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A Psychological Review on an Iconic Act0r- NPH

Updated on December 15, 2017


In his book, Harris said “My very first job was working in a bookstore. It was there that I discovered the Choose Your Own Adventure books. I’d spend hours lost in the novels- I loved the idea that I could write my own story, or at least try to figure out which path was the winning one. When it came time to write my memoir, I couldn’t think of a better way to depict my twisty-turny life, so I decided to adopt the Choose Your Own Adventure concept.” Neil Patrick Harris turned the ordinary celebrity autobiography into a hands-on experience for his readers to enjoy. Through the book, you, the reader, have the chance to choose your own adventure in the footsteps of Neil's life. Choose correctly and you’ll become a famous actor on and off Broadway. Choose incorrectly and well… You’ll just have to read the book to find out! The book covers everything from his birth to his Broadway debut and his many, many adventures with his husband David Burtka. The structure the book is written in is a perfect reflection of his personality- from the comical footnotes to his brilliant wit he doesn't miss a beat. The book also includes a hilarious letter from the one and only Barney Stinson, Harris' womanizer character from How I Met Your Mother, along with letters from Kelly Ripa, Whoopie, and Seth Macfarlane. While being a reflection of Neil’s Personality, the autobiography also covers distinctive turns in his lifestyle, including his decision to be openly homosexual.

If there is one thing to notice about Neil Patrick Harris’ personality, its that he is extremely determined. He recently played the role of Hedwig in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” In an article written in The Rolling Stone it said that Harris ran on 5 hours of sleep most nights, spent his long mornings “wrangling his rambunctious three-year-old twins” on his own (David is out of town during this article) then would spend the rest of his day rehearsing before the show. In an interview with NPR, when questioned about having no understudy for his role as Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Harris replied “I didn't have an understudy in that show because it just seemed weird and not fair. I wanted to challenge myself with doing 20 weeks of seven shows a week and just do it. ... When you put your name above the title of what's essentially a one-person show, people are coming to see you do that part. So if you sit down and you have a little piece of paper in your playbill that says, "Tonight the role of Hedwig will be played by somebody else" ... it just didn't seem right, so I challenged myself with doing it.” Not only did he not have an understudy for the show, he also put himself through many physical changes to fit the part. He wanted to become Hedwig; not just Neil dressed up to look like Hedwig. Seemingly [to Harris] the most important part of becoming Hedwig was changing his silhouette; he wanted to look feminine. Harris lost 21 pounds, by mostly starving himself and extreme cardio, to play this part. His determination to make his audience believe was so strong, and it showed in his performances.

Coming out, a huge step in any one’s life and especially for someone in the public eye. On November 2nd, 2006 Harris released a statement on As quoted in his book, here is his statement. “The public eye has always been kind to me and until recently I have been able to live a pretty normal life. Now it seems there is speculation and interest in my private life and relationships. So, rather than ignore those who choose to publish their opinions without actually talking to me, I am happy to dispel any rumors or misconceptions and am quite proud to say that I am a very content gay man living my life to the fullest and feel most fortunate to be working with wonderful people in the business I love.” Being in the public eye, Harris had many fears about releasing this statement. He worried about how people would view him; would he still be the role model he hoped to be? Like anyone in his situation, he had anxiety. Yet, Neil was accepted as a part of the gay community and continued to live happily with David.

The Approaches..

Biological Approach

As stated in “The Personality Puzzle” by David Funder he the describes the biological approach as “a view of personality that focuses on the way behavior and personality are influenced by neuroanatomy, biochemistry, genetics, and evolution.” Funder also wrote “Biological processes are the effects of behaviors or experiences as often as they are the causes. For example, a stressful environment will raise one’s cortisol level, as will feeling depressed or anxious, and the result (not the cause) may be a smaller brain! Winning a game (or an election) raises one’s testosterone level; likewise, behavior and the social environment affect levels of other hormones and neurotransmitters, as well as the development and functioning of the brain. Measurable brain activity can be changed by drugs, and can also be changed by psychotherapy.” Through genetics, most children grow up to be somewhat like their parents. In Neil’s case, he got personality traits from both his mother and father. In his book, Harris wrote [referring to his mother] “As the year goes by you [Harris refers to the reader as if they are Neil Patrick Harris] will come to realize she is a truly remarkable woman filled with love, kindness, fragility, selflessness, intelligence, wisdom and humor.” Referring to his father he wrote, “As the years go by you will come to learn he is strong, stoic, and wise, an amazing husband, lawyer, logical thinker, and fixer of problems.” Neil definitely received traits like humor and intelligence from his mother and received his wisdom and ability to think logically from his father. Neil is known for his hilarious hosting gigs on the Tony’s and Emmys as well as his role as Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother. Although his life experience may have helped him gain his sense of humor, the base of his humor was passed down from his mother through genetics. In the Rolling Stone article about Neil, it says “Harris seems slightly anxious for his kids to get a little older. "I talk to them like they're adults, which drives David mental," he says with a laugh. "I try to teach them large-picture, complex thought. He's like, 'Dude, they're three!' I would like to teach them that they could cry and kick and complain about the fact that the other one just took their toy. Or they could find another toy to play with. That's a choice that they're making. A lot of things happen to you, but a lot of your choices in life are how you're choosing to process your circumstance…I have very maternal instincts when it comes to kids," says Burtka. "Neil is better at doing tasks, sometimes. But, you know, it's a good balance. Neil is ready for them to start thinking on their own and making good decisions. And I'm like, 'They can't . . . it doesn't work that way yet! You've gotta be patient, you've gotta hold off.” He enjoys being able to use his ability to think logically to teach his children about the world. Neil is very cut and dry; In his book, he wrote that he doesn’t like emotions and that thinking logically makes more sense than wearing his heart on his sleeve. His behavior and personality are definitely affected by the fact that his parents have some of the similar qualities that were passed down through genetics.

Phenomenological Approach

The Personality Puzzle refers to the phenomenological approach as the “theoretical view of personality that emphasizes experience, free will, and the meaning of life. Closely related to humanistic psychology and existentialism.” Likewise, phenomenology is the study of conscious experience. Phenomenology focuses on everything that has happened in the past, everything that is currently happening in your life, and anything that might happen in the future. Events in the past, present, and future can influence your thoughts and feelings in the moment you are currently living. In his book, Neil tells the story of learning his first magic trick from his grandpa when he was five years old. By learning this trick he became hooked on being a magician (although it is just his hobby). He was able to take this moment in his past and use it in his everyday life. He used his ability to perform magic to give his character in How I Met Your Mother more dimension, and he uses it to make people laugh. He took his experience from the past and used it to make decisions in those moments. As a Broadway actor, he has had performed in several shows. During opening night, he would probably make mistakes and figure out things he wanted to do differently during the next night's shows. When performing in later shows Neil would make a conscious decision in that moment to improvise and change something he did not like in the previous shows. Every performance is slightly different because of his ability to improvise. The theory says because of his past experiences his thoughts in the present can affect his actions.

Neil Patrick Harris: Funny, charming, logical, intelligent, smart, talented and so much more. We see these traits in Harris through his performances as a Broadway actor, an award show host, and T.V personality not to mention loving father and husband. He has adopted some of his personality from his parents through genetics and he has shaped his traits received through genetics by living his life and having experiences. The biological approach says that Harris is shaped through genetics, phenomenology says Harris is shaped by experience. I say they’re both right.


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