Demystifying Personality

Do you know someone who always finds a reason to compliment you? If there is such a person, what do you think about them? If the behavior patterns of another person could be explained, it would typically be based on speculation about that person’s inner thoughts and emotions. In fact, a person’s “personality” is defined by their phenotype (or traits) that are driven by their consistent pattern of thoughts, behaviors, and emotions.


According to an article published by the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, people often have had the need to “categorize everything in the mysterious and often chaotic natural world”.  To illustrate, personality studies date back to around ca 460-377 BCE, and were done in Greece by Hippocrates (yes, that Hippocrates!) who believed that there were four basic personality types. The first type is choleric, which is a quick tempered disposition. Next, there is sanguine, which features a cheerful and warm disposition and is a natural leader. After that there is phlegmatic, someone who is kind and calm. Finally, there is melancholic, someone who is gloomy and intellectual. Hippocrates further asserted that disease was believed to reflect an imbalance among the four personality types. 


Psychologists have found that people naturally make assumptions regarding personality. To elaborate, it’s found that many people believe personality is “stable”, and doesn’t change across time or situations. For example, this type of assumption proposes that a person who is competitive will stay competitive throughout their lifetime, in both their personal and professional life. However, the truth is that all behavior patterns are subject to interpretation. This means that there can not be an accurate understanding of someone’s personality unless their thoughts or emotions are identified .


Consider that person who always finds a way to compliment others. One possibility for their actions is that this person has an “optimistic disposition”.  They have the belief that situations will have a positive outcome. These optimistic thoughts and feelings lead this person to notice trivial things to appreciate in others. This is why they give compliments and encourage others. Another possibility is that they have deep insecurities about their self-worth. They want to be liked by others, and therefore, they give compliments to others so that the other person will be pleased with them. They want to be rewarded for their compliments. Another interpretation is that they compliment others with a “motive”. They want to achieve a goal, which is why they give compliments to please the other person. 


Currently, personality research is based on the “5 Dimensional Model”. According to this theory, personality consists of five cross-cultural factors of Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (which make the acronym OCEAN). The first, Openness,  is characterized by qualities of being artistic, curious, authentic and intellectual. Next, there is Conscientiousness, which consists of qualities that are efficient, organized, and reliable. Third, Extraversion consists of qualities such as being energetic, outgoing, and expressive. Agreeableness is characterized by being appreciative, forgiving, generous, trusting, kind and straightforward. Finally, Neuroticism is characterized by being anxious, vulnerable and impulsive. These dimensions are a result of biological and environmental factors. 

The 5 Dimensional Model illustrates how people behave, however, it fails to explain why. There are several personality tests out there you can take, but would they be able to capture your “true” essence?