Personality Theories: 6 Models That Aim to Explain Human Behavior (2023)

Personality theories are the result of hypotheses, experiments, case studies, and clinical research led by scientists in the psychology and human behavior field.

Personality is your unique set of behaviors, experiences, feelings, and thought patterns that make you you.

While it may change subtly over time, your personality remains fairly consistent throughout your life after a certain age.

Personality theories look to answer why specific features and traits develop in one person over another — or develop at all. The goal is to identify what makes everyone so similar and so different at the same time.

What personality isn’t

Personality isn’t your set of skills. It’s not your biological or physical differences. It’s not transient states, like hunger or sadness.

You may be a championship football player, for example, but that’s not a part of your personality. Your reliability, extroversion, and ambition, instead, may be personality traits that may incline you to perform well at team sports.

The field of personality theories continues to grow and change as more research opportunities arise and studies are completed.

(Video) Personality Theories: Eight Major Approaches | Psyched with Setmire

As research has evolved, so have the theories themselves. Certain theories may have lost some validity, due to inconclusive research or new findings by experts.

1. Psychodynamic theories

Sigmund Freud laid the foundation for psychodynamic personality theories with his proposal of the id, the ego, and the superego. Freud saw these three parts of the mind as the basis of human personality.

According to Freud, these concepts could explain individual behavior.

The id was about your irrational and emotional impulses, while the ego weighed all the rational pros and cons. The superego then sought to apply social norms, rules, and other personal values that ultimately encouraged you to act based on your core beliefs.

Later, in the psychosexual personality development part of Freud’s theory, he explained how a person came to those beliefs and ideals.

Freud thought early childhood experiences played the most important role in how personality developed. Early life, he said, was defined by five psychosexual stages based on the pleasure sensations in erogenous zones:

  • oral: mouth and sucking reflexes
  • anal: bladder and bowel control
  • phallic: genitals and gender identification
  • latency: sexuality is paused and latent, and gives room to social skills
  • genital: mature sexuality and defined sexual interest and orientation

Freud suggested that each stage presented you with a developmental conflict. If you successfully overcame it, you would move into the next phase of development.

According to Freud’s personality theory, being unable to move past a phase resulted in certain psychological challenges, like the Oedipus complex, later in life.

Carl Jung and Erik Erikson are other names commonly associated with important work in the field of psychodynamic theory, although Erikson particularly marked a significant switch from Freud’s theories.

2. Trait theories

Trait theory is one of the most popular types of personality theories. It proposes that people’s personalities vary according to which basic personality traits are more dominant.

In this sense, each trait is seen as a continuum.

Take kindness, for example. Rather than viewing this as an optional personality trait — some people are kind while others are not — you can think of it as a sliding scale. Everyone falls somewhere on the kindness continuum. And you’re either more kind or less kind, compared with someone else.

One of the best-known trait theories is the five-factor theory, also known as the Big 5, proposed by Donald W. Fiske. This theory states that personality is made up of five distinct traits:

  • agreeableness
  • conscientiousness
  • extraversion
  • neuroticism
  • openness to experience

Each trait has a range that goes from one extreme to another, and each person falls somewhere along that range.

Other known trait theories include those developed by Gordon Allport, Raymond Cattell, and Hans Eysenck. Eysenck’s theory, for example, focused on just three trait continuums for everyone: extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism.

3. Humanistic theories

The humanistic approach to theories of personality involves understanding not only behavior and thought patterns, but also what someone believes gives their life meaning.

Humanistic theories propose that someone’s personality depends heavily on what they think of themselves — who they believe they are.

(Video) Intro to Psychology Theories of Personality

Abraham Maslow’s humanistic hierarchy of needs, for example, suggested that personality is the result of someone being able to meet — or not meet — basic needs like safety, self-esteem, and belongingness.

Carl Rogers explored the concept of self-actualization. This theory asserts that people are driven by their need for personal growth. The quest for learning and growing is what structures someone’s personality.

4. Social cognitive theories

Social cognitive theories of personality include several schools of thought like behaviorism, social learning theory, and expectancy-value theory.


Behaviorism theory proposes that human behavior is the direct result of facing rewards and punishments.

In other words, you’re conditioned to respond a certain way because of a reward-punishment pattern in your life.


If being generous in school gained you social admiration, later in life, you might continue to be generous because of that early positive reinforcement.

John B. Watson is often credited with pioneering the work in behavior theory, though William Carpenter, Alexander Bain, and Sigmund Freud also have ties to its early conceptualization, according to 2014 research.

Social learning theory

Closely related to behaviorism is Albert Bandura’s social learning theory, which takes behavioral models and adds the component of thought. In other words, the theory proposes that your thought process plays an essential part in deciding if you should imitate or not a certain behavior (learning).

According to the social learning theory, how you perceive behavioral reinforcement is more important than the reinforcement itself.


(Video) Trait Theory - History of Personality Psychology

A child who loves candy might see it as a reward, whereas a child who doesn’t like candy would see it as a punishment.

Bandura also believed that environment influences a person’s personality and vice versa.

Being cooperative, for example, might gain you job opportunities. It might also increase the cooperativeness of those around you — creating an environment of cooperation.

Bandura changed the name of the model from social learning to social cognitive theory in 1986.

3. Expectancy-value theory

Another behaviorism-based model of human personality is Julian Rotter’s framework.

Rotter proposed human behavior is motivated by the expected rewards or punishment it can gain. This expectation comes from past experiences and whether or not you thought the consequences of your actions were under your control.

When someone believes they have control over an outcome, they’re more motivated to action. This is particularly so when they anticipate a positive outcome because similar actions have been rewarded in the past.


You’ve learned that studying at least 4 hours before a test leads to you passing said test.

The next time a test is scheduled, you’re more motivated to study for 4 hours to achieve a pass.

5. Biological theories

Biological personality theories assert that brain structures and neurophysiology are what determine your personality traits, according to 2016 research.

In other words, something as simple as higher neurotransmitter levels might provide you with a more positive outlook, for example, than someone else.

Hans J. Eysenck and Jeffrey A. Gray both included neuropsychology in their personality theories.

(Video) The Big Five Personality Traits

6. Evolutionary theories

Charles Darwin first introduced the concepts of evolution and natural selection in the mid-1800s. His work sparked an entire field of evolutionary biology.

Later, other scientists explored Darwin’s premises to explain human behavior. According to this framework of evolutionary theories, human personality is primarily the result of genes and most useful traits.

Ultimately, evolutionary theory states that personality characteristics that increased your ancestors’ chances for survival are the traits you may have at the core of your personality today.


Your fear of snakes may feel instinctual, but evolutionary theory states it may result from your ancestors learning that snakes could be dangerous.

Personality is immeasurable. It’s different for everyone. This makes personality challenging to study. How do you control an environment and prove that personality develops in a specific way?

You can’t — at least not yet.

For this reason, personality development exists in theory only and is subject to controversy, though some research does support (or debunk) current theory models.

One of the biggest controversies in personality theory revolves around Sigmund Freud’s theories on personality and development. Even as far back as 1987, researchers wrote about how they are male-dominant, with references to females that may be interpreted as demeaning.

Let’s recap

(Video) Eysenck's Theory of Personality - Simplest Explanation Ever

Theories of personality aim to provide a framework to explain the differences and similarities in human behavior and personality. They often overlap or complement each other, and sometimes they may be contradictory when compared.

Each personality theory offers a structure to analyze human personality, and most of them have extensive research backing up some of their premises. This is one of the reasons why the study of personality in psychology is still a developing field with no conclusive findings.


Which theories of personality view human behavior? ›

Sigmund Freud 's psychoanalytic theory of personality argues that human behavior is the result of the interactions among three component parts of the mind: the id, ego, and superego.

What are the 7 theories of personality? ›

The major theories include dispositional (trait) perspective, psychodynamic, humanistic, biological, behaviorist, evolutionary, and social learning perspective.

What are the 3 main theories of personality? ›

While there are many personality theories available to discuss, the following lesson provides information on the three main theories: psychodynamic, humanistic, and behaviorist. Let's take a closer look at each of these and go over an example describing each theory in practice.

What are the 6 personality theories? ›

In describing personality, we'll go through six different personality theories: psychoanalytic theory, humanistic theory, trait theory, social-cognitive theory, biological theory, and behaviorist theory.

What are the 6 major psychological theories? ›

Some of the widely accepted psychological theories are the behavioral theories, the cognitive theories, humanist theories, biological theories, psychodynamic and the social psychology theories.

Who created the 6 personality types? ›

Holland's 6 personality types

According to John Holland's theory, most people are one of six personality types: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional.

What are the 5 common personality theories? ›

The five broad personality traits described by the theory are extraversion (also often spelled extroversion), agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism. The five basic personality traits is a theory developed in 1949 by D. W.

What are the 8 personality types? ›

Jung identified eight main personality types:
  • Extraverted Thinking. Principled, idealistic, objective, rational.
  • Introverted Thinking. Influenced by ideas, independent, often fearful of intimacy.
  • Extraverted Feeling. ...
  • Introverted Feeling. ...
  • Extraverted Sensation. ...
  • Introverted Sensation. ...
  • Extraverted Intuition. ...
  • Introverted Intuition.

How many models of personality are there? ›

The traits that constitute the five-factor model are extraversion, neuroticism, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Extraversion, sometimes referred to as surgency, is indicated by assertive, energetic, and gregarious behaviours.

How many personality models are there? ›

A large new study published in Nature Human Behavior, however, provides evidence for the existence of at least four personality types: average, reserved, self-centered and role model.

What are the major theories of personality development? ›

Robert McCrae and Paul Costa: Introduced the big five theory, which identifies five key dimensions of personality: 1) extraversion, 2) neuroticism, 3) openness to experience, 4) conscientiousness, and 5) agreeableness.

What are the 4 personality theories quizlet? ›

psychoanalytic theories, behavioral theories, humanistic psychology and trait theories.

What are theories of personality and why are they important? ›

Summary. Theories of personality are useful to psychologists for a variety of reasons: They offer standardized descriptions of behaviors and traits which can be compared between subjects, and they indicate whether subjects are healthy or need help.

What are the big 5 models of personality components? ›

The Five Factor Model breaks personality down into five components: Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Openness, and Stress Tolerance. Personality tests that are based on this model measure where an individual lies on the spectrum of each of the five traits.

What are the 6 personality types in Holland's model? ›

Holland found that people needing help with career decisions can be supported by understanding their resemblance to the following six ideal vocational personality types: Realistic (R) Investigative (I) Artistic (A) Social (S) Enterprising (E) Conventional (C) Work settings can also be categorized by their resemblance ...

What are the six characteristics of personality? ›

Markers of six personality traits (Neuroticism, Extraversion, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Openness to Experience, and Honesty-Humility) were assessed using the Mini-International-Personality-Item-Pool-6 (Mini-IPIP6; Donnellan et al., 2006; Sibley et al., 2011).

What is a number 6 personality? ›

They are nurturing and caring, and love to share their knowledge and material belongings. Sun Number 6 personalities are popular and much-loved among all other Sun Numbers. They are harmony lovers and often overlook their own needs and requirements to help those who need them.

What are the six most popular management theories? ›

Here's more on the six most popular management theories discussed above in the infographic.
  • Scientific theory by Frederick W. Taylor.
  • Administrative theory by Henri Fayol.
  • Bureaucratic theory by Max Weber.
  • Human relations theory by Elton Mayo.
  • X&Y theory by Douglas McGregor.
Sep 18, 2019

What are the six components of a useful theory? ›

The six criteria include comprehensiveness, pre- cision and testability, parsimony, empirical validity, and both heuristic and applied value.

Is there a 6th personality trait? ›

But it turns out that we may have been overlooking a crucial sixth personality trait – and it's not a pretty one. It's known as honesty-humility, but it's people who are lacking in those two qualities that the measure is designed to pick out.

What are the 6 career categories? ›

There are six basic types of work environments: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, Conventional. "Work" includes doing things to achieve a purpose, like paid and unpaid jobs, volunteering, sports, or hobbies.

What are the 4 behavioral theories? ›

Four models that present a logical and reasonable approach to behavioral change include the Health Belief Model, the Theory of Self Efficacy, the Theory of Reasoned Action, and the Multiattribute Utility Model.

Who proposed the Big 5 model of personality? ›

Robert McCrae and Paul Costa went on to develop the Five-Factor Model (FFM), describing the personality in terms of five broad factors. Psychologist Lewis Goldberg used the term the 'Big Five' and developed the International Personality Item Pool (IPIP), the first psychometric test.

Why are there 16 personality types? ›

The 16 personality types were created by Isabel Myers and Katharine Briggs, developers of the MBTI® assessment. Myers and Briggs created their personality typology to help people discover their own strengths and gain a better understanding of how people are different.

What are the 9 personality type? ›

Nines are defined by their desire to maintain a sense of inner peace and harmony, and to avoid conflict or other emotional disturbances. They are typically agreeable, calm, and easy to be around. Nines rarely rock the boat, but they can be stubborn.

What are the 16 personality types based on? ›

Socionics is extraversion (E), sensing (S), thinking (T), judgment (J), introversion (I), intuition (N), feeling (F), and perception (P). Socionics divides people into 16 different types, called sociotypes which are; ESTJ, ENTJ, ESFJ, ENFJ, ISTJ, ISFJ, INTJ, INFJ, ESTP, ESFP, ENTP, ENFP, ISTP, ISFP, INTP & INFP.

What are the main personality types? ›

Common Questions About The Five Major Personality Types

The five major personality types are conceived to be Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Openness, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.

What is the 5 factor model of personality used for? ›

The Five Factor Model is used because it is a comprehensive measure of personality that is based on empirical evidence. The model has been found to be valid and reliable in predicting various outcomes, such as job performance, occupational interests, and personality disorders.

What is the best personality model? ›

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is perhaps the most accurate personality test you can take.

Who made the 16 personalities theory? ›

One dates back to early 20th century and was the brainchild of Carl Gustav Jung, the father of analytical psychology. Jung's theory of psychological types is perhaps the most influential creation in personality typology, and it has inspired a number of different theories.

What are the 4 personality types of Jung? ›

Jung's theory focuses on four basic psychological functions:
  • Extraversion vs. introversion.
  • Sensation vs. intuition.
  • Thinking vs. feeling.
  • Judging vs. perceiving.
Oct 24, 2022

What are examples of personality theory? ›

Examples of Personality Theories
  • Extroversion (sociability, assertiveness, and high amounts of emotional expressiveness)
  • Agreeableness (prosocial behaviors)
  • Conscientiousness (goal directed behaviors and thoughtfulness)
  • Neuroticism (emotional instability)
  • Openness (imagination and insight)
Aug 7, 2019

What are Freud's personality theories? ›

Freudian theory postulates that adult personality is made up of three aspects: (1) the id, operating on the pleasure principle generally within the unconscious; (2) the ego, operating on the reality principle within the conscious realm; and (3) the superego, operating on the morality principle at all levels of ...

Who are the 4 main psychologists and what are their theories named? ›

Famous Psychologists & Theories:
  • Bowlby, John - Attachment Theory.
  • Bruner, Jerome - cognitive development of children.
  • Erikson, Erik - Theory of Psychosocial Development.
  • Freud, Sigmund - psychoanalysis.
  • Kohlberg, Lawrence - moral development.
  • Kolb, David - experiential learning styles theory.
Jan 6, 2023

What are the four personality types ABCD? ›

Over the centuries, these basic categories have gone by several names and designations, but for our purposes, they're known as the director, the socializer, the thinker, and the supporter. As shorthand, though, we refer to those types of personality as A, B, C, and D, respectively.

What are the 4 personality theories PDF? ›

In the present lesson you will learn about four major theoretical perspectives of personality. They include psychoanalytic, trait, humanistic and social-cognitive perspectives.

What is the most important personality theory? ›

The trait theory approach is one of the most prominent areas in personality psychology. According to these theories, personality is made up of a number of broad traits. A trait is a relatively stable characteristic that causes an individual to behave in certain ways.

What are the 5 stages of personality development? ›

Freud proposed that personality development in childhood takes place during five psychosexual stages, which are the oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital stages.

What is the Big 5 personality theory and what is the acronym that explains its components? ›

The Big Five personality traits are broad domains/dimensions of personality and include the following traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (under the acronym, OCEAN).

What is Freud's view of human behavior? ›

In simple terms, Sigmund Freud's theory suggests that human behavior is influenced by unconscious memories, thoughts, and urges. This theory also proposes that the psyche comprises three aspects: the id, ego, and superego. The id is entirely unconscious, while the ego operates in the conscious mind.

What is the best perspective to view human behavior? ›

Humanistic Perspective

Humanistic psychology is a psychological perspective that emphasizes the study of the whole person (know as holism). Humanistic psychologists look at human behavior, not only through the eyes of the observer, but through the eyes of the person doing the behaving.

What are the 4 theories of personality? ›

Many theories have been proposed to describe and explain human personality. Four of the most prominent are the psychoanalytic, humanistic, trait, and social-cognitive perspectives.

How many types of behavioral theories are there? ›

The three types of behaviour theory compared in this paper are: (a) the classical introspective (which in- cludes psychoanalytically oriented theories) based on understanding in the sense of Verstehen; (b) the be- haviouristic, illustrated by the work of Hull and Skinner; and (c) the sociological, associated with the ...

How many behavioral theories are there? ›

Historically, there are two behavioral psychology theories: methodological behaviorism and radical behaviorism (Moore, 2013). The methodological theory is the original behaviorism established by Watson, with the goal of predicting and controlling behavior.

What are the types of behavioural model? ›

The behavioral model is generally viewed as including three major areas: classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and observational learning/social learning.

How does superego explain human behavior? ›

The superego is the ethical component of the personality and provides the moral standards by which the ego operates. The superego's criticisms, prohibitions, and inhibitions form a person's conscience, and its positive aspirations and ideals represent one's idealized self-image, or “ego ideal.”

What does psychoanalytic theory say about human behavior? ›

Psychoanalytic theorists believe that human behavior is deterministic. It is governed by irrational forces, and the unconscious, as well as instinctual and biological drives. Due to this deterministic nature, psychoanalytic theorists do not believe in free will.

What was Carl Jung's theory? ›

Carl Jung's theory is the collective unconscious. He believed that human beings are connected to each other and their ancestors through a shared set of experiences. We use this collective consciousness to give meaning to the world.

What is human behavior based on? ›

Behavior is driven by genetic and environmental factors that affect an individual. Behavior is also driven, in part, by thoughts and feelings, which provide insight into individual psyche, revealing such things as attitudes and values.

What determines most human behavior? ›

The greatest factors that influence human's personalities are genetic inheritance and environmental factors. In some conditions, genes play a major role in human behaviour, in other conditions, the environment plays a crucial role in human behaviour.


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