Your personality is what makes you different from everyone else. What
you inherit and what you experience are factors that help to mould its
We are often told that a person has 'lots of personality' and by this we
understand that the person in question has a lively, outgoing nature
which is socially appealing. Doctors, psychologists and scientists,
however, equate 'personality' with what the layman would call
disposition or temperament and, although everyone has his or her own
unique personality, experts like to think that there are a number of
broad categories into which we all fit to a greater of lesser degree.
TYPES OF PERSONALITY
Since early times, thinkers and scientists have tried to categorize
people according to personality types. The ancients, for instance,
believed that there were four principal 'humours' in the body and,
depending on which one predominated, a person had a sanguine (cheerful,
optimistic), choleric (bad-tempered, irascible), phlegmatic (calm,
unexcitable) or melancholic (gloomy, inward-looking) disposition.
Astrologers, on the other hand, believe that personality is
pre-determined by the time of birth and zodiac sign under which you are
born. If you were born under the sign of Gemini (21 May-21 June), for
example, you are said to be quick-witted, sometimes flighty, prone to
changeable moods but generally talkative and sociable.
In modern times, scientists have tried to classify personality more
accurately. The British psychologist Hans Eysenck, for example, has
devised one of the simplest since it includes only three categories:
extraversion (outward-looking) with its opposite introversion
(inward-looking); emotionality and stability; and aggressive and
Everyone, of course, displays these qualities to some extent but the
usefulness of Eysenck's system is that instead of saying that a person
is or is not an extravert, for instance, these qualities can be
estimated on a ratings scale so that it's possible to measure degree,
and thus get an idea of how extravert, emotional or aggressive a person
Personality tests were first devised during World War 1 to detect
soldiers who were emotionally unsuited to combat, and they are still
used by the armed forces of many countries for this purpose.
Employees of many large companies and government departments often have
to undergo personality tests, particularly in the United States, in
order to determine their suitability, in terms of temperament, for the
In the medical world, they are generally used in hospitals and other
institutions when a person suffers from a severe mental disturbance such
as schizophrenia, depression or paranoia.
INHERITED OR ACQUIRED?
It's probable that some aspects of personality are inherited. This is
because studies of identical twins (with an identical genetic make-up)
who have been separated at birth show that they have many similar
character traits, even though they have been brought up differently.
Also, as anyone who has brought up more than one child will be aware,
children from the same family can show very different personalities
almost from the moment they are born - which would suggest that each
sibling has a quite different mixture of its parents' genes.
A QUESTION OF UPBRINGING
However, inheritance is not the only or even the most important factor
in determining an individual's personality. In fact, it is all too
obvious that many aspects of our personality are influenced by the
experiences we meet in life. This is especially apparent in people who
appear to have 'damaged' personalities. Children who have suffered
physical assault from their parents, for instance, generally have a low
sense of their own worth and may even think that physical assault is
THE FIRST FIVE YEARS
Psychologists believe that the first five years of a child's life are
crucial in forming character. At birth, a baby is like a piece of blank
blotting paper. From that moment on he or she is constantly absorbing
information and is more sensitive to his environment than he will be at
any time in the future.
Thus, a child who has been overprotected' in the first five years will
tend to be hesitant about making contact with other people later in
life. Similarly, if a child was not given enough affection in his first
two years his emotional responsiveness is likely to be stunted or, at
Studies have thrown up patterns that illustrate this. It has been shown
that patterns of behaviour seem to repeat themselves over the
generations. For example, mothers who were taken care of sensitively and
intelligently tend to find it easier to give this kind of mothering to
their children who will, in turn, apply the same sensitivity.
By and large, your personality remains much the same throughout life. A
quiet, reflective child, for instance, usually grows up to be a fairly
reserved adult unless certain life events affect him so powerfully that
he 'changes personality'. A devastating emotional blow such as the death
of a parent could turn a happy-go-lucky youngster into a withdrawn,
By the same token, some people are helped to alter aspects of their
personality by psychotherapists whose business it is to modify the way a
person acts, thinks and feels. A marital problem, for example, may be
partly due to a 'clash of personalities' and in this case counsellors
may assist in the setting up of new ways of behaving, thinking and
feeling between the partners so that they understand each other's
personalities and are able to get on better.
Psychotherapists and psychiatrists also try to find ways of altering the
personality of people with serious mental illnesses or conditions.
Psychotics and psychopaths who can be a danger not only to themselves
but to other people are obviously suitable cases for some kind of
People with abnormal personalities nearly always score highly on one or
more of the extremes when given a range of personality tests - they may,
for example, appear to be extremely introverted or extremely
Treating abnormal personality, however, is rather more difficult than
diagnosing it. It's probably not possible to radically -- and
permanently -- alter a particular aspect of an individual's personality,
even though the person may himself acknowledge his abnormality and want
to change it. Having said that, though, psychiatric treatment can work
wonders with many disturbed people and can help them to lead normal