History of Personality Theories Essay

The study of personality dates back to ancient Greek, when Plato, Aristotle, and Hippocrates suggested their theories on personality. Through the centuries, their theories have evolved, changed, and have continued to be the base and foundation of modern psychology. Without these ancient philosophers and sacrifices towards the study of personality, our modern discipline of psychology wouldn’t be where it is today. As centuries progressed, many philosophers, psychologist, mathematicians, and physicians have expanded on the study of personality.

Personality theories such as the humanistic, behaviorist, psychoanalytic, cognitive, and psychobiologist theories, have emerged from ancient times and continue to be present in modern times. The purpose of this paper is to present the historical origins of personality theories and how they have evolved and continue to flourish in modern times. What is personality? Personality is the complex and fluid mental processes that each person uniquely posses that influences cognition, emotion, and behaviors. These unique mental processes help individuals when dealing with their environment.

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The study of personality dates back to Greek times. Philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Hippocrates had their theories on personality. Plato’s division of the soul or tripartite was based on human possessing reason, spirit, and appetite. Sigmund Freud later based his theory on the ego, superego, and id on Plato’s tripartite. Aristotle also had his theories of human psyche. Aristotle theorized that humans possessed reasoning and the ability to think. Empedocles theorized that all matter was made up of four elements, which consisted of water, earth, air, and fire.

Later Hippocrates and Galen expanded on this belief of the four elements and that humans were composed of four humors. The four Personality Theories 3 four humors consisted of the same elements, water, earth, air and fire. Hippocrates believed that these elements related to a persons particular temperament, which is known as Galen’s temperaments. According to Galen’s temperaments, if a person had had to much earth, than that person would be melancholic. If a person was composed of too much air, than the persons temperament would be sanguine, which would make a person cheerful.

Too much fire in a person, would be related to an energetic temperament. Also, if a person possessed too much water in their body, then that person would have a calm temperament. Skinner, Eysenck, and Pavlov adopted these views of the four humors (Thorne, & Henley, 2005). As centuries progressed into the Roman Empire and the middle ages, the study of personality declined; however, the rise of the renaissance era gave way to the reemergence of the study of personality and psychology. The renaissance gave way to the humanistic movement. The humanistic theory believed that humans have the capacity of ree will and humans have an active role in controlling the way they behave. Abraham Maslow supported and believed in the humanistic theory Funder (2001). Maslow developed the hierarchy of human needs . These needs consisted of physiological, safety, belongingness, self esteem, and self actualization needs (Thorne , & Henley, 2005, p. 467). Carl Rogers also took on a humanistic approach. The humanistic approach emphasized human growth with the environment experiences through self will, maturation, and self actualization. Both Maslow and Rogers contributed a lot towards the umanistic theory. Personality Theories 4 The behaviorist theory is a school of thought that is considered to be founded by John Watson. Frederick Skinner, and Ivan Pavlov, and many others also supported the behaviorist theory. The behaviorist theory emphasized that humans behavior is affected by external events. This belief suggests that there exists a mutual interaction between humans and their environment. Skinner developed the processes of operant conditioning which is basked on stimulus, response, and consequence model (Thorne, & Henley, 2005, p. 380).

Ivan Pavlov also supported the behaviorist theory. Pavlov classical conditioning and was also considered as one of the founders of the behaviorist theory along side with John Watson. Another school of thought was the psychoanalytic theory. The psychoanalytic theory explained the human personality as being composed of various components that interacted with each other which formed a persons personality. Sigmund Freud is known as the founder of the psychoanalytic theory. According to Freud, there are three different components that interact and develop a person’s personality.

The ego, superego, and the id are three components to the human psyche. These three components originate from Plato’s tripartite of the humans division of soul which consist of reason, spirit, and appetite. Freud also theorized the five psychosexual stages of personality development, which consist of the infantile stage, latency period, genital stage. Within the infantile stage, there are three sub stages, the oral stage, anal stage, and phallic stage. Freud believed that early childhood experiences effect an adults personality later in life.

Cognitive theory is another school of thought that has emerged and is a new study Personality Theories 5 of personality Funder (2001). Albert Ellis, Aaron Beck, and Albert Bandura studied human cognition. Cognitive theories focus on how humans cognitive processes shape a persons personality and behavior. Cognitive thoughts, beliefs, judgments and ways of thinking affect a persons personality and these mental processes are studied, evaluated, and altered through cognitive behavioral therapy if needed. Albert Ellis believed that the emotions people have, become their thoughts.

Funder (2001). Ellis developed the Rational emotive behavioral therapy which is geared to helping people understand their mental cognitions. Beck also developed his own therapy, which is called cognitive behavioral therapy. The rise of modern technology in the twenty-first century has offered innovative psychological advancements in the study of personality. Psychobiology has revolutionized psychology. Neuro-psychological studies have demonstrated how certain structures in the brain relate to personality. The study of neuroanatomy, physiology, and sychology have merged into one and have revealed ground breaking advancements in the study of psychology. These new studies have shown researchers the anatomical sites within the brain that are responsible for personality. Researchers have discovered how hormones are responsible for regulating mood and also how neurotransmitters in the brain affect mental processes. Throughout history, there have been many civilizations that have flourished and fallen, the same can be said about psychological theories; however, mans quest for intellectual enlightenment has always survived the test of time.

References Funder, C. D. (2007) Personality. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 197-212. Retrieved February 11, 2008 from ProQuest database. Hoffman, L. (2002). Psychotherapy for Personality Disorder. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 159, 504-507. Retrieved February 10, 2008 from ProQuest database. Thorne, B. M. , & Henley, B. T. (2005). Connections in the History and Systems of Psychology. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. Levy-Leboyer, C. (2003). Personality: Theories and Applications. Durham, 56, 507-508. Retrieved February 18, 2008 from ProQuest database.


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