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Personality: Definition & Meaning
Think about the word personality. What comes to one's mind when they think about it? Maybe words like shy, honest, hardworking, rude, cute, fancy, gentle, and so many. People think of personality both in terms of internal characteristics as well as external or physical appearance. They explain their personality to others and also judge other people's personalities. Words like aggressive, arrogant, careless, or cruel represent a bad personality, whereas words like kind, determined, and supportive show a good personality. All of this can be considered a laymen's understanding of personality. Psychologists, however, think of it a little differently. They see personality as something fairly stable, With a pattern of some sort.
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What is the Meaning of Personality?
Personality, according to psychologists, can be understood as the total of the behavioral and mental characteristics that are distinctive of an individual. Three important points that can be noted here are −
- Personality has both behavioral and mental characteristics.
- It is an aggregate of all those characteristics. And,
- It is unique to an individual.
This understanding forms the foundation of personality. Personality psychology is extensive in theory, research, assessment, and application. It attempts to make sense of individual distinctiveness in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors at various levels, from genetic to socio-cultural.
Origin and Development
Personality develops through a complex interaction of genes and one's external environment. Young children show less variability in terms of their thoughts and actions. As they grow, their personality changes; Research points out that as people get older, they become more mature, dominant, and ready to take up more adult responsibilities. Studies also suggest that as people grow, they become more agreeable and conscientious and less open, social, neurotic, and extravert. Personality becomes stable at 50; however, it keeps changing and growing throughout the lifespan.
Stability and Change
When talking about stability of the personality, instead of trying to figure out at what age it becomes stable, psychologists focus more on the complex interplay between stability of personality and their changes throughout the life span. Studies exploring stability of the personality and changes mostly analyze personality traits, which are relatively enduring patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The stability of traits is important provided if they are not stable, otherwise, studying them to understand and predict personality becomes meaningless; Instability cannot be used for stability. However, like how physical traits change, personality traits have a course they follow – development, stability, and change.
Studies on the maturation model of analyzing personality stability and the Big Five Personality traits (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and intellect/openness) confirm this. It confirms that personality traits experience noticeable(?) changes throughout life, much like the physical changes people experience.
Studies on personality stability also evaluate the degree of similarity in the same trait, but at two different occasions/ages. The similarity in traits of children is lower as compared to adults. That implies that personality traits in children are less stable compared to adults, given that in childhood, personality is still in its formative stage. As an individual grows, their personality becomes more and more stable.
Keeping in mind these studies, a pattern emerges indicating that level of the trait changes over time, but the individual remains more or less consistent. That is to say, extraversion may increase (or decrease) throughout the lifespan, but it will continue in the individual.
Recent researches integrate the idea that life experiences can activate or suppress genes (epigenetic) in studying the genetic and environmental influence on personality traits. They suggest that biology alone cannot determine the full picture. It is believed that life events related to love (like marriage and parenthood) and work (like first job or college) are most prominent in leading to personality change—however, there is only a little evidence to support these claims.
Talking about the external environment's influence on personality development, one cannot escape to talk about culture. One distinction can be made between independent and interdependent self-construal. Individuals in independent self-construal see themselves as different from those around them, whereas those in interdependent self-construal see themselves as similar to those around them. Typically, western cultures are considered as a part of the former, whereas eastern cultures are considered a part of the latter. This understanding is important as people will make sense of themselves and their personalities depending on their self-construal.
While investigating the cultural difference in personality, scientists have found that European and American cultures were more extraverted and open but less agreeable than Asian and African cultures. Another observation was that there was more variation within a culture than between the cultures.
Another aspect of culture that affects personality is language. By analyzing language (letters, words, speeches, and so on) used by an individual, a linguistic profile of an individual can be created. This linguistic profile can be indicative of personality. According to research, language can be used as a fairly stable and reliable way of assessing personality. Research indicates that how people describe and express themselves remains fairly stable across time and context. Throughout multiple studies, a stable association has been established between personality traits and the kind of words people use. Subsequently, researchers can accurately estimate or predict an individual's unique personality traits.
Language can reflect an individual's personality processes, that is, low-level facets of behavior, cognition, and affect that add to the overall personality. For instance, mediating conflict can be seen as an aspect of the trait of agreeableness. Similarly, the use of first-person singular pronouns (e.g., "I," "me," "my") implies self-reflective attentional processes, which are markers of neuroticism and depression.
The study of personality started in the ancient period. It had a great, golden history and a rapid falling. However, there is now renewed interest in the field of personality. It is being studied on various levels, from biology to culture, to education, workforce, emotions, intelligence, and so on. Attempts are also being made to solidify a culturally sensitive theory of personality to lessen cultural biases in studies and researches.
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