Personality and Factors in Personality


The term personality has been derived from a Latin word “Persona” meaning a mask of cover worn by actor in a theatre. In the olden days the actors wore masks to represent the roles they were playing. So it became a symbol of the outward appearance of a person, the image of the person presented to the outer world.

Definition of Personality

  • “Individuality that emerges from the interaction between a biological organism and a social and physical world, personality can be described in terms of the behavior of the individual, his facts, postures, words and thoughts. It is defined as an individual’s typical or consistent adjustment to his environment”.  –Boring(1948)
  • ” As personal identity, modes of organization of behavior and continuities and discontinuities”. -Hutt, Issacson and Blum (1967)
  • “The dynamic organization within the individual of those psycho-physical systems that determine his characteristic behavior and thought”. –Allport
  • “personality is the sum of activities that can be discovered by actual observations over  a long enough period of time to give reliable information”. –Watson
  • “Personality is the sum total of all the biological innate dispositions, impulses, tendencies, aptitudes and instincts of ther individual and the dispositions and tendencies acquired by experience” –Marton Prince

Factors in Personality

At birth babies are different from each other in many ways. Some are active, some passive, some happy while others are irritable and uncomfortable. Apart from these general differences babies do not have personalities. Personality unfolds, grows, and develops in the course of living. There are many factors  or determinants of personality.

Some believe that personality and its traits are inherited one receives the gift of intelligence, beauty, honesty and musical ability through one’s genes from one’s forefathers. Others are convinced that personality to a large extent is learned. Let us examine the prominent factors and determinants of personality. Basically they can be divided into two factors. First is environmental factor and second is biological factor.


Factors in Personality

Environmental Factors in Personality

Effect of Early feeding Experience:

The food-getting experience is highly significant for the infant because of its tremendous biological need. Dissatisfaction in obtaining feed is likely to disturb the physiological balance. Breast-feeding and a self- demand schedule (where the baby is fed according to its own need rather that at a fixed time interval) according to doctors and child psychologists (notable Gesell) is the most favorable condition for the child. This provides the least amount of frustration.

Anthropological studies show that in a culture where babies are treated with motherly warmth and affection and minimal frustration in feeding, adults tend to develop emotionally secure and well adjusted. What is more basic is the loving attitude of the mother during the feeding experience. Freud laid stress on the oral stage of development. He explained much adult behaviors as the outcome Habitual of frustration of the sucking reflex in the early stage of life. Habitual smoking, chewing, over eating, constant use of foul language are related to disturbance in early feeding experience, known as oral deprivation according to Freud.

Murphy has found that a sense of security of self-esteem, clarity of perception and ability to deal with the environment depends on appropriate oral gratification.

Exp : Experimental studies also support these findings. In an experiment by Marx one group of rats was deprived of food in infancy. Another group was fed normally. When these rats grew into adults, it was found that the first group, much more that the  second group tended to (1) hoard their food, and (2) eat their food at faster rate. So early feeding experiences are one of the important determinants of personality.

Others early Experiences

Ribble speaks of ‘mothering’ – that is handling, rocking, fondling talking to babies. Psychologically this activity stimulates the blood and the lymph of the body. Studies by Spitz and Dennis have shown that children kept in orphanages and hospitals were more retarded then average children in their overall growth. They were also prone to infections, some even developing severe emotional depression. It was found that the nurses did not provide any mothering or physical contact to these children. Mothering is very important for a healthy development of personality.

Exp: A number of studies with animals show the effects of early experience. Harlow is famous for his experiments with monkeys. He investigated the various effects of mothering. He separated a group of young monkeys from their mother and provided them with ‘surrogate’ (mechanical mothers) which fed the monkeys. One mechanical mother was made of wire and the other was made of wood and covered with sponge, rubber and terrycloth and was ‘soft, warm and tender’.

A number of experiments were carried out with these two ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ mothers. The ‘soft’ mother was preferred by the baby monkeys, especially in ‘stressful’ conditions when it was frightened. So Harlow concluded that a soft body contact was more necessary that just feeding for a healthy development. Others studies lay stress on stimulus deprivation, that is, lack of a stimulating environment, where a great deal of knowledge about one’s environment through touching, feeling, smelling, hearing, tasting and seeing is lost.

An infant who had lost his mother in childbirth was left to himself in a dark room while the father went to work. He was severely retarded in its physical intellectual and emotional development. Children coming from poor and deprived background when provided with stimulating learning material show an improvement in their intellectual development. Many animal studies
also support this finding.

Exp.  Animal studies on social deprivation (Harlow and others) shows that animals brought up in isolation cannot interact with others nor mate with them when exposed to other animals in adulthood.

Clinical studies indicate that children with severe emotional problems have a history of emotional deprivation (a lack of love). Psychopathic criminals also show a emotional history of deprivation. So we see that the early experiences of a child are extremely important in shaping his personality. Erikson believes that basic trust towards the world and himself, does not depend on the mere satisfaction of physical needs, but upon the ways in which these needs are satisfied met. The child learns to trust the world when his physical needs are with  minimal frustration in a warm relationship which makes him feel secure.

When the world can be depended on in this way the child extends this feeling to himself, thus fostering positive self-regard and self-esteem. This does not imply that should not be frustrated at all. As a child grows older in the child he learns to delay immediate satisfaction, wait a warm, secure atmosphere a little till his mother gets the food ready and sometimes not be given the toffee at all for which he has been crying. The child learns to handle disappointments, if they are not too severe for his age and development. Thus frustration tolerance is equally important for a
well-adjusted personality.

The influence of the Family:

In the early years the basic mother-child relationship is very important. But in the pre-school years of the child, the influence of the father and other members of family starts exerting itself. An infinite variety of patterns of relationship exist within the family.

Acceptance-Rejection of the child : It is one of the basic dimensions of parent- child interactions, which  affects personality development according to Baldwin. In cases of extreme rejection (studies by Spitz, Bowlbry and Aurby) when-the child was altogether deprived of his mother, it had terrible effect on the personality of the child. Other studies of broken homes in which either or both parents are unable to meet the needs, their children show personality disturbances. Children from broker homes also turn to delinquency.

Outside Family:  Other environmental influences are that of peer group or the gang. Especially in adolescence, children mould their interest and abilities and style of clothes, hair, walking and talking on the group behavior of which they are a member. One’s schools and institutions also help in this respect. Children coming from Public School and those from Government Schools have different attitudes, interest and mannerism.

Economic Environment:

One cannot ignore economic factor in personality study. People from low income groups differ a great deal in their personality make up than those from higher socioeconomic groups their whole style of life and behavior is different. The middle class is the most moralistic. The lower class are the most deprived and handicapped. Poverty is one of the major reasons for crime, prostitution and delinquency.

Cultural Environmental

Whether one is brought up in the Jungles of Burma or in  the United States, city or farm, lower or upper class, makes a lot of difference to  personality. Culture determines to a great deal interest, abilities, values and morals. Toda’s of the Nilgiri’s in the South allow many husbands to a woman and the Ladakhin the North Shares His wife with  his brothers.

Biological Factors in Personality

Personality and Endocrine (Ductless) Glands:

A person’s nature and temperament are also influenced by certain glands in his body. These are known as endocrine glands or the ductless glands. These glands pour their secretions (hormones) directly into the blood stream, which carry it to every part of the body. The hormones affect the functioning of the whole body.

Distinct changes occur in appearance, physique, temperament and intelligence, unless these glands secrete their hormones properly. Too much or too little bring about physical and mental changes. These changes in turn affect a person’s social relations with others around him, which in turn will affect his social and psychological happiness and adjustment. Peculiarities on a person like a squeaky voice in big man, a bearded lady, a dwarf, a giant and other deformities might arouse ridicule and curiosity in others, which in turn drive the person to avoid people or take up a profession in the circus.

Following are the important glands of our body:
The pituitary Gland :

The pituitary gland is a small structure below the brain stem. It is divided into lobes, an anterior and a posterior. The posterior lobe has no known relation to personality. The anterior lobe, however, produces various hormones. One of these hormones is the growth hormones-which effects the body build (physique) of the person.

An over-active anterior pituitary produces a giant and under activity results in a dwarf. The pituitary hormones also influence the sex glands known as gonads. Over production of the hormones will produce greater sexual activity and an underactive anterior might reduce the sexual vigour of a grown-up man. Even the male sexual characteristics might be reduced, for instance a girl like voice, no hair on the chest and other parts of the body.

The Adrenal gland:

Another hormone from the anterior pituitary is known as ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone). This hormone stimulates the adrenal gland. In the center of the adrenal gland is the core known as medulla. This produces hormones known as noradrenalin and adrenalin. When a person is in extreme emotional state like fear or anger adrenalin is secreted. This in turn brings about certain physiological changes like a person starts sweating, his pulse rate is increased, his blood pressure goes up and breathing becomes faster.

Adrenalin gives us the extra-energy to meet emergencies. In case of a danger like fire or an explosion, more adrenalin is produced which gives the person the needed* energy for actions and escape. The Adrenal cortex or the outer layer of this gland is also has importance. When it is stimulated by ACTH from the anterior pituitary, it produces a hormone called cortisone.

Cortisone is very necessary for life. When insufficient cortisone is produced, person undergoes marked changes in personality. He becomes weak and lazy, loses his sexual desire and appetite for food and suffers a wide spread breakdown of physiological function including the salt metabolism. This under production of cortisone might be due to two causes.

If at an early age the adrenal cortex over produces cortisone, then it results in what is known as puberty praecox. There are cases where six-year old boy looks like a 14-year old boy, with moustache and deep voice and little girls looking like mature grown up women. Sometimes excess secretion of the adrenal cortex produces masculine characteristics in a woman like the bearded body.

The Thyroid Gland:

The hormone produced by the thyroid is called Thyroxin. Insufficient thyroxin produces low intelligence, as seen in cretinism. Their intelligence is much below average. Later in life under activity produces lethargy. These people do not have much energy to do anything. On the other hand, over activity produces ‘nervous tension’.

Lethargy can be corrected by doses of thyroxin. Thus we see that the endocrine glands can and do influence personality. Malfunctioning of any one can upset the balance of others. A person’s mental state influences the secretion of hormones (adrenaline). We can conclude that the endocrine glands and a person’s personality work together, on influencing the other. Yet one must not forget that he endocrine glands are only one of the numerous factors in personality development.

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