Idiographic Approach to Personality

Idiographic view to personality assessment has been criticized by those who advocate nomothetic which contrasts sharply in perspective and implications. In this section, you can read about idiographic view to personality assessment and see why psychologists adopting this doctrine consider measurement of traits as inappropriate. It will also briefly introduce some of the most prestigious theories associated with this ideology.


Idiographic Approach

Psychologists adopting idiographic perspective are concerned with understanding the uniqueness of individuals and the development of the self concept. In this approach measurement of traits is seen as inappropriate because one person’s responses may not be comparable to another’s. That is, psychologists advocating idiographic approach believe that the individual is not just a collection of separate traits, but is well integrated organism. They hold that individual reacts as a system to various situations with past experiences and future intentions contributing to present behaviour.


Psychologists advocating idiographic approach believe that individual shape his personality through learning. In academic literature learning is defined as process of acquiring knowledge through experience which leads to an enduring change in behaviour. We use knowledge of the results of past behaviour to change, modify and improve our behaviour in future. You learn to write better assignments and get higher examination grades by finding out how well or how badly you did last time and why.

Hence idiographic approach to study of personality is associated with social learning that that propose explanation as how personality and human behaviour forms. Below we will briefly review some of the most influential theories associated with learning and development.


Learning Theories

Social learning theories see people as flexible and multi-faceted, able to develop new skills and behaviours and able to adapt to new environments. Social learning theories such as operant learning theory, Bandura’s social learning theory or Erikson’s eight stages of personality development theory fit into idiographic approach.

Erickson viewed personality development as continuing throughout life and argued that individuals’ motivations, aspirations and goals change with age. From this perspective one may argue that personality can be hardly measurable.

Skinners operant learning theory proposes that people behaviour is shaped by reinforcement and punishment. In simple terms, if an act of individual is reinforced then the person is likely to repeat the same act again. Nevertheless, if certain act or human behaviour is punished by taking something pleasant or giving an individual something unpleasant then person is unlikely to repeat the act or behaviour. Hence, Skinner suggests that behaviour is modified through positive and negative reinforcements or punishments.

Bandura argued that people learn through observing the attitudes, actions and behaviours of others. He proposed that such observation serves as bases for creating new set of behaviours in observers mind.


Final thoughts

As it can be seen from the above, psychologists advocating idiographic approach regard personality development as a process which is open to change. This notion contrasts sharply with nomothetic approach and disregards the idea of nomothetic approach that personality is consistent across situations and stable over time.