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  • Published: 15 March 2024

The process and mechanisms of personality change

  • Joshua J. Jackson   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-9490-8890 1 &
  • Amanda J. Wright   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-8873-9405 2  

Nature Reviews Psychology ( 2024 ) Cite this article

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  • Human behaviour
  • Personality

Although personality is relatively stable across the lifespan, there is also ample evidence that it is malleable. This potential for change is important because many individuals want to change aspects of their personality and because personality influences important life outcomes. In this Review, we examine the mechanisms responsible for intentional and naturally occurring changes in personality. We discuss four mechanisms — preconditions, triggers, reinforcers and integrators — that are theorized to produce effective change, as well as the forces that promote stability, thereby thwarting enduring changes. Although these mechanisms are common across theories of personality development, the empirical evidence is mixed and inconclusive. Personality change is most likely to occur gradually over long timescales but abrupt, transformative changes are possible when change is deliberately attempted or as a result of biologically mediated mechanisms. When change does occur, it is often modest in scale. Ultimately, it is difficult to cultivate a completely different personality, but small changes are possible.

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essays on personality psychology

Theories of Personality: Hans Eysenck, Gordon Allport & Raymond Cattell

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Key Takeaways

  • Personality tests date back to the 18th century, when phrenology, measuring bumps on the skull, and physiognomy, analyzing a person’s outer appearance, were used to assess personality (Goldstein & Hershen, 2000).
  • Beginning in the late 19th century, Sir Francis Galton, a British polymath (an expert in many fields) estimated the number of adjectives in the English dictionary that described personality. Louis Leon Thurstone eventually refined the list to 60 words, and through analyzing roughly 1,300 participants, the list was reduced again to seven common factors (Goldberg, 1993).
  • Similarly, British-American psychologist Raymond Cattell developed a Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire, a 185 multiple-choice self-report questionnaire used to measure personality in both clinical and non-clinical settings.
  • In the 1980s, after an almost four-decade-long hiatus, Lewis Goldberg and colleagues (1980) revived Ernest Tupes and Raymond Christal’s (1961) exploration of five major personality traits : openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (commonly abbreviated as the acronym OCEAN).
  • This new model significantly contributed to the wide acceptance and increased popularity the five-factor model received.

What is this thing we call personality? Consider the following definitions, what do they have in common?

“Personality is the dynamic organization within the individual of those psychophysical systems that determine his characteristics behavior and thought” (Allport, 1961, p. 28). “The characteristics or blend of characteristics that make a person unique” (Weinberg & Gould, 1999).

Both definitions emphasize the uniqueness of the individual and consequently adopt an idiographic view.

The idiographic view assumes that each person has a unique psychological structure and that some traits are possessed by only one person; and that there are times when it is impossible to compare one person with others. It tends to use case studies for information gathering.

The nomothetic view, on the other hand, emphasizes comparability among individuals. This viewpoint sees traits as having the same psychological meaning in everyone.

This approach tends to use self-report personality questions, factor analysis, etc. People differ in their positions along a continuum in the same set of traits.

We must also consider the influence and interaction of nature (biology, genetics, etc.) and nurture (the environment, upbringing) with respect to personality development.

Trait theories of personality imply that personality is biologically based, whereas state theories, such as Bandura’s (1977) Social Learning Theory , emphasize the role of nurture and environmental influence.

Sigmund Freud’s psychodynamic theory of personality assumes there is an interaction between nature (innate instincts) and nurture (parental influences).

Trait Approach to Personality

This approach assumes behavior is determined by relatively stable traits, the fundamental units of one’s personality.

Traits predispose one to act in a certain way, regardless of the situation. This means that traits should remain consistent across situations and over time, but may vary between individuals.

It is presumed that individuals differ in their traits due to genetic differences.

These theories are sometimes referred to as psychometric theories, because of their emphasis on measuring personality by using psychometric tests. Trait scores are continuous (quantitative) variables. A person is given a numeric score to indicate how much of a trait they possess.

Eysenck’s Personality Theory

Eysenck (1952, 1967, 1982) proposed a theory of personality based on biological factors, arguing that individuals inherit a type of nervous system that affects their ability to learn and adapt to the environment.

During the 1940s, Eysenck was working at the Maudsley psychiatric hospital in London. His job was to make an initial assessment of each patient before their mental disorder was diagnosed by a psychiatrist.

Through this position, he compiled a battery of questions about behavior, which he later applied to 700 soldiers who were being treated for neurotic disorders at the hospital (Eysenck (1947).

He found that the soldiers” answers seemed to link naturally with one another, suggesting that there were a number of different personality traits which were being revealed by the soldier’s answers. He called these first-order personality traits.

He used a technique called factor analysis. This technique reduces behavior to a number of factors which can be grouped together under separate headings, called dimensions.

Eysenck (1947) found that their behavior could be represented by two dimensions: Introversion / Extroversion (E); Neuroticism / Stability (N). Eysenck called these second-order personality traits.

Each aspect of personality (extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism) can be traced back to a different biological cause. Personality is dependent on the balance between the excitation and inhibition process of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) .

Extraversion/Introversion

  • Extraverts are sociable and crave excitement and change, and thus can become bored easily. They tend to be carefree, optimistic, and impulsive.
  • They are more likely to take risks and be thrill seekers. Eysenck argues that this is because they inherit an under aroused nervous system and so seek stimulation to restore the level of optimum stimulation.
  • Introverts lie at the other end of this scale, being quiet and reserved. They are already over-aroused and shun sensation and stimulation.
  • Introverts are reserved, plan their actions and control their emotions. They tend to be serious, reliable, and pessimistic.

Neuroticism/Stability

A person’s level of neuroticism is determined by the reactivity of their sympathetic nervous system . A stable person’s nervous system will generally be less reactive to stressful situations, remaining calm and level headed.

Someone high in neuroticism on the other hand will be much more unstable, and prone to overreacting to stimuli and may be quick to worry, anger or fear.

They are overly emotional and find it difficult to calm down once upset. Neurotic individuals have an ANS that responds quickly to stress.

Psychoticism/normality

Eysenck (1966) later added a third trait (dimension) called psychoticism, characterized by lacking of empathy, being cruel, being a loner, aggressive and troublesome.

This has been related to high levels of testosterone. The higher the testosterone, the higher the level of psychoticism, with low levels related to more normal balanced behavior.

He was especially interested in the characteristics of people whom he considered to have achieved their potential as individuals.

According to Eysenck, the two dimensions of neuroticism (stable vs. unstable) and introversion-extroversion combine to form a variety of personality characteristics.

Eysenck traits theory of personality

Critical Evaluation

Twin studies can be used to see if personality is genetic. However, the findings are conflicting and non-conclusive.

Shields (1976) found that monozygotic (identical) twins were significantly more alike on the Introvert – Extrovert (E) and Psychoticism (P) dimensions than dizygotic (non-identical) twins.

Loehlin, Willerman, and Horn (1988) found that only 50% of the variations of scores on personality dimensions are due to inherited traits. This suggests that social factors are also important.

One good element of Eysenck’s theory is that it takes into account both nature and nurture. Eysenck’s theory argues strongly that biological predispositions towards certain personality traits combined with conditioning and socialization during childhood in order to create our personality.

This interactionist approach may, therefore, be much more valid than either a biological or environmental theory alone.

It also links nicely with the diathesis-stress model of behavior which argues for a biological predisposition combined with an environmental trigger for a particular behavior.

Eysenck Personality Inventory (EPI)

Cattell’s 16PF Trait Theory

Raymond Cattell (1965) disagreed with Eysenck’s view that personality can be understood by looking at only two or three dimensions of behavior.

Instead, he argued that it was necessary to look at a much larger number of traits in order to get a complete picture of someone’s personality.

Whereas Eysenck based his theory based on the responses of hospitalized servicemen, Cattell collected data from a range of people through three different sources of data.

  • L-data – this is life record data such as school grades, absence from work, etc.
  • Q-data – this was a questionnaire designed to rate an individual’s personality (known as the 16PF).
  • T-data – this is data from objective tests designed to “tap” into a personality construct.

Cattell analyzed the T-data and Q-data using a mathematical technique called factor analysis to look at which types of behavior tended to be grouped together in the same people. He identified 16 personality traits (factors) common to all people.

Cattell made a distinction between source and surface traits. Surface traits are very obvious and can be easily identified by other people, whereas source traits are less visible to other people and appear to underlie several different aspects of behavior.

Cattell regarded source traits are more important in describing personality than surface traits.

Cattell

Cattell produced a personality test similar to the EPI that measured each of the sixteen traits. The 16PF (16 Personality Factors Test) has 160 questions in total, ten questions relating to each personality factor.

Allport’s Trait Theory

Gordon Allport’s theory of personality emphasizes the uniqueness of the individual and the internal cognitive and motivational processes that influence behavior. For example, intelligence, temperament, habits, skills, attitudes, and traits.

Allport (1937) believes that personality is biologically determined at birth, and shaped by a person’s environmental experience.

He categorized traits into three levels: cardinal traits (dominant traits shaping a person’s entire life), central traits (characteristics influencing behavior in various situations), and secondary traits (specific traits that have minimal impact).

Allport emphasized the importance of studying individuals holistically and understanding the complexity of human personality beyond mere trait labels.

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Personality Psychology Overview Essay

The study of human personality development constitutes one of the primary areas of interest in psychology. Different theories have been proposed to explain human personality and its formation throughout an individual’s lifespan. These theories offer varying perspectives on differences in character among people. This essay adopts Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development and Bandura’s social learning theory to explain the development of Harry Potter’s resilient personality.

Harry Potter, the fictional protagonist in Joanne K. Rowling’s bestseller Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone , demonstrates marked resilience throughout his adventures in the wizarding world. A resilient person is cognitively flexible and can face challenges and ambiguous situations without fear (Roth & Herzberg, 2017). Resilient people do not allow adversity to define them or see every hardship as a threat; instead, they perceive themselves as capable and consider difficult times as a temporary state of affairs. As a master of resilience, Potter tends to be skilled in preparing for and handling emotional emergencies and remains adept at accepting whatever he faces with flexibility rather than rigidity.

Potter had a traumatic childhood after the untimely demise of his parents. This tragic event resulted in him being sent to his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, where he was subjected to constant physical, psychological, and emotional abuse and neglect. For example, Potter faced physical violence daily as he was even referred to as “Dudley’s favorite punching bag” (Rowling, 1997, p. 20). When living with the Dursleys, Potter stayed in a cupboard under the stairs. Whenever the Dursleys went out, they often left the young boy with a physically incapacitated neighbor who could not provide him with adequate and safe care. He also experienced different kinds of severe punishments, including being locked in his cupboard room for a week, receiving inadequate food, and being denied meals (Rowling, 1997, p.29). His uncle ill-treated him on suspicion that he had practiced magic. Vernon chased him away despite the fact that he had saved the life of his cousin (Dudley) from dementors while his own life was in clear danger. The abuse and neglect persisted throughout his childhood as he continued being mistreated by his cousin and other people at school. For instance, Dudley and his friends had their favorite sport, which they referred to as “Harry Hunting” (Rowling, 1997, p.31). Despite agonizing throughout his early years, Potter managed to navigate through his childhood successfully and become a tough character.

Eriksson’s eight-stage model of personality development offers useful insights into Potter becoming resilient. Most importantly, his secure attachment to his parent during infancy contributed significantly to his ability to withstand the severe maltreatment he faced in the foster home. According to this theory, early childhood experiences play an integral role in personality development, and they continue to have a significant influence on behavior later in life (Schultz & Schultz, 2016). Successful resolution of the conflict at each stage promotes healthy growth. In light of this theory, the love and nurture which Potter received from his parents enabled him to develop a secure attachment and trust. Creating such a strong bond with parents is critical to the infant’s development, especially the resilient personality formation. Roth and Herzberg (2017) argue that the child needs to develop a secure attachment to establish and maintain healthy interpersonal relationships. The strong connection goes beyond the early years into school and throughout other stages of human development.

Potter’s ability to tolerate the constant abuse and mistreatment during his childhood and adolescence is linked directly to a sense of trust, will, purpose, competency, and fidelity. These virtues, which are nurtured throughout the first five stages of Erikson’s theory, evidence Potter’s resilient character. For example, Potter developed a sense of trust when he was an infant, an attribute which he transferred to other relationships at school and foster home. It can be assumed that when he was a toddler, he received consistent, predictable, and reliable care and support from his primary caregivers (parents), which made him feel secure even when he encountered threats and adversity. Those misfortunes strengthened his personal beliefs and confidence, which characterize resilience.

Additionally, Potter demonstrates a strong sense of independence and personal control over physical skills, especially in the wizarding world. Success in the second stage of Erikson’s model results in the virtue of will (Schultz & Schultz, 2016). His loner tendencies and high confidence can be attributed to a caring and supporting background, which helped him to become secure in his ability to assert himself and survive in the world. He deepened his persistence by developing a sense of competence in his intelligence, initiative, confidence to achieve goals, and ability to lead others and make decisions. For example, at school, he learned to cope with new demands such as academic tasks. Children who manage to complete this stage, especially the related conflict (industry versus inferiority) successfully become more proud of their accomplishments (Schultz & Schultz, 2016). Potter is always described as competent, skilled, bright, and capable, which makes him more resilient at school and in his social life. He is confident enough to venture into an unfamiliar world and face and overcome unprecedented difficulties.

Consistently, Bandura’s social learning theory can provide a reliable explanation of Potter’s resilient personality. According to this framework, people learn through observation, modeling, and imitating other people’s behaviors, attitudes, and emotional reactions (Schultz & Schultz, 2016). This approach emphasizes that both cognitive and environmental factors impact human learning and behavior. Potter was surrounded by many influential people who provided examples of actions to note and copy their conduct. Professor Lupin is one of the best examples of Potter’s models throughout the series. For instance, he impressed the Gryffindor students by successfully repelling the dementors away from their trains by distributing an antidote. This event demonstrates to the students and his colleagues that he is a resilient and skilled educator.

Several factors determine the child’s possibility to enact the observed behavior: identical people, reinforcement, and consequences of similar actions (Schultz & Schultz, 2016). Potter imitates Lupin’s resilience because his model is of the same gender, and his efforts are positively reinforced. For example, Lupin encourages students who exhibit low self-confidence and reward those with vast knowledge, such as Neville and Hermione. Observing his peers who experienced similar traumatic experiences being approved and rewarded for certain conduct behaviors is rewarding for Potter and increases the likelihood of repeating such behavior. Positive reinforcement of practices such as fighting dementors plays a pivotal role in building and improving his resilience.

In conclusion, Potter exhibited remarkable resilience throughout his childhood and adolescence. He overcame numerous forms of abuse and neglect from the Dursleys and other people in his life. Nevertheless, these misfortunes transformed him into a resilient young man who was able to overcome multiple adversities. Different theories of personality offer varying perspectives on this trend and associated outcomes.

Roth, M., & Herzberg, P. Y. (2017). The resilient personality prototype . Journal of Individual Differences , 38 (1), 1 – 11.

Rowling, J. K. (1997). Harry Potter and the philosopher’s stone . Bloomsbury Pub.

Schultz, D. P., & Schultz, S. E. (2016). Theories of personality . Cengage Learning.

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Personality Psychology

Affiliations.

  • 1 Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois 61820, USA; email: [email protected], [email protected].
  • 2 Hector Research Institute of Education Sciences and Psychology, University of Tübingen, 72072 Tübingen, Germany.
  • PMID: 34516758
  • DOI: 10.1146/annurev-psych-020821-114927

Personality psychology, which seeks to study individual differences in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that persist over time and place, has experienced a renaissance in the last few decades. It has also not been reviewed as a field in the Annual Review of Psychology since 2001. In this article, we seek to provide an update as well as a meta-organizational structure to the field. In particular, personality psychology has a prescribed set of four responsibilities that it implicitly or explicitly tackles as a field: ( a ) describing what personality is-i.e., what the units of analysis in the field are; ( b ) documenting how it develops; ( c ) explaining the processes of personality and why they affect functioning; and ( d ) providing a framework for understanding individuals and explaining their actions, feelings, and motivations. We review progress made over the last 20 years to address these four agendas and conclude by highlighting future directions and ongoing challenges to the field.

Keywords: motivation; narrative identity; personality; personality development; personality traits; skills.

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What is the relationship between “personality” and “social”?

Beyond and beneath personality and social psychologies, academic areas as networks and communities, study overview, data accessibility statement, contributions/acknowledgments, competing interests, peer review comments, what is the relationship between “personality” and “social” psychologies network, community, and whole text analyses of the structure of contemporary scholarship.

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Kevin Lanning; What is the Relationship Between “Personality” and “Social” Psychologies? Network, Community, and Whole Text Analyses of The Structure of Contemporary Scholarship. Collabra: Psychology 1 January 2017; 3 (1): 8. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/collabra.70

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The structure of social/personality psychology, including the relationship between the areas of “social” and “personality,” is empirically examined in a series of network, community, and text analyses. In a study of keywords, both attitudes and social cognition and group processes appear as communities; the role of personality is more diffuse. In a larger analysis of citations in the four primary journals in the combined social/personality area, personality appears as a large community which surrounds a well-defined core (the Five-Factor Model) but which lies on the periphery of social/personality psychology. Interpersonal relations and attachment are central in social/personality, and appear largely distinct from the study of groups. Attitudes and social cognition are broadly studied, but, in contrast with personality and interpersonal relations, are not structured around a simple core. These methods and results collectively inform the relationship between personality and social psychologies and provide an early step towards an empirical understanding of the structure of the discipline.

How should the map of social-personality psychology be drawn? What are the relationships among its constituent methods, institutions, papers, scholars, and constructs? The question has implications for the psychology curriculum ( How should personality and social psychologies be taught? ), for the nature and evaluation of our research ( Should a scholar who examines positive affect be asked to review a paper on extraversion? ), and even for our self-concepts ( Should I call myself a social psychologist? ). Yet our understanding of this terrain remains grounded more in anecdote and tradition than in data. In the present paper, I use diverse scientometric methods, including network, community, and text analysis, to provide an initial map of the combined field of social and personality psychology. Limitations of the work should be acknowledged at the outset: This effort provides only a contemporary snapshot of the field and not its evolution over time, it does not yet provide contextualize personality and social psychology in the region of other closely related areas of inquiry (such as developmental and cognitive psychologies), and it does not yet consider the extent to which the structure holds outside of prominent conferences and journals published in the United States. Despite these limitations, the methods form an initial toolbox for future study, and the results provide a coherent initial map of contemporary personality-social psychology. Perhaps equally importantly, the paper invites consideration of its central premise, i.e., that the structure of personality and social psychology – fields which take justifiable pride in their empirical achievements – is of consequence and can itself be studied empirically.

Personality and social psychology have common roots, including the work of Gordon Allport, whose 1937 and 1954 books are foundational for the two areas. But their history has also been marked by tension ( Pettigrew & Cherry, 2012 ). Personality and social became increasingly distant as psychology expanded in the years following the Second World War ( Deaux & Snyder, 2012 ). In the 1960s and 1970s, this process accelerated, fueled in part by Mischel’s ( 1968 ) critique of personality and the related ascendance of social cognitive studies such as those chronicled by Nisbett and Ross ( 1980 ), work which carried with it the view that dispositional attributions were largely due to error. There were changes, too, in the structure of relevant APA journals: In 1965, the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology was dissolved into two journals (the Journal of Abnormal Psychology and the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , or JPSP ); beginning in 1980, JPSP was itself split into three separate sections, each with its own editorial board. The last of these sections, under the initial editorship of Bob Hogan, provided a sanctuary for a field of personality psychology which was subjectively under siege.

In more recent years, a number of writers have argued for a rapprochement between personality and social psychologies. Baumeister ( 1999 ) characterized the fields as largely overlapping. Swann and Seyle ( 2005 ) described personality as resurgent and characterized by an “emerging symbiosis” within a unified social psychology. Despite these collegial overtures, relations between personality and social psychologies remain fraught. Lucas and Donnellan ( 2009 ) noted that feelings were still raw forty years following the publication of Mischel ( 1968 ), and suggested that this was attributable, in part, to a misreading of the sociopolitical values held by personality psychologists. The following year, in an editorial marking the beginning of his term at the helm of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin , Kitayama argued that it was “imperative” to maintain the unity of the field ( 2010, p. 3 ).

Evidently, such calls for unity would not be needed if there were not also forces acting towards division, some of which lie beyond the borders of the two areas. For example, given that scientific progress has long been characterized by an increasing differentiation of disciplines, one might expect that personality and social psychology are moving apart rather than together, that is, towards continuing specialization or fragmentation. Further, one of the major fault lines dividing personality and social psychology, the role of the person versus the situation, runs outside as well as inside our discipline, framed among historians as the Great Man vs Zeitgeist (or Ortgeist) question.

Although the person-situation debate is critical in understanding the personality-social divide, other distinctions are also important. Cronbach ( 1957 ) saw scientific psychology as constituting two methodological traditions, the correlational and experimental. Following a close survey of research methods used and topics studied by editors in journals in social and personality psychology, Tracy and her colleagues found that Cronbach’s “two disciplines” largely distinguished between personality and social psychologies ( Tracy, Robins, & Sherman, 2009 ). Nonetheless, nearly half the individuals they surveyed were best identified as neither personality nor social types but as ‘hybrids’ who use correlational and experimental methods with near equal frequency. These authors advocated for an increasing integration of the two areas.

Despite these efforts, the relationship between personality and social psychologies remains unsettled. This is reflected in the labeling of graduate programs: Of the major programs in social/personality in the United States and Canada listed in Nosek et al. ( 2010 ) or the Social Psychology Network ( 2015 ), the majority (32 programs) include the label “social” without “personality.” At 21 others, the terms are combined in a single area fused by ands, ampersands, hyphens, slashes , or (in one case) a vertical bar . At just four universities, social and personality are presented in separate areas of study. Across programs, the accuracy of these different labels is uneven; rather, despite the best intentions of department committees, the contents of programs in social, social/personality, and personality psychology likely reflect a ‘jingle-jangle fallacy’, in which similar entities may be labeled differently, and quite different ones assigned the same name ( Kelley, 1927 ; see Table 1 ).

Graduate programs in social and/or personality psychology, 2015.

Note . Programs are those identified in Nosek et al ( 2010 ) as impactful and/or ranked by Princeton Review’s Gourman Report in social or personality psychology ( Social Psychology Network, 2015 ). Program labels were extracted from individual university websites on 7/15/2015. Program labels may include other areas (e.g., “health” in addition to social and/or personality).

Distinguishing between ‘personality’ and ‘social’ psychologies is only one of a number of ways of parsing their combined territory. The structure of JPSP , for example, suggests a tripartite model of Attitudes and Social Cognition (here, JPSPa), Interpersonal Relations and Group Processes (JPSPi), and Personality Processes and Individual Differences (JPSPp) . Still richer models are suggested by the structure of ostensibly representative reference sources: Since the earliest Handbooks of Social Psychology , the selection of chapters has been taken as providing a model of the contents of the field ( Gilbert, Fiske, & Lindzey, 1997 ). In the recently published APA Handbook of Personality and Social Psychology , a fourfold model is presented in which the JPSP structure is largely preserved, but in which Group Processes and Interpersonal Relations are now represented in separate volumes ( Mikulincer & Shaver, 2014 ). The structure of this latest Handbook is hierarchical: The four volumes are partitioned into 23 sections and, excluding introductory pieces, 100 chapters. For example, the volume on Attitudes and Social Cognition is divided into six parts, the first of which is Human Nature. Human Nature is further divided into four chapters, the first of which is Evolutionary Social Cognition ( Neuberg & Schaller, 2014 ).

Limits of a hierarchical model. Although the scope of the 100 chapters of the new Handbook is impressive, and may well provide a representative sampling of research areas in the field, their topics are unlikely to be related in a simple hierarchy. Such a model would predict that topics in different volumes, or in different sections within volumes, should be further apart than chapters in the same volume or section. One metric to assess the distance or proximity of scientific papers is common citations ( Boyack & Klavans, 2010 ). Applying this metric to chapters of the handbook reveals the limitations of the simple model. For example, the Evolutionary Social Cognition chapter shares only one common reference with the chapter, in the same section of the same volume, on Psychological and Sociomoral Reasoning in Infancy ( Baillargeon et al., 2014 ), but eight references with the chapter, in a different section of a different volume, on Evolutionary Personality Psychology ( Buss & Penke, 2015 ). The inadequacy of a simple hierarchy for describing the relative proximity of chapters in the Handbook is not a failure of the editors, but is instead a reflection of the multidimensional structure of social/personality psychology. If the Neuberg (social cognition) and Baillargeon (sociomoral reasoning) chapters are linked by their concern with cognition, the Neuberg and Buss (personality) chapters are linked, and linked more strongly, by a common evolutionary metatheory. A more general network model can provide a better account of the multiple ways, including metatheory, method, target population, intended application, level of analysis, etc., in which the elements of personality and social psychology are connected.

Connections among persons, products, and institutions in social/personality psychology may be represented as a network. As scientific knowledge is largely social (we learn not only in direct interactions with others but also from the papers and writings that others produce), this may be considered a social network. Historically, social network analysis (SNA) has been closely linked with mainstream social psychology. The fields have common roots in Lewin’s ( 1936 ) topological and vector psychologies, in applications of graph theory including Heider’s ( 1946 ) work on balance theory, and in empirical demonstrations such as Milgram’s ( 1967 ) study of small worlds. Today, SNA remains well suited to understanding the reciprocal impact of person and community, as it has illuminated topics such as the extra-dyadic nature of cooperation ( Apicella, Marlowe, Christakis, & Fowler, 2012 ), contagion in political and health-related behaviors ( Bond et al., 2012 ; Christakis & Fowler, 2007 ), and the network structure of social inequality ( DiPrete & Eirich, 2006 ; Salgarnik, Dodds, & Watts, 2006 ).

In a network model, social and personality psychologies may be considered as communities of scholarship . These communities, like physical communities framed by constructs such as race and class, may be thoroughly integrated or largely separate. At one extreme, personality might be represented throughout this undifferentiated space, represented equally in the ideas, papers, journals, and programs of a combined field, rendering training and scholarship in ‘social’ and ‘personality’ psychologies as one and the same. At the other extreme, social and personality psychology would be entirely discrete, non-overlapping sets, and the label and category ‘social-personality’ would be essentially arbitrary.

Sources for networks: Keywords and citations. Models of the structure of scholarly communities and disciplines may be articulated from sources ranging from sociological networks to clickstreams of articles viewed by individual scholars on electronic devices ( Bollen et al., 2009 ; Morris & Van der Veer martens, 2008 ). Among the simplest models is one based on keyword co-occurrences : Articles, grant proposals, and conference submissions typically include several keywords which facilitate the identification of papers for, among other things, the selection of reviewers. The co-occurrence of keywords across entities such as papers provides a measure of their relative proximity, and can form the basis of an initial network model. In the information sciences, for example, a network model of disciplines and areas of scholarship has been developed on the basis of the co-occurrence of keywords in profiles of individuals registered in Google Scholar ( Ortega & Aguillo, 2012 ).

A more influential and powerful approach to understanding the network of scholarship relies on a bibliometric approach, in particular, upon analyses of citations. Citations may be seen as directed, dyadic acts. Within psychology, prior bibliometric studies have largely focused upon the target rather than the source of these acts, as in studies of citation counts as measures of scholarly productivity ( Simonton, 1997 ). In using bibliometric data to build scholarly networks, as in the present study, the focus of citation analysis is instead on the source rather than the target, that is, the act of citing.

Scholarly communities and family resemblance. Regardless of how the structure of scientific inquiry is articulated, the membership of entities (persons, graduate programs) within topical regions (attitudes, psychometrics) is not discrete but graded: There are typically no methods, theories, etc. which are shared by and uniquely characteristic of all papers within a particular area of scholarship ( Bensman, 2001 ; Campbell, 1969 ). This suggests a model in which communities of scholarship may overlap and in which membership is characterized by family resemblance rather than by a set of individually necessary and jointly sufficient attributes ( Rosch, 1975 ).

Natural language analysis and the identification of communities. There have long been concerns about ambiguity and arbitrariness in the naming of communities and constructs in personality/social psychology ( Kelley, 1927 ). One increasingly important method, differential text analysis, may at least partially address this. Here, entities such as scholarly communities are treated as corpora (bodies of text), then compared to extract or interpret their meaning ( Green, Feinerer, & Burman, 2013 , 2014 ; Schwartz et al., 2013 ). Words which empirically differentiate between communities can, in a non-arbitrary way, help label their contents.

In this project I examine the structure of social/personality psychology empirically, using both a small sample of author-selected keywords of papers submitted to two conferences and a more extensive database of bibliographic couplings from papers published in the four most selective journals in the combined social/personality area. The project contributes a new integration of disparate methods for examining the structure of scholarly communities and a set of initial results for understanding the structure of social and personality psychologies.

Source data for the network analyses derive from two distinct sources, keywords and bibliometric data (citations). For both datasets, I examine the network structure of social/personality psychology and attempt to partition the field into discrete areas of study. In addition, in the bibliometric investigation I explore a more complex model which allows for communities to overlap, and I investigate the contents or meaning of these communities using differential language analysis.

Keywords in conference submissions

For the 2015 and 2016 annual conventions of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) , each of 4308 submissions of proposals for symposia and posters was required to include two keywords selected from a list of 43 terms (see Table 2 ). Using the open-source software package Gephi ( Bastian, Heymann, & Jacomy, 2009 ), I constructed an undirected network in which these keywords serve as nodes or vertices. Nodes are connected by an edge when they co-occur in at least one proposal. The weight of edges corresponds to the number of co-occurrences of the terms across the set of proposals.

SPSP keywords, by frequency of endorsement and network community.

Notes . N proposals = 4308, excluding six submissions in which the keyword “Special session” appeared. Duplicate keywords (e.g., Other, Other) were supplied for 18 proposals.

I identified communities in this network by using a Louvain algorithm which attempts to efficiently maximize modularity or discreteness ( Grauwin & Jensen, 2011 ); the method provides a complete and simple structure in which every observation is associated with one and only one community. Edge weights were included in the analysis, and the resolution value was set to 1.0 (the default). Because attempts to partition networks frequently lead to inconsistent results, this modularization was repeated ten separate times using different seed values ( Lancichinetti & Fortunato, 2012 ).

Bibliographic couplings in selected journals in 2014

By a substantial margin, the four most important journals which publish papers in both social and personality psychology (and which include both ‘social’ and ‘personality’ in their titles) are JPSP, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (PSPB), Personality and Social Psychology Review (PSPR), and Social and Personality Psychology Science (SPPS) ( Scimago lab, 2015 ). I analyzed the structure of all papers published in these four journals in a single year (2014), with several exceptions. Out of 375 papers, 9 were excluded as they were corrigenda, retractions, or editorial comments. Also excluded were 12 papers which were unavailable at the time of analysis; these appeared in the last 2014 issue of SPPS (i.e., issue 8) for which references had not been added to the PsycInfo database as of 6/10/15. This left 354 source papers, each of which was identified by the last name of the first author and a journal abbreviation. For JPSP , this included a section identifier, which I manually added to the APA data. Where more than one paper was published by the same set of authors in the same journal, papers were disambiguated using a sequence letter (a,b,c). The total number of cited references in these papers was 22,930, of which 5155 (22%) could not be used in the analysis as no DOI was available. Descriptive statistics for these journals and journal-sections are given in Table 3 .

Descriptive statistics for citation analyses.

This set of citations was analyzed using the open-source software Gephi to produce a bipartite network of 13212 nodes (354 source papers and 12858 cited references) connected by 17775 edges or links ( Bastian et al., 2009 ). Within Gephi, I used the Multi-Mode Network Projection plug-in to reduce this directed, bipartite ( paper - > reference < - paper ) citation network to an undirected, single-mode ( paper < - > paper ) structural network in which the weight of a link between any two papers reflects the percentage of references common to them ( Kuchar, 2013 ). This structural network is dense, comprising 8646 links or edges which link the average paper directly to 49 of the 353 remaining papers. The average distance between any two papers is less than 2, and the largest distance is only 5.

For this network, I examined two methods of community structure. First, as in the keyword study, I examined a top-down, simple, or discrete partitioning of the network using Gephi’s implementation of the Louvain algorithm. Second, to investigate a bottom-up, potentially overlapping complex community structure, I used the open-source software C-Finder ( Palla, Derenyi, Farkas, & Vicsek, 2005 ). Here, communities are defined as sets in which each member is linked to at least ( k-1 ) other members, and in which each link is greater than a weight threshold w. Because this technique retains only a subset of the network, and because most of the articles in the network were from the two lower-impact journals ( SPPS and PSPB ), edges between papers were weighted by Impact Factor in an effort to retain as many of the most important papers in the model. More formally, weights for edges were assessed as the sum of the standardized values for (a) percentage of shared references and (b) product of the Impact Factors of the journals for the two papers.

In addition to citation data, the text of each of these 354 papers were extracted from PDFs using ABBYY Finereader ( Abbyy, 2011 ). The tm package in R was used to prepare documents ( Feinerer & Hornik, 2015 ). Punctuation, words of fewer than three characters, and common stop words (e.g., the, of ) were excluded from the analysis, as were less relevant terms such as descriptions of the formal structure of papers ( abstract, conclusion ), near-universals ( behavior, condition, data ), and numbers ( one, four ). In addition, words were set to lowercase. Following this tokenizing, for each community in each of the two analyses, the text of all papers was combined into a single corpus, then compared to a baseline derived from all 354 of the papers under study. Finally, in addition to examining the network at the level of the individual paper, the network of links between journals or, in the case of JPSP , journal-sections, was also examined.

In the analysis of keywords, terms were used an average of 200 times, with Stereotyping/Prejudice (504, 12%), Close Relationships (496, 12%), and Emotion (483, 11%) each appearing in more than 10% of submissions. There was little evidence of redundancy in the keyword list. No term was directly linked to all others, but Stereotyping/Prejudice was directly connected to all but one ( Personality Development ). The strongest link between any two keywords was that between Stereotyping/Prejudice and Intergroup Relations , which co-occurred in 109 submissions.

Communities based on keywords

In this network, the average keyword was directly linked to most others (29.3, 70%) with the remaining 30% separated in the network by only one term. The strongest relationships in this network are represented in Figure 1 ; the network is restricted to only those keywords which were selected 200 or more times (above the mean for all terms), and to only co-occurrences or edge weights of 20 or more. Across ten analyses, results were largely consistent, with one exception: In seven of the ten analyses Self-Regulation and Motivation/Goals formed their own (yellow) cluster; in the remaining analyses, this was included in the broader (blue) cluster. Communities resembling Group Processes (green) and Social Cognition (red) could be identified, but Personality appeared only as part of a heterogeneous community which includes such keywords as Close Relationships and Emotions.

Figure 1 Network of keywords in SPSP conference submissions. Each submission to the conferences of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) includes two keywords; here, the co-occurrence of keywords is represented as a network. Node size corresponds to keyword frequency, node color to community, edge thickness to frequency of co-occurrence, and edge color reflects a blend of the keyword pair. Only the most frequently chosen keywords and the strongest links among them are shown (minimum degree = 200, minimum edge weight = 20).

Each submission to the conferences of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) includes two keywords; here, the co-occurrence of keywords is represented as a network. Node size corresponds to keyword frequency, node color to community, edge thickness to frequency of co-occurrence, and edge color reflects a blend of the keyword pair. Only the most frequently chosen keywords and the strongest links among them are shown (minimum degree = 200, minimum edge weight = 20).

Personality in the keyword space. In the network of SPSP submissions, personality does not emerge as a separate community, but is rather diffusely connected across the space. Overall, the two personality keywords appear in 16% of the proposals, and are disproportionately likely to be paired with Personality Development (32%) and Methods/Statistics (21%) . By way of contrast, these two keywords appear in only 3% of the proposals with Stereotypes/Prejudice , revealing a decline of interest in the intersection of these areas since early research on, for example, the California F-scale ( Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, & Sanford, 1950 ). This decline of interest in personality and prejudice is mirrored by an opposing trend for the keyword Motivation. A generation ago, research in motivation was waning ( Hilgard, 1987 ); today, the resurgence of the concept is apparent in its popularity in the present set of keywords (Table 2 ) as well as in its dense connections with concepts such as Self-Regulation, Emotion, and Close Relationships .

Communities based on bibliometric data

In the analysis of citation data, two separate approaches to communities were examined, i.e., a simple, comprehensive, top-down partitioning of the network, and a complex, selective bottom-up model in which communities are built up from cliques. The two models provide complementary perspectives on community structure.

A simple community model. As in the keyword study, a Louvain partitioning of the network was run ten separate times using different seed values. These led to the extraction of between seven and ten communities; here, a representative solution with eight communities is considered. In order to explore this solution further, I treated each community as its own network and, using Gephi, identified the most central or characteristic papers using Page Rank (a recursive measure of network centrality; Page, Brin, Motwani, & Winograd, 1999 ). I also examined the model using natural language analysis. Here, for each community, I combined the text of the individual papers into a single corpus; then, following Schwartz et al ( 2013 ), I extracted the set of terms whose Anscombe-adjusted proportion showed the greatest difference between the papers in that community and the baseline set of all documents. These characteristic papers and terms together provide a description of the content of the communities, and are summarized in Table 4 . Supplementary materials include a list of all community members (Table S1), a depiction of the network (Figure S1), and word clouds providing a more in-depth description of their characteristic language (Figure S2).

Simple community model: Characteristic features of communities.

Note . Community size = N papers . Most characteristic papers are those with the highest Page rank within each community. Most characteristic terms are those with which appear with the greatest relative frequency in this community compared to baseline of all communities. Titles for characteristic papers are partial; full references are provided in Supplementary materials.

A community of papers focused on Personality was the largest in the network, with 80 papers. The most characteristic terms were personality, life, children, wellbeing , and traits ; the most central papers were a study of cross-cultural study of self-enhancement/effacement ( Church et al, 2014 ) and a longitudinal study of neuroticism and life experiences ( Jeronimus et al, 2014 ), both of which appeared in JPSPp. More than one-half (25/45) of the papers in JPSPp are found in this Personality community (Table S1).

A similar degree of mapping between the source of papers and their communities in this model held for the other two JPSP sections: Roughly one-third of the papers in JPSPi (14/43) and JPSPa (9/30) appeared in the communities labeled Relationships and Thinking and Reasoning, respectively. Other communities in the model included Threat and Beliefs, Categorization and Aggression, Ideology and Character, Ostracism and Social Pain, Thinking and Reasoning, and Intergroup Anxiety.

A complex community model. Although the simple community model provides a clear and comprehensive analysis of the network, it provides only a limited account of community structure. It does not recognize relations between communities, and so cannot identify papers which might function as bridges between communities, or, at a higher level, communities which might themselves function as bridges between other regions of the personality-social space. Consequently, though a complex community model does not typically provide a comprehensive representation of the entire network, it can potentially serve as a valuable complement to a simple, top-down model.

To examine the complex structure of the personality-social citation network, I followed Palla et al.’s ( 2005 ) technique, extracting a solution which maximizes structure by examining only links above a “percolation threshold:” Here, each community consists of papers which are linked to at least seven others, with links restricted to the strongest half of those in the network. The eleven communities are further reduced to nine by consolidating two pairs of small communities which share more than half of their constituent papers. This results in a complex structure in which 176 papers are placed in one or more interlocking areas of scholarship. As in the simple community analysis, I present the most central (highest Page rank) and, on the basis of natural language analysis, the most characteristic terms for each of these communities in a Table (Table 5 ). The largest of these communities was a diffuse, omnibus group of 105 “Social” papers in which two papers on morality and responsibility were most central ( Frimer, Schaefer, & Oakes, 2014 ; Schumann & Dweck, 2014 ). As with the simple community model, complete lists of community members appear in Table S1.

Complex community model: Characteristic features of communities.

Two figures illustrate the utility of the complex model. Figure 2 illustrates relations between three communities. In it, a community of papers on self-regulation forms a bridge between communities of personality and attitudes/exclusion. Within these communities, a paper on regulatory focus in personality ( Manczak, Zapata-Gietl, & McAdams, 2014 ) forms a bridge between personality and self-regulation; the latter community is, in turn linked to attitudes/exclusion by a paper on aversion to impending or approaching stimuli ( Hsee, Tu, Lu & Ruan 2014 ).

Figure 2 Self-regulation as a bridge between personality and attitudes: Detail of relations among three communities in a complex model. Nodes represent individual papers (full references are provided in Supplementary materials). Papers are linked if their percentage of shared references is in the highest half of all pairs of papers in the network. Communities are defined as papers which are thus linked to at least seven other papers.

Nodes represent individual papers (full references are provided in Supplementary materials). Papers are linked if their percentage of shared references is in the highest half of all pairs of papers in the network. Communities are defined as papers which are thus linked to at least seven other papers.

In Figure 3 , an overview of relations between all eight communities in this complex model is provided. In this figure, the size of nodes corresponds to the number of papers in the communities, and the breadth of links indicates the number (percentage) of papers which they share. Here, the diffuse social community (c2) lies at the hub of the network, and is linked to each of the remaining communities. The left and upper regions of the network include three regions associated with attitudes and social cognition (c0, c5, and c6). The right and lower sides of the network is largely defined by an axis of papers in the interpersonal domain; here, a large community of scholarship in relationships (c3) is framed by smaller communities of papers in the areas of attraction/mating (c1) and interpersonal perception (c8). The seven papers which appear in two or more of these three communities all appear in JPSPi or in PSPR (Table S1). The nature of and links between the constituent communities of this complex model is further illustrated in supplementary Figures S3, S4, and S5.

Figure 3 Overview of relations among communities in a complex model. Node size is proportional to number of papers, edge thickness to number of shared papers between communities. Node placement is determined using a Force Atlas algorithm. Community numbers (c2) are for identification purposes only.

Node size is proportional to number of papers, edge thickness to number of shared papers between communities. Node placement is determined using a Force Atlas algorithm. Community numbers (c2) are for identification purposes only.

Relationships between journals

Relations between the journals (or, in the case of JPSP , journal-sections) are shown in Figure 4 . As is illustrated by the varying thicknesses of the edges in the figure, although all six journals are directly connected to each other, the weight of these links varies. JPSPi is central, both in its location in the network and in its node size, which reflects weighted degree or the average connectedness between papers in this section and all of those in the network. The loops surrounding each node reveal that the JPSPi and JPSPa sections are relatively homogeneous, that is, that papers in these journal-sections have a high tendency to cite other papers in the same section. Of the three JPSP sections, JPSPp is a relative outlier, as connections between it and all of the remaining journals and journal-sections are relatively tenuous.

Figure 4 Citation relationships among major journals in social/personality psychology in 2014 indicate the centrality of interpersonal processes to contemporary social-personality psychology. Edge thickness corresponds to the similarity of reference lists of papers in different journals. Loop thickness indicates similarity of papers within journals. Node size corresponds to weighted degree and is adjusted for Impact Factor. Node placement is determined using a Force Atlas algorithm.

Edge thickness corresponds to the similarity of reference lists of papers in different journals. Loop thickness indicates similarity of papers within journals. Node size corresponds to weighted degree and is adjusted for Impact Factor. Node placement is determined using a Force Atlas algorithm.

Like the proverbial elephant, the domain of personality and social psychology is best understood from multiple vantage points. History and tradition, with models such as the tripartite division of JPSP , provide one perspective. Self-report studies, including Tracy et al.’s ( 2009 ) survey, are another approach. That work illuminated the continuing importance of methodological differences in personality and social research orientations. The analysis of keywords in the first section of the present paper is likewise grounded in self-report data, and also provides insights, illuminating, for example, a surprising distance between research on personality and the study of prejudice and discrimination.

Though tradition and self-report data are valuable, bibliometric methods including network analysis have substantially greater value as tools for mapping scientific domains ( Börner et al., 2012 ; Boyack & Klavans, 2010 ). The primary contribution of the present study is in its application of these methods, as well as natural language analysis, to analyze the structure of personality and social psychology. Limitations of the work should be acknowledged: The method of text analysis used here is quite primitive, focusing on single rather than multiple words and manifest content rather than latent meaning (see, e.g., Dehghani et al., 2016 ). More importantly, the data on which these analyses are based focus on only a single year of scholarship. Nonetheless, these results, taken together provide insights into each of five component subareas of the field, and, in turn, to the degree of distinctiveness or overlap of personality and social psychologies.

In the keyword analysis, attitudes appeared together with social cognition. In each of the two community analyses of the bibliometric study, attitude research split into two distinct regions. In the simple model, communities of attitude research were defined by content, with political attitudes in one area (ideology/character, s3), and racial attitudes in another (categorization/aggression, s5). In the complex analysis, communities of scholarship in attitudes were distinguished on methodological grounds into direct (c6) and implicit approaches (c0). The distinctness of these regions, whether marked by content or method, suggests that “attitudes” is not a single coherent area of psychological inquiry , but is instead an umbrella concept which subsumes several relatively narrow and densely connected themes.

Social cognition

As with attitudes, social cognition was multiply represented in the simple community model, with distinct communities including thinking/reasoning, threat/beliefs, and ideology/character (Table 4 ). In the complex community model, social cognition was diffusely represented throughout the network, appearing both in a cluster of papers concerned with academics, identity, and will (c5) and in the diffuse core (c2). In contrast to the study of attitudes, research in social cognition appears broad but thinly connected. The heterogeneity of research in social cognition is consistent with the continuing importance of “microtheories” in this area of social psychology.

Interpersonal relationships

In the keyword study, the term close relationships appeared together with personality, emotion, and other terms in a single large community. In the main study, a more articulated picture of interpersonal relations was seen. Differential language analyses of both the simple (s6) and complex community structures reveal that dyadic romantic relationships lie at the core of this scholarship in this area. The interpersonal domain includes a large number of papers distinguished by warmth and quotidian comfort (c3; satisfaction, close, attachment ) and a smaller area which appears more emotionally fraught (c1; anxiety and pain as well as romantic, attraction, mate, and physical ); these communities roughly reflect the evolutionary imperatives of companionship and sex, respectively. The distinguishing papers in the third community in this area appear to deal with aspects of interpersonal behavior outside of the sphere or spheres of love and sex, including interpersonal perception (c8). Taken together, these community analyses suggest that interpersonal relations are central not just to the meaning of social/personality psychology, and not just to the physical arrangement of JPSP sections, but also to the structure of scholarship in the field (Figures 3 , 4 , and Supplementary materials).

Group processes

Group processes appeared as a distinct and coherent community in the keyword analysis and was well-represented in the simple community analysis. The central papers and characteristic terms of one community, Ostracism and Social Pain (s1), suggest that it may function as a bridge between the interpersonal and group domains: Papers in this community overlap with those in relationships (c3), but in the language analysis it is distinguished by terms expressly associated with groups (e.g., group, collective, others, belonging ). Terms associated with groups were also characteristic of two other communities in the simple analysis, Intergroup Anxiety (s0) and Categorization/Aggression (s5; see Figure 3 ). In the complex community model, however, group processes were relatively poorly represented: Only one of the thirteen papers in Intergroup Anxiety and 12 of the 46 in Categorization/Aggression were retained in the more restricted model. The poor representation of group processes in the complex model suggests that scholarship in the area is less densely connected than that for other areas of social and personality psychology.

Personality

Four distinct results bear on the nature and position of personality in the social-personality network. First, in the analysis of keywords, Personality Processes/Traits or Individual Differences were paired with all but one of the remaining terms, but “personality” did not emerge as a discrete community. Second, personality was the largest community in the simple bibliometric analysis. Third, personality was among the smaller communities in the complex biblometric analysis. Fourth, there was a lower weight for the self-loop in the journal analysis (i.e., the proportion of within-journal citations) for JPSPp than for the other two JPSP sections (see Figure 4 ).

Taken together, these results reveal that contemporary personality psychology constitutes a well-defined or much-cited core that is framed by a wide range of loosely-connected traits or constructs. Closer examination of these structures, including the word clouds in the supplementary materials, indicate that the core is the five-factor model, and that it is framed by other individual differences constructs ( empathy, religiosity ) as well as higher-order and metatheoretical concepts ( adjustment, development, health, individual, situation ). Perhaps more surprising, the language analysis did not support the hypothesis that personality psychology is primarily characterized by unique (correlational) methods: Neither the terms “correlation” nor “regression” (nor expansion of these stems) appear among the fifty most characteristic terms for the personality communities in either the simple or complex community models (cf., Tracy et al, 2009 ; see supplementary materials).

We are (not) one: Implications for the understanding of social and personality psychologies

Labels such as ‘social,’ ‘social/personality,’ and ‘personality’ should not be arbitrary. A re-evaluation of the relationship between social and personality psychology leads to six key considerations.

First, personality psychology is not central to social psychology . In contrast to, for example, interpersonal processes, the core of social psychology would be essentially unchanged without personality (Figure 3 ). Similarly, scholarship in JPSPp is less central to the combined field than that of the other two sections of the journal (Figure 4 ). As is witnessed in the table of contents of innumerable undergraduate texts, a map of social psychology can be drawn without personality psychology.

Second, personality psychology is vital , the largest single component in the simple community model (Table 4 ), and coherent, as described in the previous section.

Third, personality psychology is handicapped by its small size. Given the asymmetric character of social and personality psychologies, preferential attachment (the “Matthew effect”) suggests that the greater centrality or importance of social psychology within a social/personality network can be expected to grow over time. In light of this, it is not surprising that Baumeister ( 1999 ), in his analysis of relations between personality and social psychologies, noted that

In a sense, social psychologists have begun to “colonize” personality. The editorships and review boards of personality journals are increasingly staffed with people who are in some official sense social psychologists. The topic areas of personality psychology are studied by social psychologists. Social psychologists even teach many of the university courses in personality (p. 369).

Fourth, perceptions of the relationship between social and personality psychologies are distorted by intergroup dynamics . At an early presentation of this work, a prominent social psychologist asked me why it was that personality psychologists were so concerned about the status of their field. Only after some reflection did I appreciate that the answer lies, somewhat ironically, in the study of group dynamics: As social and personality psychologies are identities as well as institutions, members of the majority group of social psychologists are likely to be insensitive to the clamoring for autonomy for, and claims of uniqueness by, personality psychologists. Members of the minority group of personality psychologists are, in turn, likely to focus narrowly on differences rather than similarities, to remain protective of their identities, and to be skeptical of claims that they will be fairly represented within a single broader field that defines itself as social, or even social-personality, psychology. In short, social psychologists can be expected to underrecognize, and personality psychologists to overemphasize, differences between the two areas.

Fifth, important bridges exist between personality and social psychologies, providing support for a complex community model of the discipline . Although the personality-social fault line is the most important in the field, it is breached to greater or lesser degrees by many investigators, institutions, and areas of study (e.g., self-regulation in Figure 2 ; see also Tracy et al, 2009 ). Any simple model of academic community structure, including those which divide personality from developmental psychologies and, in turn, psychology from other natural and social sciences, distorts the map of science. Though the present complex model of disciplines is at best preliminary (Figure 3 ), it illustrates an approach that can ultimately present a more accurate model of the field.

Sixth, any empirical model of the field, no matter how well refined, can take one no further than providing an idealized version of the status quo ( Hume, 1739 ). An understanding of the territory of personality and social psychology is prerequisite to goals ranging from the construction of a representative curriculum to the optimal selection of reviewers and grant panelists. Ultimately, analyses of the structure of personality/social psychology have the potential to reveal a non-arbitrary set of core research topics, to uncover the nature of methodological and conceptual interrelationships between these and other areas, and, as this is a network of persons and institutions as well as concepts, to create intellectual capital by helping researchers identify potential new collaborators, and students appropriate graduate programs and post-docs. But despite this appeal, empiricism alone cannot define the terrain of the field, for it can provide only an idealization of the status quo. What social/personality psychology is, in short, is not necessarily what it should be.

Raw network data (edges and nodes) for both keyword and citation networks may be found at https://osf.io/evx4w/ .

Kevin Lanning is responsible for all of the work reported herein.

For the analysis of keywords, data were supplied by Nate Wambold, SPSP meetings and events director. For the bibliometric analysis, citation data were obtained from the office of publications and databases of the American Psychological Association with the assistance of Sami Taha Abu Snaineh. Portions of this paper have previously been presented at the Social Psychology Winter Conference (Park City, 2015), the SPSP Dynamical Systems Preconference (Long Beach, 2015), and the International Convention of Psychological Science (Amsterdam, 2015). The work was completed with the support of a sabbatical leave from Florida Atlantic University.

The author has no competing interests to declare.

The author(s) of this paper chose the Open Review option, and the peer review comments are available at: http://doi.org/10.1525/collabra.70.pr

Supplementary data

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/collabra.70.s1

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Alan J. Steinberg M.D.

  • Personality

Redefining Personality Theory in the Light of Modern Physics

Physics tells us the best version of ourselves exists, and we can get there..

Posted February 29, 2024 | Reviewed by Ray Parker

  • What Is Personality?
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  • The modern, scientific view of time challenges our traditional understanding.
  • Our best self exists in the universe's infinite possibilities; we don't have to create it, just find it.
  • Our best self is our enlightened self.
  • We can use a metaphor to understand our existence in this new view of time: the novel "The Midnight Library."

What Is Your Theory of the Person? By Gregg Henriques Ph.D.

Time is the soil from which personality grows. To grasp the essence of personality, we must delve into the nature of time. Modern physics reveals a concept of time so starkly different from traditional views that it necessitates an updated theory of who we are and our place in the cosmos. This blending of physics and psychology promises a clearer path to healing and self-optimization. Let's explore how the evolving scientific view of time leads to an enlightened understanding of ourselves.

A Brief History of the Concept of Time

In 1926, Albert Einstein challenged our conventional understanding of time, stating, "The separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one." [i] This radical proposition—that the past, present, and future coexist—has ignited ongoing debates in physics. With the accumulation of experimental evidence and theoretical frameworks, it has become evident that our common perception of time is fundamentally flawed. Science suggests that our brains and minds attribute qualities to our experience of time that do not inherently exist.

Beginning around 1928, the role of the observer in quantum mechanics gained prominence after the Copenhagen interpretation emerged from a series of discussions and conferences aimed at making sense of the perplexing experimental data. This interpretation posits that a particle exists in all possible states simultaneously until it is observed, at which point the wave function collapses to a single possibility.

However, the Copenhagen interpretation led to several paradoxes, such as the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment, which results in a cat that is simultaneously dead and alive until observed. These paradoxes prompted theorists to propose new theories to resolve these issues, significantly impacting the understanding of time in physics.

To address some of the paradoxes inherent in quantum mechanics, the many worlds Interpretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics, initially proposed by physicist Hugh Everett in 1957, has been developed. This interpretation has gradually gained acceptance among a growing number of theoretical physicists. Essentially, MWI suggests that all possible quantum outcomes actually occur, each manifesting in its own distinct universe. Wikipedia explains: "MWI. . . implies that all possible outcomes of quantum measurements are physically realized in some 'world' or universe. . . [It] implies that there are most likely an uncountably infinite number of universes . . . MWI views time as a many-branched tree. . . " [ii]

Completing our brief review of physics' evolving conception of time, we arrive at what can be considered to be the view of a significant percentage of current physicists, as summarized by Carlo Rovelli, a theoretical physicist, in his 2016 book Reality Is Not What It Seems :

“Change and time are illusions. The universe is a static, timeless ‘Platonia,’ filled with every possible Now, which we, as limited beings, perceive in a linear sequence.” [iii]

Such a concept of time challenges our limited perceptions. How can we conceptualize what science reveals about time in relation to our experience of the world and its implications for personality theory? Literature offers a unique lens through which we can begin to visualize and understand these complex ideas.

A Metaphor for Who and What We Are

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Matt Haig's 2020 best-selling novel, The Midnight Library , which draws inspiration from the MWI's concept of time, serves as an illustrative example. By integrating the novel's portrayal of time—in which each individual possesses an infinite library of books, each representing a different life path they could choose—with Rovelli's concept of time, we arrive at an accessible metaphor.

In this metaphor, every book symbolizes a different trajectory your life could, and did, take based on past choices and those yet to be made, as well as all possible events. Choosing a new book signifies a quantum divergence, where one version of you embarks on the life detailed within its pages, while other versions explore alternative paths. And another version of you continues perusing the stacks of books, looking for what you're looking for. Despite our perception of time as linear, this metaphor suggests that all these alternate realities coexist simultaneously, akin to an extensive library housing every possible narrative of your life at once.

essays on personality psychology

Viewing our lives from this timeless, changeless perspective suggests that each individual possesses their own unique, infinite library, exploring and having explored every potential version of their existence, including all possible pasts and futures. But here is where the scientific implications for personality theory get interesting.

Specifically, it prompts us to ponder the nature of the individual who navigates through this vast array of experiences. Who and what is that person with their unique infinite library of all their possible experiences? The simple answer to this question implies that each of us harbors a unique personality that spans all of its possible times and experiences. Our personalities are static and fixed, consistently with the same essence navigating through an infinite web of possibilities. However, this core personality accrues experiences, which, while not altering the personality itself, serve as a lens through which it views, perceives, and interacts with reality.

The Best Possible Version of Us Exists Now

What are the deeper implications of the idea that we are unique personalities living our lives moment to moment, linearly, yet from a broader perspective, have already experienced every possible experience? It implies that since an optimal version of ourselves is possible, it already exists. So, how can we envision this best possible version of ourselves?

I suggest that this ideal version is an enlightened one. As I have explored in previous posts, enlightenment is attainable and a verifiable state of body and mind. This outlook fosters optimism in personal development and personality theory, suggesting our enlightened selves—or the realization of our best selves—are not merely goals to achieve but pre-existing realities within the multiverse. The real task is aligning our current evolution with the path toward this optimal version, guided by our choices and actions.

Navigating Toward Our Best Possible Self

Integrating the modern concept of time from physics into personality theory invites us on a journey not to become something new but to aim toward the already existing, best version of ourselves. This viewpoint encourages us to reassess our approach to life. We aim to arrive at the enlightened existence we are already living—and have lived—in another dimension of reality.

[i] Letter to Max Born dated December 1926.

[ii] “Many-worlds Interpretation,” Wikipedia.com (accessed July 3, 2023).

[iii] Carlo Rovelli. Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity (New York: Riverhead Books): 2016, p. 17.

Alan J. Steinberg M.D.

Alan J. Steinberg, M.D. , is an Internal Medicine, primary-care physician practicing in Beverly Hills, California. His most recent book is To Be Enlightened , a novel.

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Essays About Psychology: Top 12 Examples and Prompts

Need a psychology research paper idea? Check out these provoking example essays about psychology to get your writing started.

Psychology is a broad field focusing on the mind and behavior. It’s also concerned with individuals’ consciousness and subconscious.  This branch of science has many subdivisions, such as developmental, social, forensic, and cognitive. Because it’s applicable in various fields, psychology is one of the most popular college courses in the US . 

If you are studying psychology in college, the odds are high that you will need to complete an essay or research paper at some point in your education.  Consider these twelve essay examples and eighteen prompts to get inspired and start writing your essay. 

For help with your essays, check out our round-up of the best essay checkers .

12 Example Essays About Psychology

1. the epidemic of mental illness: why by marcia angell, 2. is the internet making us crazy what the new research says by tony dukoupil, 3. the dark psychology of social networks by jonathan haidt and tobias rose-stockwell, 4. the benjamin franklin effect by david mcraney, 5. caring for your introvert by jonathan rauch, 6. the stanford prison experiment by dr. saul mcleod, 7. why your brain is not a computer by matthew cobb, 8. introduction to psychology by seema r, 9. meaning and definition of industrial psychology by shreyas kammar, 10. do not let negative feelings destroy our lives by anonymous on papersowl, 11. psychology. health behavior change & reflection coursework by anonymous on ivypanda, 12. fields of psychology by seema r, essay prompts about psychology, 1. what is antisocial personality disorder, and how is it treated, 2. the rise of schizophrenia or other serious mental disorders, 3. the role of media and video games in violent behavior, 4. the main factors that impact problem-solving abilities in child development, 5. can serious physical illnesses cause post-traumatic stress disorder, 6. the impact of parenting styles on human development, 7. what stops panic attacks effectively, 8. what is causing the rise in anorexia among children, 9. do teenagers face anxiety in high school, 10. how does low self-confidence hurt athletes, 11. my favorite branch of psychology, 12. psychological disorders: definitions and treatments, 13. how do religious beliefs affect someone’s behavior, 14. analyzation of a psychology theory or experiment, 15. the different careers in psychology, 16. do family relationships affect a child’s behavioral development, 17. effects of racism , 18. a historical figure in psychology.

“It seems that Americans are in the midst of a raging epidemic of mental illness, at least as judged by the increase in the numbers treated for it. The tally of those who are so disabled by mental disorders that they qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) increased nearly two and a half times between 1987 and 2007—from one in 184 Americans to one in seventy-six. The rise is even more startling for children—a thirty-five-fold increase in the same two decades.”

Angell describes the realities behind mental illness statistics. She then explores why problems like anxiety disorders, depression, and similar issues are rising. Finally, she proposes that they are possibly being diagnosed more frequently than before, more so than becoming more prevalent. You might find our list of books on psychology for beginners helpful.

“The first good, peer-reviewed research is emerging, and the picture is much gloomier than the trumpet blasts of Web utopians have allowed. The current incarnation of the Internet—portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive—may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic. Our digitized minds can scan like those of drug addicts, and normal people are breaking down in sad and seemingly new ways.”

In this essay, Dukoupil points out the mental health concerns of constant exposure to social media and other technology. He explores new research into the abnormal psychology disorders this exposure is creating.

“The problem may not be connectivity itself but rather the way social media turns so much communication into a public performance. We often think of communication as a two-way street. Intimacy builds as partners take turns, laugh at each other’s jokes, and make reciprocal disclosures. What happens, though, when grandstands are erected along both sides of that street and then filled with friends, acquaintances, rivals, and strangers, all passing judgment and offering commentary?”

Social media has a dark side, which is what Haidt and Rose-Stockwell explore in this essay. What started as a positive way to build social connections has turned into a public facade that pushes people toward mental health issues. You might also be interested in these essays about sociology .

“The Misconception: You do nice things for the people you like and bad things to the people you hate. The Truth: You grow to like people for whom you do nice things and hate people you harm. Benjamin Franklin knew how to deal with haters.”

In this social psychology essay, McRaney explores how Benjamin Franklin’s people skills created a psychological phenomenon known as the Benjamin Franklin Effect. This theory says that a person who has done someone a favor is more likely to do that person another favor than they would be had they received a favor . McRaney delves into the psychology behind this theory.

“My name is Jonathan, and I am an introvert. Oh, for years I denied it. After all, I have good social skills. I am not morose or misanthropic. Usually. I am far from shy. I love long conversations that explore intimate thoughts or passionate interests. But at last I have self-identified and come out to my friends and colleagues. In doing so, I have found myself liberated from any number of damaging misconceptions and stereotypes. Now I am here to tell you what you need to know in order to respond sensitively and supportively to your own introverted family members, friends, and colleagues.”

Rauch, a self-proclaimed introvert, explores what it means to be one and how people can best care for one. After reading this article, you will be well-equipped for any social interaction involving an introvert.

“The study may also lack population validity as the sample comprised US male students. The study’s findings cannot be applied to female prisons or those from other countries. For example, America is an individualist culture (were people are generally less conforming) and the results may be different in collectivist cultures (such as Asian countries).”

This informative essay talks about the Stanford Prison Experiment and how it impacted the field of psychology as a whole. McLeod also provides some critical evaluation of the study and its findings.

“There are indeed theoretical approaches to brain function, including to the most mysterious thing the human brain can do – produce consciousness. But none of these frameworks are widely accepted, for none has yet passed the decisive test of experimental investigation. It is possible that repeated calls for more theory may be a pious hope. It can be argued that there is no possible single theory of brain function, not even in a worm, because a brain is not a single thing. (Scientists even find it difficult to come up with a precise definition of what a brain is.).”

In this essay, Cobb takes on the ideology that the brain is nothing more than a complex computer. He looks at the current research and draws an opinion on how much more complex the human brain is than simply calling it a computer.

“Psychology is relatively a young science and yet within a brief span it has made tremendous progress. Psychology touches almost every facet of our lives. There is hardly any single aspect of human life where psychology has not made its contribution.”

Unlike most psychology introductions with a direct description and definition, this short essay shows the importance of the subject. Seema R makes this possible by talking about essential industries where psychology makes a unique contribution and how psychologists define behavior. Seema’s findings include behavior is a physical and mental process that helps people adapt to different situations in their environment.

 “It is the study of people at work. It deals with the aptitudes, attitudes, and interests of the people at work… It studies the varied methods of performing manual operations for the better utilisation and the least waste of efforts through human engineering.”

This essay aims to understand the importance of industrial psychology in handling human relations in the workplace. Kammar begins the piece by sharing psychology’s exact meaning and follows it with other definitions from prominent industrial psychology textbook authors. The author then concludes that industrial psychology is research done in a company to create ways to improve industrial workers’ efficiency.

“The World Health Organization has said that depression is a common illness worldwide, with more than 300 million affected… Negative feelings are harmful to our mental health and take away the ability to enjoy our lives.”

The author’s purpose for writing the essay is to let everyone know what and how to deal with negative feelings. In addition, it is to prevent these feelings from worsening and turning into depression. To strengthen the credibility of the essay, the author uses statistics from the World Health Organization and a popular movie related to the topic, “ I Have a Black Dog ” by Will Hutchinson.

“Being mindful of my health habits also enabled me to cultivate self-monitoring techniques and, more importantly, to make health-enhancing behavior. This approach worked because the energy and determination of behavior change came from deep within my heart.”

The essay differs from the examples in this list as it’s from the author’s own experience and how psychology played a role in their journey to becoming a better person.  The author shares their drive to improve and maintain healthy behaviors for a better, more active, happier life. The essay starts with the author sharing the cause and effect of their unhealthy habits, what methods they used, and the struggles they faced along the way. The writer also identifies what helped them the most to achieve a positive change in their behavior.

“Psychology is no longer a subject of academic interest taught in colleges and universities, but its impact has been felt in business, industry, clinics, guidance centers, and education. Psychologists do many things depending on their field of specialization” 

Psychology is a vast field of behavioral study that shows constant growth and development in its subfields. The work and method that the psychologist will use depend on what field they belong to. To help readers better understand the difference between prominent fields of psychology, Seema R writes an informative essay that defines and differentiates each area of specialization of the subject. You might also be interested in our round-up of the best Carl Jung books .

If you are looking for psychology essay topics, here are some prompts for inspiration.

If you are looking for informative essay topic ideas, you could build an exciting essay around defining and exploring treatments for antisocial personality disorder. This disorder, sometimes called sociopathy, causes the individual to ignore the needs and feelings of others and show no remorse for doing wrong. Many serial killers have this disorder, one of the most damaging psychological disorders. Your essay could explore causes and treatments.

Are severe mental disorders, like schizophrenia, on the rise? First, research this topic and then build an essay around it. You will find that rates of this mental disorder are on the rise. After doing the research, determine why this increase might be happening. Then, explore ideas for treatment that might help combat the issue.

Do violent video games and movies cause violent behavior? Do they hurt the development of a child’s psychological well-being enough that the child can commit atrocious crimes? The APA warns that it is a risk factor for aggressive behavior. Answering these questions in your essay could address an important social issue while helping you craft a topical piece, as this type of media is an integral part of modern society.

What factors support children in becoming problem solvers and improve their critical thinking skills? Some research indicates that the school setting is primarily the most impactful. Still, you will also find some research that says parents and familial upbringing play a significant role. After researching, decide what you feel is the most crucial factor. Then, build your paper around that thesis as you prove your choice. You can also provide practical advice to help teachers and parents better teach problem-solving to the children they impact.

Many people think of PTSD as affecting people who have been to war or suffered a traumatic accident or incident, but some research has found that chronic illness can lead to PTSD symptoms . You could build an essay around this, discussing why this is and how doctors could better serve patients by understanding the connection. With an understanding of the link between PTSD and chronic illness, doctors may be able to help their patients not only recover from physical diseases but also the psychological effects of those illnesses.

Parents come in all shapes and sizes, and all have distinct parenting styles. Explore how different parenting techniques impact a child’s development. You can choose a selection of well-researched parenting styles and compare the outcomes with regard to child development. You may also choose to compare your findings to your own upbringing.

A panic attack can stop you in your tracks and make normal functioning impossible. Knowing how to stop a panic attack is vital to protecting the health and well-being of the individual. Explore various ideas for controlling a panic attack and helping someone achieve a positive mental state, such as deep breathing, meditation, or even taking a walk. Discuss why these tactics work and how someone can remember to use them during an attack.

Over half of all teenage girls and a third of adolescent boys have an eating disorder, and most suffer from anorexia. Explore what factors make teens more likely to try to control their weight in this unhealthy manner. Is it our growing dependence on social media and the perfect body image it portrays, or is it a change in our biological makeup? The statistics surrounding teen eating disorders are clear and established, but the cause is not. Consider using your essay to explore the potential causes of this serious issue.

High school is a challenging time for teenagers growing into adults and facing increasing academic pressure, which can result in anxiety. According to the National Institutes of Health , one out of three teenagers will suffer an anxiety disorder. This statistic shows that teenagers do, in fact, face anxiety in high school. Your essay could explore why this is true, include strategies teachers could use to reduce stress and comment on the overall impact of this anxiety on developing adolescents.

Sports psychology can be interesting to explore. In one study , researchers found that athletes’ physical prowess helped their athletic ability between 45% and 48%, while psychological health increased their ability by 79% to 85%. Based on statistics like this, create an essay that explores the impact of self-confidence on performance. 

Psychology has many branches. Choose what interests you the most and tell your readers why you find the field interesting. You can also include how the field’s lessons can be applied in everyday life. Always remember to have a good structure and do proper research to understand the topic and clearly explain it to your readers.

Personality, anxiety, PTSD, and depression are the most common psychological disorders many individuals experience. Writing an essay about these conditions is an excellent way to show how psychology helps people overcome their disorders. In using this prompt, add relevant information such as signs one is suffering from the condition or how to support someone with the illness. If you choose depression as a topic, see our guide on how to write essays about depression.

Beliefs have a significant impact on a person’s behavior. Use this prompt to give your perspective or share your experience on how an individual’s religious beliefs can affect how they think and shape the way they live. In addition, you can delve into the psychological impacts of religion and discuss whether it helps or hinders a person’s mental well-being.

Writing an essay about theories and experiments in psychology is challenging. For this prompt, you will not only choose a popular psychology theory to write about, such as “ Piaget’s Theory of Development ” or the “ Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development ,” but also experiments conducted worldwide to discover how the brain works and why psychological disorders exist. Consider commenting on how well the theory has been absorbed into our society and whether it remains credible.

Since psychology is a popular course, writing about different careers in psychology is an exciting topic. Include jobs such as a forensic psychologist, child psychologist, trauma counselor, or behavioral therapist. Use this prompt to write about a psychologist’s typical duties and responsibilities in a specific field. You can also add how much they earn and what other job opportunities become available through psychology. This topic can encourage your readers to pick a psychology career they want to pursue. 

Teenage pregnancy, rebellion, mental illness, and falling into bad habits are often the result of broken families and bad parenting. Use this prompt to show how vital a good family relationship is in a child’s development. You can add news, blogs, or interview someone willing to share their experiences to make your essay more credible.

Do you need topics on writing about family? Then, check out our 20 engaging essay topics about family.

Racism is a timely and controversial topic in social psychology. Use this prompt to show the effects of racism on an individual or country and add positive initiatives to reduce the violence it causes.

Essay writing tips : Add statistics and recent or popular news about racism to make your arguments reasonable and your essay credible.

Writing about a pertinent person in the history of psychology is one of the most straightforward but fascinating prompts. You should gather the person’s biography and professional history as well as their theories and influence on the subject. Consider famous individuals like Harry Harlow, Sigmund Freud, and other renowned psychologists of which the general public is already aware.

If you are interested in learning more, check out our essay writing tips!

Psychology Discussion

Personality: short essay on personality.

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Short Essay on Personality!

In daily life the term personality is very freely used by people with different meanings. Some people refer to the physical appearance like height, weight, colour, body built, dress, voice, etc. Some other people refer to intellectual qualities like intelligence, activeness, way of speech, thinking and reasoning abilities, etc.

It is also referred to social characteristics like sociability, generosity, kindness, reservedness, etc. On the basis of these characteristics they judge people as strong or weak personalities, good and bad personalities, etc.

In this way we all make personality judgments about the people we know. A major part of coming to understand ourselves is developing a sense of what our personality characteristics are. We even form impressions about personalities of people we do not know, but have only read about. As we shall see, these everyday uses of the term are quite different from the meaning psychologists give to the term personality.

The term personality has been derived from a Latin word ‘persona’- means ‘mask’. In olden days, while playing dramas, in order to give good effects to the roles played by them, the Greek actors used to wear masks.

The psychologists continue to use the term personality to indicate that, the real or inner qualities of a person will be different from, that of the qualities seen apparently. Hence, defining and understanding the personality is not very easy as it appears. It is very difficult to define personality in a precise way. Different psychologists have defined personality in their own ways. Two comprehensive definitions widely accepted are quoted here under:

GW Allport defines that, ‘personality is the dynamic organisation, within the individual of those psychological systems that determine his unique adjustment to his environment’.

According to this definition the different psychological traits which determine the adjustment of the individual are organised into a dynamic (changeable or modifiable) unit. So there will be flexible adjustment with the environment.

Eysenck defines that, “personality is the more or less stable and enduring organisation of a person’s character, temperament, intellect and physique which determines his unique adjustment to the environment.”

Most of the definitions of personality have tried to Consider the totality of the person, that means, all the abilities, tendencies and other characteristics, both inherent as well as acquired, which are more or less consistent, and distinguishable from the people are included in the personality.

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50+ Research Topics for Psychology Papers

How to Find Psychology Research Topics for Your Student Paper

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

essays on personality psychology

Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

essays on personality psychology

  • Specific Branches of Psychology
  • Topics Involving a Disorder or Type of Therapy
  • Human Cognition
  • Human Development
  • Critique of Publications
  • Famous Experiments
  • Historical Figures
  • Specific Careers
  • Case Studies
  • Literature Reviews
  • Your Own Study/Experiment

Are you searching for a great topic for your psychology paper ? Sometimes it seems like coming up with topics of psychology research is more challenging than the actual research and writing. Fortunately, there are plenty of great places to find inspiration and the following list contains just a few ideas to help get you started.

Finding a solid topic is one of the most important steps when writing any type of paper. It can be particularly important when you are writing a psychology research paper or essay. Psychology is such a broad topic, so you want to find a topic that allows you to adequately cover the subject without becoming overwhelmed with information.

In some cases, such as in a general psychology class, you might have the option to select any topic from within psychology's broad reach. Other instances, such as in an  abnormal psychology  course, might require you to write your paper on a specific subject such as a psychological disorder.

As you begin your search for a topic for your psychology paper, it is first important to consider the guidelines established by your instructor.

Research Topics Within Specific Branches of Psychology

The key to selecting a good topic for your psychology paper is to select something that is narrow enough to allow you to really focus on the subject, but not so narrow that it is difficult to find sources or information to write about.

One approach is to narrow your focus down to a subject within a specific branch of psychology. For example, you might start by deciding that you want to write a paper on some sort of social psychology topic. Next, you might narrow your focus down to how persuasion can be used to influence behavior .

Other social psychology topics you might consider include:

  • Prejudice and discrimination (i.e., homophobia, sexism, racism)
  • Social cognition
  • Person perception
  • Social control and cults
  • Persuasion, propaganda, and marketing
  • Attraction, romance, and love
  • Nonverbal communication
  • Prosocial behavior

Psychology Research Topics Involving a Disorder or Type of Therapy

Exploring a psychological disorder or a specific treatment modality can also be a good topic for a psychology paper. Some potential abnormal psychology topics include specific psychological disorders or particular treatment modalities, including:

  • Eating disorders
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Seasonal affective disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Profile a  type of therapy  (i.e., cognitive-behavioral therapy, group therapy, psychoanalytic therapy)

Topics of Psychology Research Related to Human Cognition

Some of the possible topics you might explore in this area include thinking, language, intelligence, and decision-making. Other ideas might include:

  • False memories
  • Speech disorders
  • Problem-solving

Topics of Psychology Research Related to Human Development

In this area, you might opt to focus on issues pertinent to  early childhood  such as language development, social learning, or childhood attachment or you might instead opt to concentrate on issues that affect older adults such as dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

Some other topics you might consider include:

  • Language acquisition
  • Media violence and children
  • Learning disabilities
  • Gender roles
  • Child abuse
  • Prenatal development
  • Parenting styles
  • Aspects of the aging process

Do a Critique of Publications Involving Psychology Research Topics

One option is to consider writing a critique paper of a published psychology book or academic journal article. For example, you might write a critical analysis of Sigmund Freud's Interpretation of Dreams or you might evaluate a more recent book such as Philip Zimbardo's  The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil .

Professional and academic journals are also great places to find materials for a critique paper. Browse through the collection at your university library to find titles devoted to the subject that you are most interested in, then look through recent articles until you find one that grabs your attention.

Topics of Psychology Research Related to Famous Experiments

There have been many fascinating and groundbreaking experiments throughout the history of psychology, providing ample material for students looking for an interesting term paper topic. In your paper, you might choose to summarize the experiment, analyze the ethics of the research, or evaluate the implications of the study. Possible experiments that you might consider include:

  • The Milgram Obedience Experiment
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment
  • The Little Albert Experiment
  • Pavlov's Conditioning Experiments
  • The Asch Conformity Experiment
  • Harlow's Rhesus Monkey Experiments

Topics of Psychology Research About Historical Figures

One of the simplest ways to find a great topic is to choose an interesting person in the  history of psychology  and write a paper about them. Your paper might focus on many different elements of the individual's life, such as their biography, professional history, theories, or influence on psychology.

While this type of paper may be historical in nature, there is no need for this assignment to be dry or boring. Psychology is full of fascinating figures rife with intriguing stories and anecdotes. Consider such famous individuals as Sigmund Freud, B.F. Skinner, Harry Harlow, or one of the many other  eminent psychologists .

Psychology Research Topics About a Specific Career

​Another possible topic, depending on the course in which you are enrolled, is to write about specific career paths within the  field of psychology . This type of paper is especially appropriate if you are exploring different subtopics or considering which area interests you the most.

In your paper, you might opt to explore the typical duties of a psychologist, how much people working in these fields typically earn, and the different employment options that are available.

Topics of Psychology Research Involving Case Studies

One potentially interesting idea is to write a  psychology case study  of a particular individual or group of people. In this type of paper, you will provide an in-depth analysis of your subject, including a thorough biography.

Generally, you will also assess the person, often using a major psychological theory such as  Piaget's stages of cognitive development  or  Erikson's eight-stage theory of human development . It is also important to note that your paper doesn't necessarily have to be about someone you know personally.

In fact, many professors encourage students to write case studies on historical figures or fictional characters from books, television programs, or films.

Psychology Research Topics Involving Literature Reviews

Another possibility that would work well for a number of psychology courses is to do a literature review of a specific topic within psychology. A literature review involves finding a variety of sources on a particular subject, then summarizing and reporting on what these sources have to say about the topic.

Literature reviews are generally found in the  introduction  of journal articles and other  psychology papers , but this type of analysis also works well for a full-scale psychology term paper.

Topics of Psychology Research Based on Your Own Study or Experiment

Many psychology courses require students to design an actual psychological study or perform some type of experiment. In some cases, students simply devise the study and then imagine the possible results that might occur. In other situations, you may actually have the opportunity to collect data, analyze your findings, and write up your results.

Finding a topic for your study can be difficult, but there are plenty of great ways to come up with intriguing ideas. Start by considering your own interests as well as subjects you have studied in the past.

Online sources, newspaper articles, books , journal articles, and even your own class textbook are all great places to start searching for topics for your experiments and psychology term papers. Before you begin, learn more about  how to conduct a psychology experiment .

What This Means For You

After looking at this brief list of possible topics for psychology papers, it is easy to see that psychology is a very broad and diverse subject. While this variety makes it possible to find a topic that really catches your interest, it can sometimes make it very difficult for some students to select a good topic.

If you are still stumped by your assignment, ask your instructor for suggestions and consider a few from this list for inspiration.

  • Hockenbury, SE & Nolan, SA. Psychology. New York: Worth Publishers; 2014.
  • Santrock, JW. A Topical Approach to Lifespan Development. New York: McGraw-Hill Education; 2016.

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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  1. Psychology of Personality

    We will write a custom essay on your topic. In this regard, various theorists, psychologists and psycho-socialists, as well as psychoanalysts have proposed several theories that they feel describe human behavior and personality. These theorists include Freud, Fromm, Erickson, Bandura, Skinner, Allport, and Rogers, among others. The theories ...

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    Social Psychology and Personality: Lessons Learnt. Conformity can help one understand why it is expected in society not to be different and align one's interests with those of the public. Psychology and Personality: The Main Theories. Freud proposed that the consciousness is divided into three elements known as the id, ego, and superego and ...

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    Psychodynamic theories include Sigmund Freud's psychosexual stage theory and Erik Erikson's stages of psychosocial development. Freud believed the three components of personality were the id, ego, and superego. The id is responsible for needs and urges, while the superego regulates ideals and morals.

  8. Personality: Definition, Theories, Traits, & Types

    Type theories suggest that there are a limited number of personality types that are related to biological influences. One theory suggests there are four types of personality. They are: Type A: Perfectionist, impatient, competitive, work-obsessed, achievement-oriented, aggressive, stressed. Type B: Low stress, even- tempered, flexible, creative ...

  9. Personality

    Personality. Personality refers to the enduring characteristics and behavior that comprise a person's unique adjustment to life, including major traits, interests, drives, values, self-concept, abilities, and emotional patterns. Various theories explain the structure and development of personality in different ways, but all agree that ...

  10. The process and mechanisms of personality change

    In the absence of intentional or conscious efforts to change some aspect of oneself, external factors and cues become a major part of the change process. Irrespective of the motivation, intention ...

  11. Theories of Personality: Hans Eysenck, Cattell & Allport

    Eysenck's Personality Theory. Eysenck (1952, 1967, 1982) proposed a theory of personality based on biological factors, arguing that individuals inherit a type of nervous system that affects their ability to learn and adapt to the environment. During the 1940s, Eysenck was working at the Maudsley psychiatric hospital in London.

  12. Personality Psychology Essays (Examples)

    Personality Psychology Character: Patrick aterman- 'American Psycho' A unique concept of personality theories is generated in American Psycho. This character has been cross examined through the principles of psychoanalytic theory. There character exhibits a super ego driven by skewed moral patterns and an id (self-perception) that lets out all the deeply held fantasies of which it has been ...

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    From eccentric and introverted to boisterous and bold, the human personality is a complex and colorful thing. Personality refers to a person's distinctive patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving.

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    Schultz, D. P., & Schultz, S. E. (2016). Theories of personality. Cengage Learning. This essay, "Personality Psychology Overview" is published exclusively on IvyPanda's free essay examples database. You can use it for research and reference purposes to write your own paper. However, you must cite it accordingly . Donate a paper.

  15. Theories of Personality

    The structural theory of personality assembles personality into 3 systems; the id, ego and superego. The balance of these 3 structures results in one's personality. The id, which is in the unconscious mind, is the instinctive and primitive component of personality. Life instincts (Eros) and death instincts (Thanatos) are the basic instincts ...

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  17. Psychology Questions About Personality

    List of Personality Topics. You can also come up with questions about your own about different topics in personality psychology. Some that you might explore include: Big 5 personality traits. The id, ego, and superego. Psychosocial development. Hierarchy of needs. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Personality disorders.

  18. Personality Psychology

    In particular, personality psychology has a prescribed set of four responsibilities that it implicitly or explicitly tackles as a field: ( a) describing what personality is-i.e., what the units of analysis in the field are; ( b) documenting how it develops; ( c) explaining the processes of personality and why they affect functioning; and ( d ...

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    To grasp the essence of personality, we must delve into the nature of time. Modern physics reveals a concept of time so starkly different from traditional views that it necessitates an updated ...

  22. Essays About Psychology: Top 12 Examples And Prompts

    In this essay, Dukoupil points out the mental health concerns of constant exposure to social media and other technology. He explores new research into the abnormal psychology disorders this exposure is creating. 3. The Dark Psychology of Social Networks by Jonathan Haidt and Tobias Rose-Stockwell.

  23. Personality: Short Essay on Personality

    ADVERTISEMENTS: Short Essay on Personality! In daily life the term personality is very freely used by people with different meanings. Some people refer to the physical appearance like height, weight, colour, body built, dress, voice, etc. Some other people refer to intellectual qualities like intelligence, activeness, way of speech, thinking and reasoning abilities, etc. ADVERTISEMENTS: […]

  24. English Essay (Business

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  25. 50+ Research Topics for Psychology Papers

    Topics of Psychology Research Related to Human Cognition. Some of the possible topics you might explore in this area include thinking, language, intelligence, and decision-making. Other ideas might include: Dreams. False memories. Attention. Perception.