What are Personality Development Theories and Influencing Factors? 

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 The leading viewpoint in the psychology of personality development indicates that personality emerges right from child hood and continues to develop till one takes his last breath. However, adult personality traits are believed to have a basis in the temperament, right from infancy i.e., meaning that individual differences in disposition and behavior appear early in life, potentially before language of conscious self-representation develop. The ‘Five Factor Model’ of personality talks about the dimensions of childhood temperament. This suggests that individual differences in levels of the corresponding personality traits  i.e., neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness are present from young age.

What are the ‘Five Factor Theory’?

Psychoanalytic Theory

The Psychoanalytic Theory of personality was discovered by the great Sigmund Freud. His theory consists of three main ideas that make up personality, the ‘id’, the ‘ego’, and the ‘super-ego’. By ‘id’ I mean by meeting basic needs of a human being. It also represents our most animalistic urges, like the desire for food and sex. The id seeks instant gratification for our wants and needs. If these needs or wants are not met, a person can become tense, anxious, or angry.  The ‘ego’ according to Freud operates based on the ‘reality principle’, which works to satisfy the id’s desires in a manner that is realistic and socially appropriate. For example, if a person cuts you off in traffic, the ego prevents you from chasing down the car and physically attacking the offending driver. In simple terms, the superego is the “ethical component of the personality and provides the moral standards by which the ego operates”. The superego’s “criticisms, prohibitions, and inhibitions form a person’s conscience, and its positive aspirations and ideals represent one’s idealized self-image, or ego-ideal.”

The three traits control their own sections of the psyche. Personality is developed by the three traits.

Trait Theory

The ‘Trait Theory’ of personality is one of the most important theory in the study of personality. According to this theory, traits make up personality. Traits can be described as ‘patterns of behavior, thought, or emotion’. In simple terms, a ‘Trait’ is what we call  for example, a characteristic way in which an “individual perceives, feels, believes, or acts”.  When  you casually describe someone, you are likely to use trait terms normally used in your every-day life like, “I am, for example, an introvert, a pretty nervous person, strongly attached to my family, sometimes depressed, and intelligent.  I have a good sense of humor, or fond of languages, very fond of good food and not at all fond of exercise.

Social Cognitive Theory

According to the ‘Social Cognitive Theory’ personality development in terms of reciprocal interactionism, that is, a perspective that considers the relationship of person–society as an interactive system that defines and molds personal development. “Personal interaction with other individuals, society, and nature create experiences in which self-identification is organized in relation to social environment”. In other words, according to the theory “personality traits are a function of complex cognitive strategies used to effectively maneuver through social situations and according to social-cognitive perspective, cognitive processes are central to an individual’s unique expression of personality traits and affective processes”. Through cognitive mechanism and social competencies, individuals interpret contextual situations to derive beliefs that guide their thoughts and behaviors, thus developing an enduring pattern of personality traits.

Evolutionary Theory Humanistic Theory

The evolutionary theory of personality development is primarily based on the evolutionary process of natural selection. From the evolutionary perspective, evolution created variations of the human mind. Natural selection refined these variations based on their beneficence to humans. Due to human complexity, many opposing personality traits proved to be beneficial in a variety of ways. For example, Early Men were collectivists due to tribe culture. The personalities of individuals within a tribe were very alike. It was the division of labor that resulted in differentiation in personality traits in order to achieve a higher efficiency. “Differentiation in personality traits increased functionality, therefore becoming adaptive through natural selection. Humans continued to develop personality and individuality through evolution”.

Lifespan Theory

The Classic theories of personality include Freud’s tripartite theory and post-Freudian theory  i.e., developmental stage theories and type theories and indicate that most personality development occurs in childhood, stabilizes by the end of adolescence. However, current perspectives of Life Span Theory that integrate theory and empirical findings dominate the research literature. For example, the lifespan perspectives of personality are based on the ‘plasticity principle’, the principle that personality traits are open systems that can be influenced by the environment at any age. Large-scale longitudinal studies have demonstrated that the most active period of personality development are between the ages of 20-40.

Humanistic Theory

Humanistic psychology underlines individual choices as ‘voluntary actions’ that ultimately determine personal development. Individual personality traits, although essential to the integrated self, are only parts that make up the whole of observable human experiences. Hence, personality development is articulated in terms of purposeful action geared towards experiencing command of free choice. Consequently, personality development is subjected to shifts in personal meaning and individual goals of achieving an ideal self.

For example, personality traits prove moderate levels of continuity, smaller but still significant normative or mean-level changes, and individual differences in change, often later into the course of life. The pattern is influenced by genetic, environmental, transactional, and stochastic factors.


“Twin and adoption studies have demonstrated that the inheritance of personality traits ranges from 0.3—0.6, with a mean of 5, indicating that 50% of variation in observable personality traits is attributable to genetic influences”. However, in contrast, family and adoption studies have demonstrated a low ‘heritability’ factor of 0.22. A study conducted on German women using an implicit association test (IAT), shows a connection between the function of specific neuro-transmitters and the pre-disposition to have certain personality traits like anxiety or extraversion. When the effects of genetic similarity are removed, children from the same family often do not appear alike than randomly selected strangers, however, identical twins raised apart are nearly as similar in personality as identical twins raised together. These findings indicates that shared family environment has virtually no effect on personality development, and that similarity between relatives is almost entirely due to shared genetics.


The weakness of shared environmental effects in shaping personality surprised many psychologists, encouraging them to research into non-shared environmental effects, and the environmental influences that differentiate siblings from one another. The non-shared environment may include differential treatment by parents, individually-distinct reactions to the shared family environment, peer influences, experiences outside the family, and test error in measurement. In adults, the non-shared environment may also include the unique roles and environments experienced after leaving the family of origin. For example, future effects of environment in adulthood are demonstrated by research suggesting that different work, marital, and family experiences are associated with personality change and these effects are supported by research involving the impact of major positive and negative life events on a personality.

Gene-environment interactions

The conclusion of research suggests that the “development of personality occurs in relation to one’s genetics, one’s environment, and the interaction between one’s genetics and environment”. Van Gestel and Van Broeckhoven in 2003 wrote, “almost by definition, complex traits originate from an interplay between multiple genetic factors and environment”. The ‘corresponsive principle of personality development’ states that “life experiences may accentuate and reinforce the personality characteristics that were partially responsible for the particular environmental elicitations in the first place”. This principle illustrates how gene-environment interactions maintain and reinforce personality throughout the lifespan. Three main types of gene-environment interactions are active  i.e., the process by which individuals with certain genotypes select and create environments that facilitate the expression of the genotypes, passive  i.e., the process by which genetic parents provide both the genes and the early environmental influences that contribute to the development of a characteristic in their children, and reactive i.e., the process by which individuals that do not belong to the family respond to the behavior produced by a genotype in characteristic ways.

An example of the way environment can restrain the expression of a gene is the discovery of Heath, Eaves, and Martin in 1998 that “marriage was a protective factor against depression in genetically-identical twins, such that the heritability of depression was as low as 29% in a married twin and as high as 51% in an unmarried twin”.


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