History of Personality Psychology

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  • 0:04 Personality Psychology
  • 0:40 Ancient Roots Of…
  • 1:55 Early 20th Century
  • 4:03 Later 20th Century
  • 5:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will go over a brief history of personality psychology dating back all the way to ancient times. We will then focus on its development in the 20th century.

Personality Psychology

We all like to think that the new ideas we come up with are truly new. Even some of the most esteemed psychologists, like Sigmund Freud, suffered from the notion that their ideas had no precedence. This isn't true of individuals like Freud, nor is it true of relatively new fields like personality psychology. In fact, the roots of personality psychology go back millennia, even though its most important modern milestones are only about a century old.

In this lesson, we'll look at the history of personality psychology, the branch of psychology that studies personalities and how they differ among people.

Ancient Roots of Personality Psychology

If we have to name the time when personality psychology as we now know it today arose, the answer would be the 1930s. But the roots of personality psychology go back to a much earlier time.

Back in the first millennium BCE, the ancient Greek physicians Hippocrates and Galen told us, in so many words, that physiology can influence personality. They believed that physical humors, or fluids within the body, were linked to personality traits like melancholy. While their exact ancient connotation may be inaccurate, the idea that physiology can be linked to changes in an individual's personality is accepted as fact today.

Additionally, career psychology, something with deep roots in personality theory, can also be tracked back to ancient Greece. For example, the Greeks believed that a person's career should be chosen based on their personal desires and talents.

One of the greatest ancient Greeks, Plato, was in a way a psychologist in addition to being a philosopher. He stated that an individual's personality development begins in childhood, something that seems pretty obvious to us today. These early examples of personality psychology showcase that, although this discipline may have been solidified recently, many of its elements go back millenia.

Early 20th Century

During the early part of the 20th century, psychologists became interested in understanding how personalities develop and why they differ between people. Between 1923 and 1928, the American Psychological Association held numerous conventions on the topics of personality and character. In 1928, a special issue of the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology was devoted to personality.

The first issue of Character and Personality came out in 1932. This new journal wanted to fuse British and American knowledge of individual differences between people with German studies of people's characters. The very first issue tried to sort out what the difference between ''character'' and ''personality'' were to begin with. The journal had famous contributors, like Alfred Adler and Carl Jung, and it included everything from case studies to experimentation.

In 1937, American psychologist Gordon Allport published a book called Personality: A Psychological Interpretation. Allport wanted to define and systematize personality psychology. His book created a vision for how the study of personality could be placed within the social sciences.

Henry Murray was another important figure in the field. An American psychologist who helped expand the boundaries of personality psychology and psychology through his use of experimentation, he taught the topic to numerous graduate students who would expand the field even further in years to come. Murray was so well known as an expert on personality that the U.S. government recruited him to create a psychological profile of Hitler. Murray developed the theory that a person's reaction to specific elements within their environment is what shapes their personality.

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