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Understand Personality

Updated on June 2, 2013

How to Improve Your Personality

Understanding Personality

Our personality is as dominant a characteristic as our physical features are. Personality is of great interest to all those in the mental health field, scientists, medical professionals, and evolutionary theorists.

The topic of personality is a complex and in depth subject, and is still studied and researched extensively. There are thousands of words that can be used to describe personalities, thousands of studies that have been done and will be done to try to help us better understand ourselves and others, and many definitions and theories that attempt to clarify what personality is.

Our personality influences everything we do. From the clothes we wear to the people in our lives, from our career choices to our hobbies and passions, our personal tastes, and our reactions to the events we encounter.

What is Personality?

When we meet people, one of the first things we do is determine the personality traits we think we observe. We display a large variety of individual differences in the way we behave, in our emotions, in our thoughts, and in our preferences. Personality starts in infancy, perhaps even in utero. We vary in our energy level, in our activity level, and in our distress level. Our approach, our emotional engagement, our feelings, our mood, our attention span, our self discipline, our maturity, our empathy, our responsibility, our intellect, our imagination, and our interests are just some of our aspects of our personality. Our personality is fairly stable over time, but also change to some degree as we experience different life events.

Personality theories have tried to define what personality means. Yet with all the theories that continue to be developed and researched, we don’t understand enough about personalities to explain the stable parts of personality, and the changes in personality. Science doesn’t understand how personality characteristics affect our mental health, physical well being, our relationships, our professions, our choices, and our motivations.

Personality is largely described by adjectives that have nothing to do with the person’s physical being.

Personality Theorists

Gordon Allport was the first to categorize personality traits
Gordon Allport was the first to categorize personality traits | Source

Personality Traits

This has led to many personality theories, that consider the traits of the person.

Using a trait approach, people’s personality is categorized into broad descriptions of their behavior. We often use words to describe people by saying they are outgoing, patient, kind, anxious, care less, hostile, creative, needy, etc. Traits are generally stable characteristics that make a person behave they way they do. Traits define people by their differences. These unique combinations an individual displays make up their personality.

A well known trait theory was developed by Gordon Allport in 1936. He came up with a trait theory that took more than 4,000 words he found in the dictionary to describe personalities and categorized them into three levels.

  • cardinal traits

  • central traits

  • secondary traits

Cardinal traits are usually one dominant characteristic that describes a person such as, seeking fame and fortune, greed or ambition. These behaviors are so ingrained within a person, the traits control much of their actions and define much of their behavior. Cardinal traits often make a person spend their lives in pursuit of achievements in the name of these characteristics, and usually these people become known by this single trait. Most people do not develop cardinal traits, and if they do, these personality traits develop later on in years. Most people have multidimensional personalities.

Central traits are the basic characteristics we use to describe a person. These traits are not as dominant as cardinal traits, but are still significant ways of behaving and are usually used to describe a person. Describing a person as intelligent is an example.

Secondary traits are attitudes and preferences that show themselves in certain situations. Observing a person being impatient while waiting in line,is an example of a secondary personality trait.

Cattell and The 16 Personality Types

Raymond Cattell developed 16 key traits to define personalities. Cattell is well known for his personality assessment, called the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF).

Cattell believed everyone has some degree of every trait, ranging from low to high His assessment was based on where in each trait range a person sits

The 16 Personality Factors

Personality Type
Low Range
High Range
Practical & Down-To-Earth
Creative & Idea Oriented
Self Assured & Complacent
Insecure & Worried
Submissive & Passive
Aggressive & Forceful
Emotional Stability
Calm & Adaptive
Reactive & High Strung
Enthusiastic & Restrained
Serious & Restrained
Openness to Change
Liberal & Untraditional
Conforming & Familiar
Disorder & Flexible
Controlled & Self Disciplined
Genuine & Forthright
Discreet & Non Disclosing
Abstract & Lower Mental Capacity
Concrete & Fast Learner
Rule Consciousness
Non conforming & Free Thinking
Dutiful & Moralistic
Self Reliance
Group Oriented & Follower
Independent & Leader
Tough & Objective
Sentimental & Tender
Social Boldness
Shy & Timid
Uninhibited & Adventurous
Relaxed & Easy Going
High Energy & Impatient
Trusting & Accepting
Suspicious & Skeptical
Impersonal & Distant
Caring & Trusting
Raymond Cattell and the 16 Personality Factors

Your Personality

Are You More

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Hans Eysenck and The Three Dimensions of Personality

A British psychologist, named Hans Eysenck also developed a personality model using three universal traits, known as The Three Dimensions of Personality.

  • introversion - extraversion

  • neuroticism - emotional stability

  • psychoticism

People who are introverted focus more on their inner experiences and are often quiet, and more reserved. Extroverted people focus on their surroundings and other people and usually are sociable and outgoing.

The dimension of neuroticism and emotional stability is related to how moody a person may be, how easily they become upset, and refers to their mental health and stability.

Our Unique Personalities

Personalities make us each unique.
Personalities make us each unique. | Source

The Big Five Theory of Personality

The Five Factor Theory of Personality is very popular among personality experts because some feel that Cattell focused on too many personality traits and Eysenck focused on too few. The Five Factor Theory of Personality, also known as the Big Five Theory of Personality, defines five basic traits that make up people’s personality. They are categorized as:

  • openness

  • conscientiousness

  • extraversion

  • agreeableness

  • neuroticism

As with most theories in science and psychology, the trait theories are both agreed upon, and hotly debated. Some believe there are weaknesses to these broad categories and can be poor predictors of behavior. People might score high on a specific range, and yet they might not always behave the same way in every situation. Trait theories are interesting and offer much clarification about behavior and personality, but they don’t look at the causes,reasons, and ways personalities develop.

No matter what personality theory is looked at, our personality is an integral part of everything we do.

Where Does Personality Come From

Do You Think Personality Develops From

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Personality Characteristics

Psychoticism refers to people who have difficulty dealing with reality. They may be antisocial, show open hostility, be non empathetic, and be manipulative.

Our personalities dictate our perspective, our behavior, and our decisions. Depending on your personality, will depend a lot on how you think and react. Personality is a group of complex characteristics that make us unique. Our behavior and emotion combined is the totality of our personality and is described as distinctive traits we display.

These personality traits are broad clusters of characteristics that are common to all people. In looking at any aspect of personality, there may be specific personality traits that are not included, which makes the study of personality a more inexact science. Yet we still may have enough information to form an intelligent opinion about personality and its effect on a person's behavior.

There are thousands of words that describe personality. Personality traits are a way a person behaves, feels, and thinks that reflect environmental and genetic influences.

The Study of Personality

Do our personalities come from genetics or the environment or both?
Do our personalities come from genetics or the environment or both? | Source

Personality and Genetics

Personality stays steady from day to day, although an individual’s personality can change over the span of a person’s lifetime due to lifecycle events, and intentional reasons. According to some twin studies, about 40% to 50% of our personality is genetic.

The rest of our personality is attributable to individual environmental influences. Science is now beginning to identify certain genes that have identifiable personality traits. Heritability studies are complex because personality traits are presumed by Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS) to be polygenic, meaning personality is a result of interactions between specific genes, not just from one single gene. There is much that is not known about the gene and environment interaction. Very few research have used a comprehensive study of people’s life history, and environmental events that would identify environmental conditions that can link personality with other external conditions.

Many findings are concluding that the complexities of our personality are connected to our lifestyle choices, our health, and our longevity. The associations are not completely clear, but each study helps us understand how integral personality is so many things to the quality of our life to our longevity. It is perhaps more important to understand our own personality than any other aspect of our being.

Personality, it is thought, may have something to do with risk perception and lifestyle choices.

Science is also making correlations between certain biomarkers that may be connected to certain personality types, illuminating the biological factors about personality. If there are biological factors that may be determined by our genes, then these genes might be interconnected with personality genes.

In addition to biomarkers, scientists have discovered certain DNA sequencing on genes may be indirectly related to personality traits that might be a significant influence on longevity and a healthier lifestyle.

The biological pathways that may link our personality to longevity, are only newly being researched and understood. It is largely not known which biological mechanisms have the potential to affect our behavior. What science is beginning to research is the possibility that there are clusters of genes that may help define our personality.


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    • tlpoague profile image


      6 years ago from USA

      I have always been an outgoing person but one that wasn't raised with very good social skills. In some situations I find myself shutting down and becoming intimidated by people. This has placed me in awkward situations when I don't take the time to think before I speak because I am nervous. I think writing for HP has helped me to overcome some of my insecurities. I was just talking to another writer the other day and thought to myself...writers must be a bit schizophrenic because we are walking around with voices in our heads begging to be poured onto pages. Very interesting reading. Thanks for sharing.

    • toknowinfo profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Hi MyLinda, Personality is consistent and that is what makes the personality tests interesting. We are who we are.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I tend to think most writers would lean toward being introverted. Then someone like Hemingway pops into my mind. I wonder if his macho image was something of a guise. I know one of my lit teachers said that the man set aside two hours a day for reading but avoided being shown to the public as doing so.

    • kidscrafts profile image


      6 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      For sure we get a lot of our personnality from our DNA but there are so many factors that can influence it like life experiences, surroundings, interactions with others, etc.

    • mylindaelliott profile image


      6 years ago from Louisiana

      Great hub, I've taken so many personality tests over the years I lose track. They all do seem to come out very close to the same. I suppose that is consistent. At least that's what leads me to believe there must be something to it.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very interesting information. I am definitely an introvert. That's one reason why online communities like HP are so attractive to is easier for me to communicate "sight unseen" than it is in person.

      Great info....I actually have a hub coming out tomorrow about my personality. :)



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