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What is personality? How does it differ from character, temperament, or attitudes?

What is personality? How does it differ from character, temperament, or attitudes?

The Psychology of Personality— Do You Have Personality?

Gateway Question 12.1: How do psychologists use the term personality? “Annette has a very optimistic personality.” “Ramiro’s not hand- some, but he has a great personality.” “My father’s business friends think he’s a nice guy. They should see him at home where his real personality comes out.” “It’s hard to believe Tanya and Nikki are sisters. They have such opposite personalities.”

It’s obvious that we all frequently use the term personality. But if you think that personality means “charm,” “charisma,” or “style,” you have misused the term. Many people also confuse personality with the term character, which implies that a person has been evaluated as possessing positive qualities, not just described (Bryan & Babelay, 2009). If, by saying someone has “personality,” you mean the person is friendly, outgoing, and upstanding, you might be describing what we regard as good character in our culture. But in some cultures, it is deemed good for people to be fierce, warlike, and cruel.

Psychologists regard personality as a person’s unique long-term pattern of thinking, emotions, and behavior (Burger, 2011; Ewen, 2009). In other words, personality refers to the consistency in who you are, have been, and will become. It also refers to the special blend of talents, values, hopes, loves, hates, and habits that makes each of us a unique person. So, everyone in a particular culture has personality, whereas not everyone has character—or at least not good character. (Do you know any good characters?)

Psychologists use a large number of concepts and theories to explain personality. It might be wise, therefore, to start with a few key ideas to help you keep your bearings as you read more about personality.

Traits We use the idea of traits every day to talk about personality. For instance, Daryl is sociable, orderly, and intelligent. His sister Hollie is shy, sensitive, and creative. As we observed in our reunion with Annette, personality traits like these can be quite stable (Rantanen et al., 2007; Engler, 2009). Think about how little your best friends have changed in the last 5 years. It would be strange indeed to feel like you were talking with a different person every time you met a friend or an acquaintance. In general, then, personality traits like these are stable qualities that a person shows in most situations (Matthews, Deary, & Whiteman, 2009). As you will see when you read further into this chapter, there is considerable debate about just why traits are stable qualities. But more about that later.

Typically, traits are inferred from behavior. If you see Daryl talk- ing to strangers—first at a supermarket and later at a party—you might deduce that he is “sociable.” Once personality traits are iden- tified, they can be used to predict future behavior. For example, noting that Daryl is outgoing might lead you to predict that he will be sociable at school or at work. In fact, such consistencies can span many years (Caspi, Roberts, & Shiner, 2005; Harker & Keltner, 2001). Traits even influence our health as well as our marital and occupational success (Roberts et al., 2007). For example, who do you think will be more successful in her chosen career: Jane, who is conscientious, or Sally, who is not (Brown et al., 2011; Chamorro- Premuzic & Furnham, 2003)?

Types Have you ever asked the question, “What type of person is she (or he)?” A personality type refers to people who have several traits in common (Larsen & Buss, 2010). Informally, your own thinking might include categories such as the executive type, the athletic type, the motherly type, the hip-hop type, the techno geek, and so Does this man have personality? Do you?

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