Personality: Psychoanalytic and Biological Approaches

There are six different perspectives of personality. The major difference between them is that they approach personality by means of focusing on one of its major aspects (Burger, 2014). Specifically, the first approach is psychoanalytic whose followers maintain that unconscious minds drive differences in people’s personalities. The second is trait approach according to which personalities are viewed as combined of versatile features and characteristics. Next, there is biological approach according to which inherited traits and physiological processes are seen as responsible for differences in personality types. Humanistic approach stands for the vision of personality as determined by individual ideas of self-acceptance and responsibility exercised by humans. Social expectations and conditioning are argued to be the factors that determine personality differences in behavioral or social learning approach. Finally, according to cognitive approach, personality types are shaped by the ways people process information.

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It is possible to compare and contrast psychoanalytic and biological approaches. The former is focused on mental factors as drivers of personalities, and the latter maintains that physiological ones are the major influence. This is one of the obvious differences. However, the biological approach also states that the determiners of personality are inherited. Unconscious minds that are viewed as those shaping personalities in psychoanalytic approach can, in a way, be inherited or copied by offspring by observing the behaviors of their parents. In that way, the two approaches may focus on similar dynamics that underlie the formation of human personalities.

Reliability is an aspect of tests and studies that indicates the degree of consistency of their results. In other words, the methods according to which data is collected, measured and interpreted have to remain consistent in reference to the major features they are designed to observe or explain. Validity stands for the extent to which the selected methods and approaches are suitable for measuring what they are used to measure. Both reliability and validity need to have a proper and convincing demonstration in a research work or a test. Practically, the researchers working on measures are to explain why the approaches they chose are the most accurate and suitable for their specific issue.

Reliability is characterized by the level of internal consistency in tests that shows whether or not the test is focused on measuring its issue in question. For example, ideally, all of the components of a test have to focus on assessing its issue of focus. In a test where some of the elements are concentrated on some other issues, internal validity is limited. Another aspect of reliability is known as test-retest reliability that indicates how consistent the results are in the same group of participants assessed for the second time. Minor alterations in results are allowed. Test-retest reliability is viewed as high when results match the previous data in the vast majority of participants.

Validity also has several different aspects. First of all, face validity indicates the ease of recognition of the focus of the test from the first sight. Basically, the items of a test have to reflect the phenomenon it measures. For example, a test that has questions dedicated to one’s fears has good face validity if its purpose is to assess one’s potential for phobias. Congruent validity is the consistency of the results of a test with those provided by other instruments measuring the same phenomenon. For example, a depression inventory results are to match those generated by a self-report depression assessment or other forms of screening for depression. Discriminant validity considers the degree to which the results of a given test do not match those of tests measuring unrelated constructs. For instance, tests measuring emotional intelligence should not be mixed with tests measuring academic achievement because even though the two may be connected, they indicate different phenomena driven by different determiners (Zaman & Mahboob, 2017).

As specified by Burger (2014), person versus the situation debate is one of the longstanding questions in the field of psychology. The major argument in this regard revolves around the perspective from which human behavior is viewed. To be more precise, the main question under discussion is whether a person’s actions and decisions are influenced by their personality or by the situation in which they are put. In that way, from the point of view of the situational influence, people tend to respond to their individual environments thus shaping their actions in accordance with surrounding events. At the same time, people’s responses to situations may vary based on their personality types. Faced with the same situation, different people would display different behaviors. However, situations, experiences, and circumstances are never the same for two people.

Discussing the degree of influence on human behavior produced by each of the two factors – situations and personalities, it is difficult to determine a single correct answer. In order to produce some practical and demonstrative data for this debate, one would need to test the two points of view using a sample of participants. For instance, putting people with similar personality types in identical situations could help observe what factor would determine their behaviors. At the same time, similar personalities are still not completely the same which means that the situations would be perceived differently by the subjects. In this case, the reliability and validity of test results would be weakened by the latter aspect. In my opinion, the impacts of personalities and situations tend to vary in strength for different people at different times thus making both factors equally likely as potential drivers of behaviors.

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Analyzing personality from a certain cultural point of view, one allows cultural biases to influence the interpretation of the collected data and test results in general. Cultural bias does not refer only to national differences between people and behaviors and features deemed acceptable and unacceptable in their respective cultures. Cultural bias may manifest in the way representatives from a socioeconomic group perceive people who belong to other groups. To be more precise, Reynolds and Suzuki (2013) note that ability tests are just one kind of assessments that are impacted by cultural bias. Such tests tend to show inadequate results assigning unequal scores to individuals with equal abilities.

There are many reasons due to which cultural bias can occur in testing. Some of such reasons include standardization samples that are unsuitable for some groups of participants, differences in social contexts of individuals that impact their results, low level of discriminant validity that brings confusion inflicted by the focus on measuring unrelated constructs, and language bias among others (Reynolds & Suzuki, 2013). In that way, analyzing personality from a certain cultural point of view, researchers are likely to produce invalid and unreliable results that would not reflect the measured phenomenon and its characteristics accurately.

Personality is a highly complex construct that has many aspects and can manifest in a variety of different ways. Thinking of a clear and basic definition of personality, I would prefer to describe it as a unique set of characteristics and features of an individual’s character that differs from one person to another. Also, it is important to point out that this set of traits also dictates people’s reactions to various circumstances and other people.

Interestingly, this definition developed using my own words and understanding of personality is quite different from the one provided by Burger (2014) in the textbook. To be more precise, the author describes personality as comprised of internal processes and behavior patterns instead of separate traits and characteristics. The major similarity between the two definitions is that they both describe personality composed of multiple elements. However, the difference is that Burger (2014) preferred to name processes as parts of personalities, thus demonstrating their multifaceted nature.

Among the perspectives of personality presented in the textbook, a psychoanalytic approach aligns the best with my ideas on the matter. Burger (2014) stated that this psychoanalytic approach views personality as driven by a person’s unconscious mind. The approach is based majorly on the works of Sigmund Freud and his psychoanalytic theory. This Freud’s theory was focused mainly on the psychological motive behind all the thoughts, actions, and feelings, which, in their turn, are determined by unconscious minds (“Psychoanalytic theory,” n.d.). The works of Freud were continued by his followers one of whom was his daughter Anna Freud. She focused on researching children, especially those who had been through harsh experiences, and connecting their reactions and behaviors to what they had encountered in life (Engler, 2013). Anna Freud noticed that children’s reactions were tightly connected to those of their mothers.

Do children’s unconscious minds copy or inherit the patterns of the unconscious minds of their parents?

The two kinds of personality measures I would like to discuss are self-reports and observations made by psychologists. Self-report personality measures are based on the autonomous work of clients who examine their own behavior and thought patterns and describe them during an assessment. Based on the reported data, a psychologist can make conclusions. Often, self-report tests contain inventories allowing clients assess themselves without the participation of a professional. The benefit of such measures is that they can be used by people who feel uncomfortable explaining their issues to a stranger and sharing their deep emotions. The disadvantage is that the results of such measures are not always accurate because in some cases, people are unable to report certain kinds of emotions and experiences that underlie their behaviors (Burger, 2014). The reliability and validity of self-report measures are also limited because such tests are vulnerable to cultural biases and need to be adapted carefully for each group of participants or even for separate individuals based on their social and cultural contexts (Garrido & Cabiya, 2012).

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Speer, Christiansen, and Honts (2015) note that self-report measures of personality are likely to be exposed to self-perception biases; that is why professional observation is a useful form of assessment. This observation can be used as the main assessment or as a complementary measure. Its major advantage is the opportunity for a professional opinion to be introduced without a direct interaction between the psychologist and their client. This way the emotional costs to the client are minimized. The main disadvantage is the chance of perception bias or limited perspective from the side of the psychologist. The reliability and validity of observation are based on the psychologist’s level of experience and professionalism. At the same time, observation can only cover a certain type or number of situations thus limiting the professional’s impression due to the incomplete data.

Does observation by a psychologist require informed consent of the clients? How accurate are the results of observation if clients are aware they are observed and can modify behaviors?

Professional personality researchers are forced to resort to different approaches during their practice and, just like some representatives of other professions, use appropriate tools for their work. Sometimes it is difficult to study the features of human psychology, based on common terms and theories. According to Burger (2014), in this case, experts rely on an individual approach to the objects of their studies, conducting in-depth analyses of their personality processes and taking into account typical characteristics of a particular person. As a rule, a special connection arises between the researcher and the participant of the study: the specialist is interested in examining a certain phenomenon, and the subject is interested in being helped. As Burger (2014) notes, all the data obtained during this work are descriptive and represent a specialist’s personal opinion with regard to some psychological characteristics of his or her subject. In the process of work, some elements of quantitative analysis can be used; however, such information, for instance, about the mode of the human day, etc., rarely have much in common with other people’s data. Therefore, a descriptive analysis can be considered to be the most optimal procedure.

The contribution of some outstanding personalities to the development of personality psychology by analyzing certain behavioral factors is undeniable. One of the most outstanding representatives of this direction is Sigmund Freud, the author of many works, who relied solely on the analysis of his patients’ behavior. According to Burger (2014), many of Freud’s theories were based on observations obtained in the course of working with Anna O. Gordon Allport, another psychologist who specialized in in-depth study of the human personality. As Burger (2014) claims, some supporters of different psychological theories expressed separate opinions. For example, humanist theorists, one of whom is a well-known scientist Carl Rogers, considered human nature as an object of study that relates to a psychotherapeutic area. Many proponents of the behavioral theory, for instance, John B. Watson who is famous for his work “Little Albert”, often turn to case studies, seeking in practice to prove the effectiveness of the application of certain concepts. In these examples, authors sought to explain some deviations through the provisions of their behavioral theory and resorted to corresponding explanations.


Burger, J. M. (2014). Personality (9th ed.). Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.

Engler, B. (2013). Personality theories. New York, NY: Cengage Learning.

Garrido, M., & Cabiya, J. J. (2012). Assessing personality using self-report measures with Hispanic clients. In Benuto, L. T. (Ed.), Guide to psychological assessment with Hispanics (pp. 57-80). New York, NY: Springer.

Psychoanalytic theory. (n.d.). Web.

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Reynolds, C. R., & Suzuki, L. (2013). Bias in psychological assessment: An empirical review and recommendations. In Graham J. R., Naglieri, J. A., & Weiner, I. B. (Eds.), Handbook of psychology (10th ed.) (pp. 82-113). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Speer, A., Christiansen, N., & Honts, C. (2015). Assessment of personality through behavioral observations in work simulations. Personnel Assessment and Decisions, 1(1), 43-56.

Zaman, S., & Mahboob, U. (2012). Correlation of emotional intelligence with academic achievement in undergraduate medical students. Advanced in Health Professions Education, 2(1), 20-23.

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