Psychoanalytic and Trait Approaches to Personality Assessment Nicole Mowery University of Phoenix Psychoanalytic and Trait Approaches to Personality Assessment Our personality is a tough puzzle to piece together because of its complex collection of behaviors and thought processes. Psychologist’s theories vary in their attempts to explain human personality, two such theories are the psychoanalytic theory and the trait theory. Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud was a man who believed that by exploring the unconscious minds of disturbed patients, he would get to the root of their personality.
In contrast, Gordon Allports Trait theory attempts to explain personality under the assumption that personality traits can be measured and remain stable in various situations over time. These two personality theories differ first in their definition and second in their approach to the understanding of human personality. Although the psychoanalytic theory was first introduced by Sigmund Freud other psychoanalytic theorists built their theories based on his work. He conceived a topographic model that breaks down personality into three elements; Conscious, preconscious and unconscious.
Our conscious mind being that which we are aware, preconscious consisting of those bits of information that you can readily recall and the unconscious which is made up of the information that was not readily available for recollection. He later came up with a structural model which breaks down into the Id, Ego, and Superego. According to Freud, the Id component is present at birth and consists of primal and instinctive impulses in order to satisfy basic wishes and needs.
The ego is the element which develops from the id and it restrain the impulses of the Id. According to Freud, the Ego component functions in both the three parts of personality; the conscious, preconscious, and the unconscious mind. The third element of the psychoanalytic theory is the Superego, which helps in decision making based on what is morally acceptable in the society. This component holds all of our internalized principles and moral ideals and standards that we acquire from both the society and our parents.
The oral component of Freud’s theory establishes that a persistent childhood behavior like putting objects into the mouth or sucking the thumb may lead to that individual being likely to start smoking in order to satisfy this inclination. This situation is associated with a mouth fixation. On the other hand, Freud noted that one would develop a fixation on anything to do with the anal region at adulthood if one had problems or difficulty in potty training as a child. This happens if the individual failed to successfully meet the goal (pleasure) and some conflict was left unsolved.
Generally, Freud’s opinion was that these manifestations would be experienced if as a child did not resolve a conflict in the developmental stages before moving on to the next stage of growth. He believed that the unresolved conflicts did not go away but were just suppressed and would inevitably resurface in a different way at adulthood. This is what explains, according to Freud, some of the weird personalities that people exhibit either as individuals or as a group. Defense mechanism is the term given to our minds way of dealing with unwanted or painful emotions and thoughts.
These defense mechanisms can either be implemented consciously or unconsciously. Denial is one of the defense mechanism which an individual uses when faced with anxiety by denying that a certain threatening event actually took place. For instance if a mother hears that her son in the military was shot dead in Iraq, she refuses to believe and goes on to talk about how well he is doing and keeps all his belongings intact in anticipation of his return. Repression is another defense mechanism and would be used by the ego to bury a traumatic event into the subconscious.
A person who suffered from a traumatic experience such as abuse would likely use repression to bury the memories of the event deep in the subconscious and then go on as if the event had never taken place at all. Another of Freud’s defense mechanism is displacement which involves the transfer of intended goals. In other words, the Id wants something that the Superego will not allow and so the Ego finds a way to satisfy that want. A man who is reprimanded by his female supervisor at the place of work will be guided by the ego not react directly to the boss because of paychecks.
When he gets home, he may instead take out his frustrations on his wife. Gordon Allport was one of the pioneers in the study of personality traits; he studied thousands of traits and the difference between temperament and common personality traits. Trait theory proposes that individual human beings can be characterized in terms of stable patterns of thoughts, actions, and feelings, known as traits; which can be assessed quantitatively. The trait theorists are mainly concerned in the measurement of traits which can be defined as consistent patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior.
Individual traits are usually considered to be stable over a long period of time and differ among the individuals. For instance, some individuals are shy while others are outgoing, and these greatly influence one’s behavior. According to Allport, central traits are inherent in individual’s personality, common traits are the ones that are recognized in a culture and vary from one culture to another, while secondary traits are more marginal. Cardinal traits, on the other hand, are those that strongly identify an individual. The Five Factor Model uses the factor analysis method to describe and organize personality traits.
The factors include Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Neuroticism, Openness and Extraversion. Conscientiousness refers to the tendency to act dutifully, aim for achievement, and be disciplined. The trait emphasizes preference for planned rather than random behavior. Agreeableness is the tendency to be honorable, kindhearted and compassionate rather than being antagonistic towards other people. Neuroticism refers to an individual’s tendency to be uneasy and temperamental versus composed and unexcited. Openness refers to the appreciation for unusual ideas, imagination, and emotion.
Open people are imaginative, intellectually curious, and unconventional. Lastly, is Extraversion, a trait which is characterized by the tendency to seek the company and stimulation of other people and are usually energetic and assertive. In doing this comparison it is easier to be more accepting of both theories and their perspectives on personality. Freud’s psychoanalytic views on personality are considerably more complex and harder to grasp, however, his treatments in patients with hysteria make his theory of the unconscious and how defense mechanisms work hard to refute.
However, the psychosexual stages of development as defined by Freud are not as convincing and are widely controversial. Additionally, there are equally good points made by Allport and other trait theorists. Trait theorists are more concerned with what type of characteristics a person exhibits repetitively over time in comparison with others. There experiential foundation and the practical applications give this theory a well-built base. However the usefulness of this type of an approach in dealing with problematic behavior is limited and traits are often poor predictors of behavior.
Personally I can relate most with the trait theory and of the Big Five factors I ranked highest in Conscientiousness because I am organized, reliable, and disciplined. References Abbott, T. (2001). Readings on Social and personality development, Routledge, Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2007). Understanding Personality and Individual Differences, Wiley- Blackwell Heggestad, E.. (2007). Big Five Taxonomy of Personality. In Steven Rogelberg (Ed. ), Encyclopedia of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Vol. 1. (pp. 52-56).
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Reference. Retrieved May 03, 2010, from Gale Virtual Reference Library via Gale: http://find. galegroup. com/gps/start. do? prodId=IPS&userGroupName=Apollo Traits. (2001). In Bonnie Strickland (Ed. ), Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology, (2nd ed. , pp. 649-650). Detroit: Gale. Retrieved May 03, 2010, from Gale Virtual Reference Library via Gale: http://find. galegroup. com/gps/start. do? prodId=IPS&userGroupName=apollo Wiggins, J. (1996). Model of Personality using the Five-Factor: Theoretical Perspectives, Guilford Press.
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