Personality Theory and Research Questions  

Personality Theory and Research Questions  

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Personality Theory and Research Questions  

Question 1: Self-Concept and Cross-Cultural Differences

A self-concept is fused with representations of others when the perceptions of self are viewed from a relational lens rather than a personal one. Specifically, a relational self concept is dominated by the construct of self from the interrelations of the individual with others, and the unity of self, the society and the universe, which is common among the East Asian cultures (Cervone & Pervin, 2019). Contrastingly, a personal self-concept is predominated by the conceptualization of self from an individualized front, which is disconnected from others and lacks a social context, and commonly found among western cultures (Cervone & Pervin, 2019).  

Studies on how the brain is activated by different perceptions of self across different cultures have been used to unearth how culture influences self concept and how the brain is activated by cues related to different attributes of self-concept. Zhu and Han (2008) revealed that the activity levels in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (vMPFC) could be used to differentiate the western and Chinese conceptualization of self categorizing it as personal or relational respectively. Altogether, collective cultures such as the Chinese culture defines self in relation of others and the resulting neural unification indicates an emphasis on interpersonal connectedness while the individualistic cultures of the west display a neural disconnectedness between self and others (Zhu, Zhang, Fan & Han, 2007).

As such, the behavioral implications of the fusion of self concept with representations of others include the valuing of social achievements over individual achievements in the description of success (Lyu, Du & Rios, 2019). In turn, self concept that is not fused with representations of others may lead to behaviors that glorify personal achievements over those that focus on interpersonal relationships (Lyu, Du & Rios, 2019). In this regard, while collectivist cultures may value behaviors such as helping others, valuing dependency and social harmony, individualistic culture may value accumulation of personal wealth, autonomy, competitiveness and personal glorification (Lyu, Du & Rios, 2019).   

Question 2: Trait Constructs

Trait is a useful construct for laypeople because it helps them explain the differences in behavior and actions and the cognitive functions underlying the different behaviors of people in different contexts. Therefore, to the layperson, traits are descriptors that can be used as a tool for analyzing the individual differences of people’s actions. This analysis can be undertaken scientifically when the trait theory provides consistent and clear descriptions of individuals, their expected behavior and their daily actions at different times that are understood by the laypeople uniformly (Hall, et al., 2019). However, this requires that the various trait names and categorizations enjoy widespread and consistent meaning among different laypeople.

Trait theory is founded on objective scientific research and data and therefore can be used to conduct sound scientific research that yields evidence-based information about the different personalities. Laypeople, having no clinical foundation, can use the traits, particularly those provided by the five-Factor model, in theory development because they offer descriptions of personalities that are easily observed, understood and measured (Hall, et al., 2019). For instance, McCabe and Fleeson (2016) demonstrated that traits could explain the actions and goal pursuit of individuals and therefore could be used to explain the motivation that drove people’s behavioral and action choices from time to time. By linking trait categories such as conscientiousness and extraversion to the motivation to pursue certain goals, the study by McCabe and Fleeson (2016) revealed that scientific research related to traits could yield information about that predisposition of people towards certain actions and goal pursuits based on their personality. As such, laypeople could use personality traits to predict behaviors and direct behavior towards the attainment of specific goals. Consequently, data accumulated from such studies could be used to develop theory that was useful to the laypeople by making them better judges of human behavior (Hall, et al., 2019).  

Question 3: The Five-Factor Model

The five-factor model (FFM) describes and explains personalities under five major domains; agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism and openness to experience. These dimensions have been shown to be largely shared across different cultures, stable over time and explanatory for behavior significantly (Cervone & Pervin, 2019). However, over time, although the big five terms has been useful in describing the personality differences between people, questions regarding how well they explain the behavior of people have emerged as the influence of situations on people’s actions became understood.

 The five-factor model has been used extensively to predict behavior of individuals and therefore has gained popularity in personality research, classification of personality disorders, recruitment and explaining the performance of leaders among others. To this end, the five-factor model has leveraged the describable characteristics of the intrinsic personality properties of individuals whose understanding is shared across people, cultures, contexts and situations (Cervone & Pervin, 2019). However, it has emerged that the five dimensions of personality traits are not consistent across all cultures in the world, do not explain moral behavior, are comparative statements about individuals and therefore do not provide causal explanations of human experiences and behavior, and do not account for situations changes in behavior (Uher, 2015). As such, people regularly act out of character based on situational factors thus expressing their subjective authenticity in different contexts. As such, the five-factor model does not account to in-person variability in behavior (Fleeson & Wilt, 2010). Moreover, terms like ability, capacity, disposition and tendency, which are used alongside the five dimensions of personality traits, suffer from circular reasoning in their explanations (Boag, 2011). As such, the dimensions are descriptions of personality an offer explanation for the personality trait simultaneously, which leads to ambiguity and explanation fallacy.

Question 4: The Brain and Psychological Functions

Research has revealed that brain systems are involved in moral judgment and self-concepts, which are some of the higher-level psychological functions (Cervone & Pervin, 2019). For instance, neuroimaging studies have revealed that the prefrontal cortex is involved in the storage and processing of information about self while self-references improved the cognitive structuring of information and memory according to self-schema (Cervone & Pervin, 2019). Besides, the links between personality traits and biological process and between these processes and neuroanatomy have been established although the linkage between personality traits and neuroanatomy remains incomplete and poorly evidenced (Cervone & Pervin, 2019). As such, the study of brain anatomy does not answer many questions about personality such as explaining how personality of individuals develops and therefore the nervous system is known to play a small role in personality formation so far. Notably, while neuroautonomy is a precise science, personality studies are usually shrouded in subjective methods such as self-reporting, generalities of findings, reliance on observations and experiences rather than scientific evidence. In addition, the several theories in existence are often incomplete because they are focused on certain behaviors while neglecting others, and are being augmented and challenged by emerging evidence from studies.

Indeed, there could be a neuroscience of personality if the neuroanatomy studies proceed in their current trend in which a wealth of knowledge about the link between the brain chemistry and biology and psychological functions of people with different personalities is increasing. For instance, functional imaging studies are revealing the variations of neurotransmissions from a molecular genetics level, which is helping develop computational models that can be used to predict personality traits from brain chemistry and biology (Allen & DeYoung, 2017). In addition, psychopathology is helping explain various mental disorders by comparing the neurobiology in a healthy and a disordered person although it does not yet explain how the disorder develops precisely (Allen & DeYoung, 2017).    

Question 5: Skinner and Environmental Influences

There is no doubt among psychologists that the environment influences personality and behavior significantly. In addition, the wide acceptance of psychoanalysis has contributed greatly to the development of psychology as a science. Indeed, the ability to define precisely and control variables such as the environment, emotions and motivations has facilitated the investigations of psychology as a science. Notably, previous concerns about the role of emotions and motivation in behavioral responses have been dispelled by the acceptance of internal and external environments as influencers of personality and behavior (Cervone & Pervin, 2019). While Skinner’s suggestions about the importance of the environment in understanding psychological dispositions and behavior in humans had been criticized for not having sound scientific foundations despite careful experimentation, technological advancements have enabled the conduct of scientific experiments that demonstrate the role of environment as a stimulus in psychological and personality development (Cervone & Pervin, 2019). This has renewed the progress of psychology studies involving the environment as a scientific discipline. As such, internal and external environment are increasingly gaining acceptance and application in scientific approaches of studying operant conditioning, thus providing the studies with a deterministic and reductionist approach (Gazzaniga, Heatherton & Halpern, 2010). 

Indeed, the continuing search for unified methods to study the environmental effects on personality and human behavior is indicative of the progression of psychology towards being a science. Moreover, the increasing precision by which environmental factors can be defined as independent variables in studies is testimony of the improving understanding of the previously complex variables. Notably, the understanding of the environment as a determinant of personality and behavior has led to the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic environmental factors. The advancements beyond Skinner operant conditioning theory have benefited from the understanding of emotions and motivation not only as interrelated concepts but as concepts related environment external to an individual. This has enabled the application of empiricism in the study of operant conditioning (Gazzaniga, Heatherton & Halpern, 2010).

Question 6: Kelly’s Constructive Alternativism

Constructive alternativism advanced by George Kelly postulates that human experiences are open to a wide variety of interpretations that not only help in defining the world but also understanding ourselves. This is premises on the presumption that from the personal construct theory that posits that people develop personal mental constructs of their views of the world and how it works (Cervone & Pervin, 2019). However, since these constructs are individualized, they often differ between difference individuals and present different perceptions and interpretations of reality. Therefore, from the constructive alternativism abstractions, reality is not an objective truth that can be uncovered using a positivistic scientific study but rather a collection of realities that are in competition for legitimacy and truth (Bannister & Fransella, 2019). As such, different human experiences can lead to different constructions of the reality relation to human personality based on the differences in interpretations and contexts of the experience.

The human being and specifically the human brain is an enigmatic reality that is yet to be fully studied and understood. As such, individual personalities are equally complex to fathom in their entirety because of the wide variety of human experiences and behavior, and the subjectivity of these variables and their measurements, which counter objective approaches and therefore compromise the arrival towards an objective reality of absolute truth about these human characteristics (Cervone & Pervin, 2019). Therefore, Kelly’s constructive alternativism advances scientific investigation by widening the routes through which the truth and reality related to human personality can be arrived at objectively through the rigors of scientific investigation. This is because the absence of such truth and reality should not confine scientific enquiry to narrow theoretical foundations or conceptual abstractions before absolute truths have been established and the proposed reality has been widely acknowledged.      

Question 7: Skinner vs Social Cognitive Theory

Skinner advanced the operant conditioning theory that posited that behavior is learnt from experiences and therefore people’s behavior is controlled by environmental influences. As such, he believed that people, in their behavioral dispositions and actions, lacked self-control and free will as they were conditioned to act in the way they do by their environments and its changing conditions (Cervone & Pervin, 2019). However, in building on the influences of experience on learning, the goal orientation and the intentionality and purposefulness exhibited in the behavior and actions of people contradict the ability to use self-control and free will in their manner of behavior (Fiske & Taylor, 2013). This is the point of divergence between behaviorism that was advanced by Skinner and the social cognitive theory even though both approaches acknowledge the importance of feedback and consequences (Punishment and reinforcement) in guiding and transforming behavior responses. Therefore personality development can be influenced by parenting practices and work experiences, which are not only environmental in nature but call for the derivation of meaning from the experiences by the individual, thus providing them with a cognitive underpinning (Fiske & Taylor, 2013).   

From the behaviorist perspective behavior is directly caused by reinforcements and punishment while from a social cognitive perspective, reinforcement and punishment create expectations related to the consequences of certain behavior in individuals, which in turn causes certain behavior (Fiske & Taylor, 2013). Behavioral expectations explained by behaviorism and social cognitive theories provide the divergence in the two theoretical conceptualizations. Notably, while behaviorism expects certain behavioral outcomes from punishment and reinforcement, the behavioral outcomes may differ due to the different expectations of the same stimuli provided in the same environment but eliciting mental constructions as explained by the social cognitive theory (Fiske & Taylor, 2013). As such, the situational influence on behavior is a more pragmatic conceptualization of the effects of environmental stimuli into the construction of wide variety behavioral dispositions and the development of diverse personalities within the same environment (Cervone & Pervin, 2019).          

Question 8: Social Cognitive Theory, Problem-Focused and Emotion-Focused Coping

 From the social cognitive theory perspective, individual can learn from other without undergoing similar experiences themselves and as such, individual differences are a product of the different learning and cognition processes and experiences (Cervone & Pervin, 2019). As such, the social cognitive theory explains the nexus between cognitive factors, situational factors and behavior. Concepts such as reciprocal determinism advance by Bandura in his social learning theory as the precursor of the social cognitive theory led to the concept of locus of control by Rotter, which acknowledges the ability and inability of the individual to directly control personal behavior (Cervone & Pervin, 2019). 

The individual perceptions about one’s competence in controlling behavior and subsequent actions are enhanced when the locus of control is premised intrinsically rather extrinsically (Stewart & De George-Walker, 2014). As such, individual who cope with issues from an emotional perspective believe that their behavioral predispositions are beyond their control while those who use the problem-focused approach are more deliberate in their behavior because they belief that they possess self-efficacy. In this regard, self-efficacy is the judgment of the competency of self to complete specific tasks and achieve predetermined goals. The individuals that feel sufficiently competent to direct their behavior approach issues as problems objectively and logically through conscious cognitive process. Contrastingly, those who feel that they lack such competence approach issues emotionally without understanding their behavioral responses or attributing their responses to external sources. As such, the coping mechanisms of individuals are products of self-efficacy perceptions (Stewart & De George-Walker, 2014). The recognition of the pertinence of learning and cognition as sources of individual differences as provided by the social cognitive theory is not a limitation in itself, although the inability of the theory to explain how these difference progress over the human lifecycle and the multiplicity of hypotheses explaining these differences may be (Cervone & Pervin, 2019).         


Allen, T. A., & DeYoung, C. G. (2017). Personality neuroscience and the five factor model. Oxford handbook of the five factor model, 319-352.

Bannister, D., & Fransella, F. (2019). Inquiring man: The psychology of personal constructs. Routledge.

Boag, S. (2011). Explanation in personality psychology: “Verbal magic” and the five-factor model. Philosophical Psychology24(2), 223-243.

Cervone, D. & Pervin, L.A. (2019). Personality theory and research. (14th ed.). New York , NY: Wiley, John & Sons, Inc.   

Fiske, S. T., & Taylor, S. E. (2013). Social cognition: From brains to culture. Sage.

Fleeson, W., & Wilt, J. (2010). The relevance of Big Five trait content in behavior to subjective authenticity: Do high levels of within‐person behavioral variability undermine or enable authenticity achievement?. Journal of Personality78(4), 1353-1382.

Gazzaniga, M. S., Heatherton, T. F., & Halpern, D. F. (2010). Psychological science. New York, NY: WW Norton.

Hall, J. A., Schlegel, K., Castro, V. L., & Back, M. (2019). What laypeople think the Big Five trait labels mean. Journal of Research in Personality78, 268-285.

Lyu, H., Du, G., & Rios, K. (2019). The relationship between future time perspective and self-esteem: A cross-cultural study of Chinese and American college students. Frontiers in psychology10, 1518.

McCabe, K. O., & Fleeson, W. (2016). Are traits useful? Explaining trait manifestations as tools in the pursuit of goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology110(2), 287.

Stewart, M. A., & De George-Walker, L. (2014). Self-handicapping, perfectionism, locus of control and self-efficacy: A path model. Personality and Individual Differences66, 160-164.

Uher, J. (2015). Interpreting “personality” taxonomies: Why previous models cannot capture individual-specific experiencing, behaviour, functioning and development. Major taxonomic tasks still lay ahead. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science49(4), 600-655.

Zhu, Y., & Han, S. (2008). Cultural differences in the self: From philosophy to psychology and neuroscience. Social and Personality Psychology Compass2(5), 1799-1811.

Zhu, Y., Zhang, L., Fan, J., & Han, S. (2007). Neural basis of cultural influence on self-representation. Neuroimage34(3), 1310-1316.

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