Personality psychology

Personality psychology is a branch of psychology which studies personality and individual difference processes - that which makes us into a person. A large part of the work of personality psychologists has been defining what is, and what is not, personality. A scientific consensus has not been achieved.

The most common models incorporate four or five broad dimensions or factors. The least controversial dimension, observed as far back as the ancient Greeks, is:

  • extraversion (outgoing and people-oriented vs. shy and task-oriented)

The so-called five-factor models or Big Five models add the following four factors:
  • emotional stability (calm, unperturbable, optimistic vs. emotionally reactive, prone to negative emotions),
  • agreeableness (affable, friendly, conciliatory vs. aggressive, dominant, disagreeable),
  • conscientiousness (dutiful, planful, and orderly vs. spontaneous, flexible, and unreliable), and
  • openness (open to new ideas and change vs. traditional and staid).

Whereas the more traditional Big Four models accept extraversion as basic, and add the following three only:
  • intuition (trust in internal models of reality versus sensory input)
  • thinking (willingness or capacity to abstract/objectify vs. tendency to feel/subjectify)
  • perception (willingness to wait before making a decision vs. habit of taking a decision as early as possible)

In these more traditional models, the intuition factor is considered the most basic, dividing people into "N" or "S" personality types. An "N" is further assumed to be guided by the thinking or objectication habit, or feelings, and be divided into "NT" (scientist, engineer) or "NF" (author, human-oriented leader) personality. An "S", by contrast, is assumed to be more guided by the perception axis, and thus divided into "SP" (performer, craftsman, artisan) and "SJ" (guardian, accountant, bureaucrat) personality. These four are considered basic, with the other two factors in each case (including always extraversion) less important.

Critics of this traditional view have observed that the types are quite strongly stereotyped by professions, and thus may arise more from the need to categorize people for purposes of guiding their career choice. This among other objections led to the emergence of the five factor view, which is less concerned with behavior under work stress and more concerned with behavior in personal and emotional circumstances.

Some critics have argued for more or fewer dimensions while others have proposed entirely different theories (often assuming different definitions of "personality").

A criticism of personality theory as a whole is that it leads people of little experience in clinical psychology to accept classifications, or worse offer advice, based on superficial analysis of one's profile.

See also: clinical psychology, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

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