Personality and Behavior: Theory of Emotion

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The Evolutionary Theory of Emotion

Charles Darwin suggested that emotions serve an adaptive role that guarantees the survival of both human beings and animals (De Castella, 2017). Affection ensures that people can find mates to reproduce with and fear compels someone to fight or flee.

The James-Lange Theory of Emotion

According to this model of emotion, a person’s emotional reaction depends on how one interprets his/her physiological reaction to an external stimulus (De Castella, 2017). According to this theory, people know that they are frightened because they are trembling but one cannot be trembling because of fear.

The Cannon-Bard Theory of Emotion

This concept suggests that a person’s emotional responses occur too quickly to be considered as consequences of physical states, as suggested by the James-Lange theory (De Castella, 2017). The theory further suggests that emotional reactions happen when the thalamus sends signals to the brain because of an external stimulus.

The Schachter-Singer Theory

It is also called the two-factor theory. According to this theory, the physiological reaction must happen first before the individual identifies the reason for the reaction (De Castella, 2017). After determining the reason for the reaction, the person can then infer the emotion. This theory posits that the situation and the rational interpretation of the physiological reaction are the most critical factors in labeling the emotion that a person experiences.

The Cognitive Appraisal Theory

According to this model, when a person perceives a stimulus, a thought process involved results in a physiological response before an emotion is exhibited.

The Facial- Feedback Theory

This theory lays emphasis on the link between facial expressions and emotionality (De Castella, 2017). Proponents of this theory argue that emotions are directly linked to the movement of facial muscles.

The models of emotions mentioned above attempt to explain the order in which perception of an external stimulus leads to both physiological and emotional responses. Only one of the theories attempts to explain the purpose served by the emotions that human beings experience. However, the most accurate theory of emotion is the Cannon-Bard theory because it proposes that physiological reactions can happen without the emotions associated with them happening (De Castella, 2017). This implies that one feels emotions and physiological reactions simultaneously. Therefore, despite the omission of the explanation of the purpose of human emotions, this theory is the most accurate.

Comparison of Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory with Freud’s Psychosexual Theory

The psychosocial and the psychosexual theories of personality are among the most important philosophies of personality development. Both theories break down a person’s life into developmental stages and use similar age divisions for each developmental stage. Consequently, the theories have several similarities and differences that will be discussed below.

Freud named the first year of a human being’s life as the oral stage and proposed that the infant’s main source of pleasure and development. Problems at this stage result in oral fixation. On the other hand, Erikson named this stage the trust versus mistrust stage and postulated that it is during the first year that a child learns to trust their caregivers (Bannister & Fransella, 2019). Both Freud and Erikson believe that children develop their sense of trust in their first year of life. The developmental stage between the first and third years is called the anal stage and the autonomy vs. shame and doubt stage according to Freud and Erikson respectively. Both theories suggest that it is during this time that a child learns to be independent, especially in toilet training. The demeanor of the parents has a lasting effect on the child.

Additionally, Freud named the next developmental stage the phallic stage while Erikson called it the initiative vs. guilt stage. This stage lasts between the ages of three and six. According to Freud, the child will begin identifying with the same-sex parent and the libido will be focused on the genitals. Erikson proposes that the child will seek more control over their environment and those who struggle will be left with feelings of guilt (Bannister & Fransella, 2019). Further, Freud referred to the stage that lasts between the ages of 7 and 11 as the latent stage while Erikson called it the industry versus inferiority stage. Freud’s theory suggests that the libido’s energy is suppressed and the child will focus on other activities while Erikson suggests that the child acquires new skills (Bannister & Fransella, 2019). Both believe that successful development during this stage increases the child’s confidence.

Based on Freud’s theory, adolescence is the genital stage while Erikson calls it the identity versus role confusion. According to the psychosexual theory, the child will begin to explore romantic relationships while Erikson suggests that the adolescent will try to forge an identity. Both agree that it is during this stage that a person tries to balance all areas of their lives. However, Freud’s psychosexual development lays emphasis on the development of a human being between birth and 18 years (Bannister & Fransella, 2019). His theory argues that the genital stage continues throughout the rest of adulthood. However, Erikson’s personality development theory includes 3 more stages;

  • The intimacy versus isolation stage is when young adults actively seek romantic relationships and life companions. During this phase, the young adults learn to cohabit and to share a bed, and other basic amenities (Bannister & Fransella, 2019).
  • The generativity vs stagnation level is when the older adult begins to take care of other people. During this stage, the adult will begin to contribute to societal development.
  • Integrity versus despair occurs when elderly adults reflect on their lives and regret or celebrate the decisions that they made when they were younger (Bannister & Fransella, 2019).

Identical Twins and Personality Development

Identical twins have been studied to establish if the personalities are a product of nature or nurture. The issue of whether DNA plays a role in developing a human being’s personality has been the focus of many studies of human growth and development (Velázquez et al., 2015). The results have proven that both genetic and environmental components play a role in personality development, but the use of identical twins helps to show to what extent each of the factors plays a role in personality development. Thomas Bouchard carried out one of the most famous studies on the role of genetics in personality development during his time at the University of Minnesota (Bouchard Jr & McGue, 1990). The subjects of his study were identical twins who were separated at birth and were raised in different environments.

Identical twins are human beings born when a single sperm fertilizes a single ovum. After fertilization, the egg splits and the embryos develop to form different human beings. Consequently, identical twins are more genetically indistinguishable when compared to other siblings (Bouchard Jr & McGue, 1990). Bouchard studied the impact of different family environments on the personality of identical twins who have been separated after birth.

Bouchard’s research project was inspired by the news that there were two identical twins that were reunited late in their lives after having been separated at birth. The “Jim twins” had both married women named Linda in their first marriages and others called Betty in their second marriages. Both had gone through police academies and their pets were called Toy (Bouchard Jr & McGue, 1990). They shared many other similarities that prompted Bouchard to study the personalities of more identical twins. However, Bouchard noted that after carrying out research about identical twins, he concluded that these pair were unusually alike. In his study, he encountered monozygotic twins that were raised in Nazi and Jewish cultures. When they met, they discovered that they had similar tastes for fashion, liked spicy foods and sweet liquors, and would fall asleep when watching television (Bouchard Jr & McGue, 1990). None of them would use a toilet before flushing it and they both would read magazines from front to back.

The study found out similarities between the personalities of numerous pairs of identical twins who were separated at birth. The study by Bouchard revealed that identical twins share almost half of their personality traits while fraternal share 20% or less (Bouchard Jr & McGue, 1990). Other researchers, such as David Hay found out that one twin is a “mirror image” of the other. His study found out that even twins who had different patterns of thought had a similar temperament. Some of the major findings of the studies concluded that identical twins raised in different environments shared many personal choices (such as fashion accessories) and expressive social conduct (such as personal actions). The studies established that human behavior is heritable, and the impact of the environment is smaller than the impact of genes in personality development (Bouchard Jr & McGue, 1990). Therefore, identical twins are preferred for studies about the effect of genetics on a person’s activities.

The Importance and Limitations of Behaviorism

Behaviorism is an approach to psychology that uses scientific and objective means during research. This approach to psychology lays emphasis on observable responses to various stimuli, which are sourced from the environment. This approach began after John Watson’s 1913 article that outlined a set of assumptions that behaviorists should use to study actions (Staddon, 2017). The main assumptions are that all activities are learned from the environment, psychology should be considered a science (since empirical research is usually involved), psychology should use observable conduct, conduct is a product of stimulus-response association, and animals learn in almost the same way that human beings do (Staddon, 2017). Other scholars such as B. F. Skinner and Pavlov are considered influential in behaviorism through their studies of conditioning and shaping behavior.

Strengths of Behaviorism

Behaviorism is instrumental to the study of conduct in human beings and animals. This approach values observable conduct, which implies that it is easier to collect and quantify data when studying behaviors (Staddon, 2017). Empirical data is a powerful tool when attempting to explain phenomena and it enables the researcher to provide evidence to support the conclusions drawn from an exploration (Bannister & Fransella, 2019). Other theories such as the psychodynamic theory use unmeasurable traits as the basis of their studies. Additionally, many psychiatrists and mental health practitioners have found behaviorism to be instrumental in changing maladaptive conduct in people with mental health issues. Behavioral interventions such as punishments, rewards, and the Premack principle are instrumental in shaping conduct.

Limitations of Behaviorism

Despite the advantages of this approach to studying human and animal conduct, it has many detractors who make compelling arguments against overreliance on behaviorism. Many critics consider the concept as one-dimensional since it ignores that human beings have their own free will. People, unlike animals, have a complex set of moods, thoughts, and higher-level motivations (Staddon, 2017). This implies that people have control over their personalities and their learning capabilities. The humanistic psychology approach supports this criticism and argues that people are unique and cannot be compared to other animals. According to this school of thought, animals are vulnerable to demand characteristics while human beings are not.

Another weakness of this approach to psychology is that behaviorism ignores the fact that both human beings and animals can adapt their behaviors when new information becomes available (Staddon, 2017). Regardless of whether the current action has been shaped through conditioning, the subjects of the process can modify the conduct when new situations offer new information. The critics argue that behaviors can become extinct because when people continue to live, they encounter more learning opportunities. The psychodynamic approach proposed by Freud criticizes behaviorism since it overlooks the impact of the unconscious mind on human conduct (Staddon, 2017). When infants are born, they cannot be completely blank slates because they are born with natural instincts. Moreover, hormones and genetics have been known to influence people’s actions and the totality of a human being’s personality involves both nature and nurture (Staddon, 2017). Finally, studies have proved that there are mediational processes that separate stimuli and responses.

Behaviorism as the Most Important Topic

Behaviorism is one of the approaches that has attracted the most acclaim and criticism in the field of human growth and development. Many scholars have supported this approach because it emphasizes observable and measurable actions as a basis for predicting and shaping behavior (Staddon, 2017). One cannot accurately predict or influence conduct if he or she uses variables that can neither be observed nor measured. In that case, since Watson launched the school of behavioral psychology in 1913, numerous follow-up studies and experiments have supported his methods (Bannister & Fransella, 2019). Some of the most popular among them are:

  • In 1920, Watson and Rayner conditioned ‘Little Albert’ to fear white rats, while he did not fear black ones.
  • In 1936, B.F. Skinner introduced the idea of operant conditioning and shaping the actions of both human beings and animals. Additionally, he wrote his book, The Behavior of Organisms (Staddon, 2017).
  • Another scholar, Clark Hull, published his book, Principles of Behavior in 1943.
  • In 1948, Skinner further enriched this approach by writing about a Utopian society, which was founded on the behaviorist approach to psychology (Staddon, 2017).
  • In 1959, another researcher called Chomsky published a critique of Skinner’s thoughts about behaviorism and named it Review of Verbal Behavior.
  • In 1963, Bandura published a book that attempted to combine behavioral and cognitive approaches to psychology.
  • In 1971, Skinner asserted that a human’s free will is an illusion since people’s behaviors are dependent on a number of factors.

Many other researchers of human actions have joined the conversation as either proponents or detractors of the approach. The sheer amount of literature on the topic proves that not only is behaviorism contentious, but it also is one of the most important topics in psychology. Additionally, it is the approach to psychology that advocated for psychology to be considered a science because it introduced empirical methods of research into the field of psychology. Some of the most famous studies that have been carried out by scholars of behaviorism include the controlled experiment, the conditioning of little Albert, the Bobo Doll Study, Skinner Box, Pavlov’s Dogs (Staddon, 2017). The studies are carried out with full adherence to the ethical considerations of research.

Moreover, behaviorism has a wide range of applications in modern psychology and mental health treatment. The approach has been used to:

  • Inculcate gender roles in girls and boys as they grow
  • In behavioral therapy
  • In education and conduct modification
  • In treating depression and solving relationship issues
  • Reversing addictions, and many other areas.

Whereas there are assumptions that are made when applying behaviorism in modern psychology, it has few assumptions, which make it a concrete way of predicting conduct. The law of parsimony asserts that a theory is regarded to be more credible when it makes as few assumptions as possible. Since this approach to psychology meets this criterion, then it can be considered to be credible, even when it attracts a large number of critics (Staddon, 2017). Moreover, this approach provides invaluable insight into language development, advancement of the human ethic condition, and gender development.


Bannister, D., & Fransella, F. (2019). Inquiring man: The psychology of personal constructs. Routledge.

Bouchard Jr, T. J., & McGue, M. (1990). Genetic and rearing environmental influences on adult personality: An analysis of adopted twins reared apart. Journal of Personality, 58(1), 263-292.

De Castella, K. (2017). Implicit theories and emotion regulation: Beliefs about emotions and their role in psychological health and well-being. (Doctoral Thesis), Australian National University.

Staddon, J. (2017). Theoretical behaviorism. Behavior and Philosophy, 45, 27-44.

Velázquez, J. A., Segal, N. L., & Horwitz, B. N. (2015). Genetic and environmental influences on applied creativity: A reared-apart twin study. Personality and Individual Differences, 75, 141-146.

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