The Role of Personality in Affecting Situational Behavior

by Farrah Sharpe

Throughout the history of time the age old question has been asked by every human being at some point in their lives, who am I? What inside of a person prompts one to ask’s this question? There are varied ideas about what the human organism is and what components make up the human mind and personality. The study of personality seeks to understand how and why the mind develops and what determines who or what a being becomes.

Personality depends largely upon an individual’s experience and the perception the one is choosing to hold. Amongst the myriad of choices one can choose, there are also countless responses that can be acted upon. It is up to each personality to consciously decide. Each being in their pursuit of happiness is seeking pleasure and to live a fuller life, even if their outward choices are judged as reckless or unreasonable by onlookers. Deep personality analysis allows for further study into the reasons why people do what they do.

Personality Analysis

When basic human needs go unmet, a motivating force from within develops to drive the person to get the need satisfied. The chief aim of humanistic theories is to analyze the motivation that drives behaviors that are developed to meet specific goals. When the persons needs are fulfilled, the motivation educes and the focus wanes until another unfulfilled need takes its place. Needs can come in physical and psychological form, in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the physiological needs are driven by external forces outside of the control of the person, while the higher needs involving esteem needs and self evolution and actualization are motivated by internal drives (Feist & Feist, 2009).

Humanistic and existential theories of personality and the dispositional theories are parallel in nature as they search for understanding about the significance of behavior based on one’s personal perception of life. Fundamentally it is thought that personality is greatly influenced by internal traumas stemming from the past and mitigating outside factors. Situational behavior can be explained through a multifaceted understanding of human behavior and also through traits and factors that stem from our complex interaction with family, society and culture.
The study of personality is not an exact science, contrary to popular belief. Because of the personal freedom within all of us we are able to choose any number of random responses in any given situation. This describes how a calm and loving person can become violent and a serial killer can be a loving husband and father. Society harbors a huge influence on how individuals behave. Conformity, obedience and a hive minds have been demonstrated when people coalesce into large groups. It should also be noted that generally passive people have been encouraged to commit acts of violence because of the social acceptance of the situation at hand.
Awareness and proactive behavior is of course the most desirable response to challenges, but positive reactions are not always the first human response. How a human responds is based on their current state of mind and how they are choosing to perceive the situation. Most of the population does not consider good psychological health a goal that one should work towards in life, but personal evaluation can allow predictions to be made about one’s own life allowing missing puzzle pieces of behaviors to become revealed and put in its proper order. This will reduce the reactive nature within a person allowing them to experience peace. A person is a mystery unto himself and understanding an individual personality takes patience and an understanding of all theories, with the openness to learn more. Personal evaluation should be done over a long period of time and used in various situations before a conclusion is made about one’s own personality.
The dispositional personality theories are comparable to the humanistic/existential theories of personality. The role of conscious decision making and practicing proactive behavior is emphasized, yet theorists of the dispositional perspective refer to traits as providing the basic establishment for personality development. Common traits are acknowledged as common to more than one human being, while dispositions refer principally to one individual. Dispositions are thought to be what make each human being an individual.
Basic Assumptions
There will always be basic assumptions in every area of psychology and the dispositional and humanistic/existential theories of personality development are universal in many ways. Gordon Allport’s theory was found to be more philosophical and less scientific which is similar to the existential theory of Rollo May. Conversely by including the whole person in humanistic and existential allows for a wider variety of responses which are chosen by the individual alone. In dispositional theories it is proposed that environmental influence and genetics are the primary cause of personality and these traits are inherited from one generation to the next.
Existential theories consider the full human being and the health of the person in its entirety. With this focus there is significantly less emphasis on the uniqueness of individual personality. Dispositional theories offer a scientific approach including testing and analyzing prior research data to measure traits in individuals. Correlation studies asset in determining how one individual is dissimilar from the next. Although these various theories contain many similar assumptions and explanations in regards to free will, unique perspectives of choice and each has slight dissimilarities in motivation, personality characteristics and interpersonal relationships.
Personality Characteristics Attributed to Each of the Theories
The humanistic and existential theories approach personality from a holistic, philosophical approach. This theory seeks to explore personality, conscious decision making, free will, and developing personal talents and inner abilities. Abraham Maslow’s humanistic approach speaks of a self-actualized individual, taking full advantage of opportunities and situations available to them. They are open to new experiences and are open to exploring new ideas for enhancing their quality of life. In this theory there are endless opportunities available to all individuals, but only those who are self-actualized will see it and embrace these opportunities. Maslow referred to these qualities in those who are self-actualized, as B-values (Feist & Feist, 2009, p. 290).
Some characteristics attributed to the humanistic and existential theories of personality, are self-aware, creative, autonomous, positive and optimistic. Some of the personality characteristics mentioned in dispositional theories are sociability, openness to new experiences, neuroticism, introversion and extraversion.
As a consequence, humans have the luxury of free will and conscious choice and have the ability to choose the reality that they live. Most humans on the planet at this time are not aware of this mental ability. In the decision making process humans are powerful and have the ability to focus on a goal, muster the internal motivation to achieve it and repeat this cycle for any given endeavor. This ability is highlighted in humanistic theories.

The essential argument of the existential theories is that man must individually make the most of his own potential. Rollo May stated that “Consciousness and choices are interrelated. As people make more free choices, they gain more insight into who they are; that is, they develop a greater sense of being” (Feist & Feist, 2009, p.369).The general theme in the humanistic/existential theory of personality, is man is a conscious thinking being who possesses, free will, and must understand this and become accountable for his own actions.

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