Brad Hanlon

Brad Hanlon
Research Techniques
October 16, 2006
Personality Theories
What is personality? Webster defines it as, “the complex of characteristics
that distinguishes an individual or a nation or group; especially the totality of an
individual's behavioral and emotional characteristics” (Webster 848). How is a
personality formed? Nobody really knows exactly how a personality is formed, but
there are a lot of theories trying to explain personality.
There are many theories regarding how a personality is formed. Most
theories are based on the “big five” personality traits, which are extroversion,
emotional stability, agreeableness, intellect, and conscientiousness (Social
Psychology 94). Erick Erickson believed that a person will go through eight stages
of development between birth and death. At each stage Erickson says that the
person will go through a “crisis” and depending on the outcome of the situation a
distinct personality trait will surface. The stages that Erickson uses in his theories
are trust vs. mistrust, autonomy vs. shame and doubt, initiative vs. guilt, industry vs.
inferiority, identity vs. role confusion, intimacy vs. isolation, generativity vs. selfabsorption, and integrity vs. despair (Boeree). Gordon Allport’s theory is called the
proporium. The proporium is similar to Erickson’s theory, in that there are seven
functions that come up in someone’s life. They are sense of body, self-identity, selfesteem, self-extension, self-image, rational copying, and propriate striving. Also,
throughout the time that all the functions are going on, this starts at birth to age 12, a
person also develops personal dispositions (Boeree). Freud’s theory is more
controversial than the previous theories, though they all seem to have some of the
same things in common. Freud also believed that experiences have a strong effect
on someone’s life; particularly traumatic experiences have the strongest effect.
Freud believed that if someone has difficulty during a stage that they would develop
a fixation, which gives each problem a long-term effect on ones personality
(Boeree). Freud has six stages which the outcomes will express the following traits,
oral-passive, oral-aggressive, anal expulsive, and anal retentive. There are also two
more stages that Freud has which are unnamed. The first is that if a boy is ignored
by his mother and scared by his father, he will have a poor sense of self worth, when
it comes to his sexuality. He will most likely react to becoming a bookworm or
trying to be a tough guy.
There is a lot of evidence that supports these theories. For example Betty
Comden says in her article, How to raise an optimist, that children need to be taught
to appreciate their work or they always will look down on themselves, she also says
it is important to build self-esteem. This goes along with Erickson’s theory,
specifically stage three, initiative vs. guilt. A child must develop self-esteem to get
through this stage with the positive outcome, which is initiative that will get them to
go out and find something to do and make the best of situations. Although many
believe that all personality is formed through situations and experiences, Judith
Harris says,
“Behavioral genetic studies have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt
that heredity is responsible for a sizable portion of the variations in
people's personalities. Some people are more hot-tempered or
outgoing or meticulous than others, and these variations are a function
of the genes they were born with, as well as the experiences they had
after they were born. The exact proportion--how much is due to the
genes, how much to the experiences--is not important; the point is that
heredity cannot be ignored.”
Judith Harris’s statement is saying that a personality is made largely by the
individual’s parents, which can be a true statement. However, according to others
the reason that a person will have very similar traits to their parents is because they
spend so much time with their parents that children start to pick up their parents
personality traits (O’Brien).
No one will ever agree on one theory, just like no one will ever know exactly
why someone will turn out the way they do. Its human nature to try and find a
scientific answer for every thing that goes on in the world. The mind is such a
complex thing that some things just can’t be explained. A personality is something
that starts being formed at the time you begin having a memory, being able to know
what's going on and putting that into memory. Personality is the sum of all
experiences melded into one, which is really at the basis of every single theory. A
persons experiences shape the personality of that person.