The character of a human being is one of those things that always has interested in humanity. Many attempts have been made to explain human behavior and how its formation, and factors, such as environment, genetics, and situation, influence it. These attempts have created personality psychology that includes many theories, perspectives, and schools. Psychoanalysis and trait theory are among the fundamental schools of personality psychology. It is these theories that the author of this work has chosen for comparative analysis. In this work, the author compares and contrasts psychoanalytic and trait perspectives on personality.
Trait Perspective and Psychoanalytic Perspective
In order to objectively compare and contrast trait perspective and a psychoanalytic perspective, it is necessary to describe both of these theories of personality psychology in this work. Buss and Larsen (2013) consider the trait perspective as part of the dispositional domain. According to Jarvis and Okami (2019), trait perspective on personality can be described as “a theory of personality based on the notion of traits – relatively stable personality characteristics, attributes, and motivations that can be commonly captured in adjectives” (p. 525). There are two major categories that are used to describe personality in the trait perspective, namely traits and states. Traits are those characteristics, which are stable and permanent, and states are used to describe unstable and situational characteristics (Jarvis & Okami, 2019). According to Buss and Larsen (2013), the psychoanalytic perspective belongs to the intrapsychic domain. Proponents of psychoanalytic theory use concepts such as Id, Ego, Super Ego, and defense mechanisms, which are formed and changed by childhood and adulthood (Zhang, 2019). It is also necessary to mention the psychological type model of extroverts and introverts, which greatly influenced personality psychology.
Proponents of trait perspective see the intersections of person and situation as both the core of personality and trait theory. The interpretation of these intersections created the concept of trait-situation behavior profiles. Jarvis and Okami (2019) argue that trait-situation behavior profiles are “organized, integrated, and relatively enduring, fulfilling our definition of personality” (p. 531). However, there are two things that weaken the explanatory power of traits theory. One of these is that the trait simultaneously means “a set of behavior patterns and as an underlying mental structure,” which is a contradiction (Jarvis & Okami, 2019, p. 529). The second thing is that the trait perspective cannot explain all aspects of the personality and only specializes in certain elements.
There is a concept of pluralism of schools that exists in psychoanalysis. It provides mutability of theories and adaptability of ideas and, therefore, enhances explanatory power. Nevertheless, according to Eagle (2018), “each “school” associated with its training institutes and its own ideology” tries to explain not only certain aspects of the personality but the whole personality (p. 102). It gives rise to interpretational contradictions and makes theories narrowly focused. The author of this work believes that the psychoanalytic perspective is more comprehensive because its major concepts do not contradict themselves, unlike traits in the trait theory.
Perspectives’ Heuristic Value
It is safe to say that the trait perspective and psychoanalytic perspective have different heuristic value. Trait theory has gone through several rebirths since its emergence and continues to evolve today in gerontology, providing a background for discoveries (Costa Jr, McCrae, & Löckenhoff, 2019). In contrast, the psychoanalytic perspective is in crisis nowadays. It is due to the marginalization of the discipline by the scientific community and the negative attitude of the psychoanalytic community towards research and empirical practices (Eagle, 2018). It is also worth noting that the contemporary psychoanalytic perspective needs a general theory to become heuristically valid.
Perspectives’ Testability and Applicability
The testability and applicability of the reviewed theories in this work also vary. Researchers argue that contemporary trait theory is moderately predictive (Jarvis & Okami, 2019). It means that this theory applies to real-life cases and scenarios. Traits theorists using the two-factor model of personality and Big Five personality traits model to test hypotheses (Jarvis & Okami, 2019). The modern psychoanalytic perspective is mainly in the theoretical field, which indicates its weak predictive ability. According to Pandit (2020), psychoanalysts use clinical practice and thought experiments to test their theory. Weak predictability and the negative attitude of psychoanalytic theorists towards empirical research, which was mentioned above, suggests that the psychoanalytic perspective is less applicable in real life than traits.
This work compares and contrasts two perspectives on personality psychology, namely the trait perspective and the psychoanalytic perspective. The author describes each of the theories, their comprehensiveness, heuristic value, testability, and applicability. The goal of the analysis was to find out which theory is superior. It was found that psychoanalytic theory is more comprehensive, while traits theory prevails in all other assessment categories. The author of this work believes that, based on the results of the analysis, traits theory is the superior one, even despite its significant lexical and conceptual contradictions. It is noteworthy to mention that six academic sources supported this paper.
Buss, D. M., & Larsen, R. J. (2013). Personality psychology: Domains of knowledge about human nature. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.
Costa Jr, P. T., McCrae, R. R., & Löckenhoff, C. E. (2019). Personality across the life span. Annual Review of Psychology, 70, 423-448.
Eagle, M. N. (2018). How do we assess progress in psychoanalytic theory and practice? In S. D. Axelrod, R. C. Naso, & Larry M. Rosenberg (Eds.), Progress in psychoanalysis: Envisioning the future of the profession (pp. 98-121). New York, NY: Routledge.
Jarvis, M., & Okami, P. (2019). Principles of psychology: Contemporary perspectives. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Pandit, G. L. (2020). Freudian frontiers of psychoanalytic theory and therapy: A case of improvement of scientific knowledge? Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 1-27.
Zhang, S. (2020). Psychoanalysis: The influence of Freud’s theory in personality psychology. In International conference on mental health and humanities education (ICMHHE 2020) (pp. 229-232). China, Beijing: Atlantis Press.