The Features Of Personality Concept

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With thousands of self-help books published under ‘personality’ each year, and with thousands of psychologists, psychiatrists, scientists and psuedo-scientists identifying a nondescript number of personality types and the traits which fall into them, the idea of the personality is something of a modern phenomenon. Particularly in modern history, the contemporary understanding of the ‘personality’ finds its origins in ‘the long era’ (1955 to 1974) with political movements becoming centred around notions of identity: race, gender and sexuality, rather than simply republican or democratic beliefs. These “New Social Movements”, such as the Stonewall Riots (1969) and Civil Rights Movements (1954-1968) as described by Williams and Hoggart (reference?), allowed for a collective intrisic analysis of the self, understanding what we stood for and how we could improve ourselves. Thus, the idea of the ‘personality’ became the common reasoning for seeing ourselves as a self contained consciousness, with unique characterstics and partialities which makes one separate and unique from other people. Whilst this understanding of the personality makes sense, perhaps we as a culture have been mistaken in our comprehension of the personality, and perhaps even the existence of it at all.

Whilst the origins of the word trace back to latin origins, personalis meaning “of a person”, the concept of the personality was first described by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), who was the founder of his school of thought, psychoanalysis. Despite his notoriety, Freud was radical in many ways, being one of the first to theorise that the mind was split into different parts, which he named ‘The Tripartite Personality Structure’ (Freud, 1923). The first aspect of the personality he identified was the unconcious ‘Id’, the pleasure principle, which drives our most primal desires such as lust, hunger and and anger. In contrast, the preconcious ‘Super-Ego’, the morality principle, drives decisions which satify our moral judgement and ego-ideal. The final aspect of Freuds personality structure is the ‘Ego’, the reality principle, which is concious and amoral, and the is made up of the combination and compromise of the desires of the previous extremes, to what we understand as our ‘personality’.

Similary, Freud also developed psycho-sexual stages, a timeline of si which he claimed that the first five years of life are crucial in the development of the personality (Freud, 1905). Each stage is focused on what Freud described as fixations of libido, for example, the Oral Stage, where infants aged up to one years old find pleasure in and eating and using their mouths. This is also the time where the Ego develops. Anal, phallic, genital stages follow suit, from ages two to puberty, with each fixation corresponding with the areas on the body respectively. Freud also claimed failure to correctly nativgate these stages results in fixation, for example failure to mature from the anal stage may result anal fixation, and the development of an ‘anal’ personality type, decribed as fickle and retentive.

Despite Sigmund Freud’s complex and seemily well developed theories of the personality, as well as his success, he was not exempt from critism from experimental psychologists, particularly Eysenck, who agreed Freud was “without a doubt, a genius, not of science, but of propaganda, not of rigorous proof, but of persuasion.” (Eynsenck, 1985). Much of Freud’s work is unfalsifiable, and so cannot be used as definitive evidence of the concept of personality. This again reiterates the modern idea of personality, we can all describe what we believe it to be, however it is not so simple to locate it terms of a physical aspect of the human brain.

Another name which is synonymous with the modern concept of personality is Carl Jung (1875-1961). In 1921, Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist, first introduced what he described as pyschological types, the idea that one has their own unique personality based on one of two preferences: “each person seems to be energized more by either the external world [extraversion] or the internal world [introversion]” (Jung, 1971).

This was extended by the work of Isabel Myers Briggs, along with her mother Katharine Cook Briggs, who namely developed the ‘Myers-Briggs Type Indicatior’, which classifies people in sixteen personality types, based on four opposing pairs of traits and ones preference towards them (Myers, 1975). Since its first publication in 1975, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI, has been one of the most popular way for identifying personality types, and has been particularly favoured in the world of business, with employers using the MBTI as a way to classify potential employees. CEO Elena Bajics states that this type of personality catagorisation in an office environment can assist managers with team communications and efficiency, “because you will understand how each person works best and what they need to do their job well.” (Bajic, 2015)

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The first trait pair identified by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, following the work of Jung, is introversion (I) and extraversion (E): the direction in which attention and energy is most easily drawn. An example of this would be during social interaction, a person with an extroverted trait type would focus their energy on interacting with and entertaining the group, whereas an introverted trait type would focus their energy on listening to others as well as inner-reflection. This first pair also raises the first dilemma with Myers-Briggs personality types, particularly with its application in the work place: Western cultures have a bias towards extroverted individuals. In the 1990s, when the Myers-Briggs personality type test went through validation with UK and European distributors, 92% of people said it was better to be extrovert, even though only half of the population is extrovert in the type version. (Cain, 2012). This suggests that the notion of the extroverted trait for some people is not a true representation of their personality type, but rather a social conformation to a desirable way of being, whether it not it reflects their inner beliefs or outwards actions.

The second trait pair identified by the MBTI is sensing (S) and intuition (I), which relates to ways of gathering information. For example, a person with an S personality type would learn new information through hard facts and visable truths, whereas someone with an I type personality would interpret information and add to it using their imagination.

The third trait pair is in relation to the two ways of coming to conclusions, and are identified as thinking (T) and feeling (F). T personality types are firm-minded, skeptical and make decisions based on rationality (although it should be noted that “thinking” should not be confused with intelligence) whereas F personality types are warm and sympathetic, and make decisions based on emotions. The fourth and final trait pair is judging (J) and perceiving (P). This is in relation to ones orientation to the outside world, with J personality types preferring having tasks decided and organized, however P personality types are more spontaneous and do not thrive when their tasks are under time constraints. The combination of preference to each of the four trait pairs determines ones Myers-Briggs Type Indicatior, presented as a combination of the four letters, for example ESTP represents an extraverted-sensing-thinking-perceiving personality type.

Whilst it is understood each type has its own strengths and weaknesses, the theory is also able to identify types most without championing one over the other (with the Western extroversion bias being an obvious exception). However, a common critism of the MBTI is that one’s personality and traits are not so black and white. For example, the use of traits such as thinking (T) and feeling (F) may be context-dependent, i.e you may be inclined to be more warm and sympathetic (F) when dealing with emotional problem with a co-worker rather than analytical and firm (T). Similarly, the idea of the two trait pairs, and the concept of sixteen personality types may be an oversimplifcation of the complexity of the human condition, and the way we behave in dynamic social situations.

In reference to these social situations, another theory in relation to personality called symbolic interactionism was developed by philosopher, sociologist and psychologist George Herbert Mead (1863-1931). This theory, also known as the idea of the “Looking-Glass Self”, suggests we cannot know ourselves directly, but only through reflections of our interactions with others. It contradicts the idea that our personalities exists within a self-contained conciousness, as our capacity for thought, action and beliefs are influenced (yet not directly caused) by social interaction. Mead theorised that symbolic interaction was contructed of three parts: the mind, the self and society. The mind, in this case, is the internal process by which we use symbols, i.e thoughts and language, to create meaning around our physical and abstract worlds. The self, or “the looking-glass self”, refers to our ability to see the way others perceive us, whether this is in line with our internal minds or not. Finally, society, is the platform on which all of these internal and external nteractions take place. Mead also highlighted the importance of society on personality, as those from impoverished backgrounds, lower social standings, and those affected by the abuse of power are unable to actualise their minds and selves in a healthy way (1934).

Further in relation to symbolic interactionism, psychologist Mark Freeman argued that the theory should be applied in conjunction with the common understanding of our sense of self: “don’t most of us continue to posit… that there are some things that are really ‘us’ and other things that are not?” (1993). Here, Freeman argues that whilst symbolic interactionism is not necessarily wrong, it could look at how to accommodate the idea of the “real me”. Whilst Meads theory argues that we might be different selves for different societal groups, we tend to privilege one of those groups more than others, more specifically the group where we don’t see our self as “acting” but as our “real” selves. Similarly, Freeman identifies how we take traits, attitudes and behaviours from our personality in these different societal groups and consider that our “real self”.

Taking these perspectives and studies into conclusion, whilst there is nothing inheritly wrong with the notion of personality, it would be naïve to suggest it can be identified and classified into one, or several, coherent ideas. Who we are is not restricted to our physical bodies or minds, but our sense of self is something which is shared across our relationships, society and culture. As suggested by Mead; the self is never one thing, it is in a “constant state of becoming”.

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The Features Of Personality Concept. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 17, 2024, from
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