The 4 Major Personality Perspectives

The study of personality is one of the major topics of interest in psychology. Numerous personality theories exist and most of the major ones fall into one of four major perspectives. Each of these perspectives on personality attempts to describe different patterns in personality, including how these patterns form and how people differ on an individual level.

Learn more about the four major perspectives of personality, the theorist associated with each theory, and the core ideas that are central to each perspective.

The four major personality perspectives
 Illustration by JR Bee, Verywell

Psychoanalytic Perspective

The psychoanalytic perspective of personality emphasizes the importance of early childhood experiences and the unconscious mind. This perspective on personality was created by psychiatrist Sigmund Freud who believed that things hidden in the unconscious could be revealed in a number of different ways, including through dreams, free association, and slips of the tongue.

Neo-Freudian theorists, including Erik Erikson, Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, and Karen Horney, believed in the importance of the unconscious but disagreed with other aspects of Freud's theories.

Major Theorists

Below are the most prominent psychoanalytic perspective theorists:

  • Sigmund Freud: Stressed the importance of early childhood events, the influence of the unconscious, and sexual instincts in the development and formation of personality.
  • Erik Erikson: Emphasized the social elements of personality development, the identity crisis, and how personality is shaped over the course of the entire lifespan.
  • Carl Jung: Focused on concepts such as the collective unconscious, archetypes, and psychological types.
  • Alfred Adler: Believed the core motive behind personality involves striving for superiority, or the desire to overcome challenges and move closer toward self-realization. This desire to achieve superiority stems from underlying feelings of inferiority that Adler believed were universal.
  • Karen Horney: Focused on the need to overcome basic anxiety, the sense of being isolated and alone in the world. She emphasized the societal and cultural factors that also play a role in personality, including the importance of the parent-child relationship.

Humanistic Perspective

The humanistic perspective of personality focuses on psychological growth, free will, and personal awareness. It takes a more positive outlook on human nature and is centered on how each person can achieve their individual potential.

Major Theorists

The following are the most influential humanistic perspective theorists:

  • Carl Rogers: Believed in the inherent goodness of people and emphasized the importance of free will and psychological growth. He suggested that the actualizing tendency is the driving force behind human behavior.
  • Abraham Maslow: Suggested that people are motivated by a hierarchy of needs. The most basic needs are centered on things necessary for life such as food and water, but as people move up the hierarchy these needs become centered on things such as esteem and self-actualization.

Trait Perspective

The trait perspective of personality is centered on identifying, describing, and measuring the specific traits that make up human personality. By understanding these traits, researchers believe they can better comprehend the differences between individuals.

Major Theorists

Below are the most important trait perspective theorists:

  • Hans Eysenck: Suggested that there are three dimensions of personality: 1) extraversion-introversion, 2) emotional stability-neuroticism, and 3) psychoticism.
  • Raymond Cattell: Identified 16 personality traits that he believed could be utilized to understand and measure individual differences in personality.
  • Robert McCrae and Paul Costa: Introduced the big five theory, which identifies five key dimensions of personality: 1) extraversion, 2) neuroticism, 3) openness to experience, 4) conscientiousness, and 5) agreeableness.

Social Cognitive Perspective

The social cognitive perspective of personality emphasizes the importance of observational learning, self-efficacy, situational influences, and cognitive processes.

Major Theorists

The main proponent of the social cognitive perspective is:

  • Albert Bandura: Emphasized the importance of social learning, or learning through observation. His theory emphasized the role of conscious thoughts including self-efficacy, or our own beliefs in our abilities.
11 Sources
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By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.