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You have the choice of one essay question from the eight outlined below.

  1. Compare and contrast two psychologists’/ psychiatrists’ theories of personality from different areas, assessing their relative contribution to personality and the degree to which their theories have endured and are detectable in current psychology research.
  1. What did the psychoanalysts contribute towards understanding personality development and how are these influences still reflected in current psychology research?
  1. Which personality factors would be most likely to inform an ambitious choice of career? Discuss in reference to concepts drawn from at least two theories of personality.
  1. What factors are involved in shaping a child’s personality? Discuss in reference to concepts drawn from at least two theories of personality.
  1. Discuss the statement: “Personality is fixed in our genes”.

  2. Does the five factor model of personality provide merely a structure of personality rather than a comprehensive theory?

  3. Do personality disorders develop purely as a result of childhood negative experiences? Illustrate your position with relevant theoretical perspectives and provide the evidence for your conclusion.
  4. Why are intelligence scores increasing with each generation? To what extent can this be attributed to personality factors, evolutionary factors and/or changing conceptions of intelligence?Provide evidence for your argument from relevant personality theories and research.

Introduction to Personality Psychology

Personality may be defined as the numerous behavioral tendencies, cognitive patterns, traits, emotional patterns and thoughts that make up a person’s character. These traits of personality usually emanate from environmental and biological factors. Personality psychology may be explained as the branch of psychology which deals with the study of personality traits and behavioral patterns that shape human beings. It can be asserted that the various theories of personality strive to predict and control human behavior, which is invariably the result of one’s individual personality traits. The first theories of personality would include the psychodynamic approaches to personality, which drew upon the ideas and concepts of Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler and Erik Erikson. Every since then, there have been several other theories that have emerged, like that of Gray’s theory of personality or Eysenck’s PEN personality theories (Figueredo et al., 2015). The essay will study the two aforementioned theories of personality and provide a comparative study of the same.

Both Jeffrey Gray and Hans Eysenck have been regarded as the chief proponents of the hypothesis that personality characteristics of a human being provide an insight into the various minute differences in the brain functioning of the individual. Both theorists assume that it is possible to characterize the brain functioning of a person based on a conceptual nervous system, which consists of human behavioral tendencies and personality. Gray and Eysenck emphasize the biological basis of personality. Yet, there are a few differences between the two proposed theories. While Gray studies the concepts of anxiety and impulsivity and the factors, Eysenck mainly focuses on the personality traits related to neuroticism, psychoticism and extraversion (Jackson, 2001). The prime difference between the two theories is the fact that Eysenck’s theory is more explanatory and descriptive in nature while Gray is more specific and focuses on behavioral activation and inhibition.

Hans Eysenck (1916 -1997) came up with the biological theory of personality which is also known as the PEN personality theory. According to Eysenck (2017), there are three main aspects of an individual’s personality – namely, extraversion, neuroticism and psychoticism. Furnham and Petrides (2014) opined that in Eysenck’s theory, biological factors (which include hormone levels and cortical arousal) coupled with environmental factors (like conditioned behavior or learning) would affect the personality traits of an individual. The three aspects of the PEN model must be better explained to grasp an understanding of Eysenck’s perspective. On the extraversion – introversion scale, an individual with higher levels of extraversion is more likely to be sociable, outgoing and have a more positive outlook towards life. Such a person is also more likely to harbor a positive and motivational approach towards challenging and stressful situations, possessing more potential for healthy coping strategies (Gao et al., 2013). Additionally, such individuals are talkative and fit in better into groups. They usually have large circles of friends and acquaintances and enjoy being the center of attention. On the other hand, introverted people tend to be shy, meek, quiet and tend to avoid social gatherings or interactions with large groups of people. They are not comfortable meeting or socializing with strangers and would prefer to have a tighter and smaller group of friends (Halverson et al., 2014). Eysenck believed that the extraversion scale of an individual would depend on his levels of cortical arousal. Extraverts experience lower cortical arousal, and as a result, they tend to seek arousal from other external stimuli. On the other hand, introverts have higher cortical arousal levels, which would make them avoid similar stimuli.

Background and Key Theories of Personality

On the emotional stability – neuroticism scale, the personality traits related to emotional aspects of an individual can be measured. A person with higher neuroticism levels is more likely to be immature, emotionally unstable, prone to emotional outbursts, stress and anxiety (Ormel et al., 2013). Such people are likely to lose their calm over trivial matters and are usually unable to cope with the stressful life situations in a mature and composed manner. They are also likely to feel jealous and envious and avoid confrontation or challenging situations (Barlow et al., 2014). On the other hand, a person with lower levels of neuroticism is likely to be more tolerant, more stable in their expression of emotions and more capable of dealing with high pressure situations. On the psychoticism – normality scale, a person with higher scores in psychoticism is more likely to indulge in behavior that is miscalculated or irresponsible. They are likely to ignore social norms and conventions and would act without consideration of the consequences. However, such a person is expected to be more creative.

Gray, on the contrary, was opposed to the concept that biological factors like cortical arousal were solely responsible for the personality traits of a person (Nebylitsyn & Gray, 2013). Eysenck was more focused on the reticular activating system which plays a crucial role in personality traits. However, Kennis, Rademaker and Geuze (2013) argued that Gray disagreed with the perspective of Eysenck because he believed that certain aspects of the human personality cannot be explained through theories of classical conditioning. In other words, certain personality traits are innate and cannot be acquired as part of a learning process. According to Tremblay (2017), Gray’s biopsychological theory of personality is one of the most popular and commonly accepted theories which study human behavior. The theory which was introduced by Jeffrey Alan Gray in the year 1970, comprises two basic systems which predict and control human behavior. They are the behavioral activation system and the behavioral inhibition system or BAS and BIS respectively. BAS, as the name suggests, entails punishments as reinforcement and considers punishment to be one of the factors behind avoidance motivation whereas BIS entails approach motivation and rewarding system.

Gray (2017) opined that behavioral inhibition system or BIS is defined as a neuropsychological system which predicts and controls the response of an individual to the anxiety relevant cues, which may be present in a particular situation. This system is triggered in the case of negative events, boring situations and punishment. A person would respond to such negative stimuli through frustration, anxiety, avoidance and escapism. The activation of the BIS would ensure sensitivity to negative reinforcements like punishments and avoidance motivation. In other words, it is BIS which forms the basis of anxiety in human beings (Chamorro Premuzic, 2016). As a result of chronic anxiety, frustration and stress, such individuals would be more likely to avoid confrontation with challenging situations. Individuals who are extremely sensitive to negative reinforcements like punishments would perceive it as aversive. The causal factor behind BIS is expected to the biological system named septohippocampal system of the human body. The BAS, on the other hand, is more concerned with appetitive motivation. This refers to the inclination of an individual to pursue goals and work towards achieving them. Rewards and such methods of positive reinforcement serve as triggers for the activation of the BAS. According to Gray, this aspect of human personality is intimately associated with hope, which is the innate trait of every individual. A person who believes that he has hopes of achieving something for himself is likely to work towards it. It can thus be asserted that rewards would be more beneficial for the personality development of a person, because it is linked with impulsivity (Van Beek et al., 2013). A person with a highly active behavioral activation system would demonstrate more positive behaviors which include happiness, hopefulness and elation. Such individuals are also likely to engage in activities that are goal oriented and work towards achievement of such goals.

Comparing Gray's Theory of Personality with Eysenck's PEN Personality Theory

Hence, it is important to study the course of development from Eysenck’s theory to that of Gray’s, to provide a comparison between the two. Eysenck focuses on two broad aspects of personality in his theory. His is a highly regarded theory of personality traits which relies on a psychobiological perspective and factor analysis. According to Eysenck (2014), on one hand there is the reticulo – cortical circuit which is related to cortical arousal and would be affected by stimuli. For example, introverts more than extraverts have higher cortical arousal levels. On the other hand, there is the reticulo limbic system which is aroused as a result of the emotion inducing stimulations. Gray disagrees with this broad classification of personality aspects and has a more specific motivational basis. It is often claimed that the model proposed by Gray is a 45 degree rotation of that of Eysenck. However, recent research shows that the attribute of impulsivity is inclined at 30 degrees to that of extraversion while anxiety is alighted at 30 degrees to neuroticism. In Gray’s theory of personality, impulsivity is closely linked with the behavioral activation system whereas anxiety is closely associated with the behavioral inhibition system (Mathews & Gilliland, 1999). Gray’s theory also draws a comparison between the punishments and rewards as methods of reinforcement. Gray suggests that a highly impulsive person would be more motivated by rewards and would work twice as hard towards attainment of goals. On the other hand, a person with a more active BIS would be extremely sensitive to punishment and fear and is likely to be more vulnerable to anxiety (Corr & Cooper, 2016). If the assumption that rewards and punishments are relevant reinforcements as far as personality traits are concerned, the theory proposed by Gray would be more meaningful than Eysenck’s, with regards to study of human personality.

The aforementioned two theories differ with respect to the mode of psychological constructs and also with regards to the specific circuits that determine human personality. Eysenck’s limbic systems and that of reticulo cortical systems are broadly defined and explained. However, Gray identifies and recognizes arousal as something distinct from BAS or BIS. Unlike Eysenck, Gray uses the concept of arousal in a more specific way and refers to the dorsal noradrenergic bundle fibers (DNAB) which are closely linked with aroused emotional functions (Mathews & Gilliland, 1999). One of the major benefits of Eysenck’s theory is the fact that he uses arousal and such biological factors as the mediating variable linking personality traits to various response indices which are qualitatively different. Gray’s theory however establishes Eysenck’s theory as a generalized classification and instead predicts a range of personality related behavioral tendencies with greater specificity. Yet, in some cases it might prove to be challenging to link human behavioral patterns with the outputs of Gray theory of personality. In these specific cases, the general classifications of Eysenck’s arousal theories may prove to be more effective in predicting an individual’s behavioral responses (Jackson, 2001).

Key Differences between the Two Theories

Both theories have had implications with respect to the current research in psychology. For instance, the PEN model introduced by Eysenck has later been modified and expanded to the Five Factor Personality Model, which establishes that there are five essential factors which determine individual personality traits. The five factors are openness, neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness (Allik, Realo & McCrae, 2013). All of these factors determine different aspects of human behavior, along with predictions and controls. Similarly, the theory that had been proposed by Gray has now been revised to develop the reinforcement sensitive theory (Corr, 2016). At present, in personality psychology, the various traits of a person’s personality would be related to motivational systems and emotional aspects. His theory had an immense influence on the neurosciences of personality (Corr, DeYoung & McNaughton, 2013). He had advocated the approach which took into account the CNS components of personality, comprising of central nervous systems ad conceptual nervous systems.

To conclude, it can be said that at present, there are a number of theories that are associated with personality, personality traits and development of human personality. While a number of primitive theories like the psychodynamic theories exist, there are two main theories or models which have been studied in this paper – the theories proposed by Eysenck and Gray. Eysenck adopted a very generalized way of assessing human personality by dividing it into three aspects, namely neuroticism, extraversion and psychoticism. Opposing his theory of cortical arousal, Gray proposed a different theory which takes into account the role of positive and negative reinforcements in shaping and modifying the behavioral patterns and personality traits of human beings. The above paper provides a contrast and comparison of these two theories to study their implications in ongoing psychological research.


Allik, J., Realo, A., & McCrae, R. R. (2013). Universality of the five-factor model of personality.

Barlow, D. H., Sauer-Zavala, S., Carl, J. R., Bullis, J. R., & Ellard, K. K. (2014). The nature, diagnosis, and treatment of neuroticism: Back to the future. Clinical Psychological Science, 2(3), 344-365.

Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2016). Personality and individual differences. John Wiley & Sons.

Corr, P. J. (2016). Reinforcement sensitivity theory of personality questionnaires: Structural survey with recommendations. Personality and Individual Differences, 89, 60-64.

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Corr, P. J., DeYoung, C. G., & McNaughton, N. (2013). Motivation and personality: A neuropsychological perspective. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7(3), 158-175.

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Jackson, C. J. (2001). Comparison between Eysenck's and Gray's models of personality in the prediction of motivational work criteria. Personality and Individual Differences, 31(2), 129-144.

Kennis, M., Rademaker, A. R., & Geuze, E. (2013). Neural correlates of personality: an integrative review. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 37(1), 73-95.

Matthews, G., & Gilliland, K. (1999). The personality theories of HJ Eysenck and JA Gray: A comparative review. Personality and Individual differences, 26(4), 583-626.

Nebylitsyn, V. D., & Gray, J. A. (Eds.). (2013). Biological bases of individual behavior. Academic Press.

Ormel, J., Jeronimus, B. F., Kotov, R., Riese, H., Bos, E. H., Hankin, B., ... & Oldehinkel, A. J. (2013). Neuroticism and common mental disorders: meaning and utility of a complex relationship. Clinical psychology review, 33(5), 686-697.

Tremblay, R. E. (2017). The prediction of delinquent behavior from childhood behavior: Personality theory revisited. In Facts, frameworks, and forecasts (pp. 193-230). Routledge.

Van Beek, I., Kranenburg, I. C., Taris, T. W., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2013). BIS-and BAS-activation and study outcomes: A mediation study. Personality and Individual Differences, 55(5), 474-479.

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