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                  Images] Personality I: The Big Five and Psychoanalysis
Think of some of the most vivid individuals in contemporary life over the last 20 years...

What are they like?   Why are they like this?


In their behavior, human beings tend to be

Trait Theory: The "Big Five"

Robert McCrae     Paul Costa

The "Five-Factor" model (also known at the "Big Five" model) argues that personality characteristics are grounded in five basic traits, i.e., a set of durable dispositions to act or behave in a certain way across different situations. Our personalities are varying mixtures and combinations of these five traits.

Susan Cain: Quiet: The Power of Introverts (2012)
TED Talk: Feb 2012

Neurotic, anxious, guilty, hostile, worrying
Non-Neurotic (Stable): Secure, placid, flexible, unruffled, solid
Extraversion Outgoing, sociable, talkative, affectionate Introversion, inward-looking, thinking, secure with self, solo reflection, quiet
Openness to Experience Inquisitive, daring, nonconforming, imaginative, tolerant Closed-mindedness
Agreeableness Warm, pleasant, trusting, empathetic Disagreeableness,unpleasant
Conscientiousness Dependable, ethical, goal-directed Lazy, undependable


Psychoanalytic (Freudian) Theory



Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

Structure of the Personality

Freud actually had TWO (2) different but complementary theories of how we as persons are constituted. One is a structural model and the second is a "level of consciousness" model.

Structural Model

(Latin for "It")

The primitive component of the personality, completely unconscious, which is filled with tremendous psychic energy (which Freud termed "libido"). This energy forms a set of biological urges to eat, defecate, engage in sex, etc.

After World War I, Freud also proposed the presence of an aggressive (destructive) energy [which he termed "Thanatos" (the "Death" instinct)].

  • Operates according to the Pleasure Principle: the demand for instant gratification of all its urges 
  • Acts like a 2-year-old child
(Latin for "I")
The last component of the personality to develop fully, the ego mediates among the demands of the id, the superego, and reality (the world). Thus, it is always making decisions about how best to act.
  • Operates according to the Reality Principle: that behavior accord with what the world accepts (requires delay of gratification & often a modification of how urges are met) 
  • Acts like an "Adult Executive"
(Latin for "Above I")
Arising in childhood around ages 4-6 as a response to parental demands, the superego serves as a moral component of the personality. Mostly unconscious, the superego has incorporated the rules, regulations, and moral viewpoints of society, particularly those of parents. That small part of the superego which is conscious is our conscience.
  • Operates according to the Perfection Principle which requires that behavior be morally perfect or be punished
  • Acts like an "uncompromising 7-year-old"

Levels of Awareness (or Consciousness) Model
What we are currently aware of (thoughts, memories, desires, goals, etc.) at any particular point of time
What we can easily become aware of (memories, etc.) which are just below the surface of consiousness
What we cannot easily become aware of (thoughts, memories, desires, urges, goals etc.) that are deeply buried beneath the surface but which continue to exert significant control on our behavior
The graphic below uses the metaphor of the iceberg which is mostly below water (i.e., below the level of consciousness) to portray Freud's two theories of how the mind works.

Stages of Psychosexual Development

We've already looked at the way in which Erik Erikson altered Freud's understanding of development. Here is the original outline. Freud argued that we grow up through a set of psychosexual stages in which difference parts of our bodies become the focus of our erotic (libidinal) energies. 

Age Erotic Focus Experiences
Oral    Birth-1 Mouth: Sucking, feeding, biting Experience of mother's breast; weaning
Anal   2-3 Anus: Expelling or retaining feces Toilet Training
Phallic 4-5 Genitals: Masturbatory stimulation Oedipal Crisis: Identification with same-sex parent
 Latency 6-12 None (repression of sexual feelings) Learning in school and social contact with outside world
 Genital  From onset of puberty Genitals: Sexual intimacy & intercourse Developing capacity for Love and Work (Lieben und Arbeiten)

This page was originally posted on 10/24/03 and last updated on October 28, 2016