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Introduction to Theories of Personality
Personality refers to a set of organized and dynamic characteristics possessed by an individual. Under different circumstances, such individual characteristics influence a person’s emotions, behaviors, cognitions, and motivations (Olson & Hergenhahn 2010). Personality may also refer to patterns of behaviours, thoughts, and feelings that a given individual manifest consistently over a certain period of time.
Eventually, personality influences our self-perceptions, attitudes, expectations, and values. In addition, they also help us to predict how we react to problems, situations, and other people (Gazzaniga 2010). Although there is no generally agreed definition of “personality” in the field of psychology, nonetheless, most psychologists and researchers are careful not to be fully associated with a given perspective. Usually, they prefer taking an eclectic approach.
Historically, psychology has played a crucial role in the study of personality and in the process, numerous theories have emerged in an attempt to better explore the issue of personality (Dumont 2010). Opponents of the personality theory contend that personality remains “plastic” across situations, time, moods, and places (Olson & Hergenhahn 2010).
On the other hand, the same critics argue that changes in personality can come about due to medical effects, diet, learning, as well as other significant events. In contrast, most of the personality theories seem to emphasize more on stability, as opposed to fluctuation. Some of the leading theories of personalities that have been studied thus far include trait theory, humanistic theory, behavioural theory, psychodynamic theory, and the social learning theory, among others (Gazzaniga 2010).
The current essay is an attempt to compare and contrast two theories of personality. Specifically, the essay shall endeavor to compare the psychoanalytic theory with the behavioral theory. A contrast of the two personality theories shall also be undertaken.
Psychoanalytic vs. Behavioral theories
Sigmund Freud was instrumental in popularizing the psychodynamic theory. Freud argued that there are three types of personalities (Laplanche & Pontalis 1974), and that the three personalities are part of a dynamic system; nonetheless, each one of these personalities has its own separate mental process that is also in conflict with the other two. Rechanneled energies and internal struggles are an indication of how the three personalities function. The three personalities include the Id, the Ego and the Superego (Laplanche & Pontalis 1974).
Psychoanalytic theories try to examine the interplay between the various aspects of personality, and how they affect human behavior. The id relies heavily on pleasure. It also demands for instant gratification without taking into account the requirements of the external environment. As a result, the ego has to be called upon to help in fulfilling the demands and wishes of the id.
On the other hand, the superego is concerned with the conscience. In this case, it instills societal rules and moral judgment on the ego. Consequently, the superego is compelled to fulfill the wishes of the id in a morally and realistic manner (Quigley 2009).
The superego represents the ultimate function of personality development. It also acts as a personification of social/parental principles instilled during childhood. Therefore, personality depends on the dynamic association of the three aforementioned elements.
Psychoanalytic theorists opine that psychology should concentrate more on understanding the mental processes especially in as far as the unconscious mind is concerned. The psychoanalytic perspective recognizes three different levels of consciousness. To a psychoanalytic, the conscious level is the least important level of consciousness. The other levels of consciousness include precociousness, and unconsciousness (Quigley 2009).
The psychoanalytical theory argues that the intrinsic desires and drives that we manifest as human beings are largely inborn. Psychoanalytic theorists are also convinced that instinctual desires and drives are to be found in the unconscious mind. Furthermore, instinctual desires and drives are connected to survival. Moreover, the psychoanalytic perspective contends that adult personality does not change. This is because at the age of between five and six years of age, the core personality has already been established in an individual.
According to the psychoanalytical theory, in the end, human behavior is always motivated by either the aggressive drive or the sexual drive (Quigley 2009). The sexual drive concept as postulated by Freud goes past sexual to include other things that an individual consider as being pleasurable. Therefore, Freud has opined that any time you eat food, daydream or chew gum this is actually the result of a need to fulfill an underlying unconscious sexual desire. As human beings, we tend to be completely unaware of such sexual desires, although they are actually innately developed.
Regarding the issue of human behavioral control, the psychoanalytic theory holds that the unconscious drives are responsible for controlling human behavior. Just like the behavioral theory, the psychoanalytical theory does not also agree with the notion of free will (Tyson 2002, p. 36). The unconscious part of the brain borders the conscious part of the mind, and part of it is made up of the repression.
Repression represents a key defense mechanism against disruption of the ego. Besides the repression, the laws of transformation are also under the unconscious mind. These principles are charged with the responsibility of controlling the sublimation and repression processes (Tyson 2002, p. 38). In this case, sublimation refers to the process of rechanneling drives that would otherwise not have gotten an acceptable outlet.
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By and large, the unconscious mind plays the hypothetical role of lining childhood experience with adult behavior in an intelligent manner.
The psychoanalytical theory is also opposed to the idea that human behavior is under the control of the environment. On the issue of human nature the psychoanalytic theory views humans as having been born “bad” (Quigley 2009). Similar sentiments are also shared by the behavioral theory of personality.
What this seems to imply is that humans are self-centered, egocentric, and selfish by nature. Freud was of the opinion that there is always a selfish motive to every behavior of an individual.
Behaviorists try to explain personality by looking at the effect of the external stimuli on individual behavior. The behavioral perspective of personality is a departure from the psychoanalytical theory as popularized by Freud. B. F. Skinner is credited with having developed this school of thought by presenting a theory that stresses on the mutual interface between on the one hand, the environment and on the other hand, the “organism” or the individual (Skinner 1984, p. 553).
Skinner was convinced that the reason why children portray bad conduct is because such behavior tends to attract more attention and as such, it acts as a reinforcer. For instance, a child may cry with the hope of getting the attention of its parents because in the past, he has succeeded in doing so. Therefore, the behavioral theory of personality is concerned with the response and consequences of behaviour.
One of the key similarities between both the psychoanalytical theory and the behavioral theory is that both are by and large, deterministic (Baum 2005). This observation hinges on the fact there is a compelling force behind the behaviour of an organism, other that the organism itself. In addition the current behavior portrayed by an organism is the result of prior behaviours, such as reinforcement, and punishment, among others.
Behavioural theories involve the observation of human behavior in a bid to explore how we are affected by the environment around as, and the interaction between this relationship and our experiences (Baum 2005). There is a lot of science and observation involved in behavioral theories.
By and large, behavioural psychology is an attempt to determine how our innate as well as the environmental stimuli affects our behavior. It tells us about the motives behind our behavior with respect to the environment and our experiences as well.
Behaviourists contend that psychology should only be concerned with the measurable and observable behavior. In addition, they are also convinced that it would be very hard to study mental processes scientifically. This can be easily studied by examining the behavior of an individual.
Behaviourists also generally agree that all the behaviours manifested by humans are learned, and not innate (Kelly & Kelly 1963). At the same time, the behavioural theory maintains that changes in the environment can end up altering an individual’s personality. Behaviourists are also in agreement that the primary motivating factor in humans and animals is the avoidance of punishment by receiving rewards.
To this end, some behaviourists have maintained that in order for a certain behavior to continue, it needs to be reinforced. Because many behaviourists see humans as being under the full control of the environment surrounding them, they thus view them as more of slaves to such environments.
For this reason, these behaviourists are completely opposed to the notion of internal unconscious drive (Baum 2005). On the issue of human nature, behaviourists argue that humans are neutral by nature. The behaviourists regard humans as not being bad or good by nature.
The behaviourist’s theory appear to conflict with the psychoanalytic theory regarding the claims made by the two theories on the process of forming personality. Specifically, behaviourists opine that the behaviour of an individual is shaped by both the cultural and sub-cultural conditioning molds. In turn, this helps to shape an individual’s personality.
In this case, the behaviourist is not concerned a lot about the unconscious (Skinner 1984, p. 556). To a behaviourist, our lives are already pre-determined, even at birth. To this extent, the behavioural theory is very deterministic. On the other hand, the psychoanalytic theory does not exhibit that level of determination (Dumont 2010).
The behaviourist model uses therapy that is based on the key learning principles, along with the various methods and processes of learning including reinforcing (for example, denials, rewards, and punishment), conditioning, aversion therapy, imitation, desensitization, and modeling. In addition, the behavioural theory is totally opposed to the idea of an individual’s free will.
This is another clear indication that indeed, the behavioural theory has little regard for outside forces or energy. The behaviourist simply believes that normal behaviour comes about due to acceptable reinforcing, conditioning, imitation, and modeling. On the other hand, abnormal behaviour in an individual is as a result of defective reinforcing, modeling, imitation, and conditioning.
One of the key differences between psychoanalytical theory and behavioural theory has to do with the source of material. On the one hand, behaviourism relies entirely on observation (Baum 2005). It attempts to describe in discrete terms the measurable response of an organism, the physical stimuli, and the relationship between an organism and the physical stimuli.
As a result, we can say that behavioural analysis helps us to better understand the reasons behind our actions. In addition, behaviourists are aware that other activities such as cognition could be happening in the brain but nonetheless, such an activity is not studied for the simple reason that it cannot be observed. In addition, behaviourists contend that antecedent events can be used as a way of predicting behaviors, in spite of the invisible activities taking place.
On the other hand, psychoanalytical theories rely heavily on speculation and suppositions. Although psychoanalytical theories have theories can be applied to explain behavior, nonetheless, they are unable to link the observed behavior with the forces behind them. As such, they are more theoretical and less science.
Psychoanalytic and behavioural theories are among the leading personality theories. Both share some similarities but at the same time, they also have major differences as well. One of the key similarities between the two theories is that they are opposed to the idea that human behaviour is under the control of the environment.
The two theories also tend to be deterministic in nature. In this case, the two theories believe that there is a compelling force behind the behaviour of an organism, other that the organism itself. On the other hand, behavioural theories tend to involve a lot of science and experimentation, whereas the psychoanalytical theories are by and large, observational.
Another difference between the two theories is on the process of forming personality whereby behaviourists opine that the cultural conditioning shapes behaviour and by extension, personality. On the other hand, the psychoanalytical theory contends that behaviour is shaped by the unconsciousness mind.
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