The thirst for the understanding of human nature is one of the main reasons why scientists spend most of their lives experimenting on ideas and forming theories that explain why certain things are the way they are and the effect that they have on a person, in cases where the attainment of tangible results to the experiments is not possible.
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For instance, various theories explain why people act the way they do and the possible causes for such actions. Different scholars express their ideologies on the nature of the being from different perspectives and using different elements such as morality and personality.
Of concern to this paper is the aspect of personality. This paper is a discussion on the views of different scholars on how personality affects or contributes to the nature of a person.
One of the theories that explain personalities is Sigmund Freud’s id, ego, and super ego theory. Duane Schultz, a professor of psychology at the University of South Florida, together with his wife, Sydney Ellen Shultz, have written an informative book that contains an analytical view of some of the major theories, including that of Sigmund Freud.
The book titled Theories of Personality has the intention of help other scholars, with an interest in the subject, to understand the various theories applicable. The book explains that Sigmund Freud was the founder of the Psychoanalytical theory on personalities. His theory is more of an analytical explanation of the nature of people using their personality as the basis.
In the Freudian theory, Schultz explains that personality “is divisible into three components, viz. the id, the ego and the super ego” (Schultz & Schultz, 2008, p.73). The ‘id’ acts according to the pleasure principle, thus desiring pleasure without the consideration of the environment.
The ‘ego’ becomes operational at this point, with its function being to synchronize the desires of the id with the environment, thus meeting the desires in accordance to reality. The ‘super ego’ applies societal ideals and moral judgment upon the ego thus resulting in actions that are both realistic and moral (Myers, 2010).
Alfred Alder, a neo-Freudian scholar supports Freud’s theory while creating an extension of it, with the view that early childhood experiences determine an adult’s personality. Most Neo-Freudian scholars have used the Freudian theory in the development of their own theories similar to that of Freud with minor differences.
According to Adler, early childhood experiences determine the personality of a person in his or her adulthood (Gazzaniga & Heatherton, 2006). He adds that the birth order is also a contributory aspect. In explaining this assertion, Adler points out that the oldest child in a family has the tendency to be an over achiever in a bid to make up for the loss of attention, which is caused by the birth of other children into the family.
He describes the middle children as ambitious and competitive, mainly aiming to surpass the first-born child, although not for the same reasons. He describes the youngest children in the family as being more secure about themselves and more dependent on others (Schultz & Schultz, 2008).
Although Adler’s theory is an extension of the Freudian theory, it also possesses some descriptive qualities as opposed to Freud’s work that is purely analytical. He gives the reason behind the characteristic nature of the first child, but only describes that of the other children in a family setting (Marcus, 2004).
This perspective is easy to relate to and essentially true as most siblings seemingly have the opinion that their parents judge them according to the actions of the eldest child. However, first-born children do not always seek attention. Sometimes they act according to the manner the parents describe, such as setting examples for younger siblings to follow. This theory is plausible and easy to relate to for most people.
Another theory that borrows Freud’s view is that of Heinz Kohut, who uses the Freudian theory to introduce the idea of mirroring and idealization, suggesting that children need to develop particular skills in life through the internalization of circumstances. For instance, when a child cries and he or she does not get anyone’s attention, he or she is likely to develop ways of soothing him or herself.
This is especially true for children who come from large families and thus cannot always get attention when they desire it. Just as is the case with Alder, Heinz does not provide a full analysis to include the reason for such behavior. The two scholars offer a more social view of the theory as opposed to Freud’s analytical view. Karen Horney offers a female perspective to the discussion with her contribution to the theory.
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Karen introduces the concepts of the ‘real self’ and the ‘ideal self’, stating that each individual possesses both. She describes the ‘real self’ as the manner in which humans act regarding morals, values, and personality while the ‘ideal self’ is an individual’s construction that enables conformity with personal and societal norms (Feist & Feist, 2009).
Although her perspective is plausible, sometimes people’s individual personalities coincide with society’s expectations, negating the need for the ideal self. An example of this is an individual prefers talking only when necessary, a characteristic that also suits society’s expectations.
The behavioral theory is another example of an analytical viewpoint of the nature of a being, whereby theorists try to explain human behavior or personality by analyzing the effects of external factors on the behavior of a person. One of the proponents of this theory is B. F. Skinner. He came up with the ‘stimulus-response-consequence’ model of analysis.
Scientific thinking and experimentation are characteristics of this theory as opposed to theories such as the trait theory. Skinner proposes the concept that people respond more frequently in certain ways if they perceive previous success of such actions. He gives the example that a baby cries to draw attention the same act has shown success in prior similar circumstances.
Crying, in this case, is a response to a stimulus, while attention is the consequence. The stimulus is the circumstance that would cause the child to cry for attention. Such behavior, over time, embeds in the child and thus becomes part of his or her personality. The determinant question in understanding the nature of the person is the circumstances under which the organism (person) engages in a particular behavior or response.
However, there arises a weakness in this theory, which is the fact that the description of a personality indicates a sense of permanence and uniqueness of behavior. The circumstances or stimulus in a person’s childhood changes as the child grows.
The implication that this aspect has is that the personality of the person also changes as the person grows, thus eroding the sense of permanence in the description of personality. Therefore, although Skinner presents a different perspective from Adler and Heinz, his theory contains a weakness.
The trait theory suggests that traits have the characteristic of a wholesome definition of people. Theorists are of the opinion that traits are relatively constant and rarely change with time. Anther characteristics that traits possess is that they are bipolar, which means that they dwell on extremities. This aspect means, for instance, that a person is either good or evil and not in between the two.
There are three main assumptions that proponents of this theory agree on; firstly, they agree that traits are stable with time.
Secondly, theorists presume that traits possess a characteristic ability to influence behavior in addition to bearing significant differences in every individual. Based on these assumptions, traits thus cause uniqueness in the personality of different people, hence making it possible for personality to be a distinguishing characteristic in people.
Gordon Allport is one of the proponents of this theory and makes his contribution by stating that different traits mould the nature of a person by influencing his or her behavior, giving classifications to traits. He presents different classifications of traits including cardinal traits, common traits, and central traits (Allport, 1937). Central traits, he explains, are present in every individual and are thus inherent.
Cardinal traits are different from central traits in that they are the traits that give a strong recognition to an individual, and therefore bring out his or her uniqueness. Common traits underscore the category that is different from cardinal traits as they bear cultural influence. As such, common traits thus differ within various cultures according to the prescriptive norms applicable.
Raymond Cattel agrees with Gordon adding that the definition of personality forms in terms of behavioral prediction (Schultz & Schultz, 2008). Predictable behavior is in his view what personality consists of and forms its definition. A person who believes easily, for instance, has the characteristic of being gullible, which forms his or her personality.
Lewis Goldberg contributes to this theory by proposing that there are five dimensions of personality. Theorists refer to this formulation as the ‘Big Five model’. The five dimensions include openness to experience, which is evident in the tendency to be imaginative and the other extreme being conformity.
The second dimension is conscientiousness, which is a tem that he uses in the definitions of extremes such as being careful and constructive or careless and impulsive. Thirdly, he includes extraversion, which defines the ability to be sociable and affectionate or the lack of it. Agreeableness is the forth component and neurotism the last (Goldberg, 1990).
One of the notable weaknesses of this theory, in comparison with others such as the psychoanalytical and behavioral theories, is that the trait theory is descriptive as it only gives the characteristics of behaviors that people portray and not the underlying causes of such behaviors. The latter theories are analytical as they focus on the reasons for behavior as part of the nature of people.
Alfred Adler, for instance, gives the reason for the tendency of first-born children to be overachievers as a means of regaining attention lost due to the birth of other children. Sigmund Freud also gives an explanation as to the reason that behavior is realistic and moral. Understanding the nature of a person largely depends on a person’s understanding of why people act in certain ways in certain circumstances.
For instance, Heinz Kohut, a proponent of the psychoanalytical theory, explains that children cry in order to attract attention and that they do so as the action has had prior success in attaining what they want. The different propositions from the different proponents of this theory also bear their own personal weaknesses and strengths.
For instance, Allport’s classification of “central traits suggests that these traits are unique to specific individuals” (Feist & Feist, 2009, p.112), which is difficult to determine as many people bear astounding similarities in their traits. Cattel’s theory bears truth as the entire purpose of personality identification lays basis on predictability of traits.
The personal construct theory has the characteristics of being both analytical and experimental as it suggests that people have the ability of identifying their own personality by analyzing past experiences. Its main purpose, as psychologists apply it, is to enable a person to understand the nature of another person. However, it can also enable a person to understand himself or herself.
An American psychologist, George Kelly, came up with the theory in the 1950s. George was of the idea that each person is a scientist in one form or the other by experimenting on situations and outcomes from childhood (Myers, 2010). He gave an example similar to Heinz Kohut’s by suggesting that a child cries in order to experiment on the effect that it has and enable him or her to predict the results of his or her actions.
The circumstances that individuals experiment on change as a person grows and according to the issue the person chooses to focus on.
Kelly was of the idea that each “person’s task in understanding his or her own psychology was putting facts of his or her own experiences…the theory suggests that for individuals to understand their environments, they come up with theories based on their interpretations of observations and experiences” (Goldberg, 1990, p.88).
Kelly refers to these theories as constructs and adds that they form the basis of each person’s perception of reality (Schultz & Schultz, 2008).
It is possible for people to form the character of a person by the set of constructs they apply to him or her, like greedy or generous. This theory suggests that constructs are bipolar in nature as they have two extremes on which people or circumstances fall on, depending on the person making the construct.
Apart from the fact that constructs allow people to categorize other people and predict their actions, listening to another person’s constructs provides psychologists with information from which inferences of the person’s personality is possible. This aspect enables psychologists to understand the nature of the person.
The personal construct theory enables people to understand their own nature and come up with personal solutions to problems. It is similar to the psychoanalytical theory, as it is analytical and experimental in nature.
The technique used by psychologists in the application of this theory is the repertory grid technique, which involves identifying ways that a person interprets his or her own experiences and using the information to form a conclusion of his or her character, thus enabling the prediction of future behaviors under specific circumstances. This ideology bears significant resemblance to Cattel’s idea of predictability of behavior.
The social learning theory forms part of the social cognitive theories in the same category as the personal construct theory, emphasizing on memory and the environment as determinants of personalities. This theory “suggests that memory or cognition and the environment interact to form a person’s personality through the molding of his or her behavior” (Buss & Greiling, 1999, p.211).
The theory proposes that people’s behavior is resultant of what s/he learns from others through observation and modeling. Modeling is descriptive of the art of doing as others do. One of the proponents of this theory, Albert Bandura, is of the view that there exist three variables, each with the ability to influence the other. The three variables are “the person, the environment and behavior” (Buss & Greiling, 1999, p.241).
Bandura is of the view that these three variables are inter-connected, thus causing a change in one to affect the other. Some of the forms of modeling he mentions are imitation, which is the use of a person’s behavior as stimulus for one’s actions, vicarious punishment, which he describes as an indication of unacceptable behavior, and vicarious reinforcement, which consists of enforcing acceptable behavior.
This theory is analytical in the sense that individuals analyze the environment and the behavior of others in the formation of their own (Marcus, 2004). This aspect makes it similar to the psychoanalytical and behavioral theories.
Another similarity is that these theories use the result of an action in the determination of actions that people continuously practice, thus forming behavioral patterns and personalities. It is part of cognitive psychology as the memory of an individual is essential in the determination of future reactions to circumstances.
The humanistic and positive psychology theories are similar as they both focus on human need as the main determinant of a person’s personality. According to Maslow (1999), the humanistic theory suggests that in the determination of personality, a person should look at behavior done out of free will in order to understand the nature of a person.
Positive psychology, which Robert White proposes, suggests that personality is based on the human need to strive for positive goals like influence and power (White & Watt, 1981). Both theories are analytical, describing the reason behind certain behavior. Although both theories are plausible, they are both inconclusive and bear different weaknesses.
Maslow’s theory’ weakness is that most of the time, people portray their personality traits, whether they act of their own free will or as results of coercion. For instance, a person under coercion to kill another, as part of their personality, may accept to shoot or refuse.
Robert theory’s weakness lies in the fact that not all people strive for positive goals. Laziness is a personality trait that suggests that a person is not bothered about attaining positive goals.
In conclusion, all these theories bear plausible suggestions as well as a few weaknesses, but they bear one thing in common, viz. they aid in the understanding of human nature by attempting to explain personality through different viewpoints.
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