PSYCHODYNAMIC THEORY OF PERSONALITY
Freud's general theory is explained on another page (link below) but this page will add some extra details to show how his ideas apply to individual differences like personality.
If you had asked Freud to explain personality, he might have replied, "Which personality?" According to Freud, we have several personalities and they are at war (which is kind of what "psychodynamic" means).
THE ICEBERG MODEL OF THE PSYCHE
As part of the Biological explanation of Individual Differences, you study Hans Eysenck's PEN Model of Personality. However, Eysenck's questionnaires like the EPI and the EPQ only ever examine the conscious mind since that is the part of the mind we are aware of. Unfortunately, the conscious mind gives us little or no real information about our actual feelings, motives or desires and only contains a fraction of our memories (and not the most interesting ones either!).
What we really need to examine is the unconscious mind. Unfortunately, that is inaccessible. Freud is quite clear that the conscious mind can never have any direct knowledge of the unconscious.
Fortunately, we have the pre-conscious mind which is the part of the mind that contains remembered dreams, feelings that haven't been put into words and memories that can be recalled without help.
Since the pre-conscious is as close to the unconscious as we are ever going to get, this is what Freud says we must study. Therefore, his approach to personality involves studying dreams and childhood memories.
The unconscious mind is a mystery, but there are sometimes clues about what it contains:
THREE PARTS OF THE PSYCHE
It's bad enough that most of our personality is hidden in the mysterious unconscious. But it's worse than that, because our personality is split into three warring parts.
The id is the most basic part of the psyche. It consists of urges and desires and exists entirely in the unconscious mind.
The id is based on "the pleasure principle" and this means that different people's ids aren't very distinctive. We all want the same things: food and physical comfort, warmth and security. On the level of the id, we hardly have any personality at all.
However, some people seem to have a strong id and others a weak id. Strong ids are very driven; they have big needs but they are also very energetic and motivated. Weak ids are more passive.
Dividing people into strong or weak ids is a very basic sort of individual difference. In contrast, Eysenck's PEN Model is much more sophisticated, because it looks at the sort of things we are motivated to seek out. But Freud considers that too, later on.
The id resembles the function of the limbic system in the human brain: this is the brain's "emotion centre" and the source of our appetites, fear and aggression.
The ego is the second part of the psyche and exists within the conscious mind. It is based on "the reality principle" and it studies the world and makes decisions on behalf of the id..
The ego resembles the function of the pre-frontal cortex in the human brain: this is the brain's "decision-making centre" which handles messages from the limbic system and decides how to act on them.
One might compare the relation of the ego to the id with that between a rider and his horse. The horse provides the locomotor energy, and the rider has the prerogative of determining the goal and of guiding the movements of his powerful mount towards it. But all too often in the relations between the ego and the id we find a picture of the less ideal situation in which the rider is obliged to guide his horse in the direction in which it itself wants to go - Sigmund Freud (1932)
The ego has a powerful bargaining chip for dealing with the id. This is deferred gratification. Deferred gratification involves putting off pleasure until later, or enjoying a smaller pleasure in the short term for the sake of a larger pleasure later on.
There is a link here to Eysenck's PEN Model. Highly neurotic (N) personalities have difficulty controlling their emotions and working towards long-term goals. This may be because they have a very strong id or a very weak ego or both.
The final part of the psyche to develop is the super-ego which is based on "the morality principle" and acts as "the voice of conscience". When the super-ego objects to the ego's thoughts, it generates guilt and shame.
Eysenck explicitly links his psychoticism (P) trait to the concept of the super-ego. High-P individuals have a weak super-ego and do not feel shame or guilt which is why they can be callous and impulsive.
I don't think Eysenck quite grasped Freud's idea here though. A weak super-ego won't be much of a conscience, but it won't lead you to do anything horrible unless you've got a strong id as well. A strong super-ego is much more likely to make you "act out" and behave badly, as we shall see.
Freud insists that the personality is at war with itself. The id has an insatiable demand for pleasure and the super-ego inflicts shame and guilt if the ego acts on those demands. The result is frustration.
The ego solves this problem by creating defence mechanisms. Defence mechanisms are behaviours or beliefs that give the id what it wants (or something close to it) without attracting the fury of the super-ego. The stronger your super-ego, the more defence mechanisms you're going to need.
There are lots of defence mechanisms, but here are five that are quite common and may link to Eysenck's PEN Model of personality:
Trying to spot your own defence mechanisms is fun. Trying to spot your friends' and teachers' defence mechanisms is even more fun! But Freud makes it clear that this is very difficult without the help of a trained psychoanalyst.
This is what personality boils down to, according to the psychodynamic theory:
If your defence mechanisms are making you miserable (because, say, they involve you taking drugs or being an insufferable jerk to everyone you meet), then there's some good news and some bad news from Dr Freud:
12-minute video outlining Freud's ideas and introducing Hermann Rorschach and his ink blots, Carl Jung and Freud's followers!
THE OEDIPUS COMPLEX
You don't need to know about the Oedipus Complex for the Exam, but I'll mention it here for those who want to study more widely.
Freud offers an even MORE sophisticated twist on personality. He suggests that the formation of the super-ego (around about age 5) is a very traumatic change for a child. It involves an emotional crisis that Freud calls the Oedipus Complex.
During the Oedipus Complex, each child struggles with their sexual desire for their opposite-sex parent and the feelings of jealousy and fear this produces over their same-sex parent. Children resolve the Oedipus Complex with two defence mechanisms:
Repression is the reason why you don't remember your own Oedipus Complex. Identification is where you get your gender roles from.
The Oedipus Complex is a particularly difficult time and most children don't resolve this conflict perfectly. They remain fixated on one parent or both and the original desire and jealousy/fear keep resurfacing through their lives, but get displaced, projected or sublimated instead.
2-minute video describing Freud's discovery of the Oedipus Complex
Freud's theory of the Oedipus Complex was explored in his famous case study of Little Hans, the boy with a phobia of horses. You may wish to study this because it gives a very different explanation of phobias from the one proposed by Watson & Rayner for Little Albert's fear of rats.
APPLYING THE PSYCHODYNAMICS OF PERSONALITY TO REAL LIFE
Psychodynamic theory needs a different approach from most other psychological theories because you can't study the unconscious mind with brain imaging techniques and you can't ask people about their unconscious thoughts with questionnaires. In other words, you can't use psychometric tests.
Projective tests are the different approach. These tests give the respond a chance to "project" feelings from their pre-conscious mind in a way that doesn't allow the conscious mind too much chance to interfere. The idea is, the results give a trained psychoanalyst clues about the unconscious mind behind the scenes.
You can see that Freud's explanations of personality go much deeper than the biological explanations in terms of genes and brain structure: they focus on feelings, relationships and our sense of who we are. But is there any truth to them?
EVALUATING THE PSYCHODYNAMICS OF PERSONALITY