Introduction - Personality

Psychology: an introduction (Oxford Southern Africa) - Leslie Swartz 2011


Ashraf Kagee

The study of personality forms an integral part of the work of psychologists. The variety of approaches to this subject shows the richness and diversity of ideas that may be found in psychological science. Accompanying these varied approaches to understanding personality is the wide variation in the method of inquiry. Thus, methodological diversity in many ways parallels the diverse manner in which pioneers in the discipline have approached personality studies.

The two chapters in this part provide an overview of the way in which personality has been studied.

Chapter 5 provides an overview of major personality theories. Any serious study of personality needs to pay homage to the major theorists such as Freud, Erikson, Skinner and Bandura. Admittedly, these theorists developed their ideas in Europe and North America, which are cultural and geographical contexts that are at variance with those that developing countries are currently experiencing. Yet, their contribution to the understanding of the human being has a role to play in conceptualising personality dynamics in all social contexts.

The modern world is no longer culturally monolithic, and divisions between Western and non-Western cultures are porous and continually shifting. The study of personality, which is related in complex ways to culture, class and historical era, must consider how individuals are located within their social contexts. Therefore Chapter 5 addresses the cultural, political, economic and social factors that affect personality development. The distinction between individualistic and communal cultures provides a challenging backdrop within which the personality is considered. This chapter sketches the problems and pitfalls inherent in the study of personality in South Africa and other developing countries, while highlighting the continued need for personality to be considered in the study of psychology.

As a discipline and profession, psychology has always been concerned with the measurement of mental and behavioural phenomena. The measurement of personality is therefore an important concern to personality theorists. Chapter 6 addresses the question of personality assessment by examining objective and projective methods. Most research conducted on personality assessment has emerged from industrially developed countries. However, in many developing countries questions of literacy, individuality and interdependence have alternative meanings and different levels of importance, and this issue is examined in this chapter. Chapter 6 concludes with an overview of the technical details of personality assessment, including an introduction to psychometric theory.

The two chapters in this part provide the basic concepts used in studying human personality, while also calling attention to the complexity of the subject in the social context in which we live. Some of the perspectives, models and theories described here are potentially contradictory, yet the tensions between them indicate the richness of the debates regarding this subject.