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Perspectives on Personality

This article is an excerpt from Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (2004). Perspectives on personality (7th ed.). Pearson Education, Inc.

What is Personality?

Personality is a dynamic organization, inside the person, of psychophysical systems that create the person’s characteristic patterns (a certain level of consistency) of behavior, thoughts, and feelings. 

Two fundamental themes in personality psychology:

  • Individual differences: no two snowflakes are alike.
  • Intrapersonal functioning: the same internal processes are engaged, even if the person acts differently across situations.

Perspectives on Personality

Trait Perspective

People have fairly stable qualities (traits) that are displayed across many settings but are deeply embedded in the person. The big issues in this perspective are what (and how many) traits are the important ones in personality and how trait differences are expressed in behavior.

Example: Big 5 Personality Traits


  1. "Psychology of the stranger". It labels a person as friendly, sociable, or dominant gives a name to what you see. But it doesn’t tell you much about how or why the person acts that way.
  2. The trait isn't always used to predict something new, resulting in circular reasoning.

Motive perspective

The motive forces that underlie behavior is the key element in human experience. The differences in the balance of motives are seen as the core of personality from this perspective.

Criticism: Decisions about what qualities to study have been arbitrary.

Inheritance and evolution perspective

Human nature (and personality) is deeply rooted in our genes

Biological process perspective

The biological perspective focuses on how the nervous system and hormones influence people’s behavior and how differences in those functions influence the kind of person you are.

Psychoanalytic perspective

Personality is a set of internal forces that compete and conflict with one another.

Psychosocial perspective

The most important aspect of human nature is our formation of relationships with other people and the ways in which these relationships play out.

Social learning perspective

Behavior changes systematically as a result of experiences.

Self-actualization and self-determination perspective / Organismic perspective (humanistic psychology)

Every person has the potential to grow and develop into a valuable human being if permitted to do so.

Cognitive perspective

Human nature involves deriving meaning from experiences.

Self-regulation perspective

People are complex psychological systems, in the same sense that homeostatic processes reflect complex physiological systems and weather reflects complex atmospheric systems.

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Personality Assessment

Source of Information
  • Observer rating. Example: PDB users type famous people
    • Subjective measures (an interpretation is part of the measure). Example: an observer judges whether the person he or she is watching looks nervous.
    • Objective measures. 
  • Self reports. Example: you take a personality test. 
Reliability of Assessment

"Once you’ve made an observation about someone, how confident can you be that if you looked again a second or third time you’d see about the same thing?"

  • Internal consistency: Saying that the items are highly reliable means that people’s responses to the items are highly correlated.
  • Inter-rater reliability: Raters whose judgments correlate highly with each other across many ratings are said to have high inter-rater reliability.
  • Stability across time: As personality is supposed to be stable, assessment at one time should agree fairly well with assessment done at a different time.
Validity of Assessment

"What you’re measuring is what you think you’re measuring"

  • Construct validity: The assessment reflects the construct (the conceptual quality, for example, any trait quality is a construct) that the psychologist has in mind. 
    • Criterion validity / Predictive validity: The assessment predicts something else it’s supposed to predict. For example, people score high in dominance are more likely to make suggestions, gave instructions, took charge of the situation (behavioral criteria of dominance) in a group.
    • Convergent validation: The assessment relates to characteristics that are similar to, but not the same as, what it’s supposed to measure. For example, a scale intended to measure dominance should relate at least a little to measures of qualities such as leadership (positively) or shyness (inversely).
    • Discriminant validation: The assessment does not measure qualities it’s not intended to measure—especially qualities that don’t fit your conceptual definition of the construct. 
  • Cultural and validity: Does the psychological construct itself (e.g. trait) has the same meaning from one culture to another? How people from different cultures interpret the items of the assessment.
  • Response sets (self-report biases) and loss of validity: The tendency to say “yes” & The tendency to provide socially desirable responses can sometimes mask a person’s true characteristics or feelings.

This article is an excerpt from Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (2004). Perspectives on personality (7th ed.). Pearson Education, Inc.

Written and maintained by PDB users for PDB users.