All About Personality

From eccentric and introverted to boisterous and bold, the human personality is a curious, multifaceted thing. We each have a unique mix of characteristics, and value different traits in ourselves and others.

Questions of personality have challenged us from the dawn of personhood: Can people ever change? Can an angry person ease his or her rage, for instance, or a meek person finally speak up? What is the difference between normal and pathological behavior? Do others perceive us the same way we perceive ourselves? Psychological research has made some progress on these questions—a branch of the field, known as personality psychology, is dedicated to them—but we still don’t understand many facets of personality.

Because personality is so pervasive and all-important, it presents a clinical paradox of sorts: It is hard to accurately assess one's own personality, yet impossible to overlook that of others. But since personality can make or break one's relationships at home and at work—and because we all want to be grounded in who we are—researchers will continue to dig deeper into why we are the way we are, and how our personalities influence our behavior.

The Big Picture

Psychologists have long sought ways to quantify and categorize human personality, including theorists from Carl Jung—who first proposed the concepts of introversion and extroversion—to Myers and Briggs, who created a well-known, though widely criticized, personality test. One prominent theory which gained traction in the latter half of the 20th century is the five-factor model, which hypothesizes that personalities can be broken down into the “Big Five” traits—openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. The field, however, has yet to settle on a single test or model that is able to capture the full range of human personality.

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