The field of personality psychology has been established through the work of many insightful researchers and reformists.
From the dawn of bodily type models from Hippocrates to modern-day trait and aptitude theories, the frameworks of personality have undergone numerous changes—both theoretically and empirically.
These researchers have all made invaluable adjustments and suggestions to the ever-developing understanding of the study which plays at the cutting edge of science and philosophy.
Let’s begin our journey through the key personality psychology theorists who have significantly shaped the exciting, burgeoning field through and through!
Carl Jung (1875 – 1961)
“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”– Carl Jung
Considered one of the founding fathers of personality psychology, Jung was an eccentric psychologist who worked best alone and spent most of his childhood isolated and tinkering alone with personal projects.
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”– Carl Jung
Jung brought his theory of cognitive functions and types to light with the publishing of Psychological Types, originally written in German. He continued to build upon his personality theories after graduating from the University of Basel.
In 1912, he published Psychology of the Unconscious, and steered away from Freud’s explanations. Jung then proceeded to establish his concepts of archetypes, complexes, synchronicities, and the collective unconscious.
Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939)
“The conscious mind may be compared to a fountain playing in the sun and falling back into the great subterranean pool of subconscious from which it rises.”– Sigmund Freud
Freud’s libido-centric theories hold little modern-day research value, yet his work propelled a series of alternative views to reshape psychiatry and broaden the horizons of human behavior. He attended the University of Vienna, which he obtained his MD in.
His iceberg model of the id, ego, and superego began the conversation around conscious and unconscious behaviors. Freud also proposed a series of dream analyses guidelines to which he conducted his psychiatric practices with.
Anna Freud (1895 – 1982)
“We live trapped, between the churned-up and examined past—and a future that awaits for our work.”– Anna Freud
As the sixth (and youngest) daughter of Sigmund Freud, Anna continued in her father’s footsteps in psychoanalysis by frivolously looking into psychoanalytic child psychology. After undergoing several episodes of malaise, Anna voluntarily quit teaching to investigate dream analyses.
And so, her research paper Beating Fantasies and Daydreams was published in 1922, and presented to the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society. She then looked into how the ego affects anxiety and depression in a paper called The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense.
During her midlife period in London, Anna wrote her most distinguished and cited papers, one of them named About Losing and Being Lost. She proceeded to focus on child development in terms of distinct stages and object relations.
Erik Erikson (1902 – 1994)
“The sense of identity provides the ability to experience one’s self as something that has continuity and sameness, and to act accordingly.”– Erik Erikson
From the nine distinct stages of development to coining the now famous term “identity crisis”, Erikson was recruited by prestigious academic institutions such as Harvard and Yale despite his unusual absence of a bachelor’s degree.
Erikson began his journey in psychology through child psychoanalysis and later transitioned into teaching at medical schools. In 1950, he published Childhood and Society, a defining point of his career.
By then, he had established many viewpoints in ego psychology, which focused on the step-by-step progression of the highly individualistic self.
Alfred Adler (1870 – 1937)
“Every individual acts and suffers in accordance with his peculiar teleology, which has all the inevitability of fate, so long as he does not understand it.”– Alfred Adler
The concepts of the superiority and inferiority complexes so widely used in literature and character narratives today originate from Alder, who was an Austrian psychotherapist and doctor.
He referred to his work under the branch of individual psychology, whereby each being is seen as an individual whole.
Adler started off professionally as an ophthalmologist (eye disorder doctor), who transitioned to a general practitioner soon after. Freud soon invited Alder to join his at-home discussion group.
And so Mittwochsgesellschaff (direct translation: Wednesday Society”) took off—to which Alder proposed the aggressive and sexual drives being “two originally separate instincts which merge later on.”
Gordon W. Allport (1897 – 1967)
“Personality is less a finished product than a transitive process. While it has some stable features, it is at the same time continually undergoing change.”– Gordon W. Allport
Along with Jung, Allport is known as another founder of personality psychology, where he made contributions to values scales. His research trickled into other wider and interconnected subjects, such as religion and prejudice.
After compiling an inventory of 4500 words which could possibly describe a person, he then separated them into three levels of traits: cardinal (1), central (2), and secondary (3). Allport’s later-day research involved making the distinction between a Motive and Drive—the latter as a reaction to the former.
John B. Watson (1878 – 1958)
“Psychology, as the behaviorist views it, is a purely objective, experimental branch of natural science…the position [taken is] that the behavior of man and the behavior of animals must be considered on the same plane.”– John B. Watson
Watson’s research focused primarily on behaviorism, as he used animals, children, along with print advertising to support his findings. From 1910 – 1915, he assumed an editorial role for Psychological Review, an esteemed scientific journal by the American Psychological Association (APA).
His initial spark of inspiration arose from the works of Ivan Pavlov, famous for his experiments with dogs and rewards. Watson built upon Pavlov’s research, which eventually led him to suggest that psychology is based upon behavior, instead of the more abstract consciousness.
B. F. Skinner (1904 – 1990)
“A self is a repertoire of behavior appropriate to a given set of contingencies.”– B. F. Skinner
Behavioral psychologist and professor of psychology at Harvard University (1958–1974), Skinner focused on operant conditioning in relation to radical behaviorism.
As an alternative view to self theories or positive psychology, Skinner rejected all assumptions of free will and took a consequentialist approach to all resulting behaviors and actions.
In terms of personality, traits would arise and develop from which actions elicited the greatest rewards. Attachment theory blends in well with Skinner’s observations.
Skinner viewed humans and animals on the same plane, and drew hard conclusions on the applicability of results from experiments. The mind and body is one interworking machine—and the genetics and environment are of far greater importance than the “abstract” nature of consciousness.
Harry S. Sullivan (1892 – 1949)
“It is easier to act yourself into a new way of feeling than to feel yourself into a new way of acting.”– Harry Sullivan
Sullivan, a neo-Freudian psychiatrist, delved into research on schizophrenia and the potential reversal of chronic neuroticism.
His approach to personality differed from other researchers in the field as he combined the theories of Freud, Adolf Meyer, and William A. White to push for a breakthrough in treating psychotic conditions.
The Self System, an interpretation of childhood personality traits as reinforced by security operations and positive affirmation, is conjoined with I-You behaviors (actions to elicit a specific response).
Katherine Cook Briggs (1875 – 1968) & Isabel Briggs Myers (1897 – 1980)
“By developing individual strengths, guarding against weaknesses, and appreciating the strengths of other types, life would be more amusing, [interesting, and of a daily adventure]…than if everyone were alike.”– Isabel Briggs Myers
The famous Myers-Briggs mother-sister duo gained inspiration from Jung’s work on cognitive functions and four dichotomies (i.e. Extraversion–Introversion, Sensing–Intuition, Thinking–Feeling, Judging–Perceiving).
And so, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®) was conceived in 1956, which had a rudimentary launch as The Briggs Myers Type Indicator Handbook in 1944. The assessment aimed to be an organizational and occupational test to effectively group individuals into their best-fit careers.
The underlying belief behind its inception during WWII was to encourage women to discover their individual strengths, and take over the industrial jobs their husbands and fathers left behind in battle.
David Keirsey (1921 – 2013)
“Our attempts to reshape others may produce change, but the change is distortion rather than transformation.”– David Keirsey
As the author of Please Understand Me and creator of the Keirsey Temperament Sorter with 16 role variants, Keirsey began looking into human behavior after returning from the army as a marines pilot. He self-identifies as one of the final Gestalt psychologists of his time.
Keirsey continued building upon the principles Jung laid out in Psychological Types, and the 16-type profiles from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®). He considered each individual’s self-image, social roles, values, interests, and orientations in his research.
Hippocrates’ four humors also made their way into the four temperaments, as well as Kretschmer’s types (Hyperesthetics, Anesthetics, Melancholics, and Hypomanics). He was also an ardent opposer of psychotropic use in children (particularly for ADHD).
Hans Eysenck (1916 – 1997)
“I always felt that a scientist owes the world only one thing, and that is the truth as he sees it.”– Hans Eysenck
The three-factor PEN theory consists of three core dimensions to personality: Psychoticism, Extraversion, and Neuroticism. In terms of the great nature versus nurture debate, Eysenck acknowledged both sides in the development of personality.
As the founding editor for widely-accredited journal Personality and Individual Differences, Eysenck’s career spans over 80 books, and several hundred scientific articles. He also looked into how political attitudes and personality could be plotted on a 2 x 2 grid system.
In addition, he conducted research on the correlations of genetics and race on IQ differences—and whether environmental factors were more at play. His findings revealed that indeed, the situation and access to resources each child has growing up affects how individual IQ scores may unfold.
Karen Horney (1885 – 1952)
“Life itself still remains a very effective therapist.”– Karen Horney
Originally enrolled in medical school after an internally tumultuous adolescence, Horney turned to psychoanalysis to cope with the grief of both her parents’ passings after earning her M.D. in 1913 from the University of Berlin.
Horney began her career as a psychoanalyst in Germany, with skepticism about Freud’s psychosexual stages—which led to her accreditation in founding feminist psychology. After her acceptance to become Franz Alexander’s assistant at the Chicago Institute of Psychoanalysis in 1932, she relocated to the United States.
After two years, Horney moved to Brooklyn and became acquainted with other psychoanalysts Harry Sullivan and Erich Fromm. She taught in the New York Psychoanalytic Institute and New School for Social Research during this time.
George Kelly (1905 – 1968)
“Diagnosis is all too frequently an attempt to cram a whole live, struggling client into a nosological category.”– George Kelly
As one of the sole cognitive scientists who made significant proposals to personality psychology, Kelly looked into personal construct psychology (PCP) in the 1950s. PCP had cognitive and humanist psychology touches, yet remains a separate category of its own.
Kelly makes an idiographic approach, as he proposes that each individual uses their own “mental map” of constructs to approach the world and make decisions accordingly—later coined officially as the personal construct theory.
Another significant concept garnered momentum, with Kelly’s research, known as the repertory grid. At the Ohio State University (OSU), he published the widely recognized The Psychology of Personal Constructs in 1955 and became president of clinical and consulting divisions of the American Psychological Association shortly after.
Aushra Augustina (1927 – 2005)
Augustina developed Socionics—a technical interpretation of the original eight Jungian functions—from the ground up. She came from a university background of family relations, which she then conceptualized into interpersonal relations (and compatibility) between Sociotypes.
Although existing Socionics resources are largely untranslated from their original Russian sources, a few organizations are gathering and decoding Augustina’s research to catapult into applicable frameworks and models for personal relationships and businesses alike.