to our self-schemas. Our behaviors are, therefore, guided by cognitive depiction of future selves (Burger, 2008).
Relevant Research in Cognitive Approach
Research conducted by cognitive theorists interprets unintended actions as planned and unfriendly in boys, who tend to react violently to minor events. Research into gender ability to recall information reveals that women are more capable of organizing coherent information around emotions than men. Cognitive psychologists believe depressive thoughts cause depression (Burger, 2008).
Burger J. M.’s work on personality is an exemplary one. In my opinion, Burger should be credited for compiling such a comprehensive work on personality psychology. I however feel that he should have expounded in various personality traits. Written in a logical, coherent and consistent manner, Burger’s work stands out from the works of other authors. Of great importance in Burger’s work is the logic with which he writes his book. Burger starts out by focusing on the root of personality psychology and proceeds to expound on other succeeding personality psychologists. Burger’s work covers Freud’s theory and neo-Freud’s theory, and advances all the way to the cognitive approach. This facilitates the reader’s understanding of various personality theories.
Equally important is the exceptional description and open-mindedness with which Burger discusses the personality theories. Burger is not quick to crucify either the theories or their proponents. Instead, Burger discusses each theory as it is presented. Furthermore, the author is quick to acknowledge the contribution of each theory. Burger also establishes the strengths and weaknesses of each theory. Burger’s systematic collection and presentation of the personality theory distinguishes his work from other works of psychology. Burger’s work portrays a true scholarly work that should be embraced by other authors.
As a branch of psychology, personality psychology is a relatively old but still growing discipline. It is especially interesting to observe how the discipline is changing. Development of old theories and advent of new ones is happening constantly. Change is inevitable and those who fail to embrace change are in the danger of being phased out. And reading through Burger’s personality work, one is able to prove this fact. When we analyze the personality theory, we cannot but see the importance of various personality psychologists.
Sigmund Freud is credited with making a significant contribution to the field of personality psychology. A century has passed but his name can never be erased from psychology. Had it not been for Sigmund Freud, this field would not have developed this far. For these reason he is famously known as ‘the father of personality theory’. Dividing personality into categories, such as conscious, preconscious, unconscious, id, ego, superego, was a brilliant idea. Furthermore, Freud explains the categories so coherently that we become convinced of his theory. His foundational knowledge of the personality theory is so significant that even neo-Freudian psychologists who diverted from Freud still use his concepts and assumptions.
Nevertheless, the major problem with the personality theory is the ‘know-it-all attitude.’ The ‘omniscient’ personality psychologist did not accept development or criticism from his apprentices, and this proved to be his undoing. Freud refused to take into account the fact that people can change their behavior with time, as they interact with different circumstances and people. Change and development are the most interesting subjects in the personality theory. I like the boldness of the neo-Freudian theorists. When they discovered a flaw in the Freud’s theory, they decide to notify him. However, when they realized that Freud was not willing to make changes in his theory, they decided to break away from him.
Neo-Freudian theorists made an import step by diverting from Freud, because their action formed the basis for the development of psychoanalytic theory. The exodus led to formulation of other approaches of looking at personality psychology, such as cognitive, social learning, humanistic, and biological approach, amongst others. It is important to know that each approach has contributed to the development of personality psychology. One of the most significant contributions of these approaches is the education sector. The social learning approach has been used extensively in teaching learning situations. Studying personality theory becomes even more interesting when you discover that the studies have a practical application in the day-to-day lives. And examples provided by Burger in his book on personality prove this fact.
Operant conditioning, in particular, has been applied in teaching and learning. Behavioral theorists performed a number of experiments on peoples conduct and arrived at the conclusion that people are able to adopt behaviors based on punishment or reinforcement. Therefore, educationists adopted this principle and introduced punishment, which helped in suppressing undesired behavior. Therefore, students demonstrate only desired behaviors that become part and parcel of themselves, if practiced on a continuous basis. Teachers also used rewards both tangible and intangible to change the behavior of their students. For example, rewards motivate students to work harder. Practical application makes the reading of personality theories relevant.
We can also deduce from Burger’s book on personality that no given personality theory can be self-sufficient. Each and every theory is important, and where one theory is deficient another one fills the gap. Personality theories, therefore, work to complement one another, irrespective of how diverse they may seem. Trying to make one conclusive theory or merging the theories together may also prove difficult. This is because different personality theories proponents hold diverse philosophical opinions on personality. Studying various personality theories offers a wide range of application.