Your personality includes your patterns of thoughts, actions, and emotions. It’s also influenced by your temperament and experiences.
Everybody has their own unique personality, which can develop and change as you age.
In psychology, the study of personality explores the processes behind the development of your unique characteristics and personality traits, and how they manifest and change over time. In other words, how your individual characteristics come together to make up your unique personality type.
The term personality refers to the set of traits and patterns of thought, behavior, and feelings that make you you.
After a certain age, personality is mostly consistent. In different situations, you’ll act or think in a similar way because of your personality. However, certain personality traits and behavior patterns can change over time.
Your personality involves:
- traits, like loyalty, perfectionism, and extroversion
- character, which includes your core beliefs and ethical code
- temperament, which you were born with and involves your predisposition to act and feel in certain ways
What is a personality trait?
Personality traits are characteristic patterns in how you think, feel, and act.
People can develop certain traits on a sliding scale, with some traits more intense and dominant than others.
Common examples of personality traits include:
Your personality isn’t immutable and unchanging. Research suggests that you’re not simply born with certain patterns and traits, rather, they develop over time.
Your personality can be influenced by:
- life experiences
- adverse events you’ve faced
- community and culture
- early bonds
- raising styles
There are a number of theories about personality development, and most theories emphasize that early childhood experiences are key in this process.
Personality disorders are mental health conditions that involve a few personality traits that tend to cause great distress and represent challenges in different aspects of your life.
The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) groups personality disorders into three distinct categories: cluster A, cluster B, and cluster C.
Cluster A personality disorders involve odd and eccentric traits, and include:
Cluster B personality disorders involve dramatic, emotional, and erratic traits, and include:
- narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)
- antisocial personality disorder
- borderline personality disorder (BPD)
- histrionic personality disorder (HPD)
Cluster C personality disorders involve fearful and anxious traits, and include:
- obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (not to be confused with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD))
- dependent personality disorder
- avoidant personality disorder
Why do personality disorders develop? A number of factors could be at play, including genes, physiological processes, traumatic events, cultural impact, and childhood experiences.
Although living with a personality disorder can be difficult, these conditions can be managed with the support of a mental health professional.
There are a number of personality theories that explore the development and expression of human personality.
No single personality theory is “correct.” They are different ways of looking at and researching what personality is.
Common theories include:
1. Psychodynamic theories
Psychodynamic personality theories are based on some of
Freud also theorized that early childhood experiences have a profound impact on how your personality develops and the possibility of living with mental health conditions.
Later, research by Carl Jung and Erik Erikson built on and challenged certain aspects of Freud’s theories. Jung and Erikson’s work contributed greatly to psychodynamic theories of personality.
2. Trait theories
Trait theories focus on the idea that we all share personality traits, but fall on different points of a spectrum.
A well-known trait theory is the five-factor theory, also known as the Big 5, proposed by Donald W. Fiske.
Fiske proposed that human personality involve five traits:
- openness to experience
Each person experiences these traits at some level. For example, you can be high on extroversion but low on neuroticism, while your sibling may be the opposite.
3. Biological theories
Biological theories of personality focus on the physiological factors that affect your personality. These theories propose that physical characteristics, like brain structure, can determine how personality develops.
4. Behavioral theories
Behaviorist theories study how your personality is shaped by rewards and punishment from your environment.
Being rewarded for certain behaviors and punished for others can condition you to behave and think a certain way.
6. Humanistic theories
Humanistic theories of personality propose that your own self-perception – in other words, who you think you are – can determine your personality.
A humanistic theory was proposed by Abraham Maslow (who created Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). Maslow suggested that your personality is the result of meeting or not your most basic needs.
Another humanistic theory was proposed by Carl Rogers, who suggested that you’re driven by your need for self-actualization. Your personality is then determined by your pursuit of personal growth and improvement.
Personality quizzes and tests aim to identify and categorize your personality traits or characteristics.
Common personality tests include the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), and the Enneagram theory.
While many people find personality testing to be insightful, some of these tests, like MBTI and Enneagram, aren’t backed by research.
Testing personality is difficult. Most personality tests rely on self-reporting.
The results of your test depend on factors like your own self-awareness, self-perception, and honesty.
In some cases, your mood – which is not a part of your personality – can affect the answers you provide.
However, some personality tests, including online quizzes, can still provide you with an opportunity for self-reflection. This might be valuable and thought-provoking in itself.
Your personality encompasses how you think, feel, and behave. It also involves your unique traits, temperament, and character. It can change with age but it typically stops developing by adulthood.
In some cases, when significant factors like trauma, biology, and environment provide specific challenges, you may develop personality traits that cause you distress and interpersonal conflict. These personality disorders can be managed, though, with the support of a mental health professional.