What makes a person what they are? Why does
a person do what they do? Where does personality come from and how does
it grow? These are some frequently asked questions when discussing the
topic of personality. The latter of the questions is actually an answer
in itself. Personality does originate from a specific point, and from
then on it continues to grow and become exponentially more complex. This
core point from which personality begins and the growth of it will be
discussed in the sections to follow, but first we must look at certain
assumptions that are commonly made when developing a personality theory.
Assumptions The first of these assumptions concerns whether one believes
that the behaviors, any type of action, a person exhibits are produced
by conscious choices and decisions, also known as free will, or
determined by forces beyond ones control.
I believe in the free will
explanation, but not the type of free will commonly imagined. Humans do
ultimately have the power to choose their actions, however the extreme
influence of other factors, such as heredity, environment, and learned
behaviors, may make it seem like a persons actions were predetermined.
For example, if a starving people were put into positions where they
could either eat a Subway turkey round placed in front of them or just
sit there and stare and stare at it, common sense shows that these
people would eat. However, it is possible that one person, like an
anorexic, would just sit and stare at the sandwich. For that reason, it
can be assumed that human beings do have free will, however the choices
made are greatly impacted and seemingly determined by inherited basic
needs, environment, and learned behaviors. This leads us into a second
assumption, rationalism or irrationalism.
Do human beings operate
primarily on the basis of intellect, or on the basis of impulses and
passions? The answer is the latter theory. Going back to the Subway
example, the most likely decision on whether or not to eat the turkey
round would be based on an irrational impulse in ones subconscious. The
basic physiological need of food has a profound influence on the given
choice. But note that this is only the most likely response and not a
definite one. There is always the chance that a person could make a
conscious, rational decision not to eat. Because a people ultimately do
have some sort of a conscious decision over their actions, it cannot be
assumed that behavior is solely determined by irrational impulses.
next assumption to be dealt with is one of the most argued and
controversial of them all. Is human nature basically good or inherently
evil? Naturally, most optimists would argue that people are born with a
good nature, while other people of another persuasion would take on the
opinion of an essentially evil disposition. However, human nature is a
term that should neither be associated with good nor evil. In contrast,
human nature is based upon inherited basic needs, environment, and
learned behaviors, not morality, which is itself a learned behavior. An
example of this would be murder. In most societies today, it is
considered wrong, or evil, to commit an act of homicide if you kill a
person because, for the sake of argument, they were walking too close to
However, thousands of years ago it may have been a part of
life to kill someone intruding near ones dwelling, looked upon as a
display of territorial protection. Morality, the virtues of good and
evil, are completely dependent on the social group from which you have
adopted most of your learned behaviors. Therefore, good and evil are
nonexistent and should be looked upon as terms of social acceptability.
The final assumption to be examined is normally a difficult one to
address if one is trying to make a definite choice. It is the question
of environment versus heredity. B.
F. Skinner would argue faithfully that
behavior is based solely on environmental contingencies, while Sigmund
Freud would just as strongly maintain that the role of heredity
determines the personality of an individual. I, on the other hand,
believe that both sides of the .