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Figuring Out Someone's Personality

Updated on July 22, 2013

People and Their Personality

The study of personality is a very complex subject.
The study of personality is a very complex subject. | Source

People and Their Personality

There is a human natural need to figure out someone’s personality. It is natural for us to observe the actions, interactions, and reactions of people. In doing so, we make certain predictions about that person’s behavior and personality.

We all have a personality, which makes us unique and similar. Through the things we know about ourselves and the world around us, we make assumptions about people. It is advantageous to realize how a person may behave in various circumstances. It is part of our primitive survival mechanism. Knowing how a person may react also protects us from a way they may act that could be harmful to us and frees us up to do other things. Our instinct automatically picks up attributes we see. Sometimes, and often times, our assumptions may be incorrect. Why is that?

What is Personality?

Our guesses come from our own limited knowledge. Our own theories are rooted in our personal experiences, our beliefs, and our own personalities.

Scientists, researchers, psychologists, philosophers, and most everyone tries to gain a greater understanding about human beings through the study of personality. Personality theory is fairly recent to the field of psychology and is a very in depth topic.

Personality in current terms can be defined as the characteristics and traits that play a role in the way a person thinks, behaves, and what motivates them in various situations, uniquely defines who they are and typifies each of us. Our personality is dynamic and changing, yet some aspects are fixed from birth, leading to the idea that these characteristics are a mixture of our biology and our environment.

The word personality comes from the Latin word persona, for mask.

Gordon Allport

Gordon Allport was a famous personality theorist.
Gordon Allport was a famous personality theorist. | Source

Theorists and the Study of Personality

From the ancient times of Hippocrates to modern times, science has tried to understand observable personality.

One of the first notable milestones in personality theory came from Sir Francis Galton.

Sir Francis Galton became known for his Lexical Hypothesis in 1884. He used words to describe characteristics people displayed. Many theories,and models of personality structure, and personality tests are the basis of Galton’s theory.

Gordon Allport, an American psychologist followed up Galton’s theory, nearly a half a century later. He realized traits were the best way to describe a person’s personality. Allport and his associate H.S.Odbert came up with 4,500 words to describe to describe personality in ordinary terms and help define the uniqueness of a person’s personality.

Uniqueness of Personality

Allport continued his study of personality and described two main ways to understand the characteristic behaviors of people, known as personality dispositions.

  • the Nomothetic Approach - compares similar traits within a larger group where the combination makes people stand out in a particular way.

  • the Ideographic Approach - specific personality traits within individuals that make a person unique.

Nomothetic traits are general words that can be used to characterize a large group of people in a general way. Words such as ambitious, lazy, kind.

Allport believed the ideographic traits were a better way to define an individual’s personality. He thought that people were best described by about five to ten central traits, not one single characteristic that is displayed by their behavior.

Allport understood that personality traits are not necessarily consistent or predictable and came up with secondary traits that could be applied to certain circumstances. The combination and pattern of a person’s disposition is what gives them their individuality.

Nomothetic traits are one of the biggest parts of most personality research.

Raymond Cattell came up with a statistical method in 1957 of categorizing traits called factor analysis. Factor analysis uses nomothetic traits to describe clusters or groups of traits that describe personality types. He narrowed the 4,500 words from Allport and Odbert down to 171 main characteristics and put them into 35 main groups plus 10 additional he came up with to describe traits. He then narrowed them down to 16 main traits. Cattell is famous for his 16PF personality test. This personality test scores people on a dimension so that their personality can be described in general terms that hold true for certain behavioral principles.

Personality is relatively stable and doesn’t change from week to week. This is what makes personality somewhat predictable and allows us to anticipate how the people we know will behave.

Theodore Millon is a psychologist who heads a well known center called The Institute for Advanced Studies in Personology and Psychopathology (IASPP) International Center in Port Jervis, NY. Here for personality and clinical psychology, where they do scholarly research on mental health issues. Roger. D. Davis and Theodore Millon studied disorders of personality and believe that it is best to start with nomothetic traits to look for personality disorders and then switch to idiographic traits to understand the individuality and uniqueness of a person that sets them apart from other people.

The Many Theories of Personalities

There are many theories of personalities.
There are many theories of personalities. | Source

Finding the Real Personality

Nomothetic traits are a way of generalizing characteristics of people. Ideographic traits take more in depth knowledge of a person to understand better how that person functions, behaves, thinks and feels. Allport did not believe that nomothetic traits could be universally applied to everyone and that it is the individual differences, ideographic traits that more accurately depict personality.

Our feelings have a lot to do with why we behave differently in different situations. A person might be warm and kind to her co-workers, but behaves in a more critical way with her family, or vice-a-versa. This difference in behavior has a lot to do with how people interpret their environment, what their expectations, values and personal experiences are, how they apply self control to self regulate themselves. Some personality traits are situational characteristics as a way of behaving to particular stimuli and in certain circumstances.

A professor might be distant and formal in front of his class,but when the student talks with them one on one, the professor has a more friendly demeanor. An actor may appear friendly and warm on stage, but when you meet them they are actually shy and aloof and display very little animation in their personality. Their real personality does not match their on stage presence.

Does Personality Change Over The Years

Do you believe a person's personality can change over time?

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Dominant Personality Traits

We try to understand people and the world around us by tapping into our internal model of what we know to fit the descriptors we see in that person. We observe people’s behavior and attempt to match it to a pattern that conform to the to these definitions we believe we know about.

When the situations change, people may expect that person to act the same way they have always seen them, but if they don’t really know them well, different situations may bring out different personality traits. When we describe a person’s personality, we are looking for consistency.

We watch a person’s behavior in a situation and make conclusions about that person based on what we see. We believe that person will behave in that particular way in every situation. What we are really seeing is a snapshot of a person’s experience and without further information there may be any number of reasons they behaved that way. One reason could be their personality, but there may be situational factors that are influencing their actions.

Personality is part of our complex nature that makes a person behave, think and feel in a certain way. The more we see the same pattern in a person, the more we can rely on the idea that their actions are a truer part of their personality. The idea of whether a trait is the same in a group of people is complicated by our own view of that particular trait. While people may have the same traits, some of these traits are more dominant than others. It really is best to understand that each of us has a unique psychological makeup and it is relatively impossible to compare one person to another.

Quick Personality Test


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    • toknowinfo profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      Hi Nell, Thanks for sharing my article about personality. People are very interesting, and personalities are just the tip of the iceberg.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      6 years ago from England

      Fascinating read, I do think our personalities change over the years, or as I call it 'adding layers' that are purely there because of circumstance. its not easy to always know someone because we all hide certain traits of our personalities, voted up and shared! nell

    • toknowinfo profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Hi EP, Thanks again for reading and commenting on another of my hubs. What did most people say on facebook?

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 

      6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Ah- I'm a bit suspicious. :) Very interesting hub. I just asked that question about "does personality change" on my facebook wall recently. It was interesting to see the responses. Voted this up!

    • mylindaelliott profile image


      6 years ago from Louisiana

      I'm not a little bit suspicious. I'm a lot suspicious. Great article.

    • DabbleYou profile image


      6 years ago

      Great info. Many times I am guilty of comparing one person to another based on their behavior. I guess this hub is an eye opener for me to realize that each and everyone of us is different one way or another.

    • fpherj48 profile image


      6 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Absolutely GREAT hub. The info you share here, with your readers is invaluable. I applaud and appreciate this well-written article on "personalities," on more than one level. Both personally and professionally, the more in-depth study, individuals have to their avail, the much better their diverse relationships can flourish.

      Glad I stumbled upon you, "toknowinfo,"....I see you have several hubs of serious interest to me!.....Voted up+++

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      6 years ago from England

      This was fascinating reading, and reminded me of the time when I worked in a certain office. At that time I was always out and about, different boyfriends, going to the pub and so on, but after I left and went back a while later I had calmed down, and my other sides of my personality came out, facets if you like. I no longer felt the same way, but all the people in the office thought I was still the same person, or acting like it, and because of their reaction I always went straight back into the 'old' me, the way I spoke and so on, its a strange thing, its as though we do have different pockets of stimuli that ping if you like when someone well, pings it! lol! voted up and shared, nell

    • toknowinfo profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Hi Eddy, Thanks for your up vote. I am always glad when you stop by.

    • Eiddwen profile image


      6 years ago from Wales

      Very interesting toknowinfo and vote up. Here's wishing you a great day.



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