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Theories of Personality 7th Edition


Author: Jess Feist and Gregory Feist

Publisher: McGraw-Hill Humanities


Publish Date: July 15, 2008

ISBN-10: 73382701

Pages: 672

File Type: PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface

Why do people behave as they do? Do people have some choice in shaping their own personality? What accounts for similarities an differences among people? What makes people act in predictable ways? Why are they unpredictable? Do hidden, unconscious forces control people’s behavior? What causes mental disturbances? Is human behavior shaped more by heredity or by environment? For centuries, philosophers, theologians, and other thinkers have asked these questions as they pondered the nature of human nature—or even wondered whether humans have a basic nature. Until relatively recent times, great thinkers made little progress in finding satisfactory answers to these questions. A little more than 100 years ago, however, Sigmund Freud began to combine philosophical speculations with a primitive scientific method. As a neurologist trained in science, Freud began to listen to his patients to find out what hidden conflicts lay behind their assortment of symptoms. “Listening became, for Freud, more than an art; it became a method, a privileged road to knowledge that his patients mapped out for him” (Gay, 1988, p. 70).

Freud’s method gradually became more scientific as he formulated hypotheses and checked their plausibility against his clinical experiences. From this combination of speculation and clinical evidence, Freud evolved the first modern theory of personality. Later, a number of other men and women developed theories of personality— some were based largely on philosophical speculation; others, mainly on empirical evidence, but all used some combination of the two. Indeed, this chapter shows that a useful theory should be founded on both scientific evidence and controlled, imaginative speculation.

What Is Personality?

Psychologists differ among themselves as to the meaning of personality. Most agree that the word “personality” originated from the Latin persona, which referred to a theatrical mask worn by Roman actors in Greek dramas. These ancient Roman actors wore a mask (persona) to project a role or false appearance. This surface view of personality, of course, is not an acceptable definition. When psychologists use the term “personality,” they are referring to something more than the role people play. However, personality theorists have not agreed on a single definition of personality. Indeed, they evolved unique and vital theories because they lacked agreement as to the nature of humanity, and because each saw personality from an individual reference point. The personality theorists discussed in this book have had a variety of backgrounds. Some were born in Europe and lived their entire lives there; others were born in Europe, but migrated to other parts of the world, especially the United States; still others were born in North America and remained there. Many were influenced by early religious experiences; others were not. Most, but not all, have been trained in either psychiatry or psychology. Many have drawn on their experiences as psychotherapists; others have relied more on empirical research to gather data on human personality. Although they have all dealt in some way with what we call personality, each has approached this global concept from a different perspective. Some have tried to construct a comprehensive theory; others have been less ambitious and have dealt with only a few aspects of personality. Few personality theorists have formally defined personality, but all have had their own view of it.

Although no single definition is acceptable to all personality theorists, we can say that personality is a pattern of relatively permanent traits and unique characteristics that give both consistency and individuality to a person’s behavior. Traits contribute to individual differences in behavior, consistency of behavior over time, and stability of behavior across situations. Traits may be unique, common to some group, or shared by the entire species, but their pattern is different for each individual. Thus each person, though like others in some ways, has a unique personality. Characteristics are unique qualities of an individual that include such attributes as temperament, physique, and intelligence.

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