Deep Thinking Blog - Is there a best Personality Theory?

Samiksha Bhardwaj-26 November, 2020 -Talent Assessments

Various factors constitute one's Personality, they are unconscious processes, experiences especially early childhood ones, genes, and the environment. Personality affects our thinking, feelings, and behavior in any situation at any time. Personality helps us to adjust to different environments and deal with daily challenges.

Throughout history, great minds have proposed countless theories and models to understand personality. Proponents like Aristotle, Freud, and Abraham Maslow, to name a few, have spent years and years to answer questions of personality - how to define it, what causes individual differences, what makes people similar to and different from each other.

Thanks to these great minds, we have various schools of thought that provide a framework to understand personality. They all provide some context for understanding human behavior, thought, and development. Psychodynamic theories, for example, focus on the subconscious mind, early sexual experiences and conflicts. Behavioral theories provide a basis for understanding how people imitate and learn new things. Cognitive theories focus on attention, memory, and perception of humans and assert that human behavior begins with their mindset. Biological theories use genes, DNA, and other hereditary factors to explain human behavior.

Which theory is the best? Do we even have the best theory? The answer is No. The reason why in the 21st century, we still do not have a 'best' theory of Personality is threefold.

1. Psychology is unlike other sciences

Physics has two dominant paradigms: quantum mechanics and general relativity and scientists are rigorously attempting to merge the two into a unified theory of fundamental reality. Biology has one unifying theory: the Extended Synthesis model that is built on the original Darwinian insight. Chemistry has its unified theory which basically boils down to physics.

These are 'hard' sciences whereas Psychology is considered as 'soft' science. This categorization, however, does not make Psychology an easy science. Psychology follows a social-humanist discipline, in which it is concerned with the most complex systems in the known universe: individual human beings and the societies they form.

2. Humans being are complex if not mystical

Things are quite complicated when it comes to human beings. Their abilities for language, foresightedness, innovation, and deliberation find no counterpart in the rest of the animal world. And this makes human behavior so intricate that describing them via quantitative explanations does not work (yet). Human beings do things as a result of their drives, urges, and motivations, these are complex and individualistic and thus not reducible to the sort of statistics that hard-science scholars prefer to focus on.

Personality, interestingly, is characterized by both stability and change across the lifespan. Social, economic, and political factors will always shape human history and their future which gives us our third reason.

3. Cultural evolution

There are both universal and culture-specific aspects of personality. Culture is defined as the information capable of affecting individuals' behavior that they acquire from other members of their species through teaching, observation, imitation, stories, and other forms of social transmission. Over time, this information evolves and changes as a consequence of a combination of social, evolutionary, and biological influences. Cultural variation in values has important consequences on the life-course trajectory of personality. Humans have also developed adapted responses to the environmental conditions in order to survive and this adapting response in combination with the cultural evolution makes it difficult to form a personality theory that explains everything.

In addition to the above explanation, the near-impossibility of testing the theories aimed to define and measure unobserved phenomena are the reasons why we currently do not have a unified theory of Personality.

Personality is fascinating in the sense that there are so many different ways to look at it and various theories that are developed are valid in their way. Factors associated with personality and its concepts can and should be studied quantitatively. But the human element will also always be there, which will also be in part determined by its complex, unpredictable, stable yet adapting nature.

This means that there are certain psychological theories that will be appropriate for one situation, but not another. Over the course of time, many personality theories are validated and accepted by researchers.

One such personality model that did survive the 20th century and is popular among academics even today is called the Big 5 Personality Theory. It was developed in 1961 at Brooks Air Force Base. Several psychologists including Robert McCrae, Warren Norman, Lewis Goldberg, and Paul Costa helped develop the model into its modern form. Big 5 theory explains personality using five basic dimensions/factors of personality.

The Big Five personality theory gives an elaborate and simple blueprint to understanding personalities. Some of the key elements that put it apart from other theories include

  1. Big 5 theory doesn't sort anybody into a "type," and just observed them where they fall on a continuum of personality traits and this approach makes it relevant and easy to comprehend.
  2. Researchers have also found that the big five traits are also universal. One study looked at individuals from more than 50 different cultures and found that the five dimensions can be accurately used to describe personality.
  3. The Big Five remain relatively stable throughout most of one's lifetime making the results reliable and valid for a longer duration.
  4. David Buss suggested that these personality traits represent the most important qualities that shape our social landscape.
  5. Research has shown that big 5 model is relevant to be used in organizations and has the capacity to predict workplace attitudes and behaviors, such as motivation, potential, and engagement. Enabling a deeper understanding of these behaviors in coworkers and managers can help them create trust and relate better to one another and cultivate a stronger workplace culture.

As an organization, use the assessments based on big 5 theory to help you to identify accurately candidates who will meet the demands of the role you are recruiting for and their fitment to your organization's culture.

Once you've identified the "personality" of the role, use the Big Five Personality theory to assess how well each candidate's personality fits the position and the organizational culture. As a best practice, use other recruitment tools in conjunction to have best candidate selection process for your organization.