Theories of Personality

Theories of Personality

Personality psychology is the focus of some of the best known psychology theories by a number of famous thinkers including Sigmund Freud. Psychodynamic theories of personality are heavily influenced by the work of Sigmund Freud, and emphasize the influence of the unconscious mind.

Non-Freudian theories emphasize the importance of free will and individual experience in the development of personality. Behavioral theories suggest that personality is a result of interaction between the individual and the environment. According to this theory, personality is made up of a number of broad traits.

Psychoanalytic Theory

Freud’s psychoanalytic theory proposes that every individual’s personality is the result of childhood conflicts. These conflicts are derived from three fundamental components of Personality: Id, Ego and Superego.

According to the theory, the id (or libido) is the source of an individual’s strong basic drives and urges such as hunger, sex, Aggression and self-preservation. The id operates on what is called the ‘Pleasure principle’, that is, to seek immediate pleasure and avoid pain.

The id is entirely unconscious and not fully capable of dealing with objective reality. Many of its impulses are not acceptable to the Values of organised society. A newborn baby’s behaviour, for example, is governed totally by the id.

The ego is the individual’s conscious control. It comes into being because of the limitations of the id in dealing with the real world by developing individual’s capabilities of realistic thinking and ability to deal suitably with her/his environment.

Ego operates on what is called the ‘reality principle’. It is capable of postponing the gratification until that time when it will be suitably and effectively directed at attaining the goals of the id in a socially acceptable manner.

For example, rather than manifesting the need for aggression in an antisocial manner, a consumer can partially satisfy this need by purchasing a powerful motorcycle. The ego is the individual’s self-concept.

It operates in the unconscious and often represses certain behavior that would otherwise occur based on the id, which could disrupt the social system.

According to Freud, the ego manages the conflicting demands of the id and the superego. This usually results in realistic compromises between very basic strivings and socially acceptable behavior. These compromises are believed to be occurring at an unconscious level.

Freudian Psychology says that quite a sizeable part of human behavior is unconsciously motivated. The way the child manages these conflicts, especially the sexual conflicts, determines the adult Personality.

Unresolved conflicts in childhood result in ‘defense mechanisms’, which are said to be unconsciously determined tension reducing strategies used by the ego.

Neo-Freudian Theory

Freud’s understanding of Personality focused mainly on observations of emotionally disturbed people. A number of Freud’s foremost disciples, particularly Carl Jung and Alfred Adler, disagreed with his view of personality.

They believed that social and cultural variables, rather than biological drives, are more important in the development of an individual’s personality.

They also believed that insights into personality development should also be based on normal persons’ functioning in their environment and not by focusing on the Observation of emotionally disturbed people alone.

These social theorists also referred to as the neo-Freudian school, viewed individuals as striving to win over feelings of inferiority and searching for ways to gain love, security, and relationships.

They emphasized that childhood experiences in relating to others produce feelings of inferiority, insecurity, and lack of love. Such feelings motivate people to make themselves perfect and devise methods to cope with anxieties resulting from feelings of inferiority.

Carl Jung believed that an individual’s culture created an accumulation of shared memories from the past such as caring and nurturing females, heroes, and old wise men. He called these shared memories ‘archetypes’.

It is not unusual to see such Archetypes in advertisements that strive to take advantage of positive shared meanings in a particular culture. For instance, a large number of ads show a caring mother, devoted housewife, heroes with macho Images, rishis, and a wise grandmother etc.

Jung identified a number of Personality types, such as sensing thinking, sensing-feeling, intuiting-thinking, intuitive-feeling, etc.

Sensing-thinking Personality

Individuals with this personality type make rational, objective decisions. They are logical and empirical in their approach, are inclined to be highly involved, have an Extensive Problem Solving orientation, weigh economic considerations, are price-sensitive, and avoid any risks.

They identify themselves with material objects or “things” and have short-term perspectives in making decisions.

Sensing-feeling Personality

They are moved by personal Values rather than logic and believe in personal experience. They follow a “subjective” orientation in making decisions, are inclined to consider others when making a decision and share risks. They are status-conscious and have short-term perspectives in decision-making.

Intuiting-thinking Personality

Such individuals take a broad view of their own situation and the world. Though they heavily rely on imagination and consider a wider range of options, yet use logic in making decisions. Such individuals are not averse to taking risks while making decisions and their perspective in long term.

Intuiting-feeling Personality

Their view of personal situations or the world is broad. They use imagination in considering a wide range of options in making a decision, are quite likely to consider others’ views, and show the least sensitivity towards prices. They are also inclined to seek novelty and take risks and their time horizon is indefinite in making decisions.

Alfred Adler took a separate direction. He was the foremost proponent of social orientation in the development of Personality. Instead of emphasizing the importance of sexual conflicts like Freud or the culturally shared meaning of Jung, he focused on the importance of an individual’s striving for obtaining superiority in a social context.

Alfred Adler viewed human beings as striving to attain various rational goals, which he referred to as a style of life. He also stressed that children develop feelings of inferiority and as adults, their foremost goal is to win over these feelings; in other words, strive for superiority.

Another neo-Freudian psychologist, Harry Stack Sullivan, emphasized that human beings perpetually strive to establish significant and rewarding relationships that serve as the fundamental factor in Shaping up an individual’s personality.

He and Karen Horney (a neo-Freudian psychoanalyst) were particularly concerned with the individual’s efforts to reduce tensions, such as anxiety.

Trait Theory

These theories are relatively recent in origin and use very popular personality concepts to explain consumer behavior. The orientation, unlike previously discussed theories, is quantitative or empirical. J. P. Guilford describes a trait as any distinguishing and relatively enduring way in which one individual differs from another.

The concept is that traits are general and relatively stable characteristics of personality that influence behavioral tendencies. The concept can be summed up in three assumptions:

  • Behavioural tendencies in individuals are relatively stable.

  • A limited number of traits are common to most individuals. They differ only in the degree to which they have these tendencies.

  • These traits and their relative degree when identified and measured, are useful in characterizing individual personalities.

Trait theorists construct personality inventories (Personality Tests) and ask respondents to record their responses to many items. Respondents are asked to agree or disagree with certain statements as they please or express their likes or dislikes for certain situations or kinds of people. The responses are then statistically analyzed and reduced to a few personality dimensions.

R. B. Cattell isolated 171 traits but concluded that they were superficial and lacking in descriptive power. He sought a reduced set of traits that would identify underlying patterns and identified 16 Personality factors, which he called as a source or primary traits.

Personality Tests that measure just one trait (such as self-confidence, or innovativeness) are called single-trait Personality tests. Such tailormade tests are increasingly being developed for use in the study of consumer behavior.

Ronald E. Goldsmith and Charles F. Hofacker and also Marsha L Richins and Scott Dawson have reported that these tests are used to measure traits such as innovativeness, susceptibility to interpersonal influences and Materialism.

There are a number of standardized Personality tests and evaluative techniques available. This offers the advantage and convenience of using Trait Theory to study the relationship between Personality and behavior.

A large number of researchers have used these techniques and have met with various degrees of success in finding a relationship between consumers’ Personality and their behavior.

Self-concept Theory

Self-concept is the image that we have of ourselves. This image is formed in a number of ways but is particularly influenced by our interactions with important people in our lives.

Humanist psychologist Carl Rogers believed that there were three different parts of self-concept:

  • Self-image or how you see yourself. It is important to realize that self-image does not necessarily coincide with reality. People might have an inflated self-image and believe that they are better at things than they really are.

    Conversely, people are also prone to having negative self-images and perceiving or exaggerating flaws or weaknesses. For example, a teenage boy might believe that he is clumsy and socially awkward when he is really quite charming and likable.

    A teenage girl might believe that she is overweight when she is really quite thin. Each individual’s self-image is probably a mix of different aspects including physical characteristics, personality traits, and social roles.

  • Self-esteem or how much you value yourself. A number of different factors can impact self-esteem, including how we compare ourselves to others and how others respond to us. When people respond positively to our behavior, we are more likely to develop positive self-esteem.

    When we compare ourselves to others and find ourselves lacking, it can have a negative impact on our self-esteem.

  • Ideal self or how you wish you could be. In many cases, the way we see ourselves and how we would like to see ourselves do not quite match up.
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  • Jim Blythe, (2013), Consumer Behaviour, SAGE

  • Frank Kardes, Maria Cronley and Thomas Cline, (2014), Consumer Behaviour, Cengage Learning

  • Leon G. Schiffman, Leslie Lazar Kanuk, (2007), Consumer Behavior, Pearson Education

  • Dr. A Sarangapani, (2009), A Textbook on Rural Consumer Behaviour in India – A Study of FMCGs, Laxmi Publications Ltd.




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