Theories and Experimentation

While people have long speculated on the causes and types of individual differences in personality, the theory of Sigmund Freud was the first and most influential psychological personality theory. All subsequent theories have directly or indirectly addressed the central concerns of motivation, development, and personality organization first proposed by Freud. Psychoanalytic theorists such as Carl Jung and Alfred Adler, while trained by Freud, disagreed with Freud's emphasis on sexual instincts and developed their own theories, emphasizing different motivations. Similarly, Karen Horney, Erich Fromm, and others developed theories placing greater emphasis on the ego and its interaction with society than did Freud's.

Psychoanalytic theory has had somewhat less of an influence in the United States than it did in Europe. Personality psychology in the United States is relatively more research-oriented, practical, and optimistic. In the United States, Gordon Allport developed one of the first trait approaches to personality. The humanistic theories of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, social learning theories of Albert Bandura and Julian Rotter, and cognitive theory of George A. Kelly flourished in the 1950's and 1960's and continue to have their advocates. Modern personality psychologists, however, are much more likely to confine themselves to personality measurement and research than to propose broad theories of personality.

Many have questioned personality's status as a scientific subdiscipline of psychology. In 1968, Walter Mischel's Personality and Assessment, arguing that the consistency and behavior-prediction assumptions inherent in all personality theories are unsupported by the evidence, was published. At the same time, attribution theories in social psychology were suggesting that personality traits are largely in the "eye of the beholder" rather than in the person being observed. For example, Edward Jones and Richard Nisbett argued that people are more inclined to see others as possessing personality traits than they are to attribute traits to themselves. The continued existence of personality as a subdiscipline of scientific psychology was debated.

The result has been a refined approach to measurement and personality analysis. Current research on personality does not boldly assert the influence of internal personality characteristics on behavior. There are no new theories purporting to explain all of personality or the nature of all people. Rather, attention is paid to careful assessment of personality and to the complex interactions of persons and situations. For example, research on loneli ness has found that people who describe themselves as lonely often lack social skills and avoid interactions with others, thus perpetuating their feelings of loneliness. All personality characteristics, including loneliness, are most meaningfully seen as the product of a complex interrelationship between the person and the environment.

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