Hans Jurgen Eysenck was a noted psychologist in the field of personality.
In this lesson, you will discover Eysenck’s hierarchy of personality and the broad traits at the top of the hierarchy.
Hans Jurgen Eysenck (1916-1997)
Hans Eysenck was born in Germany in 1916, but moved to England as the Nazis gained power early in the 1930s. Though Eysenck was known for many areas of study in psychology, including intelligence and mental illness, he is often cited today for his work in personality.
Eysenck’s Personality Theory
Eysenck was a theorist who focused on personality traits.
Traits are broad behavioral elements that define who you are, like calm or easily excited. Eysenck described one’s personality as a hierarchy of traits. At the top of that hierarchy we see broad primary characteristics, known as higher-order traits. The few broad higher-order traits then determine several lower-order traits. The lower-order traits help to make up our habitual behaviors and our specific responses.
According to Eysenck, personality traits are genetically inherited.
Extraversion and Introversion
Eysenck’s theory of personality focused on two dimensions of higher-order traits, extraversion vs. introversion and emotional stability vs. neuroticism, or emotional instability. Extraverts are commonly known as being loud and outgoing while introverts are often thought of as quiet and reserved. Eysenck described extraversion and introversion differently, looking at their natural states of arousal.
In psychology, the term arousal refers to any excitation. According to Eysenck, introverts have a higher natural base level of excitation and therefore do not need to seek out stimulating environments. Extraverts have a lower base arousal and choose environments that provide more stimulation.
Eysenck’s idea coincides with the arousal theory of motivation that states people seek out activities that either increase or decrease levels of arousal. The optimum arousal theory proposes that someone involved in a low-arousal activity will eventually seek out an activity that raises their level of arousal to its optimum level. Every person’s natural level of arousal differs genetically and by situation.
The emotional stability vs. neuroticism scale explores qualities like impulse control and predictability of emotions with traits like anxiety, nervousness, and reactivity, also know as neuroticism.
People who demonstrate emotional stability are calm and relaxed. People who are neurotic experience emotions intensely and are excitable.Eysenck’s two-dimensional approach to personality theory is noted for being similar to that of the ancient Greek doctor, Hippocrates.
Hippocrates believed personality to be a result of the four body humors – black bile, green bile, blood, and phlegm. An overabundance of black bile would cause someone to be melancholic. Too much green bile was equated with being choleric.
If someone was considered warm or sanguine, they had too much blood, and individuals who were cool or sluggish were described as phlegmatic.The image below relates Hippocrates’ humors with Eysenck’s personality dimensions. Where would you place yourself on the wheel of traits?
Later in Eysenck’s life, he and his wife, Sybil Eysenck, added a third broad personality dimension.
Psychoticism displays in people who are highly hostile or aggressive. The Eysencks proposed that psychoticism was high in people who suffered from psychotic disorders, like schizophrenia. People who are psychotic are considered out of touch with reality. Eysenck believed psychoticism was also a genetic trait, and current research in schizophrenia does show a greater likelihood of developing the disorder if the disorder is found in your family.The Eysenck’s son, Michael Eysenck, also became a noted psychologist.
At least in the Eysenck family, personality traits do indeed seem to be genetic.
Hans Jurgen Eysenck was a German-born psychologist who developed several theories related to personality. One of these was that people displayed personality traits, or broad behavioral elements that define who you are. Eysenck thought that there was a hierarchy for these traits, focusing specifically on extraversion versus introversion and emotional stability versus neuroticism.