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personality, in psychology, the patterns of behavior, thought, and emotion unique to an individual, and the ways they interact to help or hinder the adjustment of a person to other people and situations. A number of theories have attempted to explain human personality. In his psychoanalytic interpretation, Sigmund Freud asserted that the human mind could be divided into three significant components—the id, the ego, and the superego—which work together (or come into conflict) to shape personality. Psychoanalysis emphasizes unconscious motivations and the conflicts between primal urges and learned social mores, stressing the importance of early childhood experiences in determining mature personality. Exponents of behaviorism, such as B. F. Skinner, suggest that an individual's personality is developed through external stimuli. In the behaviorist model, personality can change significantly with a shift to a new environment. Social-learning theorists, notably Albert Bandura, also emphasized environmental influences but pointed out that these work in conjunction with forces such as memory and feelings to determine personality.

Trait theories have arisen in recent years, with the object of determining aspects of personality that compel an individual to respond in a certain way to a given situation. Gordon Allport delineated three kinds of traits with varying degrees of intensity: cardinal traits, central traits, and secondary traits. Raymond Cattell used a group of obvious, surface personality traits to derive a small group of source traits, which he argued were central to personality. Objections to trait theories point out that behavior is largely situation dependent, and that such traits as “honesty” are not especially helpful in characterizing personality and behavior. Despite such objections, trait theories have been popular models for quantifying personality. Paul Costa has postulated five basic dimensions of personality—introverson-extroversion, friendly compliance–hostile noncompliance, will, neuroticism, and openness to experience—and has developed a test to measure these traits.

Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers supported a humanistic approach to personality, pointing out that other approaches do not factor in people's basic goodness and the motivational factors that push them toward higher levels of functioning. Researchers offering biological approaches to personality have focused on the action of specific genes and neurotransmitters as determinants.

Psychologists may use psychological tests to determine personality. Well-known personality tests include the Rorschach test, in which an individual is asked to look at ink blots and tell what they bring to mind; the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, which uses a true-false questionnaire to delineate normal personality types from variants; and the Thematic Apperception Test, which employs cards featuring provocative but ambiguous scenes, asking the viewer their meaning. The American Psychiatric Association has sought to delineate personality disorders in its periodically revised and updated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.


See W. Wright, Born That Way: Genes, Behavior, Personality (1998).

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the characteristic ways of behaving of any individual person. The ‘personality’ is therefore inferred from behaviour, and one's ‘personality’ is considered to be a cause of one's behaviour.

The study of personality forms a considerable area within PSYCHOLOGY. The various approaches to its study include the Type theories (e.g. introvert/extravert), the Trait theories (e.g. Cattell's 16 personality factors), Psychodynamic theories (e.g. FREUD's), and Social Learning theories (emphasizing the importance of experience). The Type and Trait theories aim to classify personalities but not to explain, while the Psychodynamic and Social Learning theories aim to explain why personality develops as it does. See also CULTURE AND PERSONALITY SCHOOL, PSYCHOANALYSIS.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a popular and scientific term that means (1) the human individual as the subject of relations and conscious activity (that is, a person, in the broad sense of the word) or (2) a stable system of socially significant features that characterize an individual as a member of a given society or community. Although these two concepts—that of the person as an individual (Latin persona) and that of the personality as the individual’s social and psychological characteristics (personalitas)—are terminologically well distinguished, they are sometimes used synonymously.

In specialized studies the concept of personality is generally used in the second, narrower meaning. Thus, when a teacher speaks of the adolescent student’s personality, the sociologist of the worker’s personality, the criminologist of the criminal personality, or the psychiatrist of the neurotic personality, each has in mind and separates from all the remaining characteristics primarily those features that define or are typical of or essential to the type of person about whom he is speaking. The concept of personality should be distinguished from the concept of the individual (a person as a representative of some whole, whether biological or social) and from that of individuality (the aggregate of features that distinguish a given individual from all others). Individuality may be spoken about on different levels, such as the biochemical, the neurophysiological, and the psychological. But the personality appears only with the rise of consciousness and self-consciousness. The personality is an object of study of philosophy, psychology, and sociology.

Philosophical concepts. In philosophy the problem of the personality refers, above all, to the place a person occupies in the world. It concerns not only what a person actually is, but also “what the person can become, that is whether the person can become master of his own fate, whether he can ‘make’ himself and create his own life” (A. Gramsci, Izbr. proizv., vol. 3, p. 43, Moscow, 1959).

Originally, the word “personality” meant a mask—a role performed by an actor in the Greek theater (similarly, the Russian word lichnost’, “personality,” is related to lichina, “mask”). Considered apart from the community or polis, the personality was just as unreal to ancient Greek philosophy as a biological organ severed from the whole organism. Even in antiquity, however, there emerged the problem of the difference between a person’s real behavior and his “essence” as he sees it himself, as well as the associated problem of the motifs of guilt and responsibility. Different religious and philosophical systems single out different aspects of this problem. In ancient philosophy the personality was considered primarily a relationship, whereas in Christianity it is viewed as a special essence, the “individual substance” of the rational character (Boethius), and is considered a synonym for the nonmaterial soul. Beginning with the French philosopher Descartes, the dualistic interpretation of the personality became widespread in modern philosophy, and the problem of self-consciousness (a person’s attitude toward himself) became important. In practice, the concept of personality merges with the concept of “I.” The English philosopher Locke believed that “the personality is a reasoning, thinking entity that has intellect and reflection and can consider itself as itself, as the same thinking entity at different times and in different places” (Izbr. filos, proizv., vol. 1, p. 338, Moscow, 1960). According to Locke, the identity of the personality lay in its consciousness. Kant asserted that a person becomes a personality through self-consciousness, which distinguishes man from the animals and enables him freely to subordinate his own “I” to moral imperatives. If the psychological personality is only the ability to perceive one’s own identity, then the moral personality is the freedom of an intelligent being that conforms “only to those laws which it (alone or in conjunction with others) establishes for itself” (I. Kant, Soch., vol. 4, part 2, p. 132, Moscow, 1965).

As philosophical thought developed, certain problems in the study of the personality were refined and differentiated, including the biological and social determinants of personality and the degree of freedom available to the personality in relation to nature, to society, and to itself. In pre-Marxian philosophy, however, these problems were not delineated with sufficient clarity. Often, the personality and society were compared and contrasted as equal quantities of the same order. On the one hand, this error gave rise to the belittling of the personality and to the tendency to consider it chiefly as a product of a social or biological environment (metaphysical materialism). On the other hand, it engendered the voluntaristic interpretation of personal freedom as an arbitrary rule that negates natural and historical necessity. Thus, the personality is considered either an absolute demiurge (a creator) or a tragic, suffering entity that perishes under the onslaught of extrahuman, impersonal forces (a romantic point of view).

Marxist-Leninist philosophy overcomes these contradictions. If the “human essence” is “no abstraction inherent in each single individual” but rather the “ensemble of the social relations” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 3, p. 3), then an absolute contrast between the individual and society is meaningless. The world ceases to be the simple aggregate of “external” things and becomes a human world, while the human individual acquires a social nature. In both phylogeny and ontogeny the basis for the formation of the personality is social and production activity, which always presupposes interaction with others. The theory of the sociohistorical nature of man does not eliminate the problem of the personality in the proper sense of that term. The personality as an “individual social being” (K. Marx, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Iz rannikh proizv., 1956, p. 591) is determined not only by the existing system of social relations and the culture inherited from the past but also by its own biological features.

According to Marx, man is simultaneously a product and a subject of history. “‘History’ is not, as it were, a person apart, using man as a means to achieve its own aims. History is nothing but the activity of man pursuing his own aims” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 2, p. 102). Impersonal social relations, which are external to the individual, objective, and independent of his will, are an objectivization of the activity of past generations, that is, the activity of similar “living personalities.” Impotent as an abstract, isolated individual, a person becomes a creator of history together with other persons, as a member of social classes and social groups. “His manifestations of life … are, therefore, an expression and confirmation of social life” (Marx, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Iz rannikh proizv., 1956, p. 590).

In the course of historical development changes take place in the prevailing social types of personalities and their values, as well as in the relationships between the personality and society. The individual was not independent with respect to the community in a primitive society. Only greater complexity and differentiation of social activity create the prerequisites for the autonomy of the personality. This process, however, is profoundly contradictory. “But in the course of historical evolution, and precisely through the inevitable fact that within the division of labor social relations take an independent existence, there appears a division within the life of each individual, insofar as it is personal and insofar as it is determined by some branch of labor and the conditions pertaining to it” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 3, p. 77). This phenomenon of alienation reaches its apogee under capitalism, which on the one hand proclaims the personality to be the highest social asset and on the other subordinates it to private ownership and “material” relations.

The tragic self-alienation of the consciousness of bourgeois society, which seeks a reference point sometimes in self-analysis isolated from the world, sometimes in the glorification of an irrational, spontaneously affective principle, is clearly reflected in contemporary Western philosophy (existentialism and personalism) and sociology (for example, the theory of the “mass society”). Only a communist society in which “the free development of each is a condition for the free development of all” can resolve these contradictions (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch, 2nd ed., vol. 4, p. 447).

Psychological concepts. In general psychology, “personality” usually means a nucleus, or integrating principle, that binds together the individual’s mental processes and imparts to his behavior a necessary consistency and stability. Depending on precisely how the principle is defined, personality theories are classified as psychobiological (W. Sheldon, USA), biosocial (G. W. Allport and C. Rogers, USA), psychosocial (A. Adler, K. Horney, and other neo-Freudians, USA), and psychostatistical, or “factorial” (R. Cattell, USA, and H. S. Eysenck, Great Britain).

Although the development of personality theory lags far behind empirical research and includes a great deal that is disputed and unclear, certain advances have been made in recent decades.

One-sided personality theories such as Freudian theory, behaviorism, and personalism have been criticized and amended in view of experimental data. Some long-standing problems have also been reformulated.

Although there are still disputes over the correlation between biological and social factors in the formation of the personality, the well-known phrasing of this question—heredity or environment, nature or nurture—is gradually receding, giving way to an understanding that the behavior of a person as a personality is determined by both factors, which supplement and mediate each other. It has been proven, for example, that sexual behavior that is normal or adequate in terms of the individual’s biological sex is achieved only if the biological determinants of sex (chromosomal, hormonal, and morphological) are combined with the appropriate psychosocial determinants (such as sexual identification and the assimilation of appropriate sex roles). However, it is indisputable that complex forms of social behavior and corresponding motifs in the personality are social in content and that the individual’s heredity (his genotype and somatotype, for example) determines only his predisposition toward certain forms of behavior or determines the specific forms in which given mental processes take place. Studies that trace the evolution of certain psychological traits in a given individual over a prolonged period of his life, taking into consideration specific environmental conditions, are of great importance for understanding the interdependence between heredity and environment.

To a great degree, the traditional dualism of “external,” interpsychological processes and “internal,” intrapsychological ones has also been overcome by modern psychology. According to L. S. Vygotskii and his followers, the internal processes of the human psyche take shape on the basis of interpsychological, interpersonal processes. The individual forms his internal world by mastering or interiorizing historically developed forms and types of social activity. In turn, he expresses or exteriorizes his own mental processes (A. N. Leont’ev). Thus, the “social” and the “individual,” which at first glance appear to be opposites, prove to be interconnected both genetically and functionally.

The structure of the personality presents great theoretical difficulties. Having rejected the traditional interpretation of the personality as a more or less random aggregate of psychological traits, contemporary psychologists see in it a certain system, or structure. But there are various points of view on this structure. Factor analysis theories (such as those of Eysenck and Cattell) consider the personality the aggregate of a certain number of more or less autonomous psychological traits that can be empirically measured by tests. By contrast, the “holistic” or “organismic” theories see in the personality a substantial unity which is manifested in empirically observed properties.

The interindividual approach, which considers the structure of the personality to be derived from the structure of the individual’s interaction with other people and with the social whole to which he belongs, prevails in social psychology. The intraindividual structure is studied most often in developmental and differential psychology. The structure of the personality is often identified with the structure of its motives or with the structure of its activity (behavior). Multilevel structural models that take into account the biological origin, motives, social properties, and self-consciousness of the personality are often cumbersome and eclectic. These defects are also evident in personality typologies. The numerous current typologies and classifications of the personality have different theoretical grounds—neurophysiological, psychophysiological, psychological, sociopsychological, and sociological. For the most part, there are no logical bridges between different theories and levels of investigation. Different concepts that are not in sufficient agreement with each other claim to be the integrating personality principle. (In Soviet psychology these concepts include the concept of “set” developed by D. N. Uznadze and his school, the concept of the “directionality of the personality,” and V. N. Miasishchev’s concept of “relations.”)

The greater the number of mental properties (such as character, temperament, abilities, and feelings) referred to as personality traits, the more global the concept of personality, to the point where the concepts of “general psychology” and the “psychology of the personality” seem to coincide fully. The more global the concept of personality, the more difficult it is to manipulate.

But the task of creating a general theory that would describe the regulation of human behavior at all levels, from the organismic to the social, goes beyond the framework not only of personality theory but also of psychology as a whole. Psychologists, who study personality in the true sense of the word, usually narrow their task, define the nucleus of the personality as the subject of conscious activity in the sphere of motivation, and isolate within it needs, interests, and tendencies (S. L. Rubinshtein). Major advances have been made in this branch of psychology. An internal regulatory mechanism such as self-consciousness, which includes images of the self (“I”) and capacities for self-evaluation and self-respect, on which the level of aspirations and real behavior largely depend, is also of great importance for the normal functioning of the personality. These phenomena are drawing greater attention from psychologists (V. S. Merlin and K. K. Platonov, for example). Psychopathology is making major contributions in this regard: the study of the disorders, neuroses, and behavior of people in different pathogenic situations significantly clarifies the principles of the normal functioning of various subsystems of the personality.

In recent years a great deal of progress has been made in differential psychology and especially differential psychophysiology (B. M. Teplov), which study the differences between individuals. Improvement of the methods of measuring various personality traits is very important for the further development of these trends.

Sociological concepts. The starting point for sociological investigations of the personality is not the individual attributes of the person but the social system of which he is a part and the social functions and roles that he performs in it. Analyzing the social and above all, the economic relations among people, Marx emphasized that people participate in them “not as individuals but as members of a class” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Sock, 2nd ed., vol. 3, p. 76) and that “distinctive social roles by no means stem from individual human nature as such” (ibid., vol. 13, p. 78) but are determined by the social structure of society.

Contemporary sociology uses a number of terms to describe transitions from the individual to the social and from the social structure to interpersonal relations and individual behavior (for example, “class affiliation,” “social position,” “status,” “role,” “social type,” and “social character”). However, these terms have very different meanings in different sociological theories. In Freudian theories (E. Fromm) social character is considered a product of the specific transformation of people’s psychosexual attractions under the influence of a specific social environment. Many bourgeois authors see the concept of social role in a narrow, sociopsychological light, as an expectation that individuals present to each other during direct interaction in small groups. Without rejecting the significance of the problem of social role, Marxist sociology makes it dependent on the overall social system to which any given group or organization belongs, as well as on culture and history.

Therefore, Marxist sociology of the personality does research on many different levels, including changes in the social type of the personality and its degree of freedom as a function of the character of the social order, the correlation among autonomous factors in the socialization of the personality in different social systems, and the personality in the organization. It also investigates the principles governing the social interaction of individuals in different social groups and the needs, motives, and value orientations of the personality that regulate social behavior. These last problems are common to sociology and social psychology; therefore, the boundary between the two fields is largely arbitrary.

Because sociology studies the personality only in relation to its affiliation with a specific social system and only from this standpoint, false claims are often made that sociology in general “destroys the personality,” dissolving it in impersonal social roles, and denies its capacity for creative activity. Such charges are groundless. Objecting to the views of the Narodnik (Populist) theoreticians, V. I. Lenin emphasized that in studying social relations the sociologist “also studies the real individuals from whose actions these relations are formed” (Poln. sobr. soch. 5th ed., vol. 1, p. 424).

The study of the social system makes it possible to understand the value orientations of the personality, its aspirations and ideological orientation, and the possible degree of its creative manifestations. But social behavior is determined not only by a person’s present standing but also by his past experience and by the character of the cultural values that he has assimilated, which are an expression of the previous history of mankind. Each individual as a personality is a product not only of existing relations but also of all previous history. Socialization is not reducible to the individual’s passive “adaptation” to “ready” social forms. A given social position may be objectively the same for two personalities, but their different perceptions and assessments of it will motivate them to entirely different actions. “The slave who is aware of his slavish condition and fights it is a revolutionary. The slave who is not aware of his slavish condition and vegetates in silent, unenlightened, and wordless slavery is just a slave. The slave who drools when smugly describing the delights of slavish existence and who goes into ecstasy over his good and kind master is a groveling boor” (ibid., vol. 16, p. 40).

The Marxist philosophical and sociological concept of the personality is very important to ethics, pedagogy, and other sciences, as well as for communist construction and the upbringing of the new man.

Breaking with bourgeois individualism, scientific communism severely criticizes various versions of petit bourgeois “barrack communism,” which strive to level personalities. According to Engels, “society cannot free itself unless every individual is freed” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Sock, 2nd ed., vol. 20, p. 305). The harmonious and comprehensive development of man is the highest goal of a communist society. The ideal of Marxist humanism is not to dissolve the personality in an impersonal “mass,” but harmoniously to combine the personal and the social. A number of intricate social problems (such as the dialectic of the development of the personality and the social division of labor, ways of converting labor into the primary vital necessity of the personality, and the correlation between subjective activity and interpersonal contact) arise in connection with this ideal. The development of the creative activity of each individual, which is inseparably connected with a sense of social and moral responsibility, is the most important prerequisite for the shaping of the new man.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


The characteristic way in which a person thinks, feels, and behaves.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


Psychol the sum total of all the behavioural and mental characteristics by means of which an individual is recognized as being unique
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005