A brief introduction into Psychology and Personality

A brief introduction into Psychology and Personality

6 min read

Eli Marianne Huseby
Eli Marianne Huseby@eli_marianne

Psychology, the scientific study of mind and behavior, has deep roots in ancient Greece, where philosophy and mythology laid the groundwork for understanding human nature. This article explores the evolution of personality theory from its mythological origins to contemporary psychological frameworks.

Philosophy and Mythology- and their Greek ancestry

Psyche, Cupid, Narcissus

The word "psychology" is derived from the Greek word "psyche," meaning soul or mind. According to an ancient myth, Psyche, whose name means “soul”, was a mortal woman who was transformed into a goddess. She fell in love with Cupid. Her struggle to keep her sweet heart is a journey of self-realization and personal growth. Apart from assigning her name to science, she has also inspired many fairy-tales, such as Beauty and the Beast.

The Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle pondered the nature of the human soul, ethics, and the essence of individuality. Mythology also played a crucial role in shaping early psychological concepts, e.g. narcissism (recognized as self absorption). The myth is about Narcissus, the son of a river god and a nymph. He is a youth of exceptional beauty and everyone is struck by his good looks. Eventually, upon spotting his own reflection in water, he is so absorbed by his own image, that he falls into the pond, and drowns.

Personae and Identity

The concept of "persona" originates from the Latin word for "mask," used in ancient Greek and Roman theater. In psychological terms, the persona represents the social face or character a person presents to the world, distinct from their true self. This duality highlights the tension between our public identities and our inner selves, a theme central to the study of personality.

The Four Temperaments - Hippocrates (ab. 460 BC), Kos, Greece

The concept of the four temperaments dates back to ancient Greece and the work of Hippocrates who is considered as “the Father of Medicine.” He suggested that personality types are linked to bodily fluids (humors).

  • Sanguine (blood) - Associated with a sociable, pleasure-seeking, and optimistic personality.
  • Choleric (yellow bile) - Linked to ambition, leadership, and irritability.
  • Melancholic (black bile) - Connected to introspection, sadness, and a detail-oriented nature.
  • Phlegmatic (phlegm) - Characterized by calmness, reliability, and thoughtfulness. Each temperament had its pres and cons, but were thought to be affected by the balance of humors ( bodily fluids). This theory integrated early ideas about physical health with personality traits.

Sigmund Freud (1856 - 1939), Checkoslovakia/Austria - The Father of Psychoanalysis

Sigmund Freud is often regarded as the father of modern psychology due to his development of psychoanalysis. Freud's theory of personality is based on the interplay of three fundamental structures: the id, ego, and superego. The id represents primal, biological desires, the ego mediates reality, and the superego embodies moral standards. Freud also introduced concepts drawn from Greek mythology, such as the Oedipus complex, where a child feels a subconscious sexual attraction to the opposite-sex parent and hostility toward the same-sex parent.

Freud vs. Jung and Jungian Archetypes

The Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung (1875 - 1961), initially a follower of Freud, diverged from his mentor to develop analytical psychology. Jung disagreed with Freud's emphasis on sexual drives and instead focused on the collective unconscious, a shared reservoir of human experiences and archetypes. These archetypes are universal, symbolic images and themes that recur across cultures and history, such as the Hero, the Shadow, and the Anima/Animus. Jung's approach to personality emphasizes the process of individuation, the integration of these archetypes into a cohesive self.

Carl Rogers (1902 - 1987), the USA - Humanistic Psychology

Carl Rogers further advanced personality theory by emphasizing the self-concept and the importance of unconditional positive regard. Rogers' humanistic approach posited that individuals possess an innate drive toward self-actualization and personal growth. His client-centered therapy focused on creating a supportive environment where individuals could explore and realize their true potential.

The Need for Personality Tests

As psychology developed, there was an increasing need for systematic ways to assess personality. Early theories provided a foundation, but practical applications required more structured methods. The demand for personality tests grew out of various needs, such as clinical diagnosis (focusing on psychological disorders), occupational screening (jobs based on personality traits), educational guidance (help students to understand their their strengths and weaknesses) and research (systematical study of personality and its impact on behavior)

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and Jungian Ideas

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a personality assessment tool developed by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers. The MBTI is based on Carl Jung’s theories of psychological types, which categorize people based on their preferences in four dichotomies:

  • Extraversion (E) vs. Introversion (I) - Orientation towards the external world versus the internal world.
  • Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N) - Preference for concrete information versus abstract information.
  • Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F) - Decision-making based on logic versus emotions.
  • Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P) - Preference for structure and order versus flexibility and spontaneity.

The MBTI expands Jung’s theories into 16 personality types, each described by a combination of these preferences. It aims to help individuals understand themselves better and improve their interactions with others.

The Big Five Personality Test

Personality testing has evolved significantly, culminating in the Big Five personality traits model, which is widely recognized and validated. The Big Five dimensions—Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism—provide a comprehensive framework for understanding individual differences in personality. This model's empirical support and predictive validity have made it a cornerstone of contemporary personality research.

The Big Five Test is available free here.

Scientific Basis of the Big Five

The Big Five traits are supported by extensive empirical research. Unlike the MBTI, which is based on Jungian theory, the Big Five emerged from decades of psychological research, starting with lexical studies that identified descriptive terms for personality. Factor analysis, a statistical method, was used to group these terms into five broad dimensions. The Big Five model is widely accepted because it is:

  • Consistent Across Cultures: Studies have shown that these traits are applicable in diverse cultural contexts.
  • Predicts Real-World Outcomes: The Big Five traits correlate with important life outcomes, such as job performance, academic success, and interpersonal relationships.
  • Provides a Common Language: It offers a standardized framework that researchers and practitioners can use to discuss personality.


From the mythological and philosophical musings of ancient Greece to the empirical rigor of the Big Five, the study of personality has evolved significantly. Early concepts like the four temperaments laid the groundwork for understanding human behavior, while later theories by Freud, Jung, and contemporary psychologists have refined these ideas. Tools like the MBTI, inspired by Jung, offer practical applications for personal development, whereas the Big Five provides a scientifically grounded framework for understanding the complexities of human personality.

The development of personality tests reflects the ongoing effort to systematically study and apply psychological knowledge. The MBTI, rooted in Jungian theory, provides insights into individual differences, while the Big Five, grounded in empirical research, offers a robust and versatile model for assessing personality traits. Together, these tools illustrate the rich and evolving landscape of personality psychology.

ancient Greece
mythological origins
Greek philosophers
four temperaments
Sigmund Freud
Carl Jung
analytical psychology
Jungian archetypes
Carl Rogers
humanistic psychology
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
Big Five personality traits
personality tests
personality theory
collective unconscious
psychological assessment
personality models