What is Personality?

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As an adult, your temperament is firmly fixed in place and unlikely to change, barring a brain injury or some other factor that physically affects the synapses of your brain. The combination of your temperament characteristics and your environment as you grow from baby to adult culminates in the development of “Self”, the way you see yourself through your “characteristic patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior.” This is how you see yourself with self-imposed potential and limitations.
Your “personality” is the way others see you through the lens of their perspective. Psychologists generally describe personalities as combinations of five characteristics:


Sometimes called Surgency, individuals with a high extraversion quotient, “extraverts”, are generally described as having high energy levels, enthusiastic, action-oriented, and talkative. They like being the center of attention. Occupations like sales, teaching, public relations and politics draw extroverts. People on the lower end of the extraversion scale, “introverts”, are often described as quiet, deliberate, reserved, thoughtful, and comfortable being by themselves. They are often in fields where they work alone, rather than in teams, such as biologists, engineers, computer programmers, and writers.


agreementThis is a measure of one’s concern for social harmony, getting along with others. People rated on the high end of the sale are often described as friendly, generous, sympathetic, kind, and patient. They are willing to compromise their own interests for that of the group and are considered good team members. They are viewed as the “eternal optimist”, seeing life as a half-full cup. High agreeability has been correlated with longer life, better health, and personal happiness. Those with lower agreeability quotients ate viewed as aggressive, more self-centered and skeptical. They are less willing to put the self-interest of others above their own interests, to go along just to be part of a team. In some instances, non-agreeable people can be company and empire-builders, since they motivate teams to extreme performance without worrying about being liked or popular. Conversely, they can be considered “toxic”, selfish, and uncooperative.

This is a measure of self-directness and persistence with high scorers frequently described as organized, hard-working, self-disciplined, careful, and conservative. They tend to think before acting. They are reliable and goal-oriented who can easily become “workaholics” and perfectionists. At an extreme, they can be compulsive, unwilling to deviate from plan. Conscientiousness is the only personality trait that correlates with success and desirability across all occupations. People with lower conscientiousness are more laid-back, willing to go with the flow, creative and impulsive. They are more willing to speak their minds and engage in anti-social behavior.


Sometimes reversed and called Emotional Stability, people with higher scores of neuroticism have hyper sensitivity and respond poorly to stress. They tend to “over-think” situations and are easily frustrated and appear to have a lower ability to defer gratification; they are described as moody, worried, anxious, angry, or depressed. They want to be perfect, but internalize stress and suffer from anxiety disorders to a greater degree than less sensitive people. Moderate neuroticism may provide increased drive and productivity – desirable employees traits – due to greater worry about failure. Conversely, lower scores on neuroticism tend to be in those individuals whom we call calm and even tempered, even during periods of high stress and emotional content. The degree of neuroticism one has increases as you age due to the loss of brain cells, one of the reasons old people are more anxious and depressed than younger adults.

Also called Intellect or Intellect/Imagination, this is a measure of the curiosity, creativity, and preference for novelty one has. Descriptors include artistic, independent, aware of their feelings. They find it easier to think in symbols and abstractions and seek new experiences, rather than routine. They are often the “change advocates” in organizations, seeking variety for variety’s sake before considering implications. People who are more closed to new experience prefer familiarity to novelty, opting for the plain, simple, and obvious to the complex, ambiguous, and subtle. They prefer the status quo and are resistant to change. While this personality characteristic is sometimes referred to as “intellect”, it is not a measure of intelligence.


Dr. Marvin Zuckerman, Professor Emeritus at the University of Delaware, identified a sixth personality type which he titled “Sensation-seeking”. These are those people who seem to pursue “novel, intense and complex sensations and experiences” and are willing to take risks for the sake of such experiences. While psychologists continue to debate whether there are 5 or 6 traits and the definition of each, it is not especially important for our purposes. Since the degree to which any individual can exhibit a trait is virtually limitless, the potential combinations of the 5 or 6 traits are almost infinite. In other words, you are truly a unique organism, influenced by but not limited to the “self” you are today.
Since personality is how others see you, it is possible to change their perceptions when it is desirable to do so. If, for example, you feel that their feelings about you interfere with your career advancement or social acceptance, you can change their perception by altering the way you behave. We make these changes all of the time, sometimes without even being aware that we are doing so. The life of the office party the night before can be quiet, thoughtful, even reserved in the office the next day. Conversely, the person who sits quietly on the fringes, engaging in private conversations, can be a dynamic team leader of a major company project.
The apparent differences are not contradictions, just different expressions of your personality adjusted to fit the situation. No one, except for sociopaths and psychopaths, fits neatly into a single personality type. We all show varying degrees of each. Even an extreme sensation-seeking individual backs off at times when they recognize the risk is too high for the expected payoff. Change can occur when you recognize the consequence of a particular behavior has either negative impact or less than the desired results. By knowing more about yourself and your tendencies, you can make subtle, even substantial adjustments in your actions to create more favorable outcomes.