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Personality Theories of Psychology

Updated on July 6, 2011

Personality Theories

First and foremost, a theory is a model of reality that helps us to understand, explain, and predict, and control that reality. In the study of personality, these models are usually verbal.

Usually when we are talking about someone's personality, we are talking about what makes that person different from other people. This aspect of personality is called individual differences. However, personality theorists are just as interested in the commonalities among people. Another way of saying it, is that in general, personality theorists are interested in the structure of the individua, the psychological structure in particular. Some theorists even go a step farther and say they are looking for the essence of being of a person.

Top Ten Psychology Theorists

In no particular order, the following are the top ten theorists contributing to the field of psychology:

  1. B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) is best known for operant conditioning and schedules of reinforcement. Skinner, a behaviorist, discovered and described his schedules of reinforcement as fixed-ratio schedules, variable-ratio schedules, fixed-interval schedules, and variable-interval schedules.
  2. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) made the concept of conscious versus unconscious popular, although he did not invent the idea. He believed in psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic therapy. In addition, he developed the personality concept of the id, ego, and superego.
  3. Albert Bandura (1925-) is a behaviorist and cognitive theorist. He studied observational learning in his Bobo Doll Study, and also created the theory of reciprocal determinism - a social-cognitive theory of personality stating that internal and external determinants of behavior interact reciprocally.
  4. Jean Piaget (1896-1980) was a cognitive theorist, who developed the cognitive stages of development, which still influence our understanding of the cognitive development of children today. He also created the International Center for Genetic Epistemology in 1955, and served as its director until his death.
  5. Carl Rogers (1902-1987) was the founder of the humanistic approach. He is best known for his non-directive approach treatment known as client-centered therapy. He is also known for the concept of "actualizing tendency," and developing the concept of the fully-functioning person.
  6. William James (1842-1910) was a functionalist. Like Darwin, this early theorist studied how an individual adapts to and functions in their environment. He is also known as a contributing partner in the James-Lang Theory of Emotion, which states that when an event triggers a physiological reaction, we then interpret it. According to this theory, emotions are caused by our interpretations of these physiological reactions.
  7. Erik Erikson (1902-1994) was a psychoanalytic. Erikson helped to broaden and expand psychoanalytic theory, mainly branching off of Freud's findings and developments. He also contributed to our understanding of personality as it is developed and shaped over the course of a lifespan with his stages of psychosocial development.
  8. Ivan Pavlov (1949-1936) was a behaviorist, who discovered groundbreaking research with classical conditioning. He discovered classical conditioning accidentally while doing digestive research on dogs. What he found was that we make associations, which cause us to generalize our response to one stimulus onto a neutral stimulus with which it is paired.
  9. Kurt Lewin (1890-1947) is considered the founder of modern social psychology. He developed a theory that emphasized the importance of individual personalities, interpersonal conflict, and situational variables. Lewin's Field Theory proposed that behavior is the result of the individual and the environment.
  10. John B. Watson (1878-1958) was the founder of behaviorism. He was a strong believer in "nurture," and believed that all human differences were the result of learning. In addition, he believed that practice strengthened learning.


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