Personality Development

John Hobbs's image for:
"Personality Development"
Image by: 

To compare different ideals of personality development' there will be a number of crucial factors which need to be analysed. This will include contrast of thought as well as likeness in ideas; ultimately the strengths and weaknesses of both types of theory will be critically examined. This will help build up in intricate detail a greater understanding into the different ideas of personality development and provide a solid base in which to evaluate methodically which type of theory holds the more concrete explanations with supporting empirical and anecdotal evidence. This will be achieved by analysing Freud's theory of personality development in great detail which will represent The Psychodynamic based models. The trait-Based theory which will be evaluated and used for comparison will be Eysenck's Big Three' approach.

This article will begin by introducing the prominent ideology within these two fields of research. To give an insight into general personality theory the consensus argues that like animals, humans are born with a set of instincts and motivations which form the basic ideals of our personality (Friedman & Schustack, 2006). This is particularly evident in the Freudian model (Psychodynamic) of personality development. The model proposed a theory of Psychosexual Development which was defined by five different stages.

For the purpose of this article and to prevent an over-descriptive view of the theory only the first two stages will be outlined and evaluated to give a general idea of Freudian concepts. Stage 1 (Oral Stage) occurred roughly between birth up until the age of one. During this period the Libido (Psychic Energy from the Id- structure of the mind containing our instincts and drives) is focused around the mouth as feeding becomes the primary source of pleasure. Thus when they are fed, they are in turn gratified. The crucial notion for this stage is the factor of dependency as gratification can only be met with the involvement of others; in most cases this is the mother. Moreover, through this interaction between the child and the caregiver, Freud proposed the child's libidinal energy is invested and their first attachment is formed.

In terms of personality the experience of this first attachment whether pleasant or unpleasant will have a direct affect on the child's relationships throughout their adult lives. Two types of personality types can develop as a result of overindulgence (Oral Receptive) or under-indulgence (Oral Aggressive) from the caregiver to the child. Although the measure between these two factors and normal development is overly-descriptive and speculative there is evidence that these two characteristics of personality can develop as a result of problems during this stage.

Evidence for this comes from a study conducted using 115 participants who were asked to complete a self-rating character questionnaire. The questionnaire assessed whether participants fell into the two Oral personalities that Freud devised. To be an Oral Optimist (Oral Receptive) the participant needed to have the following characteristics- Extraversion, Ambition and Sociability. Alternatively for an Oral Pessimist (Oral Aggressive) needed to have a different set of characteristics- Passive, Withdrawn and Verbally Aggressive. All of these characteristics were devised to conform to Freudian ideology which proposed that the element of trust in personality can be gained or lost during the Oral Stage. The mothers of all those identified by the questionnaire as an Oral Optimist confirmed that their son had been weaned after five months. For Oral Pessimists' it was confirmed that their son had been weaned before this period. This provides evidence for a definitive link between the model and the influence of the Oral Stage on personality. However, the research carried out is subjective as to how the answers were interpreted to identify different personality traits (Goldman-Eisler, 1948, cited in Harambulous & Rice, 2002).

Furthermore the second stage of Psychosexual Development is the Anal Stage. Freud argued that during this stage the baby begins to focus the sense of their pleasure on bowel movements. This usually occurs during eighteen months up until three years; during this time the child's parents start to emphasize the importance of toilet training. In this particular stage the main concept is the notion of Control' that the child has, in this instance, the control of their bowel movements. Some children during this stage are easily able to learn self-control over these movements thus forming a healthy aspect of their personality. Interaction between the parent and the child during toilet training is argued to be essential as conflicts can lead to fixations at this stage. An example of one of these problems would be if the parent fails to mediate properly the demands they set on their child; this can result in the child resisting these demands and to seek pleasure by actively holding in their faeces.

The primary motive behind this is so the child can gain an element of control over their parents. This type of interaction is said to cause an Anal Retentive' personality which involves being obsessively clean, orderly and miserly over their possessions. Alternatively, this same process can occur if the child reacts to parental demands by expressing pleasure through expulsion of their faeces causing the child to develop an Anal Expulsive' personality which is fundamentally the reverse of the Retentive Personality' (messy, extravagant and manic).

In reality these personality types are clearly evident when observing adults and there is supporting evidence for this formulation from a study using a questionnaire to assess participant's scores for an Anal Retentive' personality. Participants who scored highly on Anal Retentiveness were found to be very reluctant to put their hands into a brown substance resembling excrement (Rosenwald, 1972, cited in Harambulous & Rice, 2002). These findings indicate that people with this personality type suffer anxiety over faeces and therefore providing evidence of a link between toilet training during the Anal Stage and the development of certain personality traits. However, these findings may just be caused solely by their personality types i.e. the substance will most likely be interpreted as unclean and the anxiety more so caused by this interpretation and their personality traits rather than childhood past experience.

The following stages of Freud's theory are the Phallic Stage, the Latency Stage (Defence Mechanisms i.e. these mechanisms including repression are used to prevent anxiety) and finally the genital stage. Typically, by the age of eighteen the Psychosexual Stages will be completed and depending on how the child reacts to their experiences and interactions during these stages, this will determine whether the child has a healthy personality as an adult. To review Freud's Psychodynamic theory of personality development and compare it with an alternate trait-based theories we need to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the methodology used by Freud. The theory was revolutionary at the time as it emphasised the importance of the conflicts that making choices can cause. Moreover these conflicts can result anxiety. For example, we may gain pleasure from a' whilst also feeling guilty about not doing b' (Maltby, Day & Macaskill, 2007).

Moreover the model provides an explanation for a wide-range of phenomena which are still accepted today i.e. the importance of childhood experience in later life and the presence of drives which motivate our behaviour. There is a wealth of evidence to support this with the examples used above for the Oral and Anal stages of Psychosexual Development. Ultimately the detailed comprehensiveness this theory highlights its advantages over trait-based theories which concentrate exclusively on defining personality types rather than offer explanations for environmental causes of such characteristics. Moreover, Freud's concepts on abnormal behaviour have provided great awareness and a solid basis for developing the treatment for the mentally ill by attempting to help the patients understand the root cause of their illness in order to deal with their problem.

However, there are many criticisms and limitations of this model of personality development which is palpable when considering that even today there is a raging debate into how accurate these theories are and how relevant these ideas are in a modernist society. When comparing this theory with trait-based theories which be outlined shortly, there is a lack of a structured scientific approach to its research and explanations. Firstly, the reliability of Freud's methodology is questionable; he justifies all his theories on the observations he made from his patients who were mentally ill. When considering these aspects of his data collection it is evident that there is a bias sample used consisting of abnormal patients who will not present a clear picture of the population.

More importantly there are fundamental problems with his focus of ideas for the causes of personality development including the overemphasis ofchildhood and lack of accentuation on how the experiences of adulthood can alter our personality. Finally, although there is a detailed description of all his theories there is still an element of vagueness. When we consider some of his parameters in development i.e. in the Oral Stage there is no precise measurement between normal development and either Over-Indulgence or Under-indulgence. In this instance, this model is susceptible to false interpretation. For comparison with Freud's theory, I will be using Eysenck's Big Three' trait-based model. Unlike the Psychodynamic theory the emphasis is more down to our gene inheritance with the suggestion that most of our characteristics are already in place before we are born. This theory argues that people have Habitual' responses which are innate reactions to different situations. By making observations of people we can analyse their personality directly from how they act or react to different situations. For example, if a person has numerous opportunities to go out on a social occasion, but turns these opportunities down we can learn that they are most likely quiet and withdrawn (Introverted).

Furthermore there is a link between specific traits i.e. someone who is Sociable' will more likely be lively and dominant in interaction with others (Extroverted) than someone who is Unsociable' who reversely will likely possess different traits such as being quiet and recessive in social interaction. These collective traits are simply a branch of personality types of which Eysenck argued there were only three.

Firstly there is Extroversion (Introversion the reverse), this has been explained above. Then there is Neuroticism which branches out traits such as being anxious, shy and having a low self-esteem. Lastly the third personality type is Psychoticisism which includes collective traits such as being creative, impulsive and egocentric. Similarly to the Freudian model Eysenck believed that aspects of the personality are already present before we are born. To Freud these were innate drives and motivations but to Eysenck we are born with habitual responses which he emphasised to a larger extent had more influence to our personality than our experiences, contrary to Freud's proposed ideas of Psychosexual Development'. Were Freud succeeds; Eysenck fails to draw attention to the role our experiences have in developing and changing our personality throughout our lifetime but succeeds in explaining the role of our genetics in determining how we react in different situations.

There is a wealth of research evidence to support the idea of Personality traits which out into a collection of different characteristics. A study conducted by Eysenck himself translated his personality rating questionnaire into many different languages worldwide. The results of which were significant with over twenty-four different countries and a wide range of cultures all conforming to the Big Three' personality types. The fact that results were significant worldwide provides strong evidence that personality traits are to a large extent innate.

In conclusion, both types of theory have their own uses with their own particular strengths in the field of personality development. Freud's theory gives a comprehensive insight into the unconscious mind and the instincts which form out motivations. Furthermore it highlights the significance of childhood in determining of personality throughout our lives. This is significant as when we look back to who we were as a child; we can see our personality has developed over time.

However, there is too much emphasis on human beings being a blank slate' at birth when there is evidence to support Eysenck's opposing theory hard-wired habitual responses from cross-cultural studies which emphasise that personality is not absolutely determined by childhood experience. Ultimately, there is a wealth of research to support both theories but were one perspective fails the other one succeeds and vice versa. It is worth noting that alternate theories may be needed to provide a benchmark for research to the affects of adulthood experience on personality which is the primary limitation that both these theories share.

More about this author: John Hobbs

From Around the Web