You have probably noticed that some people are very social and outgoing while others are very quiet and reserved. Some people seem to worry a lot while others never seem to get anxious. Each time we use words like social, outgoing, reserved or anxious to describe people around us, we are talking about a person’s personality. Personality is one of the things that make us unique from one another. Our personalities are thought to be long term, stable, and not easily changed (Caspi, Roberts, & Shiner, 2005) leading some psychologists argue that personality is heritable and biological.
Personality is not the same thing as character, which refers to qualities that a culture considers good and bad. Temperament, as we learned earlier, is hereditary and includes sensitivity, moods, irritability, and distractibility. In this way, temperament can be seen as part of our personality and offers support for biological and universal aspects of personality.
Once we understand someone’s personality, we can predict how that person will behave in a variety of situations. Think about what it takes to be successful in college. You might say that intelligence is factor in college success and you would be correct but personality researchers have also found that traits like Conscientiousness play an important role in college success. Highly conscientious individuals study hard, get their work done on time, and are less distracted by nonessential activities that take time away from school work. Over the long term, this consistent pattern of behaviors can add up to meaningful differences in academic and professional development. Personality traits are not just a useful way to describe people; they actually help psychologists predict if someone is going to be a good worker, how long he or she will live, and the types of jobs and activities the person will enjoy.
There are many psychological perspectives that try to explain personality including behaviorist, humanist and sociocultural perspectives. This chapter will focus solely on the trait theory of personality and how combinations of traits create unique personality profiles. This chapter will also review how personality traits are identified and measured across cultures.