Historical Evolution of the Field of Personality Psychology

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Harvey Mudd College
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Personality psychology is a branch of psychology and involves the observation of the concept of Personality and how it develops and differs among people. Personality makes people be who they are and influences all aspects of an individuals life. Personality Psychologists identify, assess and treat personality disorders. Personality psychology has a long history which dates back to Ancient Greece. Since the 4th century BCE Philosophers have been trying to understand and analysis why we behave the way we do for example Hippocrates in 370 BCE, Plato, and Aristotle.

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In the 18th Century, Franz Gall came up with a doctrine that theorized correlation between specific brain areas and functions. Gall believed that measurements of the skull could reveal an individuals inner thoughts and emotions. Gall work paved the way for modern neuropsychology.

In 1923 Sigmund Freud claimed that human psyche consists of three main elements: id, the ego, and the Superego which controlled all the conscious and unconscious thoughts hence forming behavior. Carl Jung advanced Sigmund theory. Carl was Sigmund's student; he claimed that dichotomous created different personality categories. Katherine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers popularized Carl theory further.

Attempts to understand personality continued into the 1940s and 1950s and notable names are Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. They both argued that human motivation and personality is compelled by the desire to be the best they can.

In the 1960s Ernest Tupes, Raymond Christal, and Warren Norman proposed that there was Surrency, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability and Culture. In the 1980s Lewis Goldberg formed his hypothesis and found the same principal dimensions and coined the term Big Five. Since 1980s thousands of studies have been conducted to understand Personality psychology but most of them have revolved around the 'big five' principals.

How what we know about personality has changed over time

Study of Personality has experienced an unprecedented period of advancement since the start of the 20th century. Understanding of this broad discipline has flourished and expanded due to extensive research and study. What we know about personality has changed over time, some theories claim that Personality is biologically based while others claim nurture and individuals environment are the determinants of personality. For instance, Sigmund Freud argued that Personality progress depends on the interaction between the instinct and environment for the first five years of life. Instinct influences involve things such as food, sex and aggression and they shape the behavior of a person unconsciously. Freud also claimed that parental behavior was a crucial external factor in developing the personality of a child.

Later Sigmund came up with Tripartite Personality Theory in which he claimed that Personality is structured into three parts; the id, ego, and superego. He continued by claiming that they all develop at different stages in life. The Id was the primitive and instinctive component of personality. The Ego develops so as to meditate between naive and unrealistic id and the actual world. The Ego is important in the decision-making process and often compromise satisfaction to avoid negative consequences. While the superego integrates the values and morals learned from the society, and its a feeling of principles which can punish and correct the ego by causing feelings of guilt.

Trait Approach to Personality is an approach which assumes that people behavior differs in traits because of genetic differences. An example of this theory is Eysencks personality theory developed by Eysenck. He identified three dimensions of personality: extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism. Eysenck believed that Personality was dependent on the balance between excitation and inhibition process of the nervous system.

Evaluation of trait theories was another approach developed in the effort to understand Personality. In this theory, Personality was considered a genetic and social factor dependent. Loehlin, Willerman, and Horn (1988) conducted research and found out that only around 50% of Personality is dependent on inherited factors and hence they came to the conclusion that social factors are also important.

Issues of ethics in foundational research in personality psychology

Ethics is a branch of philosophy dealing with the dynamics of what is right and what is wrong. In psychological research, standards are outlined in American Psychological Association. Ethics are essentials because they safeguard research subjects from physical, social and psychological injuries. In past personality research the following unethical issues have been noted:

Over the last centuries, the techniques of carrying out personality research have been progressively redefined and developed by professionals in the field. Ethical guidelines have evolved to guarantee that the appropriate procedures and professional relationship between all involved in the research are maintained. Violation of ethics in past studies has raised alarms. Issues noted include deception of subjects, inappropriate use of tests and assessment procedures, cultural bias, lack of confidentiality, invasion of privacy and use of tests that lacks validity.

Violation of ethics has in most cases lead to public skepticism on the professionalism, procedures, and tests used or even the results of the research. Ethical guidelines are dynamic as they evolve and continually redefined to ensure high standards of professional psychological assessment. Strict ethical standards benefit the client and the researcher. The results of research that has followed all ethical procedure are credible and valid and help to establish personality research as a proper and orderly discipline.

Personality psychology conclusions that are supported by peer-reviewed evidence

Peer review is the evaluation of research work or study by people of similar competence to the owner of the work. Peer review is necessary so as to maintain standards of quality, improve research, regulate the relevant field and provide credibility to work. To convey appropriate conclusions personality researchers should be able: Identify and explain the primary objectives of the study, should have well-clarified procedures and tests to get credible results, the researchers should demonstrate knowledge and broad understanding of the field of research and have a general understanding of the APA Code of Ethics. The peers will ask questions to establish the reliability of the results such as did the researchers choose the appropriate research method and what are the limitations? Did the researcher follow the approved guidelines for conducting a human research ethics? How do the findings compare to other studies carried out on the same issue?

Identifying gaps in the research of personality psychology

Identifying research gaps is an important aim in literature reviewing. There is no procedures or guidelines set that help qualitative literature reviews identify gaps. To determine deficiencies in personality psychology one should read past articles and work done on the field and measure their value and how influential they are. Another approach is to read systematic reviews which help one to understand and examine trends and changes in the field of study. All these approaches will help one come up with important questions that will assist in determining gaps. Questions such as did the past work address the latest trends in personality psychology? Did they fully analyze and explain the issue covered?


Kruglanski, A. W., & Higgins, E. T. (2016). Theory Construction in Social Personality Psychology: Personal Experiences and Lessons Learned: A Special Issue of Personality and Social Psychology Review (Vol. 8, No. 2). Psychology Press.

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