Eysenck's Approach To Understanding Personality

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Before examining Eysencks approach to understanding personality, we need to define what personality is. Dictionary definition (1) Personality – the sum of all the behavioral and mental characteristics by means of which an individual is recognised as being unique. What is meant by personality? It is the inner quality of a person, the sum of their life experiences, the way the environment affects a persons’ outlook and a conscious choice. Personality is not better or worse than any other person’s. Scientifically, we all have a personality and each on is different. Definitions of personality conventionally excludes physical differences such as height or strength, although these obviously affect personality. Eysencks personality model is a trait-based approach. A trait is a ‘characteristic feature or quality distinguishing a person or thing’. (2) Eysenck was using an approach, which was concerned about what personality is like, rather than speculating on ‘underlying psychological mechanisms’. (3) Eysenck believed that personality is influenced by a combination of genetics, biological factors and environment. Day to day when we describe peoples personalities, we refer to terms such as kind, funny, outgoing and worriers etc. these are known as trait terms and Eysenck asserts that we have some of these traits from birth. Gordon Allport (1961) identifies no less than 18, 000 trait terms in literature, of which 4,500 are in common use. (4) It is suggested that many traits may simply be an aspect of a core attribute. For example, someone who appears nervous, defensive and introvert may be showing facets of a core problem; which is anxiety. If one starts to seek out these core attributes, it is said they are adopting a parsimonious approach. A parsimonious approach is one in which deserved facts are accounted for, ‘in terms of the smallest possible number of underlying variables’. (5) The parsimonious approach has been traced back to Hippocrates and Galen. W.B. Wundt (1832-1920); a founding father of modern psychology; replaced the four basic personality types as put forward by Galen; namely: - Melancholic Sad and Depressed Phlegmatic Calm and Stable Choleric Irascible and Quick Tempered Sanguine Cheerful and Optimistic With two of these traits being strong Vs weak and volatile Vs stable; individuals being placed at various points on this continuum. Eysenck was one psychologist who developed Wundt’s ideas and doing so on a basis of strong research evidence. In common with Wundt, Eysenck recognised two main personality traits but felt they would be more aptly described by the terms Extroversion-Introversion (E-Dimension), Neuroticism-Stability (N-Dimension), later adding a third High Psychoticism-Low Psychoticism (P-Dimension).
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