The development of personality theory

2.1 The development of personality theory

Prior to embarking on a study of personality in different cultures, it is necessary to consider what personality is and how it has been operationalised. McCrae and Costa (1990) define personality as “Dimensions of individual differences in tendencies to show consistent patterns of thoughts, feelings and actions” (p.1). Personality has been studied by philosophists and psychologists for many years under the banner of individual differences. The following two subsections will briefly introduce a number of historical and contemporary approaches to personality theory before the discussion turns to the history, development, conceptualisation and assessment techniques of the Trait Approach.

2.1.1 Classical theories

Before more complex psychological theories of personality were published, the ancient Greeks (circa. 460 BCE) had drawn attention to the Physiological paradigm, within which an individual’s personality was dependent to a large extent upon inherited “humours” that possessed some relation to endocrine secretion. This gave rise to four descriptive terms of personality: sanguine, melancholic, choleric and phlegmatic (Munger, 2003a). This attempt at an early understanding of personality led to the branding of individuals that was not supported by everyday observation. Much later, and following the start of the psychological movement, Sheldon (1940), in a similar method of branding to that of Hippocrates (Munger, 2003a) proposed three major human physiques: Endomorphy, Mesomorphy and Ectomorphy and posited that these could be linked with an individual’s temperament based on extremely strong correlational “evidence”. However, it was Sheldon himself who had both assigned the somatotype of individuals in his study and judged their temperament, resulting in criterion-contamination. Assessment reliability issues and concerns over the deterministic nature of physique and temperament have meant that even though Sheldon (1971) provided more objective methods of assessment of physique, his theory was not accepted as a full theory of personality by mainstream psychologists.

2.1.2 Psychological theories

Turning to more psychological-type theories of personality, Psychoanalytic Theory (e.g., Freud, 1940), with major application in clinical settings, emphasises the importance of early-childhood development and the constant inter-play among an individual’s motives, drives, needs and conflicts as played out by the Id, Ego and Superego. Phenomenological Theory (e.g., Rogers, 1947), like Psychoanalytic Theory, has its application in clinical scenarios. Rogers (1947) asserts that clinicians require an understanding of how the individual (including the clinician themselves) experiences the world around them and experiences theirself. Departing from Freudian notions of conflict as a motivator, Rogers concentrated on the need of individuals to self-actualise (through an understanding of self) as motivation for behaviour. Kelly’s (1955) Personal Construct Theory also has major applications in clinical settings, although it has additionally had a number of offshoots in the world of organisational psychology with, for example, the development of Repertory Grids (e.g., Hassard, 1987; Smith, 1986). The basic contention is that how people choose to perceive, interpret and conceptualise the world, as amateur scientists testing out their internal constructs, will result in individual differences in behaviour. Within a backdrop of calls for more rigorous methodology and research techniques and less subjectivity in theory in psychology, the Behavioural Approaches to personality were developed. Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning (see Munger, 2003b), Skinner’s Operant Conditioning (Skinner, 1974) and Dollar and Miller’s (1950) Stimulus-Response Theory all emphasise learning and testing of individual hypotheses in many situations. In terms of the major subject within this thesis, the behavioural approach provides objectivity such as cannot be obtained within the previous approaches. However, there is a tendency for behavioural approaches to oversimplify personality and not to take into account the mental processes at play within individuals. This led to the development of Social-Cognitive and Cognitive approaches to personality. Social-cognitive approaches (e.g., Bandura, 1977; Mischel & Mischel, 1994) retain the learning aspect and scientific rigour of behaviourism, but remove the issue of rewards (thus learning without rewards). The focus is on the importance of social origins and cognitive processes in behaviour. Cognitive approaches (e.g., Beck, 1991; Ellis, 1975; Hollon & Beck, 2004) focus even more strongly on mental processes, specifically focussing on how people encode, store and retrieve information and represent the world around them through hierarchical mental models. Although, over time, each major model of personality has become more scientific and thus more able to lend itself to empirical evaluation, there has been only one major model which has been able to unequivocally lend itself to large-scale research application due to its traditional questionnaire method of assessment. Further, this model is less clinically-oriented than others and, for the purposes of this thesis, has greater application in the workplace than other models. This model is the Trait-Based Paradigm of personality theory (e.g., Cattell, 1943; Costa & McCrae, 1985; Eysenck, 1947; Goldberg, 1981) – here, personality is a function of biologically- or socially- based traits within an individual.