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Personality: What Is It?

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Personality: What does it mean?

Personality embraces moods, attitudes, and opinions and is most clearly expressed in interactions with other people. It includes behavioral characteristics, both inherent and acquired, that distinguish one person from another and that can be observed in people’s relations to the environment and to the social group.

Personality is a complicated thing- many psychophysical systems that form an individual’s characteristic patterns of behavior, thoughts, and feelings.
There are types and traits, types being the Type A or Type B, extroverted or introverted personalities we hear about, with nothing in between.

Types are considered distinct and discontinuous, but I’m sure you know that people are not that simple. People don’t neatly “fit” perfectly into one category or another.

Traits, on the other hand, are seen as people occupying different points on continuously varying dimensions.
In other words, personality is fluid, rather than being definitive and set in stone (as personality “types” imply).

One of the popular theories to view personality is referred to as the “Big 5” (Personality Traits).

The Big 5 consists of five categories that make up the acronym OCEAN:

  1. Openness to Experience
  2. Conscientiousness
  3. Extraversion
  4. Agreeableness
  5. Neuroticism


  • Curiosity
  • Creativity
  • Values
  • Feelings
  • Aesthetics


  • Competence
  • Achievement Striving
  • Dutifulness
  • Self-discipline
  • Order


  • Warmth
  • Gregariousness
  • Excitement Seeking
  • Activity
  • Assertiveness


  • Straightforwardness
  • Altruism
  • Modesty
  • Tender-Mindedness
  • Trust


  • Anxiety
  • Self-Consciousness
  • Impulsiveness
  • Vulnerability
  • Angry Hostility, Depression

just to name some examples of characteristics falling under each trait category.
Why do we need these models? So that we can accurately predict patterns of individual behavior.

By describing the individual’s standing on each of the five factors, we can provide a comprehensive sketch that summarizes his or her emotional, interpersonal, experiential, attitudinal, motivational styles” (Costa & McCrae, 1991, p. 14).

Looking at personality traits, especially continuums on the “Big 5″, can be very helpful in diagnosing and treating disorders, such as personality disorders, and choosing treatment options that would have the highest success rates with each unique individual.

They stretch across all specializations in psychology, and can be utilized in anything from social psychology to cognitive theorists.

It can also have real-world applications, such as screening for employees and team-building in the workplace.
However, there is no blood test for personality.

Although personality traits are believed to have biological origins, there is no one gene that scientists can pinpoint for certain traits and dispositions.
Assessing personality, as well as attributing types/traits to behavior, is no easy task– which is why the field of personality remains filled with theories rather than confirmed facts.

As useful as this information can be, it’s complicated! We can only guess and theorize, so don’t think of it as statistics or test results, but rather a guide to understanding others and yourself; people don’t necessarily fit neatly into labels and categories.


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