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Essay: Personality Theory and Assessment

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  • Published: 22 September 2015*
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Personality is a set of behavior, cognitive, and emotional patterns than makes an individual different from others. Psychologists have proposed many theories to explain the different characteristics of personalities and its development, but the four major theories are the psychoanalytic, humanistic, trait, and social-cognitive theory.
1- Freud’s psychoanalytic theory ‘ Freud stated that unconscious forces influence personality. Humans have three different levels of awareness, the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious. The unconscious level of awareness is the most important and it holds the base biological instincts, wishes, desires and can be the cause of psychological disorders. Based on the three levels of awareness, Freud proposed a tripartite personality model, the id, ego, and superego.
The id is primitive, instinctive, and unconscious part of the personality and it is present at birth. The ego is logical, rational, realistic, mostly conscious, and satisfies the id’s needs. When the id’s needs cannot be satisfied, the ego uses defense mechanism such as repression, denial, or displacement to maintain self-esteem and control anxiety. The superego, which is learned from the parents and the expectations from society to find moral perfection.
Freud also stated that sex instinct is one of the most important influences of personality and if not properly resolved, it can create mental health problems. Freud’s stages of sexual development are divided into oral (birth to 1 year), anal (1 to 3 years), phallic (3 to 5 or 6 years), latency (5 or 6 to puberty), and genital (puberty on).
One of the most well known characteristic of this theory happens during the phallic stage, the Oedipus complex in boys and the Elektra complex for girls, where the sexual attraction towards the opposite sex parent needs to be resolved or it will cause sexual problems in the adulthood.
2- Humanistic theory ‘ Based on his hierarchy of needs, Abraham Maslow claimed motivation is the root of personality. Another humanistic psychologist, Carl Rogers claimed individuals act according to the conditions set by others.
3- The trait theory – Psychologists Gordon Allport, Raymond Cattell, and Hans Eysenck supported this theory. Allport claimed each individual is born with raw skills that are later shaped by the experiences. Cattell was able to identify two types of traits: surface and 23 source traits. Using 16 of the 23 source traits, he was able to create a personality factor questionnaire, which is still used today in career counseling. Eysenck divided the personality in three dimensions: psychoticism (link to reality), extraversion (sociability), and neuroticism (emotional).
4- Social-cognitive theories ‘ Supported by Walter Mischel, Albert Bandura, and Julian Rotter, this theory is based on the hypothesis that individuals can learn behaviors by social interactions.

Personality can be measured through observation, test, interviews, and inventories to name a few methods. This assessment is not only used in clinical settings to determine therapy progress, but also in business to help with the hiring process.
The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) developed in the 1930s by McKinley and Hathaway is the most common personality test used for the screening and diagnosis of psychiatric problems. Another test very popular in the business and education settings is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) where individuals are scored on four dimensions, creating sixteen different types of personality and can be associated with career choices and job satisfaction.
‘ Psychological Disorders

Psychological disorders are behaviors that cause emotional suffering. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, they can describe over 300 psychological disorders. Psychologists use five different perspectives to describe, analyze, and treat disorders. The biological perspective (symptom of a physical disorder), biopsychosocial perspective (combination of biological, psychological, and social), psychodynamic (unresolved childhood’s conflict), learning perspective (failure to learn appropriate behaviors), and cognitive perspective (distorted perceptions).
Anxiety disorders are the most common psychological disorders. Anxiety occurs when thinking about future events. Anxious feelings like panic attacks and agoraphobia are often the cause to seek professional help.
– Panic attacks are the unexpected feeling of fear, the heart pounds, the body shakes, and sensation of shortness of breath.
– Agoraphobia is an intense fear of being in a situation or placed where the individual does not see a way out (e.g. enclosed spaces, open spaces, being in a crowd).
An example of anxiety disorders is the obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) where an individual needs to perform a series acts repeatedly to evade the distress of a persistent and involuntary thought.

Mood disorders are intense changes in emotions. The two most common types of mood disorders are depression and bipolar disorder.
– Depression is the overwhelming feeling of despair, unhappiness, and loss of interest in usual activities.
– Bipolar disorder is a condition in where the individual goes from excessive euphoria to a major depression.
– Other identified types of disorders are schizophrenia, hypochondriasis, dissociative identity disorder, sexual disorder, and personality disorder.
i) Schizophrenia, a severe psychological disorder where the individual loses the ability to differentiate reality from imagination.
ii) Hypochondriasis, the excessive worry about having a serious illness.
iii) Dissociative identity disorder, where two or more different personalities are present in the same person.
iv) Sexual disorders, destructive behaviors associated with sexuality. Most common are sexual dysfunctions, paraphilias (involves objects, children, fantasies, non-consenting persons), and gender identity (not accepting one’s sexuality).
v) Personality disorders, inflexible behavior patterns that cause problems to get along with others. Paranoid, narcissistic, antisocial, and obsessive-compulsive are some of the types of personality disorders.

‘ Therapies and Social Psychology

Psychotherapies are treatments that use psychological resources instead of biological to treat disorders and to help understand our own thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and coping mechanism.
Most common therapies are:
– Psychodynamic therapies help to uncover repressed childhood experiences that are currently affecting the individual. Psychoanalysis is the first psychodynamic therapy developed Freud, using free association, dream analysis, and transference.
– Interpersonal therapy, helps people to understand and handle their problems, it is very effective to use it on individuals suffering from depression and bipolar disorder.
– Person-centered therapy helps the individual to accept and free himself or herself and to achieve self-actualization.
– Gestalt therapy developed by Fritz Perls, helps individual to accept personal responsibility for their actions rather than blaming others.

Relation therapies to help improve interpersonal relationships.
– Family therapy, involves the entire family.
– Couple therapy, to help behavior or emotional changes toward the partner.
– Group therapy, sessions that involves a group of people. These sessions are cheaper than individual therapies also providing the members with a sense of belonging and support.

Behavior therapies are treatments to change an abnormal behavior.
– Token economy, rewards the correct behavior with tokens that can later be exchanged for desired goods or privileges.
– Time out is primarily used in children and teenagers when they perform behaviors previously explain as unacceptable.
– Flooding, based on classical conditioning to treat phobias by exposing the individual to the object of fear.
– Aversion therapy uses painful stimulus to eliminate harmful and undesirable behaviors.

Biomedical therapies are treatments that use drugs, electroconvulsive, and psychosurgery.
– Drugs such as antipsychotics, antidepressants, and antianxiety that alters moods, perceptions, and feelings.
– Electroconvulsive therapies use electric current to change the biochemical balance of the brain.
– Psychosurgery is a brain surgery, a drastic procedure to relieve severe psychological disorders.

Social psychology studies how people’s behaviors, feelings, or thoughts are influenced by others. It is also interested in impression formation, attraction, attitudes, conformity, obedience, group influences, persuasion, altruism, aggression, prejudice, and discrimination to name a few.
– Impression formation – the development of opinion about other people when meeting them for the first time.
– Attraction – individuals are attracted to others with similar personalities, traits, interest, and attitudes.
– Attitudes – a positive or negative position towards a person, object, or situation.
– Conformity – changing one’s behavior or attitude to be consistent with social norms or others.
– Obedience – behaving according the rules and commands.
– Group influences – how an individual behaves and performs when working in groups.
– Persuasion – an intentional effort to change the attitudes and/or behavior of another person.
– Altruism – behavior intended to help others involved self-sacrifice and is not for personal gain.
– Aggression – deliberates physical or psychological harm to others.
– Prejudice – negative attitudes towards others based on sex, religion, race, or group.
– Discrimination ‘ negative behaviors toward others based on sex, religion, race, or group.
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