personality, in psychology, the patterns of behavior, thought, and emotion unique to an individual, and the ways they interact to help or hinder the adjustment of a person to other people and situations. A number of theories have attempted to explain human personality. In his psychoanalytic interpretation, Sigmund Freud asserted that the human mind could be divided into three significant components—the id, the ego, and the superego—which work together (or come into conflict) to shape personality. Psychoanalysis emphasizes unconscious motivations and the conflicts between primal urges and learned social mores, stressing the importance of early childhood experiences in determining mature personality. Exponents of behaviorism, such as B. F. Skinner, suggest that an individual's personality is developed through external stimuli. In the behaviorist model, personality can change significantly with a shift to a new environment. Social-learning theorists, notably Albert Bandura, also emphasized environmental influences but pointed out that these work in conjunction with forces such as memory and feelings to determine personality.

Trait theories have arisen in recent years, with the object of determining aspects of personality that compel an individual to respond in a certain way to a given situation. Gordon Allport delineated three kinds of traits with varying degrees of intensity: cardinal traits, central traits, and secondary traits. Raymond Cattell used a group of obvious, surface personality traits to derive a small group of source traits, which he argued were central to personality. Objections to trait theories point out that behavior is largely situation dependent, and that such traits as "honesty" are not especially helpful in characterizing personality and behavior. Despite such objections, trait theories have been popular models for quantifying personality. Paul Costa has postulated five basic dimensions of personality—introverson-extroversion, friendly compliance-hostile noncompliance, will, neuroticism, and openness to experience—and has developed a test to measure these traits.

Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers supported a humanistic approach to personality, pointing out that other approaches do not factor in people's basic goodness and the motivational factors that push them toward higher levels of functioning. Researchers offering biological approaches to personality have focused on the action of specific genes and neurotransmitters as determinants.

Psychologists may use psychological tests to determine personality. Well-known personality tests include the Rorschach test, in which an individual is asked to look at ink blots and tell what they bring to mind; the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, which uses a true-false questionnaire to delineate normal personality types from variants; and the Thematic Apperception Test, which employs cards featuring provocative but ambiguous scenes, asking the viewer their meaning. The American Psychiatric Association has sought to delineate personality disorders in its periodically revised and updated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

See W. Wright, Born That Way: Genes, Behavior, Personality (1998).

formerly multiple personality disorder

Rare condition indicated by the absence of a clear and comprehensive identity. In most cases two or more independent and distinct personality systems develop in the same individual. Each personality may alternately inhabit the person's conscious awareness to the exclusion of the others, but one is usually dominant. The various personalities typically differ from one another in outlook, temperament, and body language and might assume different first names. The condition is generally viewed as resulting from dissociative mental processes—that is, the splitting off from conscious awareness and control of thoughts, feelings, memories, and other mental components in response to situations that are painful, disturbing, or somehow unacceptable to the person experiencing them. Treatment is aimed at integrating the disparate personalities back into a single and unified personality.

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Mental disorder that is marked by deeply ingrained and lasting patterns of inflexible, maladaptive, or antisocial behaviour to the degree that an individual's social or occupational functioning is impaired. Rather than being illnesses, personality disorders are enduring and pervasive features of the personality that deviate markedly from the cultural norm. They include the dependent, histrionic, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive, antisocial, avoidant, borderline (unstable), paranoid, and schizoid types. The causes appear to be both hereditary and environmental. The most effective treatment combines behavioral and psychotherapeutic therapies (see behaviour therapy; psychotherapy).

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Totality of an individual's behavioral and emotional characteristics. Personality embraces a person's moods, attitudes, opinions, motivations, and style of thinking, perceiving, speaking, and acting. It is part of what makes each individual distinct. Theories of personality have existed in most cultures and throughout most of recorded history. The ancient Greeks used their ideas about physiology to account for differences and similarities in temperament. In the 18th century Immanuel Kant, Charles-Louis Montesquieu, and Giambattista Vico proposed ways of understanding individual and group differences; in the early 20th century Ernst Kretschmer and the psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, and Carl Jung offered competing personality theories. Freud's model rested on the power of psychosexual drives as mediated by the structural components of the id, ego, and superego and the interplay of conscious and unconscious motives. Particularly important was the array of defense mechanisms an individual employed. Jung, like Freud, emphasized unconscious motives but de-emphasized sexuality and advanced a typal theory that classified people as introverts and extraverts; he further claimed that an individual personality was a persona (i.e., social facade) drawn from the “collective unconscious,” a pool of inherited memories. Later theories by Erik H. Erikson, Gordon W. Allport, and Carl R. Rogers were also influential. Contemporary personality studies tend to be empirical (based on the administration of projective tests or personality inventories) and less theoretically sweeping and tend to emphasize personal identity and development. Personality traits are usually seen as the product of both genetic predisposition and experience. Seealso personality disorder; psychological testing.

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Personality may refer to:

  • Personality psychology is the theory and study of personality types, personality traits and individual differences
  • Personality development, the study of human personality development over time
  • Personality disorders, a class of mental disorders that is characterized by long-lasting rigid patterns of thought and actions
  • Personality pathology is characterized by adaptive inflexibility, vicious cycles of maladaptive behavior, and emotional instability under stress
  • Personality quiz, a series of questions (usually multiple-choice) intended to reveal something about the person who answers them
  • Personality tests aim to describe aspects of a person's character, thoughts, and feelings
  • Personality type refers to patterns of relatively enduring characteristics of human behavior and the psychological classification of different types of people
  • Personality alteration, a theory often associated with cults or brainwashing


  • Cult of personality, political institution in which a leader uses mass media to create a larger-than-life public image
  • Personality rights, consisting of the rights to publicity and to privacy


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