What is Personality? Meaning, Characteristics, and Influencing Factors

What is Personality?

Personality refers to the total of all the patterns of thinking, feeling, acting, and behaving that are unique and distinguish one person from another. Every personality is unique. No two individuals are exactly alike.

The word “personality” is derived from the Latin word “persona” which means the mask of music and dance. In ancient Greek and Rome, the characters of the play wore maks according to their role in the play.

The way the individual acts, feels, and thinks is unique and typical of others. No one can act, feel, and think exactly in the same way as another because an individual’s psychological qualities and traits differ from everyone else. Everyone’s personality is unique. The unique nature refers to psychological characteristics like shyness, friendliness, cooperative and that each person possesses. As a result, each of us wears a mask that is different from those worn by others. Our responses are part of the mask of social participation.

Psychologists have long argued about what creates the scientific perception of personality. Some define in terms of biological activities, others to the traits of the person, still others to temperaments. Each psychologist has their notion of defining personality.

Morton Prince (1924), “personality is the total of all the biological innate dispositions, impulses, tendencies, appetites, and instincts of the individual and the acquired dispositions and tendencies”. This definition puts a potentially useful accent on the inner character.

Gordon Allport (1937), “personality is the dynamic organization within the individual of those psychological systems that determine his unique adjustments to his environment”. This definition covers most of the difficulties aroused by defining personality. This definition recognized its changing nature of it, it focuses on the inner aspects rather than superficial manifestations, and it establishes the basis for the social value of personality. This definition is considered the scientific approach to describing the nature of personality.

If personality is to be looked at based on reality it is not a directly observed phenomenon. The following points help to clarify the aspects of it.

  • It is the combination of physical and mental qualities, ideas, aspirations, ambitions, aptitudes, and interests that characterize a person.
  • It is the structure and pattern of the total behavior of the individual.
  • It is the social and psychological impact one makes on others during the adjustment process.
  • It is unique. People differ in every aspect.

Factors Influencing Personality

Personality is very dynamic and may be affected by various factors. the personality traits, habits, and learned behavior are generally shaped and featured by biological (inherited) and social (environmental) factors. Modern psychologists do not go into the argument of heredity versus environment or maturation versus learning factors. They consider every aspect of these factors impacts personality.

Psychologists for convenience have divided these factors into two broad categories as well as recognized the situational factors. Thus the development of human personality is considered to be made up of both biological factors and environmental factors facilitated by situation conditions. Biological factors set the limits of personality development while social factors operate on the foundations led by biological factors. The individual is not completely at the mercy of his environment. Now let’s look into these determinants,

Biological Factors of Personality

Personality is shaped by many minute influences. Several different approaches reveal the significance of biological factors. Some of them are heredity, endocrine glands, nervous system, and physique.

Heredity (Gene)

The process of selective breeding is impossible with human beings. The best source of evidence comes from the comparison of identical and fraternal twins, and the comparison of identical twins separated in early life.

Identical (monozygotic) twins are two individuals who have the exactly same heredity constitution. Identical twins result from the accidental splitting of a single fertilized ovum. The two split fertilized ova are genetic replicas. Fraternal (dizygotic) twins, on the other hand, develop from separately fertilized egg cells, and the gene pattern of the fraternal twins may differ markedly. If we compare the degree of resemblance of a pair of monozygotic twins with the degree of resemblance of a pair of dizygotic twins, we will find a relative weight of heredity and environment.

Nervous System

The functions of both the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and the central nervous system (CNS) are important in determining personality. ANS is composed of two systems the sympathetic and the parasympathetic system, which have a great impact on the homeostatic processes, temperamental traits, and other aspects of personality.

Freeman (1948) in his study found that the two processes that drive arousal and discharge control, interact with each other. Persons high on drive arousal would quickly mobilize energy in response to the presence of a threat. Persons with strong drive arousal and weak control are likely to commit crimes and generally make poor adjustments. Similarly, persons with weak arousal and strong control are afraid to try anything and are said to be of “inadequate personality” are passive, pessimistic, and suicidal. An individual high on both arousal and control is likely to be very successful because they exert energy, not wastefully but intelligently.

The Endocrine Glands

Abnormal glandular conditions create a defective personality. The same logic means that a normal personality is a product of adequate glandular secretions. According to Louis Berman, the neurotic and deteriorated, the insane, and the criminal, are victims of glandular derangements and can be cured by glandular therapy. The following are the important glands found in human beings.

  • Pituitary Gland – Due to fact that this gland has control over all the glands, also known as the master gland. It consists of two parts: the anterior lobe and the posterior lobe. The anterior lobe is of greater psychological significance because it secrets the growth hormone somatotrophin. The posterior lobe controls blood pressure, kidney function, fat metabolism, etc.
  • Thyroid Gland – Located near the Larynx in the throat the thyroid glands secrets thyroxine, which regulates oxygen consumption and the rate of metabolism in the body.
  • Parathyroid Gland – This gland is located within the thyroid gland, made up of four or more tiny structures, which regulate the calcium levels in the body.
  • Adrenal Gland – The two adrenal glands are located at the upper tips of the kidney. Each gland has two parts, the adrenal cortex, and the adrenal medulla. These two parts secrets separate hormones called cortin and emergency hormone respectively.
  • Gonads – Testes in males and ovaries in females are categorized as the sex glands. The testes are the male sex glands and have two important functions, the production of male sex cells and the manufacture of hormones for masculine, physical and mental traits.


William Sheldon (1899-1977), a psychologist with medical training suggested that the shape of one’s body determines one’s personality. Sheldon developed a system consisting of three body types, endomorphs, mesomorphs, and ectomorphs.

Endomorphs have a soft and round body and generally, they are soft and fat. They love the comfort and are outgoing. Mesomorphs have a rectangular-like body and are generally muscular. They are energetic, assertive, and aggressive. Ectomorphs have a thin and delicate body. They are usually reserved, lonely, having cerebrotonic temperaments as restrained, self-conscious, and fearful.

Environmental Factors (Social Factors)

From the time of birth, the child’s personality is shaped and molded by the community in which he lives. At first, the community may consist only of the child’s family. Later on, school, religion, cultures, teachers, friends, economic conditions, movies, etc. all exert their influence.

The family or home environment should inculcate good habits of cleaning, eating, sleeping, and toilet training. The child’s imitation of his parents is an important way of learning, which leaves a great impact on the child’s later life. Broadly the social factors are divided into four main categories, home influence, school, economic factors, and culture.

Home Influence

A child is a biological and social organism. His biological attributes impact the social pattern. The models the parents provide loving, sympathetic, and understanding encourage the child to be socially acceptable and develop personally rewarding traits. In another model, a dominant father, nagging mother, and sensory deprivation may discourage the child’s emotional health, creating emotional instability, shyness, and hostility.

Rejected children, or children subjected to rigid discipline, often show a lack of confidence, willpower, and independence, and have lower self-esteem. Negativism, temper tantrums, stubbornness, teasing, and whinnying are personality traits that develop in a spoiled and untrained child. Psychologists have discovered the role of mother and parenting and siblings relationships have a great influence on the development of a child’s personality.


After the family environment child enters the school where he perceives the teachers as a substitute for his parents. Differences in teachers’ behavior are significant for the child’s development. For example, the child may find certain institutional rules and requirements new and frustrating. The child must adapt to the tasks, rewards, and punishments according to his capacity and motivation.

Many facts such as problems, expectations, rules, regulations, etc. function as a force in shaping his personality. The role of an administrator and a teacher, the social climate, teaching techniques, child’s achievements, reward and punishment used, the educational policy, and competitive motivation are powerful elements in molding a child’s personality related to school.

Economic Factor

Human personality is influenced by economic factors to a great extent. The lack of money leads directly to certain kinds of frustrations, stress, and conflicts. The types of housing, father’s low level of occupation, inflation, unemployment, job dissatisfaction, etc. are sources of stress may people in society face.

The economic role can be related to the occupational system, the income pyramid, and social expectations. The occupational system is related to a variety of factors such as intelligence, abilities, educational opportunities, restrictions by employers, and the balance between the individual and the demands of the occupational roles. The individual may succeed or fail which may cause his personality to change for the better or for worse.

Cultural Influence

A culture can not exist without individuals. Culture is a summation of the personalities of many individuals. It is an organized set of beliefs, rituals, and institutions that shape individuals to fit their patterns.

A suitable role model and a value system shape an individual’s personality, which is molded by social taboos, commands, and obligations. Cultural values that depend on a democratic principle provide freedom to the individual to develop his personality to its maximum potential.

Situational Factors of Personality

A situation is a set of circumstances in which people find themselves. We have seen that different situations may affect different people differently. An Individual’s personality is revealed when both the person and situation interact with each other. The relationship between the situation and the person is reciprocal.

People often play a major role in choosing the situation they confront as they choose the places they live, the work they do, the friends they associate with, etc. These choices are partially determined by their personality traits. For example, the extrovert is likely to seek out a party, while the introvert seeks out a quiet corner where he can curl up with a book. The situation may determine a person’s behavior, but a person’s traits often determine what situation the person finds himself in.

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