What is Personality? And Who Cares?

by Melanie Gallo, PhD  


Ok Doc... So what is it?

Broadly speaking, personality is defined as “the psychological processes that determine a person’s characteristic behavior and thought” (Allport, 1961, p. 28). Personality psychology is a discipline that focuses on the measurement and analysis of our individual differences in social behavior (Funder, 1986). Personality starts in our subconscious mind at birth then evolves to guide our thoughts and our actions. It is a reflection of our individual characteristics, motives, and attitudes. 

At some point you may have learned about the early personality research of Sigmund Freud and his theory of the id (instinct) / ego (conscious decision-making) / superego (social influences). Freud taught that these were the components that combined to make up our personalities. 

Today, real-world applications of personality focus more on the genetic predispositions and stable traits that guide our thoughts and behaviors.

Who cares?

Individuals, teams, and entire organizations care. The study of personality is important because having an understanding of it not only helps us to understand our own thoughts and behaviors, but it helps us to better understand the thoughts and behaviors of others. In the workplace, personality tests were first used for the purpose of aiding in personnel selection, but are now used more widely in developmental areas of HR such as coaching, educational leadership, team and organizational development, and management training.

How do we measure and study personality?

As it relates to the workplace, specialized tests called psychometric assessments (more “metric”...not so much “psycho”) are used by researchers, HR professionals, coaches, and consultants to measure the personality preferences of individuals. In fact, psychometric tests have been designed to scientifically measure many different aspects of the human experience including achievement, behavior, development, relationships, intelligence, aptitude, neuropsychology, and sensory-motor skills to name a few. However, in the workplace, the most widely used types of psychological tests are those that assesses personality and behavioral preferences.

What makes the different personality tests, different?

Personality tests are generally classified as either trait tests or type tests. Trait-based tests, which are frequently used in academic research, can measure a variety of key personality elements such as: introversion, extroversion, neuroticism, emotional stability, warmth, intellect, aggressiveness, liveliness, dutifulness, social assertiveness, sensitivity, abstractness, anxiety, open-mindedness, independence, authoritarianism, ethnocentrism, and so on. Among the most widely used trait tests is The Big Five Inventory (BFI) which uses a scale to measure how much of five key traits a person has. These are openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. 

Type-based personality assessments such as the DiSC Assessment and Myers-Briggs Type Instrument (MBTI) are primarily used in the workplace for selection and development, respectively. Type tests use a limited number of distinct, non-overlapping personality types to describe an individual’s different dimensions of personality.

With type tests such as the Myers Briggs, people are not “scored” on how much of each type they have. Instead, they are asked to identify their preference in each of 4 pairs of opposites. The MBTI uses:

  • The extroversion vs. introversion dimension (I vs.E) to describe opposite ways people prefer to direct and receive energy

  • The sensing vs. intuition dimension (S vs. N) to describe opposite ways of taking in information

  • The sensing vs. intuition dimension (S vs. N) to describe opposite ways of taking in information

  • The thinking vs. feeling (T vs. F) to describe opposite ways of making decisions and coming to conclusions

  • The judging vs. perceiving (P vs. J) dimension describes opposite ways of approaching the outside world

What reliable, validated personality testing is NOT:

  • It is not, and should not be used as a way to group people into categories.

  • It is not a labeling tool.

  • It is not a fortune telling tool.

  • It is not a horoscope.

  • It is not meant to be administered by just anyone. Of course my preference is someone like myself who has a background in psychology and specializes in the selection, administration, and interpretation of assessments for the workplace.

  • It is not meant to be administered without follow up coaching or consulting.

  • Again... It is not a labeling tool.

Developing an understanding of personality in your personal and professional life can lead to a greater understanding of human behavior - both yours and the behavior of others.  As my favorite quote says: 

Watch your thoughts for they become your words. 

Watch your words for they become your actions. 

Watch your actions for they become your habits.

Watch your habits for they become your character. 

Watch your character for it becomes your destiny. - Gandhi

What we think, we become...and our personalities help to shape it all. 


Allport, G. W. 1937. Personality: A psychological interpretation. New York: Henry Holt and Company. 

Funder, D., Harris, M.J. 1986. On the several facets of personality: The case of social acuity. Journal of Personality 54 (3), 528-550, 1986 

Gallo, M. C. 2017. The Impact of Need for Affect and Personality on Relationship Conflict in Groups. Proquest Dissertations and Theses 90. https://pqdtopen.proquest.com/doc/1940484250.html?FMT=ABS

Lundgren, Henriette, Kroon, Brigitte & Poell, Rob F.. 2017. Personality testing and workplace training. European Journal of Training and Development 41: 198-221.