The Unique Way Individuals Think, Feel, and Act
As one group of theorists noted, each of us is in certain respects like all other people, like some other people, and like no other person who has ever lived in the past or will exist in the future.
If we know a person is confident, or outgoing, or friendly, what do we need to study? Why is it important to research and theorize about personality?
Psychology is the study of thoughts, emotions, and behavior, and their interaction with each other and the world. The ultimate goal of psychology is to improve the quality of life through a better understanding of individual differences and similarities. In other words, personality theory is concerned with observing individual characteristics, understanding how these different characteristics came about, and finally, how they are impacting the individuals quality of life.
Personality is one of the most theorized and most researched aspects of psychology. To understand this concept, you first need to understand the difference between a trait and a state.
A trait is a relatively permanent individual characteristic. For example, most of know people who are outgoing, friendly, confident, or shy. When we describe these people, we use these traits to better understand their personality; to better understand who they are.
A state on the other hand, is a temporary change in one’s personality. Examples of states might be angry, depressed, fearful, or anxious. We typically use states to describe a person’s reaction to something.
The key to understanding the difference is to think about how the person typically is (trait) and how the person has temporarily changed (state) in response to something.
Personality theories are attempts at understanding both the characteristics of our personality and the way these characteristics develop and impact our life. Progressing through the theories, keep these questions in mind, as they represent the basic idea behind personality theory and development:
1. What are the basic personality traits?
2. Can individual traits be grouped into categories or clusters?
3. How do traits develop? What role does biology, environment,
and the individual play?
4. What role do states play in an individual’s personality? Why
do people respond differently to similar situations?
5. Can we use what we know about personality to make
predictions? Can we use assessment devices to determine
6. Can personality be changed? If so, under what circumstances
should this be attempted, and how do we go about bringing
If you can answer these questions for each of the theories we discuss, then you will have a solid grasp of introductory personality.
Bernstein, D.A. & Nash, P.W. (2008). Essentials of psychology (4th ed.) Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Feldman, R. (2013). Essentials of understanding psychology (11th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Friedman, H.S. & Schustack, M.W. (2012), Personality: classic theories and modern research (5th ed). Boston: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.
McGraw-Hill.McGraw Hill Higher Education (2013), The McGraw Hill Companies, Inc.
Ryckman, R. M. (2013). Theories of personality (10th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.