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This post is by associate Triage Practitioner, and guest blogger, Matthew Savage 

As human beings, we all like to believe we are “individuals”, all unique in our own special way. However, personality theories suggest that there are a number of consistencies across the human population, which means that multiple theories and tests can categorise people into a series of groups. Understanding personality is important in all walks of life, if we can understand the thoughts, behaviours, and desires of others, we can achieve better relationships with those people. Be that relationships between partners, between friends or between a manager and their employees, understanding what makes others “tick” is an incredibly useful skill. There are four main types of personality theory that help us in this task: the Psychoanalytic Perspective, the Humanistic Perspective, the Trait Perspective and the Social Cognitive Perspective.

Psychoanalytical Theories 

Psychoanalytical theories suggest our personality is mainly a result of the unconscious and developed from early childhood experiences. Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Eric Erikson were the main proponents of this theory. For example, Erikson was a developmental psychologist who emphasised the social aspect of personality. He believed that the formation of identity was one of the most important parts of a person’s life and he believed that identity shifts and grows throughout the lifespan, as people confront new challenges and tackle different experiences. This is where the term “Identity crisis” was developed and can be defined as “a time of extensive analysis and exploration of different ways of looking at oneself”. Psychoanalytical theories suggest that identity develops in the teenage years as people struggle with the balance between feelings of identity and role confusion. This idea is also the main basis for identity theories of personality and Marcia and his colleagues (1966) note that the balance between identity and confusion lies in making a commitment to an identity. Marcia also developed an interview method to measure identity, as well as four different identity statuses. This method looks at three different areas of functioning: occupational role, beliefs and values, and sexuality. Researchers have found that those who have made a strong commitment to an identity tend to be happier and healthier than those who have not. People tend to experience them at various points throughout life, particularly at points of great change such as starting a new job, the beginning of a new relationship, the end of a marriage, or the birth of a child. Exploring different aspects of yourself in the different areas of life, including your role at work, within the family, and in romantic relationships, can help strengthen your personal identity. 

The Humanistic Perspective

This perspective focuses on psychological growth, free will and personal awareness. It can be said that it is a more positive, person-centred approach to personality, focusing on how an individual can really achieve their potential. Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow were key in the growth of the humanistic perspective, with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs a big contribution to personality psychology. Maslow believed that people are motivated by a series of different “needs”, with the most basic needs centred on things necessary for life, such as food and water and moving up the hierarchy of needs sees more of a focus on things such as esteem and self-actualization. It is key for individuals to be able to explore what is important to them and what is not, allowing them to develop further as a person. The humanistic perspective and hierarchy of needs is important when considering the wellbeing of others. It is often suggested that wellbeing suffers as people lack a real “purpose” in their life and a lack of challenge may also lead to depression. Understanding such theories is vital to encourage others to seek out different activities which may provide opportunity to self-actualise.

Trait Perspective

This approach assumes our behaviour is driven by relatively stable traits and this forms the basis of our personalities. Understanding these traits can help us to cater for individual tastes and needs. Hans Eysenck, Raymond Cattell, Robert McCrae and Paul Costa are all very influential in trait perspective theory. Eysenck believed there are three dimensions of personality; extraversion-introversion, emotional stability-neuroticism and psychoticism and McCrae and Costa were instrumental in introducing the big five personality theory, something that many people are familiar with and Cattell identified 16 personality traits used to measure individual differences.

The Social Cognitive Perspective

Two key principles make up the social cognitive perspective of personality. This theory suggests that different personalities exist due to a complex interaction between socialisation, expectations and mental processes. People are influenced by the world around them and thus, influence the environment in a reciprocal relationship. The social cognitive perspective suggest that the best way to understand people is in terms of conscious cognitive capabilities and abilities to self-regulate. Albert Bandura and Julian Rotter (1966) were instrumental in the development of this perspective, with Rotter developing the concept of the “locus of control”. He noted that people who believe that control resides within them will often achieve better results in life, have higher levels of positive health behaviours and will have higher levels of wellbeing and positive outlook.


All the above personality theories have their merits. For example, Carl Jung was one of the earliest contributors to trait theory, with Jung never being fully sold on Freuds ideas. Jung went on to develop his own versions of psychoanalytical theory and his concepts influenced Cattells 16-trait theory and, in turn, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Test, one of the most widely used personality tests today. In addition to this, as noted already, many wellbeing theories of today build upon humanistic ideas of self-actualization and personal growth. It is important to consider the concept of control also when considering one’s perspective on life. If we believe we are in control of our behaviour, we develop an identity we are proud of, we seek self-actualization and we understand our most stable traits, then we have the ability to make meaningful changes in life when there are things we are not happy with. In understanding ourselves and others better, we can strive for more meaningful and successful human connections.

About Matt Savage

Matthew Savage is an associate Triage Practitioner, has an MSc in Psychology, is a qualified personal trainer, and has worked within the field of cognitive rehabilitation for 5 years. He is an FA qualified football coach, with a keen interest in moral behaviour and wellbeing within team sports. 








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