The study of personality is a scientific discipline, with roots in empirical research; a philosophical discipline, seeking to understand the nature of people; and the foundation for the applied discipline of psychological therapy. While these three aspects of personality often support and enrich one another, there are also tensions as the field accommodates specialists in each of these three areas.
The approach which focuses on personality as a scientific discipline has produced an array of methods to measure personality characteristics. They range from projective tests, such as having people tell stories inspired by ambiguous pictures, to more standardized paper-and-pencil personality tests in which people respond on bipolar numerical or multiple-choice scales to questions about their attitudes or behaviors. Methodologically, personality testing is quite sophisticated; however, people's scores on personality tests often are rather poor predictors of behavior. The poor record of behavioral prediction based on personality traits, coupled with evidence that suggests that behavior does not have the cross-situational consistency that one might expect, has led Walter Mischel and many other personality specialists to question the utility of most traditional personality theories. Social learning approaches, which emphasize the power of the situation in determining a person's behavior, tend to fare better in these analyses.
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