Self and Personality Notes Class 12 CBSE


Psychologists use the concept of self for knowing and evaluating an individual’s behaviour. They analysed the structure and function of self and personality. The study of self and personality helps us understand not only who we are, but also our uniqueness, as well as our similarities with others. By understanding self and personality, we can understand our own as well as others’ behaviour in diverse settings.

Meaning of Self and Personality

Self and Personality refers to the ways in which our experiences are organised and reflect in our behaviour. Different people hold different ideas about themselves and these ideas represent the self of a person. People behave in different ways in a given situation, but the behaviour of a particular person from one situation to another generally remains stable. Stable pattern of behaviour represents the personality of that person. Therefore, different persons seem to possess different personalities.

Concept of Self

As the child grows, the idea of self emerges and its formation begins. Parents, friends, teachers and other important persons play a vital role in shaping a child’s ideas about self. Our personal interaction, experiences and their interpretation serve as the basis of our self. On the basis of our own experiences and the experiences we have of other people, the structure of self can be changed. The attributes tell us about the personal as well as social or cultural identities of the individual:

Personal Identity : It refers to whose attributes of a person that make her/him different from others. When a person describes herself/himself by telling her/his name, qualities, characteristics, potentialities, capabilities or beliefs, she/he discloses her/his personal identity.

Social Identity : It refers to those aspects of a person that link her/him to a social or cultural group or are derived from it. For example, when someone says that she/he is a Hindu or a Muslim, a Brahmin or an Adivasi or a North Indian or a South Indian or something like these, she/he is trying to indicate her/his social identity.

These descriptions characterise the way people mentally represent themselves as a person. Thus, self refers to the totality of an individual’s conscious experiences, ideas, thoughts and feelings with regard to herself or himself.

Self as Subject and Self as Object

Self can be understood as a subject as well as an object. As a subject (actor) the self actively engages in the process of knowing itself. As an object (consequence) the self gets observed and comes to be known.

For example, when I say, ‘I am a dancer’, the self is here described as a ‘subject’. But when I say ‘I am one who easily gets hurt’, the self is described here as an ‘object’.

Kinds of Self

There are various kinds of self. The get formed as a result of our interactions with our physical and socio-cultural environments. Two main types of self are as follows:

(i) Personal Self : The personal self leads to an orientation in which one feels primarily concerned with oneself.

Our biological needs lead to the development of a biological self. When I say, ‘I am hungry’ our biological self modifies itself in socio-cultural environment.

Psychological and social needs in the context of environment lead other components of personal self to emerge. Emphasis is given on those aspects of life that relate only to the concerned person, such as personal freedom, personal responsibility, personal achievement or personal comforts.

(ii) Social Self :  The social self emerges in relation with others and emphasises aspects of life such as cooperation, unity, affiliation, sacrifice, support or sharing. This self values family and social relationships. Hence, it is also referred to as familial or relational self.

Cognitive and Behavioural Aspects of Self

Psychological studies have brought out many aspects of our behaviour related to self. These aspects are discussed below:


The way we perceive ourselves and the ideas we hold about our competencies and attributes is called self-concept. This view of oneself is positive or negative or both at the same time. The most frequently used method to find out an individual’s self-concept involved asking the person about herself/himself.


The value judgement of a person about herself/himself is called self-esteem. Some people have high self-esteem, whereas others may have low self-esteem. Studies indicate that by the age of 6 to 7 years, children seem to have formed self-esteem at least in four areas i.e. academic competence and physical appearance. This self-esteem becomes more refined with age. It is known as an overall sense of self-esteem.

Self-esteem shows a strong relationship with our everyday behaviour. For example, children with high academic self-esteem perform better in schools than those with low academic self-esteem and children with high social self-esteem are more likely their peers. On the other hand, children with low self-esteem often found to display , anxiety, depression and increasing anti-social behaviour.

Studies have shown that warm and positive parenting helps in the development of high self-esteem among children whereas children, whose parents help or make decisions for them even when they do not need assistance, often suffer from low self-esteem.


It is the extent to which a person believe that she/he herself/himself control her/his life outcomes or the outcomes are controlled by luck other than situational factors e.g. passing an examination. A person who believes that she/he has the ability or behaviours required by a particular situation demonstrates high self-efficacy.

The concept of self-efficacy is based on Bandura’s Social Learning Theory. He showed that children and adults learned behaviour by observing & copying others. People’s expectation of mastery or achievement and their convictions about their own effectiveness also determines their behaviour. A strong sense of self-efficacy allows us to select, influence and even construct the circumstances of their own. Self-efficacy can be developed. People with high self-efficacy can stop smoking, the moment he decides to do so.

Our society , our parents and our own positive experiences can help in the development of a strong sense of self-efficacy by presenting positive models during the developing years of children.


It refers to the ability to organise and monitor one’s own behaviour. People, who are able to change their behaviour according to the demands of the external environment, are high on self-monitoring. Some situations of life require resistance to situational pressures and control over ourselves.

Learning to delay or defer the gratifications of needs is known as self-control. ‘Will power’ helps to develop resistance to situational pressures and control over ourselves.

Self control is the ability of an individual to control himself from satisfying his needs. Self-control plays a key role in the fulfilment of long-term goals. Indian cultural tradition provides us with certain effective mechanisms (e.g. fasting in vrata or roza and non-attachment with worldly things) for developing self-control.

Techniques of Self-Control : A number of psychological techniques of self-control have also been suggested.

  • Observation of Own Behaviour : It is one of them which provides us with necessary information that may be used to change, modify or strengthen certain aspects of self.
  • Self-Instruction : It is another important technique of self-control. It is a technique in which we instruct ourselves to do something and behave in the way as we want. Such instructions are quite effective in self-regulation.
  • Self-Reinforcement : It is the third technique of self-control. The involves rewarding behaviours that have pleasant outcomes. These techniques have been tried out and found quite effective with respect to self-regulation and self-control.

Culture and Self

The characteristic features of the culture are linked with several aspects of self. Analysis of self in the Indian cultural context reveals that its important features are distinct from the Western cultural context.

The most important distinction between the Indian and the Western views in the way the boundary is drawn between the self and the other.

In the Western view, this boundary appears to be relatively fixed. On the other hand, the Indian view of self is characterised by the shifting nature of this boundary.

The Western view unlike Indian view seems to hold different opinion (separation) between self and other, man and nature, subjective and objective. In the Western culture, the self and the group exist as two different entities with clearly defined boundaries.

Individual members of the group maintain their individuality. In the Indian culture, the self is generally not separated from one’s own group and both remain in a state of harmonious co-existence. In the Western culture, they often remain at a distance. Therefore, many Western cultures are characterised as individualistic , whereas many Asian cultures are characterised as collective.

Concept of Personality

The term ‘personality’ is derived from the Latin word persona, which means the mask which is used by actors in Roman theatre. In layman sense, personality generally refers to the physical or external appearance of an individual.

For example, when we find some ‘good looking’ person , we often assume that the person also has a charming personality. But this may not be correct.

In psychological terms, personality refers to our characteristic ways of responding to individuals and situations. People can easily describe the way in which they respond  ti various situations. Certain terms e.g. shy, sensitive, quiet, concerned, warm, etc are often used to describe personalities.

Personality also refers to unique and relatively stable qualities that characterise an individual’s behaviour across different situations over a period of time. Personality characterises individuals as they appear in most circumstances.

Consistency in behaviour, thought and emotion of an individual across situations that across time periods characterises her/his personality. For example, an honest person is more likely to remain honest irrespective of time and situation. Situational variations in behaviour do occur as they help individual’s in adapting to their environmental circumstances.

In brief, personality is characterised by the following features:

  • It has both physical and psychological components.
  • Its expression in terms of behaviour is fairly unique in  a given individual.
  • Its main features do not easily change with time.
  • It is dynamic in the sense that some of its features may change due to internal or external situational demands.

An understanding of personality allows us to deal with people in realistic and acceptable ways. For example, a child who has feelings of inferiority needs to be treated differently from a child who is self-confident.

Major Approaches to the Study of Personality

A number of approaches and theories have been developed to understand and explain behavioral differences among individuals and behavioural consistencies within an individual. These theories and approaches are based on different models of human behaviour.

Psychologists distinguish between type and trait approaches to personality. The type approaches attempts to comprehend human personality by examining broad patterns of individuals. The trait approaches focus on the specific psychological attributes along which individuals tend to differ in consistent and stable way. The interactional approach holds that situational characteristics play an important role in determining our behaviour.

Some of the important approaches are:

Types of Approaches

The type of approaches attempt to understand human personality by examining certain broad patterns in the observed behavioural characteristics of individuals. Each behavioural pattern refers to one type in which individuals are placed in terms of the similarity of their behavioural characteristics with that pattern. Efforts to categorise people into personality types have been made since ancient times.

Greek physician Hippocrates had proposed a typology of personality based on fluid or humour. He classified people into four types i.e. sanguine, phlegmatic, melancholic and choleric, each characterised by specific behavioural features.

As Per Charak Samhita

Charak Samhita, a famous treatise on Ayurveda in India classifies people into categories of vata, pitta and kapha on the basis of three humoural elements called tridosha. Each refers to a type of temperament, called prakriti (basic nature) of a person. Apart from this, there is also a typology of personality based on the trigunas, i.e. sattava, rajas and tamas.

Sattva Guna : It includes attributes like cleanliness, truthfulness, dutifulness, detachment, discipline, etc.

Rajas Guna : It includes intensive activity, desire for sense gratification, dissatisfaction, envy for others and a materialistic mentality, etc.

Tamas Guna : It characterises anger, arrogance, depression , laziness , feeling of helplessness, etc. All the three gunas are present in each and every person in different degrees. The dominance of one or the other guna may lead to a particular type of behaviour.

As Per Sheldon

Sheldon proposed Endomorphic, Mesomorphic and Ectomorphic Typology on the basis of body build and temperament.

  • The endomorphs are fat, soft and round. they are relaxed and sociable in nature.
  • The mesomorphs have strong muscular body. They are rectangular with a strong body built. They are energetic and courageous.
  • The ectomorphs are thin, long and have fragile body build. They are brainy, artistic and introvert.

These body typologies are simple and have limited use in predicting behaviour of individuals.

As Per Jung

Jung has proposed widely recognised typology by grouping people into introverts and extroverts.

  • Introverts are people who prefer to be alone, tend to avoid others, withdraw themselves in the face of emotional conflicts and are shy.
  • Extroverts are sociable, outgoing, drawn to occupations that allow dealing directly with people and react to stress by trying to lose themselves among peole and social activity.
As Per Friedman and Rosenman

Friedman and Rosenman have classified individuals into Type-A and Type-B personalities.

  • Type-A personality seem to possess high motivation, lack of patience, feel short of time, be in a great hurry, and feel like being always burdened with work. People with this personality are more susceptible to problems like hypertension and Coronary Heart Disease (CHD). The risk of developing CHD with Type-A personality is sometimes even greater than the risks caused by high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, or smoking.
  • Type-B personality, can be understood as the absence of Type-A traits. This typology has been further extended.

Morris has suggested a Type-C personality, which is prone to cancer. Individuals characterised by this personality are cooperative, unassertive and patient. They suppress their negative emotions (e.g. anger) and show compliance to authority. Recently, a Type-D personality has been suggested, which is characterised by proneness to depression.

Trait Approaches

The trait approach focuses on the specific psychological attributes along which individuals tend to differ in consistent and stable ways. These theories are mainly concerned with the description or characterisation of basic components of personality.

They try to discover the ‘building blocks’ of personality. Human beings display a wide range of variations in psychological attributes, yet it is possible to club them into smaller number of personality traits.

Trait approach is very similar to our common experience in everyday life. It attempts to identify primary characteristics of people. For example, when we come to know that a person is sociable , we assume that he will not only be cooperative, friendly and helping, but also engage in behaviours that involve other social components.

A trait is considered as a relatively enduring attribute or quality on which one individual differs from another. These include a range of possible behaviours that are activated according to the demands of the situation. Main features are:

  • Traits are relatively stable over time.
  • They are generally consistent across situations.
  • Their strengths and combinations vary across individuals leading to individual differences in personality.

A number of psychologists have used traits to formulate their theories of personality. Some of these are:

Allport’s Trait Theory

Gordon Allport is the pioneer of this approach. He proposed that individuals possess a number of traits, which are dynamic in nature.

They determine behaviour in such a manner that an individual approaches to different situations with similar plans. The trains integrate stimuli and responses which otherwise look dissimilar. Allport argued that words people use to describe themselves and others provide a basis for understanding human personality. He analysed the word of English language to look for traits which describe a person. Allport categorised traits into cardinal, central, and secondary. These are explained as follows:

  • Cardinal Traits : These are highly generalised in nature. They indicate the goal around which a person’s entire life seems to revolve. Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence and Hitler’s Nazism are examples of cardinal traits. Such traits often get associated with the name of the person so strongly that they derive such identities as the ‘Gandhian’ or ‘Hitlerian’ trait.
  • Central Traits : These are less broad in effect but still quite generalised in nature. These traits (e.g. warm, sincere, diligent, etc) are often used in writing a testimonial or job recommendation for a person.
  • Secondary Traits : These are the generalised characteristics of a person. Traits such as ‘likes mangoes’ or ‘prefers ethnic clothes’ are examples of secondary traits.

Allport thinks that the way a person reacts to given situations depends on his traits, although people sharing the same traits might express them in different way. Any variation in trait may result in a different response to the same situation.

Cattle’s Trait Theory

Raymond Cattell believed that there is a common structure on which people differ from each other. This structure could be determined practically. He applied a statistical technique, called factor analysis to discover the common structures.

He found 16 primary or source traits. The source traits are stable and are considered as the building blocks of personality. Cattell described the source traits in terms of opposing tendencies.

He developed a test, called Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF), for the assessment of personality. This test is widely used by psychologists. Besides these, there are also a number of surface traits that result out of the interaction of source traits.

Eysenck’s Theory

HI Eysenck proposed that personality could be reduced into two broad dimensions. These are biologically and genetically based. Each dimension classified a number of specific traits.

These dimensions are:

1. Neuroticism vs Emotional Stability

It refers to the degree to which people have control over their feelings. At one extreme of the dimension, we find people who are neurotic.

They are anxious, moody, touchy, restless, and quickly lose control. At the other extreme i.e. people who are calm, even-tempered, reliable and remain under control.

2. Extroversion vs Introversion

It refers to the degree to which people are socially outgoing and socially withdrawn. Extrovert people are active, friendly, impulsive and thrill-seeking. Introvert people are those who are passive, quiet, cautious and reserved.

3. Psychoticism vs Sociability

It is considered to interact with the other two dimensions i.e. Neuroticism vs Emotional Stability and Extroversion vs Introversion. A person who scores high on psychoticism dimension tends to be hostile, egocentric and anti-social.

While social persons are friendly, active and reliable. Eysenck Personality Questionnaire is the test which is used for studying these dimensions of personality.

Psychodynamic Approach

Sigmund Freud developed this theory in the course of his clinical practice. Freud used free association, dream analysis and analysis of errors to understand the internal functioning of the mind.

Levels of Consciousness

Freud’s theory considers the sources and consequences of emotional conflicts. He visualises the human mind in terms of three levels of consciousness:

(i) Conscious , which includes the thoughts, feelings and actions of which people are aware.

(ii) Preconscious, which includes mental activity of which people may become aware only if they attend to it closely.

(iii) Unconscious, which includes mental activity of which people are unaware. Unconscious stores all ideas and wishes that are concealed from conscious awareness, because they lead to psychological conflicts. Most of these arise from sexual desires which cannot be expressed openly and therefore are repressed.


Freud developed a therapeutic procedure, called psychoanalysis. The basic goal of psychoanalytic therapy is to bring the repressed unconscious materials to conscious, thereby helping people to live in a more self-aware and integrated manner.

Structure of Personality

According to Freud’s theory, the primary structural elements of personality are three, id, ego and superego.

Id : It is the source of a person’s habitual energy. It is energised by two instinctual forces called life instinct and death instinct. The instinctual life force that energises the id is called libido.

It  deals with immediate gratification of primitive needs, sexual desires and aggressive impulses. It works on the pleasure principle, which assumes that people seek pleasure and try to avoid pain. Id does not care for moral values, society or other individuals.

Ego : It grows out of id and seeks to satisfy an individual’s instinctual needs in accordance with reality. It works by the reality principle and often directs the id towards more appropriate ways of behaving. The id is demanding, unrealistic and works according to pleasure principle while the ego is patient, reasonable and works by the reality principle.

Superego : The superego tells the id and the ego whether gratification in a particular instance is ethical. It helps control the id by internalising the parental authority through the process of socialisation.

For example, if a boy sees and wants an ice cream cone and asks his mother for it, his super ego will indicate that his behaviour is morally correct. This approach towards obtaining the ice cream will not create guilt, fear or anxiety in the boy. In some people, the id is stronger than the superego in others, it is the super ego. The relative strength of the id, ego and superego determines each person’s stability.

Ego Defence Mechanisms

Freud suggests that much of human behaviour reflects an attempt to deal with or escape from anxiety. How the ego deals with anxiety largely determines how people behave. Freud believed that people avoid anxiety mainly by developing defence mechanism. Defence mechanism try to defend the ego against the awareness of the instinctual needs. Defence mechanism is a way of reducing anxiety by distorting reality. Freud has described many different kinds of defence mechanisms such as:

(i) Repression : It is the most important defence mechanism in which anxiety provoking behaviours or thoughts are totally dismissed by the unconscious. When people repress a feeling or desire, they become totally unaware of that wish or desire.

(ii) Projection : In this mechanism people attribute their own traits to others. Thus, a person who has strong aggressive tendencies may see other people as acting in an excessively aggressive way towards her/him.

(iii) Denial : In denial, a person totally refuses to accept reality. Thus, someone suffering from HIV/AIDS may altogether deny her/his illness.

(iv) Reaction Formation : In this mechanism, person defends against anxiety by adopting behaviours opposite to her/his true feelings. A person with strong sexual urges, who channels her/his energy into religious fervour, is an example of reaction formation.

(v) Rationalisation : In this , a person tries to make unreasonable feelings or behaviour reasonable and acceptable. For example, when a student buys a set of new pens after doing poorly in examination, i.e. he may try to rationalise his behaviour by asserting “I will do much better with these pens.”

Stages of Personality Development

Freud proposed a five-stage theory of personality (also called psychosexual) development. These are discussed below:

1. Oral Stage : The infant achieves oral gratification through feeding, thumb sucking, biting and babbling (chattering). It is during these early months that people’s basic feelings about the world are established. Thus, for Freud, an adult who considers the world a bitter place probably had difficulty during the oral stage of development.

2. Anal Stage : The child learns to respond to some of the demands of the society around ages two and three. One of the principal demands made by parents is that the child learns to control the bodily functions of urination and defection.

Most children at the age two or three experience pleasure in moving their bowels. The anal area of the body becomes the focus of certain pleasurable feelings. This stage establishes the basis for conflict between the id and the ego and between the desire for babyish pleasure and demand for adult, controlled behaviour.

3. Phallic Stage : This stage focuses on the genitals. Around ages four and five, children began to realise the difference between males and females. At this stage, male child experiences Oedipus complex. It involves love for the mother, hostility towards the father and the fear of punishment by the father. For girls, the Oedipus complex (called the Electra Complex) follows a slightly different courser as it involves love for the father.

By attaching her love to the father, a girl tries to symbolically marry him and raise a family. When she realises that this is unlikely, she beings to identify with her mother and copy her behaviour as a means of getting her father’s affection.

The critical component in resolving the Odeipus complex is the development of identification with the same sex parents. In other words, boys give up sexual feelings for their mothers and begin to see their fathers as role models rather than as rivals and girls gave up their sexual desires for their father and identify with their mother.

4. Latency Stage

This stage lasts from about seven years until puberty. During this period, the child continues to grow physically, but sexual urges (forces) are inactive.

5. Genital Stage

During this stage, the person attains maturity in psychosexual development. The sexuality, fears and repressed feelings of earlier stages are once again exhibited. People learn to deal with members of the opposite sex in a socially and sexually mature way.

According to Freud as children proceed from one stage to another stage of development, they seem to adjust their view of the world.

If a child failed to pass successfully through the stages, then it leads to fixation to that stage. In this situation, the child’s development gets restricted which further leads to regression. For example, if a child does not pass successfully through the phallic stage fails to resolve the Odeipal complex and may still feel hostile towards the parent of the same sex. This failure may have serious consequences for the child’s life.

Regression occurs when a person’s resolution of problems at any stage of development is less than adequate. In this situation, people display behaviour of a less mature stage of development.

Post-Freudian Approaches

A number of theorists further developed their ideas following Freud. These theorists have been called neo-analytic or post-Freudian in order to differentiate their work from Freud’s. These theories are characterised by less prominent roles to sexual and aggressive tendencies of the id and expansion of the concept of ego. The human qualities of creativity, competence and problem solving abilities are emphasised in these theories.

Some of these are:

Carl Jung : Aims and Aspirations

Jung saw human beings as much as aims and aspirations as by sex and aggression. He developed his own theory of personality called analytical psychology.

Jung claimed that there was a collective unconscious consisting of archetypes (original) primordial images. These are not individually acquires, but are inherited. The God or the Mother Earth is a good example of archetypes. They are found in myths, dreams and arts of all mankind. They are found in myths, dreams and arts of all mankind. According to him, for achieving unity and wholeness, a person must become increasingly aware of the wisdom available in one’s personal and collective unconscious and must learn to live in harmony with it.

Karen Horney : Optimism

Horney adopted a more optimistic view of human life with emphasis on human growth and self-actualisation. Horney challenge Freud’s treatment of women as inferior. According to her, each sex has attributes to be admired by the other, and neither sex can be viewed as superior or inferior.

She countered that women were more likely to be affected by social and cultural factors than by biological factors. She argued that psychological disorders were caused by disturbed interpersonal relationship during childhood.

When parents’ behaviour toward a child is indifferent, discouraging and erratic, the child feels insecure and a feeling called basic anxiety results.

Deep resentment towards parents as basic hostility occurs due to this anxiety. Excessive dominance or indifference by the parents can generate feelings of isolation and helplessness among the children. These can interfere with their healthy development.

Alfred Adler : Lifestyle and Social Interest

Adler’s theory is known as individual psychology. His basic assumption is that human behaviour is purposeful and goal directed. Each one of us has the capacity to choose and create and our personal goals are the sources of our motivation.

The goals that provide us with security and help us in overcoming the feelings of inadequacy are important in our personality development. In Adler’s view, every individual suffers from the feelings of inadequacy and guilt i.e. inferiority complex, which arise from childhood. Overcoming this complex is essential for optimal personality development.

Erich Fromm : The Human Concerns

Fromm viewed human beings as basically social beings who could be understood in terms of their relationship with others. He argued that psychological qualities such as growth and realisation of potentials resulted from a desire for freedom and striving for justice and truth.

Culture is shaped by the mode of existence of a given society while people’s dominant character traits in a given society work as forces in shaping the social processes and the culture itself. He recognises the value of positive qualities, such as tenderness and love in personality development.

Erik Erikson : Search for Identity

Erikson’s theory lays stress on rational, conscious ego process in personality development. He viewed development as a lifelong process and ego identity is granted a central place in this process.

His concept of identity crisis of adolescent age has drawn considerable attention. Erikson argues that young people must generate a central perspective and a direction for themselves that can give them a meaningful sense of unity and purpose.

Criticism of Psychodynamic Approach

Psychodynamic approach faces strong criticisms from many quarters. The major criticisms are as follows:

(i) The theories are largely based on case studies and they lack a rigorous scientific basis.

(ii) They use small and atypical individuals as samples for advancing generalisatoins.

(iii) The concepts are not properly defined and it is difficult to submit them to scientific testing.

(iv) Freud has used males as the prototype of all human personality development and overlooked female experiences and perspectives.

Behavioural Approach

The behaviourists rely on data that are definable, observable and measurable. Thus, they focus on learning of stimulus-response connections and their reinforcement.

According to them, personality can be best understood as the response of an individual to the environment. They see the development simply as a change in response characteristics i.e. a person learns new behaviours in response to new environments and stimuli.

For most behaviour, the structural unit of personality is the response. Each response is a behaviour, which is emitted to satisfy a specific need. For example, children do not like eating many of the vegetables (e.g. spinach, pumpkin, gourds, etc). but gradually they learn to eat them. According to the behavioural approach, children many initially learn to eat such vegetables in anticipation of appreciation (reinforcement) from their parents.

Later on they may eventually learn to eat vegetables not only because their parents are pleased with this behaviour, but also because acquire the taste of those vegetables, and find them good. Thus, the core tendency that organises behaviour is the reduction of biological or social needs that energise behaviour. This is accomplished through responses (behaviours) that are reinforced.

The theories of classical conditioning (Pavlov), instrumental conditioning (Skinner) and obervational learning (Bandura) view learning and maintenance of behaviour from different angles. The principles of these theories have been widely used in developing personality theories.

Observational learning theory also emphasises social learning (based on observation and imitation of others) and self-regulation.

Cultural Approach

This approach attempts to understand personality in relation to the features of ecological and cultural environment. It proposes that a group’s economic maintenance system plays a vital role in the origin of cultural and behavioural variations.

The climatic conditions, the nature of terrain of the habitat and availability of food (flora and fauna) determine not only people’s economic activities but also their settlement patterns, social structures, division of labour and other features such as child-rearing practices.

Rituals, ceremonies, religious practices, arts, recreational activities, games and play are the means through which people’s personality gets projected in a culture.

People develop various personality (behavioural) qualities in an attempt to adapt to the ecological and cultural features of a group’s life. Thus, the cultural approach considers personality as an adaptation of individuals or groups to the demands of their ecology and culture.

This can be explained in the following ways. The Birhor tribal group of Jharkhand lives in forests and mountainous regions with hunting and gathering as their primary means of livelihood. They lead a nomadic life and move in small bands form one forest to another in search of food and forest products (e.g. fruits, roots, mushrooms, honey etc.) In their society, children from an early age are allowed enormous freedom to move into forests and learn hunting and gathering skills.

This child socialisation practices are aimed at making the children independent, autonomous and achievement oriented from an early age of life.

In agricultural societies, on the other hand, children are socialised to be obedient to elders , nurturant to youngsters and responsible to their duties. These qualities make them more functional in agricultural societies. Thus, for different economic pursuits and cultural demands, children in hunting-gathering and agricultural, societies develop and display different personality pattern.

Humanistic Approach

Carl Rogers  and Abraham Maslow have particularly contributed to the development of humanistic perspective on personality . The most important idea proposed by Rogers is that of a fully functioning person. He believes that fulfilment is the motivating force for personality development. People try to express their capabilities , potentials and talents to the fullest extent possible. In this theory, Roger makes two basic assumptions about human behaviour:

(i) Behaviour is a goal-oriented and worthwhile.
(ii) People (who are innately good) will almost always choose adaptive , self-actualising behaviour.

Roger noted that self was an important element in the experience of his clients. Thus, his theory is structured around the concept of self. The theory assumes that people are constantly engaged in the process of actualising their true self.

Ideal Self

Roger suggests that each person also has a concept of ideal self. An ideal self is the self that a person would like to become. When there is a correspondence between the real self and ideal self, a person is generally happy. Discrepancy between the real self and ideal self often results in unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

Roger’s basic principle is that people have a tendency to maximise self-concept through self actualisation. In this process, the self grows, expands and becomes more social.

Rogers views personality development as a continuous process. It involves learning to evaluate oneself and mastering the process of self-actualisation.

He recognises the role of social influences in the development of self-concept. When social conditions are positive, the self-concept and self-esteem are high. In contrast, when the conditions are negative, the self-concept and self-esteem are low.

This situation warrants that an atmosphere of unconditional positive regard must be created in order to enhance people’s self-concept. The client-centered therapy that Rogers developed attempts to create this condition.

Maslow asserts that in self-actualisation, people reach to their own fullest potential. Human beings are considered to shape their lives and to self-actualise. Self-actualisation becomes possible by analysing the motivation that govern our life. The real journey of human life begins with the pursuit of self-esteem and self-actualisation needs.

Assessment of Personality

A formal effort aimed at understanding personality of an individual is termed as personality assessment. Assessment refers to the procedures used to evaluate or differentiate people on the basis of certain characteristics. The goal of assessment is to understand and predict behaviour with minimum error and maximum accuracy. Assessment is also useful for diagnosis, training, placement, counselling and other purposes. Psychologists have tried to assess personality in various ways.

The most commonly used techniques are Psychometric Tests, Self-Report Measures, Projective Techniques and Behavioural Analysis.

Self-report Measures

These are fairly structured measures, that require subjects to give verbal responses using some kind of rating scale. This method requires the subject to objectively report her/his own feelings with respect to various items. The responses are accepted at their face They are scored in quantitative terms and interpreted on the basis of norms developed for the test. Some of the well-known self-report measures are:

The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI)

Hathaway and McKinley developed this test as a helping tool for psychiatric diagnosis, but the test has been found very effective in identifying varieties of psychopathology.

It was revised as MMPI-2. It consists of 567 statements. The test is divided into 10 subscales, which seek to diagnose hypochondriasis, depression, hysteria, psychopathic deviate, masculinity-femininity, paranoia, psychasthenia, schizophrenia, mania and social introversion. In India, Mallick and Joshi have developed the Jodhpur Multi-phasic Personality Inventory (JMPI) along the lines of MMPI.

Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (EPQ)

This test developed by Eysenck, initially to assess two dimensions of personality called introverted-extroverted and emotionally stable-emotionally unstable. These dimensions are characterised by 32 personality traits. Later on, Eysenck added a third dimension called psychoticism.

It is linked to psychopathology that represents a lack of feeling for others, a tough manner of interacting which people , and a tendency to defy social conventions.

Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16 PF)

This test was developed by Cattell. The test provides declarative statements, and the subject responds to a specific situations by choosing from a set of given alternatives. It has been found extremely useful in career guidance, vocational exploration and occupational testing.

Problems with Self-report Measures

The self-report measures suffer from a number of problems such as :

Social Desirability : It is a tendency on the part of the respondent to endorse (recommend) items in a socially desirable manner.

Acquiescence : It is a tendency of the subject to agree with items/questions irrespective of their contents. It often appears in the form of saying ‘yes’ to items.

These tendencies render the assessment of personality less reliable.

Projective Techniques

The techniques of personality assessment described so far are known as direct techniques, because they tend to rely on information directly obtained from the person who clearly knowns that her/his personality is being assessed. In these situations, people generally become self conscious and hesitate to share their private feelings, thoughts, and motivations. When they do so, they often do it in a socially desirable manner.

The psychoanalytic theory tells us that a large part of human behaviour is governed by unconscious motives. Direct methods of personality assessment cannot uncover the unconscious part of our behaviour. Hence, they fail to provide us with a real picture of an individual’s personality. These problems can be overcome by using indirect methods of assessment. Projective techniques fall in this category.

Projective techniques were developed to assess unconscious motives and feelings. These techniques are based on the assumption that a less structured or unstructured stimulus or situation will allow the individual to project her/his feelings, desires and needs on to that situation.

Projective techniques use various kinds of stimulus materials and situations for assessing personality like:

  • Some of them require reporting associations with stimuli (e.g. words, inkblots).
  • Some involve story writing around pictures.
  • Some require expression through drawings.
  • Some require choice of stimuli from a large set of stimuli.

The nature of stimuli and responses in these techniques vary to large extent. So, all of them share the following features:

  • The stimuli are relatively or fully unstructured and poorly defined.
  • The person being assessed is usually not told about the purpose of assessment and the method of scoring and interpretations.
  • The person is informed that there are no correct or incorrect responses. Each response is considered to reveal a significant aspect of personality.
  • Scoring and interpretation are lengthy and sometimes subjective.

Projective techniques are different from the psychometric tests in many ways. They cannot be scored in any objective manner. They generally require qualitative analyses for which a rigorous training is needed.

The analysis of personality with the help of projective techniques assist us to understand unconscious motives, deep-rooted conflicts and emotional complexes of an individual.

However, the interpretation of the responses requires sophisticated skills and specialised training. There were problems associated with the reliability of scoring and validity of interpretations. But, the practitioners have found these techniques quite useful.

The Rorschach Inkblot Test

This test was developed by Herman Rorschach. The test consists of 10 inkblots. Five of them are in black and white, two with some red ink and the remaining three in some pastel colours. The blots are symmetrical in design with a specific shape or form. Each blot is printed in the centre of a white originally made by dropping ink on a piece of paper and the folding the paper in half (hence called inkblot test).

The cards are administered individually in two phases:

(i) Performance Proper : In this, the subjects are shown the cards and are asked to tell what they see in each of them.

(ii) Inquiry : In this, detailed report of the response is prepared by asking the subject to tell where, how and on what basis was a particular response made.

Fair judgement is necessary to place the subject’s responses in a meaningful context. The use and interpretation of test requires extensive training.

The Thematic Apperception Test (TAT)

This test was developed by Morgan and Murray. The test consists of 30 black and white picture cards and 1 blank card. Some cards are used with adult males or females and others are used with boys or girls.  2o cards are appropriate for a subject, although a lesser number of cards (even 5 ) have also been successfully used.

The cards are presented one at a time. The subject is asked to tell a story describing the situation presented in the picture. A standard procedure is available for scoring TAT responses. The test has been modified for children and for the aged. Uma Chaudhary’s Indian adaptation of TAT is also available.

Rosenzweigh’s Picture-Frustration Study (P-F Study)

This test was developed by Rosenzweig to assess how people express aggression in the face of a frustrating situation. With the help of cartoon like pictures, the rest presents a series of situations in which one person frustrates another, or calls attention to a frustrating condition. The subject is asked to tell what the other (frustrated) person will say or do.

The analysis of responses is based on the type and direction of aggression. An attempt is made to examine whether the focus is on the frustrating object or on protection of the frustrated person or on constructive solution of the problem. Pareek has adapted this test for use with the Indian population.

Sentence Completion Test

This test makes use of a number of incomplete sentences. The starting part of the sentence is first presented and the subject has to provide an ending to the sentence. The type of endings used by the subjects reflect their attitudes , motivation and conflicts. The test provides subjects with several opportunities to reveal their underlying unconscious motivations.

For example,

  • My father …….
  • My greatest fear is …….
  • I am proud of ………
Draw-a-Person Test

It is a simple test in which the subject is asked to draw a person on a sheet of paper. A pencil and eraser is provided to facilitate drawing. After the completion of the drawing, the subject is generally asked to draw the figure of an opposite sex person. Finally, the subject is asked to make a story about the person as it she/he was a character in a novel or a play. Some examples of interpretations are as follows:

  • Omission of facial features suggests that the person tried to hide a highly conflict-laden interpersonal relationship.
  • Graphic emphasis on the neck suggests lack of control over impulses.
  • Disproportionately large head suggests organic brain disease and pre-occupation with headaches.

Behavioural Analysis

Observation of behaviour serves as the basis of behavioural analysis. An observer’s report may contain data obtained from interview, observation, ratings, nomination and situational tests.


Interview is a commonly used method for assessing personality. This involves talking to the person being assessed and asking specific questions. Diagnostic interviewing generally involves in-depth interviewing which seeks to go beyond the replies given by the person. Interviews may be structured or unstructured depending on the purpose or goals of assessment.

The structured interviews address very specific questions and follow a set procedure. This is often done to make objective comparison of persons being interviewed. Use of rating scales may further enhance the objectivity of evaluations.

In unstructured interviews, the interviewer seeks to develop an impression about a person by asking a number of questions. The way a person presents her/himself and answers the questions reveal her/his personality.


Observation is another method which is very commonly used for the assessment of personality. It requires careful training of the observer and a fairly detailed guideline about analysis of behaviours in order to assess the personality of a given person.

Limitations of Interview and Observation Methods

In spite of their frequent and widespread use, observation and interview methods are characterised by the following limitations:

  • Professional training required for collection of useful data through these methods is quite demanding and time consuming.
  • Maturity of the psychologist is a pre-condition for obtaining valid data through these techniques.
  • Mere presence of the observer may contaminate the results. As a stranger, the observer may influence the behaviour of the person being observed and thus not obtain good data.
Behavioural Ratings

Behavioural ratings are frequently used for assessment of personality in educational and industrial settings.

Behavioural ratings are generally taken from people who know the assessee intimately and have interacted with her/him over a period of time or have had a chance to observe her/him.

They attempt to put individuals into certain categories in terms of their behavioural qualities. The categories may involve different numbers of descriptive terms. Use of numbers or general descriptive adjectives in rating scales always create confusion for the rater. In order to use ratings effectively, the traits should be clearly defined in terms of carefully stated behavioural anchors.

Limitations of Rating Method

The method of rating suffers from the following major limitations:

  • Raters often display certain biases that represent their judgements of different traits. For example, most of us are greatly influenced by a single favourable or unfavourable trait. This often forms the basis of a rater’s overall judgement of a person. This tendency is known as the halo effect.
  • Raters have a tendency to place individuals either in the middle of the scale (called middle category bias) by avoiding extreme positions or in the extreme positions (called extreme response bias) by avoiding middle categories on the scale.

These tendencies can be overcome by providing raters with appropriate training or by developing such scales in which the response bias is likely to be small.


This method is often used in obtaining peer assessment. It can be used with persons who have been in long term interaction and who know each other very well. In using nomination, each person is asked to choose one or more persons of the group with whom she/he would like to work, study, paly or participate in any other activity. The person may also be asked to specify the reason for her/his choices.

The choice or nominations received then may be analysed to understand the personality and behavioural qualities of the person. This technique has been found to be highly dependable, although it may also be affected by personal biases.

Situational Tests

A variety of situational tests have been devised for the assessment of personality. The most commonly used test of this kind is the situational stress test. It provides us information about how a person behaves under stressful situations.

The test requires a person to perform a given task with other person who are instructed to be non-cooperative and interfering. The test involves a kind of role playing. The person is instructed to play a role for which she/he is observed. A verbal report is also obtained on what she/he was asked to do. The situation may be realistic one or it may be created through a video play.