Scientific Study of Personality

November 7th, 2012

Scientific Study of Personality

Researchers use a number of different methods to study personality. Three of the most commonly used methods are case studies, correlational designs, and experimental designs. Defining personality can be a difficult task, but psychologists have developed their own definition that can help define personality as it relates to the entire field of psychology. Many of the theories are developed and modified through ongoing research which is why the process of critically evaluating research studies on personality is huge. Each method to define and study personality differs as it provides specific information to include advantages and disadvantages to each method.

There are many different ways to define personality and many people use the meaning in different ways. According to the book Personality: Theory and Research, “Personality addresses three issues: human universals, individual differences, and individual uniqueness” (Cervone & Pervin, 2010, p.4 ). This can create a variety of definitions just from this sentence. Most psychologists refer to personality on a larger scale by looking at specific patterns of how an individual behaves, thinks, and feels (Cervone & Pervin, 2010).  Professionals also look at certain characteristics such as being introverted/extroverted and by understanding this portion, it can help the psychologist on how the individual may react in situations and more on the psychological impacts on his or her personality. Many experiences can impact a personality whether it is family influence, social influence, or the friends of an individual.

The five W’s come to mind when thinking about personality: what, where, when how, and why. With obtaining this information from the client, the psychologist or other professional is able to understand the dominating factors of an individual’s personality. On a larger scale, this can also help determine precise motivation’s for one’s actions that can also help understand personality.  If a personality changes this can also help the professional to why and if it was for a brief period of time depending on the motivational factor. One’s personality structure is also important to review as it will help understand ones motives, behavior, development, and why someone is resistant to change (Cervone & Pervin, 2010).

Since personality can be difficult to define, it can also be difficult to measure. The data of a personality assessment can vary depending on the person. It is important to look at data from different sources to see what relates and what differs. When looking and evaluating the data, it is also important to assess the reliability and validity of the assessment and responses. There are three general approaches to personality research: case studies and clinical research, personality questionnaires and correlational research, and laboratory studies and experimental research (Cervone & Pervin, 2010).  Each approach to understanding and defining personality has similarities and differences as well as advantages and disadvantages. It is crucial to know which method will help based on a case by case scenario.

The first method is case studies and clinical research. Some clinicians feel that this is the best method to truly dive into one’s personality and be able dissect any fragment. Many times this method is used when treating an individual and or developing personality theories.  First and foremost the professional treats their patient and can come back later on to help develop detailed theories. Like any other method, this has its advantages and disadvantages. The case studies and research can accomplish many of the goals outlined in other approaches. This approach can create new knowledge, test a hypothesis, and potentially solve problems. When using this method the researcher/clinician can conduct the study while avoiding issues with statistics and other issues that are found within empirical approaches (Schwartz, Cieciuch, & Vecchione, October, 2012). A disadvantage of this method is that the professional can rely too much on his or her interpretations of the results. This is where the reliability and validity factor come into play. An advantage of this process would be that the lab cannot crate anything artificial and that the professional is able to study the individual in full detail, leading to a more comprehensive and reliable method (Schwartz, Cieciuch, & Vecchione, October, 2012).

The next method of approach to personality is personality questionnaires and correlational research. When case studies and in-depth research is unavailable for an individual, this is a desirable method. This is used also to understand human nature and the choices an individual selects can determine many components of his or her personality. A disadvantage of this method is that it can be sometimes viewed as unreliable. The individual could take the test in an environment where they feel uncomfortable or when the individual is having a bad day. The subject could answer questions based on their current mood versus their norm reaction. An advantage of this process is that there are many results that can help understand a personality. This process is known mainly as a strategy versus a particular tool to measure personality (Cervone & Pervin, 2010). This process helps understand the variable and its surroundings. Most have taken some type of personality test when applying for a job. This also helps employers correlate if the person of interest is suited for the position based on the assessment. A disadvantage of this process is that the individual is not studied in detail and the reliability can be skewed (Cervone & Pervin, 2010).

Experimental research is another method used and is also referred to as laboratory studies. This is an environment in which the professional is able to use a controlled environment. The professional is able to see what parts of the experiment affect some variables and if they were manipulated (Cervone & Pervin, 2010). Being able to manipulate specific variables and record fata objectively is an advantage of this process. With this method some things cannot be measure or manipulated in the laboratory and the disadvantage is that it can create a false situation that actually confines the amount of findings.

Researchers use a number of different methods to study personality. Three of the most commonly used methods are case studies, correlational designs, and experimental designs. Each method to define and study personality differs as it provides specific information to include advantages and disadvantages to each method. Clinical research encompasses a complete and comprehensive study of an individual. Correlational research measures specific variables and tries to understand how each variable relates to one another. Experimental research conducts research on manipulation of specific variables and finds the outcome (McCrae, July, 2011). Professionals and clinicians all use different methods depending on the end result and what he or she is looking to accomplish. Sometimes the result is not the most important but the research strategy associated with the result.


Cervone, D., & Pervin, L. A. (2010). Personality: Theory and research (11th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons Inc.

McCrae, R. R. (July, 2011). Personality Theories for the 21st Century. Teaching of Psychology, 38(1), 209-214. doi:10.1177/0098628311411785

Schwartz, S. H., Cieciuch, J., & Vecchione, M. (October, 2012). Refining the theory of basic individual values. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103(4), 663-688. doi:10.1037/a0029393


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