Intro to Personality

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  1. 1:24 Personality
  2. 1:48 Personality Disorders
  3. 2:10 Personality Traits
  4. 3:11 State vs. Trait
  5. 3:30 What Shapes Personality?
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Taught by

Jessica Balik

You put two people in the same situation and, odds are, they'll react in a range of different ways. Some people might even react in a completely unexpected or extreme way. Why is this? Watch this lesson for insight into personality types and what makes them tick the way they do.

Do you know how to explain why different people have different personalities? For example, imagine the following scenario. Jill and Claire are friends who sit next to each other in history class. They put comparable amounts of work into the class and they earn comparable grades. Even so, they react quite differently when, one Monday morning, their teacher announces a pop quiz. Jill feels anxiety; her heart starts racing and she immediately starts worrying about how much a poor score on the quiz might harm her overall grade. Meanwhile, Claire remains calm. She reasons that she is probably better prepared than other students in the class, and that she has usually done well on quizzes before. So she imagines she'll likely do well on this morning's assessment.

Granted, Jill and Claire are similar in some ways. They're the same age, they go to the same school, they belong to the same circle of friends and they both earn good grades. Even so, they react quite differently to the pop quiz because they have different personalities. Personality can be formally defined as a given person's characteristic thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

As you might imagine, psychology studies personality from a number of different angles. For example, some psychologists are interested in devising ways that personality can be accurately assessed. Psychologists also study personality disorders, or long-lasting patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviors that deviate from relevant cultural expectations. So, for example, anxiety only becomes regarded as a disorder when it seems excessive compared to relevant cultural norms. Still other psychologists study personality traits, which are a person's typical ways of thinking, behaving and feeling.

We often think personality as being defined by certain traits. For example, assuming that her reaction to the pop quiz was typical for her, we might say that Jill has an anxious personality, and assuming the same of Claire's reaction, we might say that she has a calm, laid-back and/or confident personality. A psychologist might say that Jill ranks high on neuroticism, while Claire ranks low. No matter what we call them, prevailing traits do not need always to be present. For example, maybe there are some limited contexts that make Claire feel really anxious, or cause her to abandon her characteristic calm. But unlike such transient states, personality traits are relatively consistent and enduring. This is how psychologists sometimes differentiate between the terms state and trait. States are transient or ephemeral, whereas traits endure over time.

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