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What We Know About Personality

Updated on August 8, 2017

So Many People So Many Personalities

Understanding Personality

The study of personality is both intriguing and mysterious.

We try to understand what other people are like. When we talk about someone's personality we are describing someone and the qualities we see in them. We focus on specific traits a person has, as a way to define them. We look for consistency about that person in different situations. We look at what makes them distinctive, unique, and universally the same. But what exactly is personality.

We also use the word personality to convey characteristics about someone and how they act, what they think, and how they feel. We are looking to define something from within that person that conveys a sense of who they are. We also use the term, personality, to summarize their most prominent traits and show us patterns of their behavior.


Personality and People's Qualities

The study of personality is both intriguing and mysterious.

We try to understand what other people are like. When we talk about someone's personality we are describing someone and the qualities we see in them. We focus on specific traits a person has, as a way to define them. We look for consistency about that person in different situations. We look at what makes them distinctive, unique, and universally the same. But what exactly is personality.


We also use the word personality to convey characteristics about someone and how they act, what they think, and how they feel. We are looking to define something from within that person that conveys a sense of who they are. We also use the term, personality, to summarize their most prominent traits and show us patterns of their behavior.


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Predicting Behavior

Understanding a person’s personality helps us predict their behavior. This helps us know if we should avoid or be attracted to them. The more dominant their qualities are, the more we are able to predict what they will do.

Our personalities are a dynamic system that connects our psychology of who we are to our physical body and our environment and how we relate to our world. Our personality shows up in recurrent and consistent patterns. We display our personality in many way, in many behaviors, in many thoughts, and many feelings.

Traits predict significant outcomes. Personality processes are systems or mechanisms that create personality traits within a person. These processes take effect in any particular event and over the lifespan of a person. They paint a picture of who we are and make us human. These characteristics are integral in defining our personality.



What Makes Up Our Nature

The Ingredients of the Personality Recipe

Everyone’s personality is different and unique. No two personalities are quite alike. Additionally, people display different aspects of their personality in different situations and with various people. One of the reasons for this can be explained by the system we utilize to interpret our world.

Our personality is a recipe made up of four personality processes or ingredients, when mixed together, create a pattern of behavior. These processes or mechanisms become associated with our traits. There are four processes that show up in personalities: thought, motivation, perception, and emotion. Personality processes are actions or reactions over time that produce results associated with personality concepts.

Personality is an organized set of characteristics that constantly change based on influences from the environment. Thought, emotions, motivations, and perception mix together creating a pattern of behavior. Personality also refers to human reactions to other people, issues, and stress. There are general rules that can be applied overall to people and their personality, and there are unique aspects to each person. We are all observers of people’s personality. Psychologists have long studied the aspects of personality, theories, psychological development, and personality testing in order to better understand human nature. There has long been a debate as to what influences personality, genetics and/or environment.



Thoughts, Motivation, Perception, and Emotion

Thought processes allow a person to make sense of environmental stimuli on a conscious and unconscious level. It affects all our senses, sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.

Motivation processes have to do with our strategies and our objectives. Our aims can be specific or general, short or long term. Our motivations change in different situations and reflect our actions and behaviors in these different scenarios.

Perception processes also has to do with the way we make sense of the world around us. It affects how people relate to one another. Our perceptions are skewed by our life experences and our frame of reference, biases, and what we do with the information we sense, and translate it in to something meaningful. How we mentally organize the data we receive in our environment, our own bias, and selective attention (tuning out unimportant details to focus on what is most important) contribute to our perception.

Emotion processes begins with a stimulus, either externally (from the environment), or internally (from a thought or memory). People respond to the same event with different emotions. The same person may respond emotionally differently to different stimulus. Emotions can be a deliberate or spontaneous result of the stimulus. People differ in the degree to which they are prone to particular emotions, the intensity, the frequency, self awareness, and their ability to control their emotions. The emotion process impacts our behavior and our decisions.


We are all observers of people’s personality.

Explaining Personality

There are many theories that try to explain this very broad topic of personality and to understand the how and why particular personality traits develop. We try to understand the reasons people do what they do.

The word personality has Latin origins meaning persona or mask. Our personality both shows and hides our identity. Which is part of the difficulty in understanding the true person you are encountering. The other factor that plays into understanding is our own interpretation, which is influenced by our own frame of reference, biases, and situations.

Psychologists have defined personality in several ways. Here are just a few:

  • Raymond Cattel in 1950 - predicting what a person will do within a given situation

  • Gordon Allport in 1961 - stimulus response relationships that determine traits, behavior and thought

  • Walter Mischel in 1999 - Distinctive patterns of behavior that define a person over time

  • Funder 2001 - Psychological mechanisms combined with thought, emotion, and behavior patterns

  • Feist and Feist 2009 -Permanent characteristics that show consistent and unique behavior

Most theories focus on patterns of behavior and characteristics to explain what influences people. Personality is shaped by genetic, and environmental influences, including parenting styles and culture.

There are fundamental components that make up personality. Aside from traits, patterns of thoughts, and emotions, there are other basic personality traits:

  • Consistency is a regular pattern and recognizable order of a way of acting. A person tends to behave similarly in a variety of situation.

  • The role biology and psychology play in forming and influencing behavior.

  • Our personality actually causes us to act in certain ways

  • Our personality shows up in our thoughts, feelings, relationships, social interactions.



So Much More to Know About Personality

Early on, personality types and traits were thought to primarily come from biology and genetics. From the influence of Sigmund Freud, personality was viewed as being influenced from our unconscious mind.

Over time, behavioral scientists suggested personality came from the environment. More modern theories emphasize experience, free will and personal development impact our personality. The more we learn about how personality develops and changes, the more research yields insights into the complexity of human nature.

As the field of psychology grew theorists conducted personality assessments to attempt to measure specific aspects of personality and how it changes over people’s lifespan.

The study of personality is as dynamic as people's personality. Through technology, the research on human nature, and the basis of theories already tested, we have only just begun to learn about human nature and the hows and whys of who we are.


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