Chapter 11: Personality
This series of articles has been adapted from [Mind Matters in Children] by Dr Kenneth Lyen. It delves into both the normal as well as the abnormal functioning of a child’s mind, and gives practical advice on how to manage children’s mental health and problems like ADHD, dyslexia, autism and depression.
A parent commented: “How come my children are so different, even though they have the same parents and are brought up in the same household? One is so quiet and carefree, while another runs around continuously, and a third is bubbly and sociable. Their personalities are so different. Why?”
Every one of us has a different, unique persona. Even children have their own different characters, and they have difficulty hiding their personality. The environment also plays a role. When in a new place, a child may be a bit withdrawn, but once they become accustomed to the place, they will display their natural temperament.
What makes us different is our brains. Our brains control our senses, our acquisition of knowledge and experiences, our interpretation of the world, our emotions, and our expressions of thoughts and movements.
What is Personality?
Personality is the sum total of the attributes or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character. It is made up of a set of behaviours, understandings, and emotional patterns that affect one’s motivations and the psychological interactions with one another.
Our personality is not constant. It is shaped throughout our lives, especially during our childhood and youth, and it alters when our environment changes. For example, parents have often observed that their child’s behaviour transforms from a rowdy extrovert at home into a quiet introvert at school.
What are the Elements that Comprise Personality?
To dissect out the individual components that form the fundamental basis of personality, there are a number of different approaches, but only three major approaches will be discussed here, namely the a) Four Humours of Hippocrates, b) the Neuropsychological Approach, c) The Traits Theory which includes the Big Five Personality Traits.
(a) The Four Humours of Hippocrates
Historically, the oldest proposition is by Hippocrates (460-377 BC), who suggested that human personality is made up of four humours or temperaments:
- Sanguine (blood): optimistic, courageous, sociable, energetic, disorganised
- Phlegmatic (phlegm): unemotional, slow, meek, submissive, trustworthy
- Choleric (yellow bile): bad-tempered, explosive, dominant, confident, overbearing
- Melancholic (black bile): sad, depressed, moody, sensitive, thoughtful
Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz
Some people have tried to fit Frank Baum’s (1856-1919) characters from The Wizard of Oz into these four humours:
- The lion is placed in the sanguine category; initially he is a coward but he realises his courage towards the end.
- The tinman is unemotional and therefore phlegmatic.
- Dorothy is upset because she lost her way home, and at a stretch she can be said to be choleric.
- The scarecrow is melancholic and is sad, and he thinks he is worthless.
(b) Neuropsychological Approach
It is recognised that all our thinking, behaviour and responses are governed by our brains. Thus, one method of analysing personality is using a neuropsychological scientific analysis of brain functions. Using electroencephalography, functional magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography, and pharmaco-biochemical responses, we can discover what parameters determine personality.
(c) The Traits Theory
This is one of the major approaches and exploration of the components or traits that make up personality. This is subdivided into:
- Cardinal traits: these are traits that dominates one’s entire personality. They include integrity, generosity, narcissism, kindness, ambition, self-control. Cardinal traits can be both positive or negative and become more evident later in older children.
- Central traits: these are the general characteristics that form the basic foundation of personality. They include smartness and slow-witted, outspokenness and shyness, honesty and deceit, carefree and anxious.
- Secondary traits: these are related to attitudes or preferences. The usually present only in specific situations or certain circumstances. Stage fright, or impatience waiting in line are examples of secondary traits.
What is my child’s personality?
A popular subtype of the Traits Theory is the so-called Big Five, or a set of personality – building features:
1. Conscientiousness (Persistent)
These are children who keep on asking questions incessantly: “why”, “how”, “how come”. They are hungry for knowledge and tell you in detail what they have been doing at school. Highly inquisitive, they also love to share the information they have gleaned and they can be very creative. They are good at planning, and can keep to a timetable. Many of these children do well in their studies, and grow up to become original thinkers, inventors, writers, scientists and engineers.
The opposite trait is the child who is lazy, undisciplined, and careless.
2. Extraversion (Socializer)
Children with this trait are very sociable and talkative. They make friends easily and like to play with other children of all ages. They are fun-loving, cheerful, and like to dress up, pretend play and grab attention. Sometimes they can be a bit aggressive. Many grow up to become actors, dancers, singers, and entrepreneurs.
The opposite are introverts, who are more quiet, serious, and withdrawn. Famous introverts include Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton.
3. Agreeableness (Kindhearted)
These children are kind and sensitive. They are willing to share their toys and if they see a friend or an animal looking sad, they will try to comfort them. They are cooperative, empathetic, warm, and trusting. These children can grow up to become health care or social workers, musicians, artists and mathematicians.
The opposite are those who are competitive, ruthless, irritable and vindictive.
4. Openness (Adventurous)
You will encounter children who will explore the parks, playgrounds, ride a bike and try new foods, new activities. They do not need much encouragement to engage in something daring and inventive. Many of them will have bumps and bruises all over and look like a wild child. Some might grow up to become leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators.
The opposite are the conventional, pragmatic, realistic, conventional child who is unwilling to try anything new.
5. Neuroticism (Worrier)
These are children who worry a lot. They are anxious about everything, are uncertain if they should try something new, and they cry easily and become depressed.
The opposite are children who are more resilient, even-keeled, relaxed, have high self-esteem.
Observe the way your child behaves and see if they exhibit any of the Big-Five traits.
1. Corr PJ and Matthews G. The Cambridge Handbook of Personality Psychology 2nd edition 2020. ISBN: 978-1108404457
2. Wikipedia: Personality. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personality
3. Schretien DJ et al. A neuropsychological study of personality. J Clin Exp Neuropsychol 2010; 32: 1068-1973. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2937090/
4. Cherry K. What is the traits theory of personality? VeryWell Mind 2022. https://www.verywellmind.com/trait-theory-of-personality-2795955
5. Wikipedia: Big five personality traits. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Five_personality_traits
6. Cherry K. The big five personality traits. VeryWell Mind 2021. https://www.verywellmind.com/the-big-five-personality-dimensions-2795422
7. Wikipedia: Personality Tests. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personality_test
8. Harper H. The 23 best personality tests in ranking order. WorkStyle 2022. https://www.workstyle.io/best-personality-test
9. Framingham J. Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). PsychCentral 2016. https://psychcentral.com/lib/minnesota-multiphasic-personality-inventory-mmpi#Development-of-the-MMPI
10. Moffa M. A critique of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. https://www.recruiter.com/i/critique-of-the-myers-briggs-type-indicator-critique/ https://www.recruiter.com/i/a-critique-of-the-Myers-briggs-type-indicator-mbti-part-two/
11. Inverse 2020. Why one popular personality test is “pseudoscientific at best”. https://www.inverse.com/mind-body/enneagram-personality-test-experts-explain
12. Voridis C. The validity of personality test 2016. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/validity-personality-tests-criticism-evaluation-voridis/
13. BrightQuest 2022. What is multiple personality disorder? https://www.verywellmind.com/phineas-gage-2795244
14. Wikipedia. Dissociative identity disorder. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dissociative_identity_disorder
15. Legg TJ. Everything you want to know about personality change. Healthline 2019. https://www.healthline.com/health/behavior-unusual-or-strange#causes
16. Gui-Evans O. Phineas Gage https://www.simplypsychology.org/phineas-gage.html
17. YouAreMom 2019. Parenting styles and children’s personalities. https://youaremom.com/children/parenting-styles/
Written by Dr Kenneth Lyen
Illustrated by Lee Ai Cing