Personality Theories: 6 Models That Aim to Explain Human Behavior (2023)

Personality theories are the result of hypotheses, experiments, case studies, and clinical research led by scientists in the psychology and human behavior field.

Personality is your unique set of behaviors, experiences, feelings, and thought patterns that make you you.

While it may change subtly over time, your personality remains fairly consistent throughout your life after a certain age.

Personality theories look to answer why specific features and traits develop in one person over another — or develop at all. The goal is to identify what makes everyone so similar and so different at the same time.

What personality isn’t

Personality isn’t your set of skills. It’s not your biological or physical differences. It’s not transient states, like hunger or sadness.

You may be a championship football player, for example, but that’s not a part of your personality. Your reliability, extroversion, and ambition, instead, may be personality traits that may incline you to perform well at team sports.

The field of personality theories continues to grow and change as more research opportunities arise and studies are completed.

As research has evolved, so have the theories themselves. Certain theories may have lost some validity, due to inconclusive research or new findings by experts.

1. Psychodynamic theories

Sigmund Freud laid the foundation for psychodynamic personality theories with his proposal of the id, the ego, and the superego. Freud saw these three parts of the mind as the basis of human personality.

According to Freud, these concepts could explain individual behavior.

The id was about your irrational and emotional impulses, while the ego weighed all the rational pros and cons. The superego then sought to apply social norms, rules, and other personal values that ultimately encouraged you to act based on your core beliefs.

Later, in the psychosexual personality development part of Freud’s theory, he explained how a person came to those beliefs and ideals.

Freud thought early childhood experiences played the most important role in how personality developed. Early life, he said, was defined by five psychosexual stages based on the pleasure sensations in erogenous zones:

  • oral: mouth and sucking reflexes
  • anal: bladder and bowel control
  • phallic: genitals and gender identification
  • latency: sexuality is paused and latent, and gives room to social skills
  • genital: mature sexuality and defined sexual interest and orientation

Freud suggested that each stage presented you with a developmental conflict. If you successfully overcame it, you would move into the next phase of development.

According to Freud’s personality theory, being unable to move past a phase resulted in certain psychological challenges, like the Oedipus complex, later in life.

Carl Jung and Erik Erikson are other names commonly associated with important work in the field of psychodynamic theory, although Erikson particularly marked a significant switch from Freud’s theories.

2. Trait theories

Trait theory is one of the most popular types of personality theories. It proposes that people’s personalities vary according to which basic personality traits are more dominant.

In this sense, each trait is seen as a continuum.

Take kindness, for example. Rather than viewing this as an optional personality trait — some people are kind while others are not — you can think of it as a sliding scale. Everyone falls somewhere on the kindness continuum. And you’re either more kind or less kind, compared with someone else.

One of the best-known trait theories is the five-factor theory, also known as the Big 5, proposed by Donald W. Fiske. This theory states that personality is made up of five distinct traits:

  • agreeableness
  • conscientiousness
  • extraversion
  • neuroticism
  • openness to experience

Each trait has a range that goes from one extreme to another, and each person falls somewhere along that range.

Other known trait theories include those developed by Gordon Allport, Raymond Cattell, and Hans Eysenck. Eysenck’s theory, for example, focused on just three trait continuums for everyone: extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism.

3. Humanistic theories

The humanistic approach to theories of personality involves understanding not only behavior and thought patterns, but also what someone believes gives their life meaning.

Humanistic theories propose that someone’s personality depends heavily on what they think of themselves — who they believe they are.

Abraham Maslow’s humanistic hierarchy of needs, for example, suggested that personality is the result of someone being able to meet — or not meet — basic needs like safety, self-esteem, and belongingness.

Carl Rogers explored the concept of self-actualization. This theory asserts that people are driven by their need for personal growth. The quest for learning and growing is what structures someone’s personality.

4. Social cognitive theories

Social cognitive theories of personality include several schools of thought like behaviorism, social learning theory, and expectancy-value theory.


Behaviorism theory proposes that human behavior is the direct result of facing rewards and punishments.

In other words, you’re conditioned to respond a certain way because of a reward-punishment pattern in your life.


If being generous in school gained you social admiration, later in life, you might continue to be generous because of that early positive reinforcement.

John B. Watson is often credited with pioneering the work in behavior theory, though William Carpenter, Alexander Bain, and Sigmund Freud also have ties to its early conceptualization, according to 2014 research.

Social learning theory

Closely related to behaviorism is Albert Bandura’s social learning theory, which takes behavioral models and adds the component of thought. In other words, the theory proposes that your thought process plays an essential part in deciding if you should imitate or not a certain behavior (learning).

According to the social learning theory, how you perceive behavioral reinforcement is more important than the reinforcement itself.


A child who loves candy might see it as a reward, whereas a child who doesn’t like candy would see it as a punishment.

Bandura also believed that environment influences a person’s personality and vice versa.

Being cooperative, for example, might gain you job opportunities. It might also increase the cooperativeness of those around you — creating an environment of cooperation.

Bandura changed the name of the model from social learning to social cognitive theory in 1986.

3. Expectancy-value theory

Another behaviorism-based model of human personality is Julian Rotter’s framework.

Rotter proposed human behavior is motivated by the expected rewards or punishment it can gain. This expectation comes from past experiences and whether or not you thought the consequences of your actions were under your control.

When someone believes they have control over an outcome, they’re more motivated to action. This is particularly so when they anticipate a positive outcome because similar actions have been rewarded in the past.


You’ve learned that studying at least 4 hours before a test leads to you passing said test.

The next time a test is scheduled, you’re more motivated to study for 4 hours to achieve a pass.

5. Biological theories

Biological personality theories assert that brain structures and neurophysiology are what determine your personality traits, according to 2016 research.

In other words, something as simple as higher neurotransmitter levels might provide you with a more positive outlook, for example, than someone else.

Hans J. Eysenck and Jeffrey A. Gray both included neuropsychology in their personality theories.

6. Evolutionary theories

Charles Darwin first introduced the concepts of evolution and natural selection in the mid-1800s. His work sparked an entire field of evolutionary biology.

Later, other scientists explored Darwin’s premises to explain human behavior. According to this framework of evolutionary theories, human personality is primarily the result of genes and most useful traits.

Ultimately, evolutionary theory states that personality characteristics that increased your ancestors’ chances for survival are the traits you may have at the core of your personality today.


Your fear of snakes may feel instinctual, but evolutionary theory states it may result from your ancestors learning that snakes could be dangerous.

Personality is immeasurable. It’s different for everyone. This makes personality challenging to study. How do you control an environment and prove that personality develops in a specific way?

You can’t — at least not yet.

For this reason, personality development exists in theory only and is subject to controversy, though some research does support (or debunk) current theory models.

One of the biggest controversies in personality theory revolves around Sigmund Freud’s theories on personality and development. Even as far back as 1987, researchers wrote about how they are male-dominant, with references to females that may be interpreted as demeaning.

Theories of personality aim to provide a framework to explain the differences and similarities in human behavior and personality. They often overlap or complement each other, and sometimes they may be contradictory when compared.

Each personality theory offers a structure to analyze human personality, and most of them have extensive research backing up some of their premises. This is one of the reasons why the study of personality in psychology is still a developing field with no conclusive findings.


Personality Theories: 6 Models That Aim to Explain Human Behavior? ›

In describing personality, we'll go through six different personality theories: psychoanalytic theory, humanistic theory, trait theory, social-cognitive theory, biological theory, and behaviorist theory.

What are the 6 major personality theories? ›

In describing personality, we'll go through six different personality theories: psychoanalytic theory, humanistic theory, trait theory, social-cognitive theory, biological theory, and behaviorist theory.

Which theories of personality view human behavior? ›

Psychodynamic, humanistic, and evolutionary are just a few of the many personality theories that have attempted to explore and explain human personality traits.

What are the six criteria for evaluating personality theories? ›

The six criteria include comprehensiveness, precision and testability, parsimony, empirical validity, and both heuristic and applied value.

What are the 7 theories of personality? ›

The major theories include dispositional (trait) perspective, psychodynamic, humanistic, biological, behaviorist, evolutionary, and social learning perspective.

Who created the 6 personality types? ›

According to John Holland's theory, most people are one of six personality types: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional.

What are the names of the 6 types in Holland's personality theory? ›

Holland found that people needing help with career decisions can be supported by understanding their resemblance to the following six ideal vocational personality types: Realistic (R) Investigative (I) Artistic (A) Social (S) Enterprising (E) Conventional (C) Work settings can also be categorized by their resemblance ...

Which psychological theory best explains human behavior? ›

1. The Psychodynamic Perspective. The psychodynamic perspective originated with the work of Sigmund Freud. This view of psychology and human behavior emphasizes the role of the unconscious mind, early childhood experiences, and interpersonal relationships to explain human behavior, as well as to treat mental illnesses.

What is human behavior theory in psychology? ›

Behavioral psychology, or behaviorism, is a theory suggesting that environment shapes human behavior. In a most basic sense, behavioral psychology is the study and analysis of observable behavior. This field of psychology influenced thought heavily throughout the middle of the 20th century.

What are the six personality measures? ›

First, we develop scales to measure the Little Six youth personality dimensions: Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism, Openness to Experience, and Activity.

What are the five models of personality explain? ›

The Five Factor Model breaks personality down into five components: Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Openness, and Stress Tolerance. Personality tests that are based on this model measure where an individual lies on the spectrum of each of the five traits.

What are the 5 factors model of personality? ›

The traits that constitute the five-factor model are extraversion, neuroticism, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.

What are the 16 personality theories? ›

Cattell (1957) identified 16 factors or dimensions of personality: warmth, reasoning, emotional stability, dominance, liveliness, rule-consciousness, social boldness, sensitivity, vigilance, abstractedness, privateness, apprehension, openness to change, self-reliance, perfectionism, and tension (Table).

What is a No 6 personality type? ›

Sun Number 6 personalities are popular and much-loved among all other Sun Numbers. They are harmony lovers and often overlook their own needs and requirements to help those who need them. They are nurturing and caring, and love to share their knowledge and material belongings.

What theory says we have six personality categories but one is the most dominant? ›

Definition: Holland's theory is a personality based theory based on the premise that people are happiest when they are around others like them, including in a work environment. Holland claims that everyone (in western society) has one of six personality types as the dominant type.

Who believed that personality was formed in the first 6 years? ›

Freud believed that personality develops during early childhood: Childhood experiences shape our personalities as well as our behavior as adults.

What are the major types of personality theories? ›

Psychoanalytic, humanistic, trait perspective and behaviorist theory are the four main personality theories.

What is Holland's theory? ›

Summary of Holland's theory:

People of the same personality type working together create a work environment that fits their type. For example, when Artistic persons are together on a job, they create a work environment that rewards creative thinking and behavior -- an Artistic environment.

What are Holland's six personality types quizlet? ›

An interest framework summarized by six different personality types including realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, and conventional.

What are the 5 common personality theories? ›

The Five Factor Model breaks personality down into five components: Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Openness, and Stress Tolerance. Personality tests that are based on this model measure where an individual lies on the spectrum of each of the five traits.

What are the Big 5 theory personality types? ›

The five broad personality traits described by the theory are extraversion (also often spelled extroversion), agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism.

What are the 8 major personality theories? ›

The eight perspectives of personality psychology are psychoanalytic, neo-analytic/ego, biological, behaviorist, cognitive, trait, humanistic, and interactionist. Each perspective identifies important elemental contributions, which when combined allow deeper understanding of the complex construct personality.

What are the 5 major theoretical perspectives in personality? ›

These became known as the “five major perspectives” in psychology.
  • The biological approach.
  • The psychodynamic approach.
  • The behavioral approach.
  • The cognitive approach.
  • The humanistic approach.
Jun 6, 2022

What are the personality theories examples? ›

Big Five Theories

Extroversion (sociability, assertiveness, and high amounts of emotional expressiveness) Agreeableness (prosocial behaviors) Conscientiousness (goal directed behaviors and thoughtfulness) Neuroticism (emotional instability)

What are the main personality types? ›

Common Questions About The Five Major Personality Types

The five major personality types are conceived to be Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Openness, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.

What is the Big Five personality model used for? ›

It's a test that can be used to measure a person's most important personality characteristics and which roles are the best suited to them. Recruiters can also use it to find people who have the personality, as well as the skills, to fit the roles that they are hiring for.

What is personality type 5? ›

Type Five in Brief

Fives are alert, insightful, and curious. They are able to concentrate and focus on developing complex ideas and skills. Independent, innovative, and inventive, they can also become preoccupied with their thoughts and imaginary constructs. They become detached, yet high-strung and intense.

What is Big 5 personality and personality disorder? ›

The five personality traits of the FFM are neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Neuroticism refers to the vulnerability to emotional instability and self-consciousness.


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Errol Quitzon

Last Updated: 05/11/2023

Views: 5578

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (79 voted)

Reviews: 86% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Errol Quitzon

Birthday: 1993-04-02

Address: 70604 Haley Lane, Port Weldonside, TN 99233-0942

Phone: +9665282866296

Job: Product Retail Agent

Hobby: Computer programming, Horseback riding, Hooping, Dance, Ice skating, Backpacking, Rafting

Introduction: My name is Errol Quitzon, I am a fair, cute, fancy, clean, attractive, sparkling, kind person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.