History of Modern Personality Psychology

Directions: Using the matrix, list at least five events or major concepts from each of the three periods in the history of modern personality psychology.

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1930 – 1950

  • †Up until the 1930s American psychology was considered nomothetic because it only tested general principals and laws of behavior. On the other hand, personality theorists pointed to how people were alike as well as different (McAdams, 2006).
  • Allport argued for a more idiographic approach which would entail ignoring general laws and focusing on specific patterns in people’s individual lives.
  • The first issue of Character and Personality (currently the Journal of Personality) was published in 1932 by which German, British, and American studies on character, individual differences in persons, incorporating case studies; correlation surveys, experiments, and theoretical discussion were considered.
  • During the 1930s American psychology used animal learning to derive a connection between external stimuli and publicly observed responses. On the other hand, personality points more to human motivation in the context of un-observable urges and promptings from within.
  • From 1930 to 1950 comprehensive theories of personality were proposed, such as Allport’s psychology of the individual, Murray’s personological system, the trait theories offered by Cattell and Eysench; Rogers’s humanistic theory, Kelly’s cognitive theory of personal constructs, and Erikson’s psycho-social theory.

1950 – 1970

  • †During this time research centered on personality constructs such as extroversion, anxiety, the need for achievement, and other motivations.
  • Carlson questioned personality psychologists because to him it seemed like they have forgotten the implied mandate of the grand theories to study real lives and whole persons in depth.
  • Because of the case study nature of personality psychology up until that point Fiske believed that personality theory might have meet its limits.
  • Mischel believed that personality psychology should be based on situational and cognitive/social-learning determinants of behavior rather than internal personality traits.
  • During this time period personality psychologists turned away from the grand theories of earlier and focused on controversies of personality measurement.
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1970 – Present

  • This period began with a concern over the applicability of personality studies but eventually this was turned into a belief that it could be fixed and renewed.
  • During this period an effort was made to understand the person in terms of both situation and trait perspectives, giving rise to a more comprehensive understand of the person.
  • Also during this time trait models of personality became recognized as legitimate means for predicting behavior again.
  • Recently interest in studying the whole person in their full biographical complexity has been renewed in the form of integrative personality theory.
  • Many controversies were resolved in order to bring about this period, such as the situation versus trait controversy and many of the measurement controversies.


McAdams, D.P. (2006). The person: A new introduction to personality psychology. Danvers, MA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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