Personality Psychology


Personality Trait Theory
Trait Psychology


Differences among individuals

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … self-awareness.
  • Knowing is … self-monitoring.
  • Learner is … self.
  • Learning is … self-improvement.
  • Teaching is … reminding.




Personality Psychology focuses on and seeks to understand differences among individuals – where “personality” is understood as a pattern of thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and motivations, as summoned by different conditions and situations. Not a unified domain, apart from an interest in individual well-being, camps within Personality Psychology split along alignments with Behaviorisms, Psychoanalytic Theories, Humanisms, Learner Trait Discourses, and Identity Discourses. Some prominent associated discourses and subdiscourses of Personality Psychology include:
  • Differential Psychology – Breaking with the trend of modern psychology to examine social or situational influences on personality, Differential Psychology focuses on the level of individual psyches as is names and classifies differences among personalities.
  • Ego Control (Jack Block, Adam Kremen, 1990s) – one’s capacity to manage angry or aggressive impulses, especially under stressful conditions
  • Ego Resiliency (Jack Block, Adam Kremen, 1990s) – one’s stability and adaptability in stressful situations, assessed by abilities to inhibit or express emotional impulses in manners appropriate to contexts and social demands. (Note: Ego Resiliency should not be confused with Resilience, under Grit.)
  • Locus of Control (Julian Rotter, 1960s) – Concerned with whether one sees oneself as having control (internal locus) or subject to social or other forces (external locus), Locus of Control addresses personal perceptions of agency and autonomy and their attitudes toward fate and chance. Subconstructs include:
    • Locus of Causality (Bernard Weiner, 1970s) – where one locates the cause for one’s performance, either internally (“I succeeded/failed because of a personal trait/action.”) or externally (“I succeeded/failed because of some condition beyond my control.”). More consistent performances, both strong and weak, are associated with the former.
    • Locus of Stability (Bernard Weiner, 1970s) – how one construes the cause for an external event, either constant (and so unlikely to change) or dynamic (and so likely variable), which is theorized to influence one’s decisions to act or not act
  • Meditation – Broadly embraced and diversely interpreted, Meditation refers to any technique associated with training or focusing attention (e.g., on an activity or an object), usually to address stress, depression, or other disruption.
  • Organismic Theory (Kurt Goldstein, 1940s) – Rooted in Gestaltism and informed by studies of brain injuries, Organismic Theory rejects both reductionist, causal models of learning and statistics-derived, group-based models of identity, framing personality in terms of unity, coherence, and fulfillment of potentialities to the extents made available.
  • Outline of SelfOutline of Self is a loosely conceived notion, engaged as a full-fledged discourse by some, that comprises lists of traits, emotions, habits, stages, aspirations, activities, roles, duties, and other phenomenon that humans use to define reasonably stable identities. (The lists can be surprisingly long.)
  • Social Penetration Theory – Adopting a developmentalist attitude, Social Penetration Theory posits a sequence of stages in the development of interpersonal communication and relationships, from shallow non-intimacy to intense intimacy. Particular attention is given to self-disclosure and self-concealment.
  • Trait Theory (Dispositional Theory) ­– Focused mainly on the measurement of pre-identified pattern of thought, behavior, and emotion, Trait Theory is a conflicted domain that is invoked by both Learner Trait Discourses and Identity Discourses.
A prominent feature among discourses associated with Personality Psychology is a self-facing, self-bettering focus:
  • Fogg Behavior Model (B.J. Fogg, 2000s) – a descriptive and commercialized model that is intended to inform efforts at self-change. The model suggests that success depends on three factors: adequate Motivation, adequate Ability, and an adequate Trigger.
  • Psycho-Cybernetics (Maxwell Maltz, 1960s) – techniques for self-improvement that are based on a blend of Cybernetics and Cognitive Behavior Theory (see Behaviorisms) and that are brought to bear on one’s goals and sense of self. Body- and performance-focused self-affirmations and mental visualisations figure centrally.
  • Quantified Self (Lifelogging) – Enabled by wearable technologies and ubiquitous connectivity, Quantified Self refers to self-tracking of mental, physical, and/or emotional data, typically for the purpose of improving daily functioning through tools for surveillance and analysis of self.
  • Self-Actualization – Originally described as the highest level of psychological development in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Self-Actualization has evolved into a discourse on its own. As the name suggests, this discourse is associated with one’s efforts toward self-fulfilment or the realization of one’s potential.
  • Self-Evaluation – critical assessments of (1) one’s own performances, typically undertaken with a view toward improving those performances, and (2) one’s emotional reactions to these assessments, typically with an eye on one’s Mindset
  • Self-Experimentation ­– Less a discourse and more a description, Self-Experimentation refers to instances which one conducts research on oneself, fulfilling the roles of designer, implementer, observer, observed, and reporter. in recent years, Self-Experimentation has come to be strongly associated with Quantified Self (see above).
  • Self-Healing – Often associated with Gestaltism, Self-Healing encompasses any self-motivated actions – both intuitive and contemplative – that contribute to recovery from psychological injuries or traumas.
  • Self-Help (Self-Improvement; Personal Development) – Variously defined, Self-Help encompasses any self-motivated (although often-times group-supported and occasionally therapist-directed) effort to address a personally limiting constraint – typically rooted in or associated with a significant psychological issue. Most often, texts and programs designed to support Self-Help focus on habits of deemed-to-be successful people and/or principles of effective action (e.g., planning, self-care, skill development).
  • Self-Modeling – shifts in thoughts and action that are triggered by Self-Monitoring and Self-Evaluation activities
  • Self-Monitoring (Self-Observation; Self-Recording) – any deliberate action of paying focused attention to some aspect of one’s appearance and activity, typically undertaken as an aspect of Self-Evaluation


The most frequent criticisms of Personality Psychology are focused on the deliberate and conscious decision of most proponents to downplay (and, in some instances, to ignore) social and cultural influences on personality. This move is sometimes defended with the assertion that Personality Psychology is principally descriptive and focused on self-help, but that point is revealed as a rationalization in the cultural bases of the descriptions and the prominently social natures of the self-help aims.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences



  • Differential Psychology
  • Ego Control
  • Ego Resiliency
  • Fogg Behavior Model
  • Locus of Causality
  • Locus of Control
  • Locus of Stability
  • Meditation
  • Organismic Theory
  • Outline of Self
  • Quantified Self (Lifelogging)
  • Self-Actualization
  • Self-Evaluation
  • Self-Experimentation
  • Self-Healing
  • Self-Help (Self-Improvement; Personal Development)
  • Self-Modeling
  • Self-Monitoring (Self-Observation; Self-Recording)
  • Social Penetration Theory
  • Trait Theory (Dispositional Theory)

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Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2022). “Personality Psychology” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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