58 Module Introduction

Developmental Psychology,
and Social Psychology

Module Introduction

Topics covered

  • Personality Theories
  • Personality and Culture
  • Personality Assessment

This module will cover the concept and definition of personality. Included will be theories of personality, personality development, personality as a social construct, and methods for assessing personality. (1)

“Why am I as I am? To understand that of any person, his whole life, from Birth must be reviewed. All of our experiences fuse into our personality. Everything that ever happened to us is an ingredient.” (Malcolm X, 1925-1965)

Most of us, at some time, have wondered how ourselves and others became the person we are today. You may have reflected on how you, or someone close to you, “is not the person they once were”. We may view personal changes as something positive, or as something negative, depending on the relationship. In psychology we talk of “ personality development , ” realizing that family, society, and cultural environments impact the individual on an ongoing basis. This is what we see as “personality.”

Personality is defined as long-standing traits and patterns that make us the unique person we are. Some views of personality see it as stable and unchanging, the base from which we view and interact with the world around us. Humanistic theories of personality view humans as having the ability to change and grow. In reality, personality may be some of both.

Studies of personality began around 2,000 years ago with some of the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers. Their early theories about personality were not disputed until the 1700’s. During the 1780’s a Dr. Gall developed the theory and practice of phrenology. He theorized that the brain was like a muscle, therefore exercising different parts of the brain would increase the size and cause bumps” in the skull. He would analyze a person’s personality traits by measuring the size and location of the bumps on a person’s skull. Needless to say, this did not hold up to scientific scrutiny and was soon discredited. None the less, philosophers, physicians and scholars continued to develop theories explaining personal traits, behaviors and emotions.

When Sigmund Freud began his work in the field we now call psychology, he developed the first comprehensive theory of personality, with the id, the ego and the super ego working together. With this theory he began to explain both normal and abnormal behaviors. Freud saw early childhood, and the relationships with parents, as forming the foundation of the individual’s personality. Freudian theory was also labeled a “ psychosexual ” theory that emphasized the sexual development of the child and how that development played a large part in the adult personality. Freud’s theory was criticized for many reasons, most importantly because the theory could not be proven scientifically. Some of Freud’s theory is still important and used today. His theory on “Defense Mechanisms ” is accepted and used to define how we cope with the world in order to protect ourselves, from a psychological standpoint. You should take some time to read and understand pages 375-377, as well as using the Link to Learning in the reading. You may be able to identify ways in which you cope with your environment. Personalizing information usually leads to a better understanding of the concept.

Developmental Psychology: Freud’s theory was the basis for other theories that developed in an attempt to define, understand, and sometimes change personality. Most of the theorists that followed had studied Freudian theory and built their theories and ideas building on Freud. Other theorist began to view people from different perspectives and different ideas about how the personality develops. One of the most widely accepted, over time, has been that of Erik Erikson.

Erikson’s theory is widely studied by psychologists, social worker, educators, and medical personnel because it sees the environment of the individual as being important in personality development. Erikson’s theory is a “ psychosocial ” theory, taking into perspective the role of the social/cultural environment in influencing how we grow and develop. Erikson saw development occurring in 8 stages, beginning at birth and ending with death. The theory is divided by approximate ages and lends itself to modification as society develops. Erik theorized that each stage of development presented a “ crisis ,” or developmental task, that must be dealt with in order to move to the next stage emotionally healthy. If the crisis was not resolved, the resulting emotional and social development might result in social and emotional difficulties. The first 4 stages cover birth to about age 12. During this time the “healthy” psychological development is very dependent on others, parents, teachers, the society at large. The last 4 stages see the person being more in charge of how they cope with the environment and develop.

As you move through the chapter and read about other theories and theorists, think about your own experiences as you grow and change. It is interesting to reflect on which theory you see as having more validity in today’s world.

In studying personality, it is also important to view personality from a cultural standpoint. It is easy to see that many cultures do not have an interest in emotional/social development. Do you think that this is a product of a more humanistic environment such as ours? The text even presents information on how we view one another within our own environment. It is interesting to view these differences from your own perspective.

We go further into an understanding of personality by looking at how we assess personality and personality traits. The inventories used for personality assessment fall into two categories, self-report and projective. You will probably be more familiar with self-report assessments. Self-report assessments abound on the internet today and you may have taken a few of them. Assessments such as the Myers-Briggs are often used in education and business to evaluate decision making, communication and leadership styles. The Link to Learning on page 383 give you an opportunity to experience this assessment. The most accurate self-report personality test is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) . This inventory is quite involved and is most often used in forensic and government applications.

Projective assessments, such as the Rorschach Inkblot and the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) . Based on Freud’s defense mechanism of Projection, these assessments evaluate a person’s response when shown an ambiguous ink blot or picture. The projective assessments are more time-consuming to administer and require a great deal of training for the person administering the assessment. Today, these assessments are most likely used in legal/forensic areas. (2)

Social Psychology: This field of Psychology helps us understand how society and our environment influence our development. Well accepted is the belief that we develop as individuals, impacted by both nature and nurture. Social psychology allows us to study both internal and external constructs that impact our lives, who and what we become. This field of study in psychology includes emotions and attitudes, as well as how we interpret our world around us. Social Psychology includes behavior such as aggression, prejudice and discrimination as well attraction and group behaviors. Social Psychology also allows us to compare such concepts as attitudes and biases across cultures. We will look at concepts such as social norms, attitudes, and cognitive dissonance (psychological discomfort that occurs when we hold attitudes and beliefs that conflict with one another). You will want to access your Link to Learning to hear more about Dr. Philip Zimbardo’s famous Stanford Prison Experiment. When studying the area of Social Psychology, it is important to understand the processes of Prejudice and Discrimination. As our society becomes more diverse, these concepts need to be understood in order to move toward more peaceful existence. We must also study and understand aggression in order to deal with a changing society that is sometimes resistant to change.

The study of Social Psychology also helps us understand attraction, love, and other pro-social relationships. It is through study and understanding that we are able to build more positive relationships in every area of life.

Learning Outcomes Related to this Module

1. Demonstrate the ability to think critically
3. Articulates an understanding of the individual in society
5. Thinks critically about institutions, cultures and behaviors of the people of the world
6. Comprehends the biopsychosocial aspects of behavior and mental processes
7. Synthesizes empirical information to draw accurate evidence-based conclusions about behavior and mental processes


Upon completion of this module, the student will be able to:

  • Explain Personality and the major theories on personality development
  • Define personality as a cultural phenomenon
  • Identify the purpose and utilization of personality assessments
  • Describe Human Development and the major theories associated with development
  • Define developmental stages
  • Define the biopsychosocial approach to development
  • Define the study of Social Psychology
  • Explain the individual in a social context
  • Discuss ways in which environment impacts intrapersonal and interpersonal relationships (1)

Assigned Readings

  • Module 7 Introduction
  • Psychology, OpenStax Text .
    • Chapter 9 – Lifespan Development
    • Chapter 11– Personality
    • Chapter 12– Social Psychology

Note: You will need to click on “Get This Book” button to download the textbook. Students are not required to purchase a textbook. You can download the entire Psychology textbook from OpenStax for free.

Supplemental Material/Resources

(Note: This material, in the media form of online videos, is considered supplemental and thus is not used for assessment purposes.)

  • Video: Crash Course Psychology #21 – Rorschach and Freudians: This video covers the psychoanalytic theories of personality and personality assessment.
  • Video: Crash Course Psychology #22 – Measuring Personality: This video covers personality assessment and different approaches and inventories used.
  • Video: Crash Course Psychology #20 – Arguments Against Personal Identity – This video discusses influences on how we see ourselves and our identity.
  • Video: Who Are You Really? – This Ted video deals with personality and how personality is malleable depending on situational needs and demands.
  • Video: Crash Course Philosophy #20 – Adolescence – This video cover all of Erikson’s stages of development with particular focus on Adolescence. It addresses the transition of personality through all stages. The video also addresses the need for creating identity and growing independence, sexual and behavioral changes as well as brain development that increases mental functions such as problem solving and decision making.
  • Video: Crash Course Psychology #39 – Prejudice and Discrimination – This video covers the process by which we develop prejudices, biases and the process of discrimination. It addresses the the unconscious, automatic biases that influence our behavior and the way we relate to others in our society. The video covers the roots of prejudice, sexism and racism and how they affect our society.
  • Video: Crash Course Psychology #38 – Social Influence – This video explores the topic of Social Influences. It examines the famous Milgram Study that studied what the average person might be capable of doing under orders. The video also covers the issue of conformity in society and the issues that influence behavior in social groups.
  • Video: Crash Course Psychology #40 – Aggression vs. Altruism – This video defines aggression and altruism and explores ways in which these construct are exhibited in society. Aggression arises from a combination of biological factors and environmental influences.The video addresses impulse control and the workings of the limbic system. The video also defines and examines altruistic behavior and factors that may lead to altruistic behavior in our society.

Assignments | Learning Activities

  • Read Module Introduction
  • Complete assigned readings
  • Submit Assignment: Critical Thinking Assignment #7
  • Participate in Discussion # 4


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