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Essay About Personality: Approaches to Define Personality

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To begin this essay, the definition of personality must be highlighted, according to Carver and Scheier (2003) personality is regarded as a pattern of behaviour and thoughts that occur during different times and situations which varies between each person. Personality has been classified in many ways throughout history; the ancient Greeks assumed that biological differences indicated personality differences (Hippocrates, 400 BC). Franz Joseph Gall (1758) assumed that the shape of the skull determined personality, known as phrenology. In this period of time, it has been identified that personality can only be indirectly measured by making observations of traits of personalities using personality tests. Traits can be defined as distinguishing qualities that are used to assess and explain behaviour. The trait approach to personality is a method of outlining a personality type by using individual differences, traits, as markers of personality. This essay about personality definition will discuss two trait approaches that are widely used in modern society, which are Eysenck’s gigantic three and the Five Factor Model. Such evaluation points that will be discussed in this essay entail, the nature-nurture debate, comprehensiveness and universality.

Eysenck adopted a theoretical approach when defining personality. He argued the importance of genetic inheritance of personality and argued that biology was a large determinant of personality. Consequently, he investigated Hippocrates’ theory of personality to reveal the structure of personality. He outlined whether Hippocrates’ ‘types’ of biological differences could be found in combinations of high and low levels of two’ super traits. Using factor analysis, he investigated the spectrum of personality differences and outlined the two super traits, extraversion and neuroticism. This was then revised in 1967, where a third dimension was introduced, psychoticism. People who demonstrate high levels of extraversion have a tendency to experience positive emotions finding a thrill in exciting activities. This correlates with Hippocrates’ body types; sanguine fluid illustrates to one being cheerful, enthusiastic, all of which are indicative of an extrovert personality type. Those who display characteristics of neuroticism experience the opposite, experiencing negative emotions and feelings of anxiety and depression. This also correlates with Hippocrates’ melancholic fluid, which demonstrates one as anxious and moody. Finally, those who demonstrate high levels of psychoticism are thought to have an unsympathetic personality as well as being inhumane and tough-minded. To sum up, Eysenck’s trait approach to conceptualising personality entails three super traits that uncover the structure of personality, being extraversion, neuroticism and psychoticism.

It can be argued that Eysenck’s gigantic three model is a comprehensive approach to conceptualising personality. This is due to the balance of nature and nurture used. Eysenck examined many historical approaches to conceptualizing personality and strongly argued that one’s biology played a significant role in the structure of personality. This can be supported by Shields (1976) where it was found that monozygotic twins were more alike on the introvert, extrovert and psychoticism scale in comparison to dizygotic twins. This suggests that biology must have some significance when determining the structure of personality due to more alikeness of personality in monozygotic twins, supporting Eysenck’s nature debate. However, Eysenck was known to be a key behaviourist and hence, placed much significance on how the environment influences the way behaviour is acquired. Loehlin, Wilerman, and Horn (1988) found that 50% of variations of personality dimensions were due to genetic inheritance. This suggested that the other 50% is due to external factors such as the environment, which supports Eysenck’s nature debate. This interactionist approach conveys that Eysenck’s theory is more valid due to taking both debates into consideration and therefore, allowing the explanation to be more comprehensive. However, it can also be argued that his theory is too parsimonious. To begin, personality on its own is a broad term with many different definitions and opinions about it. Therefore, for Eysenck’s theory to have only 3 factors to represent personality, can be seen as a vague interpretation of personality and consequently incomplete, indicating that it is an uncomprehensive approach to conceptualising personality. Contrastingly, one strength of this theory is that it is universal. Eysenck (1982) carried out a cross-cultural programme exploring his theory, and through translating the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire in different languages, it was found that the factors were found in 24 nationalities, in both genders. This universality demonstrates that the theory is applicable to all people, irrespective to any races or genders, making it a more comprehensive approach to conceptualising personality as personality types can be applied worldwide.

The Five Factor Model, also known as the Big Five takes a lexical approach like Eysenck. To ensure that a personality model has predicative value, psychologists increasingly agreed that personality is composed of five factors rather than three as Eysenck suggested. Rather than taking a theoretical approach, the big five takes a lexical model meaning that it stems from statistical rather than theoretical research. This model also uses factor analysis; Costa and McCrae (1985-1997) provided supportive evidence which involved using a large sample of participants completing personality questionnaires in which the data was factor analysed, revealing multiple traits, particularly the five factors of personality. These are known as openness to experience, consciousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. People who score highly in the openness category have a tendency to engage in intellectual activities as well as experience new ideas and sensations. Those who score highly in conscientiousness have a tendency to be proactive and responsible. The factor of extraversion describes an individual to experience positive emotions and is a measure of one’s sociability, the more sociable an individual is, the more extraverted they are. Additionally, the factor of agreeableness indicates that an individual is friendly and soft-hearted. Lastly, the final factor, neuroticism, measures one’s emotional stability which tends to be negative, such anxiety and depression. Each of the five factors include six facets, an individual’s score on the facets contribute to the final score of the factor. In closing, it can be said that this model consists of five traits which has become the agreed consensus to conceptualising personality which consist of multiple facets which lead up to the super traits

One clear strength of the five factor model is that it is universally applicable to all ethnicities and ages. Three cross-cultural studies were carried out for the five factor model, from different cultures and languages; ranging from Turkey to the Philippines. It was found that this model could exceed all these boundaries and still stay prevalent throughout different regions. This level of universality allows the model to be generalised to all ranges of people across the world, therefore allowing it to be an effective and comprehensive approach to conceptualising personality. Unlike how Eysenck’s three is regarded as parsimonious, the big five is considered as economical due to most of the trait adjectives used to define personality, are related to the high/low end of the five factors. Unlike other approaches to personality such as Cattell’s 16 Personality Factors which has too many factors that could overlap, the five factor model contains the main 5 in which they can branch out to other extending traits rather than multiple traits and factors. Additionally, one limitation of this approach is that the factors are descriptive and not casual. Eysenck’s factors could be regarded as casual as he determined the factors to nature and nurture. The five factor model however lacks any casual information as the information provided is mostly descriptive. With this in mind, the approach can be seen as a less comprehensive approach to conceptualising personality due to not providing an explanation of the occurrence of these traits. However, it can also be argued that if the factors are universal to all cultures, languages and ages that casual information of the factors is not required as it is still prevalent universally.

In conclusion, it can be outlined that these two approaches provide a compressive approach to conceptualising personality, yet both have their flaws. Eysenck’s three for instance, provides a holistic balance of the nature/nurture debate as it argues the importance of biology as well as the significance of environment on an individual’s personality, this balance allows for a thorough explanation of conceptualising personality, increasing its validity. However, unlike the big five, it can be argued that the gigantic three is an incomplete explanation due to the three factors being too vague to identify personality, which overall decreases its validity. The big five’s strength is that the factors are economical; different types of personality can be met on the high/low end of each factor. This ensures that no vagueness or broadness can occur, increasing internal validity. However, its flaw is that there is not casual explanation to why people have these traits, which essentially lacks internal validity as the explanation may be seen as incomplete. However, one similarity that both of these models have is that they can both be found universally which increases the external validity of both models as they can be generalised to all people, which makes the pair effective approaches to conceptualising personality.

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The Method in Researching Personality: Nomothetic Approach. (2022, May 17). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 27, 2022, from
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