Although it has been more than a century since Freud proposed his theory of personality, it “remains the framework for the study of personality” (Schultz & Schultz, 2013, p 41). While Freud and other early theorists used their own life experiences and case studies to create their theories, modern theorists rely heavily on scientific research that is supported with empirical evidence. This paper will describe the evolution of personality theory from Freud to the present day. It will explore how Freud influenced the development of other significant theories including those of Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, and Erik Erickson. In addition, this paper will contrast Freud’s theory of personality with the feminist theory of Karen Horney, and then consider the contemporary theories of Julian Rotter, Martin Zuckerman, and Martin Seligman. Finally, this paper will postulate on the impact of social media on the development of personality.
Sigmund Freud has influenced the development of personality theory more than any other individual. In the late 1800’s, he introduced his theory of psychoanalysis. Freud’s psychoanalysis involved dream analysis to uncover repressed memories and free association. Free association allowed patients to talk freely about whatever thoughts or memories came to mind. Even as other theorists developed their own views, Freud “remained the dominant figure – victor, leader, and proprietor” (Eisold, 2002). Freud’s theory focuses on early childhood experiences, before age five, and how these experiences are consciously and unconsciously processed within distinct psychosexual developmental stages. He believed that human motivation is entirely sexual and that neurotic behavior is caused by traumatic events or unresolved frustrations during a stage of development that have been repressed into the unconscious mind. However, he also believed that if the patient could remember these repressed experiences and work through them, they could be cured and could then progress to the next stage of development (Fagiana, 2015).
Although Freud, Carl Jung and Alfred Adler were good friends for many years, both Jung and Adler drifted away from Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis in the early 1900’s and developed their own theories. Jung’s theory, which he called analytical psychology, focuses on the “inner growth of the individual” (Schultz & Schultz, 2013, p 89) rather than on relationships with others like Freud’s theory. Jung also emphasized how the development of personality affects behavior with the concepts of introverted and extroverted personality types. Jung believed that the human psyche was comprised of opposites and a balance was necessary for the individual to continue to grow and be happy and this growth “in all respects [continued] right up to the moment of death” (Eisold, 2002). The purpose of life, according to Jung, was individuation – a process that involves realizing one’s fullest potential as a human being. Freud would say one is a product of one’s childhood; Jung would say one is a product of their life (Fagiana, 2015).
In marked contrast to Freud, Alfred Adler did not believe that the personality was a product of uncontrollable subconscious drives or parental relationships. Instead, he proposed that personality is “shaped by [the] unique social environments and interactions” (Schultz & Schultz, 2013, p 113) of the individual. Thus, individual psychology. Adler proposed that birth order is the single most influential social aspect faced in childhood and he alleged that motivation to overcome feelings of inferiority during childhood was the driving force in personality development.
Trained in Freudian theory and a self-proclaimed loyal Freudian, Erik Erikson “broadened the scope of Freud’s work while maintaining its core” (Schultz & Schultz, 2013, p 161) by dividing the development of personality into eight psychosocial stages. Each stage is characterized by a psychosocial crisis between two opposing forces of personality. However, unlike Freud, the individual does not get stuck in a stage if they do not successfully complete the challenge faced in the stage. Furthermore, according to Erikson’s eight psychosocial stages, the development of personality spans the life of the individual and each stage is shaped by external cultural and historical forces. In addition, whereas Freud believed that personality was solely developed during childhood, Erikson considered childhood as “only one aspect of the whole life cycle” although “the environment in which a child lived was crucial to providing growth, adjustment, a source of self-awareness and identity”(Wallerstein & Goldberger, 2000).
There is no doubt that Freud, Jung, Adler and Erikson all made lasting contributions to the field of psychology but by the early 1900’s psychological research began to move away from personal testimonies and case studies and towards more scientific research that was backed by empirical evidence. Furthermore, it didn’t appear that any of these men had considered ethnic, cultural, or gender differences when they were formulating their ideas and many theorists were beginning to question the “nineteenth century science… [of] determinism” (Smith, 2006). Karen Horney, one of the first female psychologists, was one such individual.
Karen Horney challenged traditional Freudian views, especially the instinct orientation of psychoanalysis. Horney believed that rather than being driven by the pleasure principle as Freud claimed, people were instead driven by the need for safety and that neurotic behavior developed as a way of coping with an environment lacking in safety. This is in complete opposition to Freud’s stance that attributed neurotic behavior to subconscious drives and “conflict between the id, the ego, and the superego” (Smith, 2006). Horney also passionately disagreed with Freud’s theory that the differences in the psychology of men and women were simply biological. She believed the differences between men and women were societal and cultural and outlined by men. Opposing the classical analytic portrait of women that Freud promoted – one of women as passive, compliant, and dependent, Horney is credited with founding feminist psychology and her views on women have been staples in feminist literature for several decades (Smith, 2006).
According to an article by Stephanie Shields, contemporary feminist psychology began in 1968 with Naomi Weisstein’s “Kinder, Küche, Kirche as Scientific Law: Psychology Constructs of the Female”. Members of the feminist movement realized that the experiences of individual women were minute parts of a broad, “complex political story played out in individual lives” (Shields, 2015, p 146). Since that time, feminist psychologists concerned by the lack of women included in the history of psychology have worked to document important turning points in feminist psychology and to provide a positive model that will inspire future feminist psychologists to continue challenging the status quo by reshaping the “typical” way of doing things.
A theory is a “set of analytic statements that explain a set of phenomena” (Taylor, 2014, p 8) and consequently early theorists attempted to provide the framework for the entire concept of personality. However, “contemporary personality psychologists have concluded that no single theory can offer a comprehensive explanation for all aspects of personality and behavior” (Schultz & Schultz, 2013 p 355). As a result, contemporary theorists such as Julian Rotter, Marvin Zuckerman, and Martin Seligman, focused on one specific aspect of personality and each created mini-theories that have added to the wealth of knowledge about personality development.
In 1954, Julian Rotter presented a social learning theory of personality that integrated behavioral approaches with then-current personality and clinical psychology. Acknowledging the impact of Alfred Adler’s individual psychology theory, Rotter alleged that “new experiences [are] filtered through a system of generalized expectations developed in earlier interactions” (Mosher, 1968) causing the personality to change throughout the lifespan.
Cited as one of the most prominent psychologists of the 20th century, Rotter is most often recognized for his concept called locus of control Locus of control consists of “internal cognitive processes and external reinforcements that explain behavior and personality” (Schultz & Schultz, 2013, p. 358) and Rotter believed that people fall along a continuum from very internal to very external rather than on an either/or dichotomy of one or the other. Together, Rotter’s social learning theory and locus of control concept blend specific and general constructs with generalized expectancies to explain how personality is developed by the interaction of the individual and their environment. Thus, Rotter’s theory is invaluable to researchers because it enables them to measure specific variables and to make a large number of accurate predictions from these variables (Mearns, 2015).
Marvin Zuckerman began his career as a clinical psychologist but quickly lost faith in psychoanalytic theory. As a result, Zuckerman turned to research on sensory deprivation and personality traits. In the early 1970’s he introduced a “limited-domain aspect of personality called sensation seeking” (Schultz & Schultz, 2013, p 362). Sensation seeking is a personality trait with a biological basis defined by the “seeking of varied, novel, complex, and intense sensations and experiences, and the willingness to take physical, social, legal, and financials risks for the sake of such experience” (Zuckerman, 1994, p. 27). Personality traits are relatively consistent patterns of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and oneself that influence behavior and are exhibited in a wide range of social and personal contexts (Personality Psychology, 2015).
In his decades of research, Zuckerman has seen his theory on sensation seeking and the psychobiology of personality used to empirically establish a connection between sensation seeking behavior and monoamine oxidase (Zuckerman, 2004). Monoamine oxidase is an enzyme that regulates monoamine neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine in the brain (MAO, n.d.). Additionally, a theory was developed by a college that linked these neurotransmitters to motivational mechanisms that control sensitivity to signals of punishment and reward. Furthermore, research as proven that motivational mechanisms affect basic personality traits of anxiety, impulsivity and aggression (Zuckerman, 2004).
Finally, in the mid-1960’s Martin Seligman began research on an aspect of personality he calls learned helplessness. Learned helplessness, according to Seligman’s theory, is a concept that describes behavior in which an individual believes they have no control over their situation and that there is nothing they can do to change their circumstances. This type of behavior is seen in battered women and with several psychological disorders such as phobias, anxiety, and depression (Cherry, 2014).
Later, Seligman expanded his concept of learned helplessness to include the concept of explanatory style. Explanatory style is the way that people explain to themselves why certain events occur in their lives, both good and bad. An individual with optimistic explanatory style tends to expect good things to happen to them but when things do go wrong they look on the bright side and realize that there are sometimes external influences beyond their control. In contrast, individuals who have pessimistic explanatory style blame themselves when bad things happen and attribute it to luck when good things happen (Schultz & Schultz, 2013).
During his research into learned helplessness, Seligman discovered that some individuals are resistant to helplessness conditioning due to their level of optimism. Consequently, he found that it is possible for individuals to change from pessimistic to optimistic explanatory style by learning how to be optimistic. Learned optimism is a concept in positive psychology that involves practicing being optimistic and by replacing negative self-talk, such as “I’m no good to anyone”, with positive, optimistic statements like “I am valued by my family” (Schultz & Schultz, 2013).
Billions of people around the world access social media websites on a daily basis. According to a study conducted in 2012 by Marketing Türkiye, 9 out of 10 adolescents are members of social media forums and spend between four and six hours per day on social networking websites. In addition, the study discovered that these adolescents “communicated with more people via social media than they do in their real life, having an average of 415 online friends” (Özgüven & Mucan, 2013).
Does this mean that the current generation has or will have notable personality differences from prior generations? Does social media create personality deficits that lead to social deviancy because users interact with others virtually rather than physically? Perhaps, perhaps not. Research into the subject shows that social behavior, whether virtual or physical, depends on the personality of the individual to begin with. Some individuals have just as many physical relationships as they do virtual relationships and others may have a plethora of virtual relationships but few physical ones. However, the quantity of relationships, virtual or physical, does not appear to be as important as the quality of the relationships. Individuals high in emotional intelligence focus on nurturing genuine and meaningful relationships and thus report a high level of life satisfaction. In contrast, individuals who are motivated to “collect” friends because they may be useful one day often report lower levels of life satisfaction (Chamorro-Premuzic, 2010).
From a personal perspective, I think that the up-and-coming generation has been affected by social media in several areas. First, there does not seem to be any kind of filter about what is appropriate to share and what is not. Many social media users do not appear to understand the concept of over-sharing – as if every tiny action the individual takes is share-worthy. I believe this may breed individuals with an overinflated sense of self-importance. Second, because is so easy to live life hiding behind a computer or cell phone screen, people may feel awkward, anxious, and uncomfortable when it becomes necessary to have a face-to-face conversation. Last, information on the internet is instantaneous, easily accessible and available to nearly anyone with internet access. This immediacy only serves to create impatient, easily frustrated individuals.
In conclusion, although many of Sigmund Freud’s methodologies, techniques, and conclusions have been highly controversial and his theory marginalized as biological and behavioral approaches gained recognition, Freud’s ideas are central in many therapies today. Many psychologists still practice some variation of Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis although there may be no mention of the “id”, “ego”, or “superego”. Still, examining the unconscious mind and connecting the past to the present remains at the core of treatment that many patients continue to find helpful in coping with their everyday life (Landau, 2010).
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Cherry, K. (2014, December 16). Learned helplessness (What it is and why it happens). Retrieved from http://psychology.about.com/od/lindex/f/earned-helplessness.htm
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Özgüven, N., & Mucan, B. (2013). The relationship between personality traits and social media use. Social Behavior and Personality, 41(3), 517-528. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1504174048?accountid=3783
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