What are Life Skills?


Life skills are abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable humans to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of life.

This concept is also termed as psychosocial competency. The subject varies greatly depending on social norms and community expectations but skills that function for well-being and aid individuals to develop into active and productive members of their communities are considered as life skills.

Enumeration and Categorisation

The UNICEF Evaluation Office suggests that “there is no definitive list” of psychosocial skills; nevertheless UNICEF enumerates psychosocial and interpersonal skills that are generally well-being oriented, and essential alongside literacy and numeracy skills. Since it changes its meaning from culture to culture and life positions, it is considered a concept that is elastic in nature. But UNICEF acknowledges social and emotional life skills identified by Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL). Life skills are a product of synthesis: many skills are developed simultaneously through practice, like humour, which allows a person to feel in control of a situation and make it more manageable in perspective. It allows the person to release fears, anger, and stress & achieve a qualitative life.

For example, decision-making often involves critical thinking (“what are my options?”) and values clarification (“what is important to me?”), (“How do I feel about this?”). Ultimately, the interplay between the skills is what produces powerful behavioural outcomes, especially where this approach is supported by other strategies.

Life skills can vary from financial literacy, through substance-abuse prevention, to therapeutic techniques to deal with disabilities such as autism.

Core Skills

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1999 identified the following core cross-cultural areas of life skills:

  • Decision-making and problem-solving;
  • Creative thinking (see also: lateral thinking) and critical thinking;
  • Communication and interpersonal skills;
  • Self-awareness and empathy;
  • Assertiveness and equanimity; and
  • Resilience and coping with emotions and coping with stress.

UNICEF listed similar skills and related categories in its 2012 report.

Life skills curricular designed for K-12 often emphasize communications and practical skills needed for successful independent living as well as for developmental-disabilities/special-education students with an Individualized Education Programme (IEP).

There are various courses being run based on WHO’s list supported by UNFPA. In Madhya Pradesh, India, the programme is being run with Government to teach these through Government Schools.

Skills for Work and Life

Skills for work and life, known as technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is comprising education, training and skills development relating to a wide range of occupational fields, production, services and livelihoods. TVET, as part of lifelong learning, can take place at secondary, post-secondary and tertiary levels, and includes work-based learning and continuing training and professional development which may lead to qualifications. TVET also includes a wide range of skills development opportunities attuned to national and local contexts. Learning to learn and the development of literacy and numeracy skills, transversal skills and citizenship skills are integral components of TVET.

Parenting: A Venue of Life Skills Nourishment

Life skills are often taught in the domain of parenting, either indirectly through the observation and experience of the child, or directly with the purpose of teaching a specific skill. Parenting itself can be considered as a set of life skills which can be taught or comes natural to a person. Educating a person in skills for dealing with pregnancy and parenting can also coincide with additional life skills development for the child and enable the parents to guide their children in adulthood.

Many life skills programs are offered when traditional family structures and healthy relationships have broken down, whether due to parental lapses, divorce, psychological disorders or due to issues with the children (such as substance abuse or other risky behaviour). For example, the International Labour Organisation is teaching life skills to ex-child laborers and at-risk children in Indonesia to help them avoid and to recover from worst forms of child abuse.

Models: Behaviour Prevention vs. Positive Development

While certain life skills programs focus on teaching the prevention of certain behaviours, they can be relatively ineffective. Based upon their research, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services advocates the theory of positive youth development (PYD) as a replacement for the less effective prevention programmes. PYD focuses on the strengths of an individual as opposed to the older decrepit models which tend to focus on the “potential” weaknesses that have yet to be shown. The Family and Youth Services Bureau has found that individuals who were trained in life skills by positive development model identified themselves with a greater sense of confidence, usefulness, sensitivity and openness rather than that of preventive model.

What is Functional Analysis (Psychology)?


Functional analysis in behavioural psychology is the application of the laws of operant and respondent conditioning to establish the relationships between stimuli and responses.

To establish the function of operant behaviour, one typically examines the “four-term contingency”: first by identifying the motivating operations (EO or AO), then identifying the antecedent or trigger of the behaviour, identifying the behaviour itself as it has been operationalised, and identifying the consequence of the behaviour which continues to maintain it.

Functional assessment in behaviour analysis employs principles derived from the natural science of behaviour analysis to determine the “reason”, purpose, or motivation for a behaviour. The most robust form of functional assessment is functional analysis, which involves the direct manipulation, using some experimental design (e.g. a multielement design or a reversal design) of various antecedent and consequent events and measurement of their effects on the behaviour of interest; this is the only method of functional assessment that allows for demonstration of clear cause of behaviour.

Applications in Clinical Psychology

Functional analysis and consequence analysis are commonly used in certain types of psychotherapy to better understand, and in some cases change, behaviour. It is particularly common in behavioural therapies such as behavioural activation, although it is also part of Aaron Beck’s cognitive therapy. In addition, functional analysis modified into a behaviour chain analysis is often used in dialectical behaviour therapy.

There are several advantages to using functional analysis over traditional assessment methods. Firstly, behavioural observation is more reliable than traditional self-report methods. This is because observing the individual from an objective stand point in their regular environment allows the observer to observe both the antecedent and the consequence of the problem behaviour. Secondly, functional analysis is advantageous as it allows for the development of behavioural interventions, either antecedent control or consequence control, specifically designed to reduce a problem behaviour. Thirdly, functional analysis is advantageous for interventions for young children or developmentally delayed children with problem behaviours, who may not be able to answer self-report questions about the reasons for their actions.

Despite these benefits, functional analysis also has some disadvantages. The first that no standard methods for determining function have been determined and meta-analysis shows that different methodologies appear to bias results toward particular functions as well as not effective in improving outcomes. Second, Gresham and colleagues (2004) in a meta-analytic review of JABA articles found that functional assessment did not produce greater effect sizes compared to simple contingency management programmes. However, Gresham et al. combined the three types of functional assessment, of which descriptive assessment and indirect assessment have been reliably found to produce results with limited validity Third, although functional assessment has been conducted with a variety host of populations much of the current functional assessment research has been limited to children with developmental disabilities.

Professional Organisations

The Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) also has an interest group in behaviour analysis, which focuses on the use of behaviour analysis in the school setting including functional analysis.

Doctoral level behaviour analysts who are psychologists belong to the American Psychological Association’s division 25 – Behaviour analysis. APA offers a diplomate in behavioural psychology and school psychology both of which focus on the use of functional analysis in the school setting.

The World Association for Behaviour Analysis offers a certification for clinical behaviour therapy and behavioural consultation, which covers functional analysis.

The UK Society for Behaviour Analysis also provides a forum for behaviour analysts for accreditation, professional development, continuing education and networking, and serves as an advocate body in public debate on issues relating to behaviour analysis. The UK-SBA promotes the ethical and effective application of the principles of behaviour and learning to a wide range of areas including education, rehabilitation and health care, business and the community and is committed to maintaining the availability of high-quality evidence-based professional behaviour analysis practice in the UK. The society also promotes and supports the academic field of behaviour analysis with in the UK both in terms of university-based training and research, and theoretical develop.

What is Self-Regulation Theory?


Self-regulation theory (SRT) is a system of conscious personal management that involves the process of guiding one’s own thoughts, behaviours and feelings to reach goals.

Self-regulation consists of several stages and individuals must function as contributors to their own motivation, behaviour and development within a network of reciprocally interacting influences.


Roy Baumeister, one of the leading social psychologists who have studied self-regulation, claims it has four components:

  • Standards of desirable behaviour;
  • Motivation to meet standards;
  • Monitoring of situations and thoughts that precede breaking said standards; and
  • Willpower.

Baumeister along with other colleagues developed three models of self-regulation designed to explain its cognitive accessibility: self-regulation as a knowledge structure, strength, or skill. Studies have been done to determine that the strength model is generally supported, because it is a limited resource in the brain and only a given amount of self-regulation can occur until that resource is depleted.

SRT can be applied to:

  • Impulse control, the management of short-term desires.
    • People with low impulse control are prone to acting on immediate desires.
    • This is one route for such people to find their way to jail as many criminal acts occur in the heat of the moment.
    • For non-violent people it can lead to losing friends through careless outbursts, or financial problems caused by making too many impulsive purchases.
  • The cognitive bias known as illusion of control.
    • To the extent that people are driven by internal goals concerned with the exercise of control over their environment, they will seek to reassert control in conditions of chaos, uncertainty or stress.
    • Failing genuine control, one coping strategy will be to fall back on defensive attributions of control – leading to illusions of control (Fenton-O’Creevy et al., 2003).
  • Goal attainment and motivation.
  • Sickness behaviour.

SRT consists of several stages. First, the patient deliberately monitors one’s own behaviour and evaluates how this behaviour affects one’s health. If the desired effect is not realised, the patient changes personal behaviour. If the desired effect is realised, the patient reinforces the effect by continuing the behaviour (Kanfer, 1970; 1971; 1980).

Another approach is for the patient to realise a personal health issue and understand the factors involved in that issue. The patient must decide upon an action plan for resolving the health issue. The patient will need to deliberately monitor the results in order to appraise the effects, checking for any necessary changes in the action plan (Leventhal & Nerenz, 1984).

Another factor that can help the patient reach their own goal of personal health is to relate to the patient the following:

  • Help them figure out the personal/community views of the illness;
  • Appraise the risks involved; and
  • Give them potential problem-solving/coping skills.

Four components of self-regulation described by Baumeister et al. (2007) are:

  • Standards: Of desirable behaviour.
  • Motivation: To meet standards.
  • Monitoring: Of situations and thoughts that precede breaking standards.
  • Willpower: Internal strength to control urges.

Brief History and Contributors

Albert Bandura

There have been numerous researchers, psychologists and scientists who have studied self-regulatory processes. Albert Bandura, a cognitive psychologist had significant contributions focusing on the acquisition of behaviours that led to the social cognitive theory and social learning theory. His work brought together behavioural and cognitive components in which he concluded that “humans are able to control their behaviour through a process known as self-regulation.” This led to his known process that contained: self observation, judgment and self response. Self observation (also known as introspection) is a process involving assessing one’s own thoughts and feelings in order to inform and motivate the individual to work towards goal setting and become influenced by behavioural changes. Judgement involves an individual comparing his or her performance to their personal or created standards. Lastly, self-response is applied, in which an individual may reward or punish his or herself for success or failure in meeting standard(s). An example of self-response would be rewarding oneself with an extra slice of pie for doing well on an exam.

Dale Schunk

According to Schunk (2012), Lev Vygotsky who was a Russian psychologist and was a major influence on the rise of constructivism, believed that self-regulation involves the coordination of cognitive processes such as planning, synthesizing and formulating concepts (Henderson & Cunningham, 1994); however, such coordination does not proceed independently of the individual’s social environment and culture. In fact, self-regulation is inclusive of the gradual internalisation of language and concepts.

Roy Baumeister

As a widely studied theory, SRT was also greatly impacted by the well-known social psychologist Roy Baumeister. He described the ability to self-regulate as limited in capacity and through this he coined the term ego depletion. The four components of self-regulation theory described by Roy Baumeister are standards of desirable behaviour, motivation to meet standards, monitoring of situations and thoughts that precede breaking standards and willpower, or the internal strength to control urges. In Baumeister’s paper titled Self-Regulation Failure: An Overview, he express that self-regulation is complex and multifaceted. Baumeister lays out his “three ingredients” of self-regulation as a case for self-regulation failure.


Many studies have been done to test different variables regarding self-regulation. Albert Bandura studied self-regulation before, after and during the response. He created the triangle of reciprocal determinism that includes behaviour, environment and the person (cognitive, emotional and physical factors) that all influence one another. Bandura concluded that the processes of goal attainment and motivation stem from an equal interaction of self-observation, self-reaction, self-evaluation and self-efficacy.

In addition to Bandura’s work, psychologists Muraven, Tice and Baumeister conducted a study for self control as a limited resource. They suggested there were three competing models to self-regulation: self-regulation as a strength, knowledge structure and a skill. In the strength model, they indicated it is possible self-regulation could be considered a strength because it requires willpower and thus is a limited resource. Failure to self-regulate could then be explained by depletion of this resource. For self-regulation as a knowledge structure, they theorised it involves a certain amount of knowledge to exert self control, so as with any learned technique, failure to self-regulate could be explained by insufficient knowledge. Lastly, the model involving self-regulation as a skill referred to self-regulation being built up over time and unable to be diminished; therefore, failure to exert would be explained by a lack of skill. They found that self-regulation as a strength is the most feasible model due to studies that have suggested self-regulation is a limited resource.

Dewall, Baumeister, Gailliot and Maner performed a series of experiments instructing participants to perform ego depletion tasks to diminish the self-regulatory resource in the brain, that they theorized to be glucose. This included tasks that required participants to break a familiar habit, where they read an essay and circled words containing the letter ‘e’ for the first task, then were asked to break that habit by performing a second task where they circled words containing ‘e’ and/or ‘a’. Following this trial, participants were randomly assigned to either the glucose category, where they drank a glass of lemonade made with sugar, or the control group, with lemonade made from Splenda. They were then asked their individual likelihoods of helping certain people in hypothetical situations, for both kin and non-kin and found that excluding kin, people were much less likely to help a person in need if they were in the control group (with Splenda) than if they had replenished their brain glucose supply with the lemonade containing real sugar. This study also supports the model for self-regulation as a strength because it confirms it is a limited resource.

Baumeister and colleagues expanded on this and determined the four components to self-regulation. Those include standards of desirable behaviour, motivation to meet these standards, monitoring of situations and thoughts that precede breaking standards and willpower.

Applications and Examples

Impulse control in self-regulation involves the separation of our immediate impulses and long-term desires. We can plan, evaluate our actions and refrain from doing things we will regret. Research shows that self-regulation is a strength necessary for emotional well-being. Violation of one’s deepest values results in feelings of guilt, which will undermine well-being. The illusion of control involves people overestimating their own ability to control events. Such as, when an event occurs an individual may feel greater a sense of control over the outcome that they demonstrably do not influence. This emphasizes the importance of perception of control over life events.

The self-regulated learning is the process of taking control and evaluating one’s own learning and behaviour. This emphasizes control by the individual who monitors, directs and regulates actions toward goals of information. In goal attainment self-regulation it is generally described in these four components of self-regulation. Standards, which is the desirable behaviour. Motivation, to meet the standards. Monitoring, situations and thoughts that precede breaking standards. Willpower, internal strength to control urges.

Illness behaviour in self-regulation deals with issues of tension that arise between holding on and letting go of important values and goals as those are threatened by disease processes. Also people who have poor self-regulatory skills do not succeed in relationships or cannot hold jobs. Sayette (2004) describes failures in self-regulation as in two categories: under regulation and misregulation. Under regulation is when people fail to control oneself whereas misregulation deals with having control but does not bring up the desired goal (Sayette, 2004).


One challenge of self-regulation is that researchers often struggle with conceptualising and operationalising self-regulation (Carver & Scheier, 1990). The system of self-regulation comprises a complex set of functions, including research cognition, problem solving, decision making and meta cognition.

Ego depletion refers to self control or willpower drawing from a limited pool of mental resources. If an individual has low mental activity, self control is typically impaired, which may lead to ego depletion. Self control plays a valuable role in the functioning of self in people. The illusion of control involves the overestimation of an individual’s ability to control certain events. It occurs when someone feels a sense of control over outcomes although they may not possess this control. Psychologists have consistently emphasized the importance of perceptions of control over life events. Heider proposed that humans have a strong motive to control their environment.

Reciprocal determinism is a theory proposed by Albert Bandura, stating that a person’s behaviour is influenced both by personal factors and the social environment. Bandura acknowledges the possibility that individual’s behaviour and personal factors may impact the environment. These can involve skills that are either under or overcompensating the ego and will not benefit the outcome of the situation.

Recently, Baumeister’s strength model of ego depletion has been criticised in multiple ways. Meta-analyses found little evidence for the strength model of self-regulation and for glucose as the limited resource that is depleted. A pre-registered trial did not find any evidence for ego depletion. Several commentaries have raised criticism on this particular study. In summary, many central assumptions of the strength model of self-regulation seem to be in need of revision, especially the view of self-regulation as a limited resource that can be depleted and glucose as the fuel that is depleted seems to be hardly defensible without major revisions.


Self-regulation can be applied to many aspects of everyday life, including social situations, personal health management, impulse control and more. Since the strength model is generally supported, ego depletion tasks can be performed to temporarily tax the amount of self-regulatory capabilities in a person’s brain. It is theorised that self-regulation depletion is associated with willingness to help people in need, excluding members of an individual’s kin. Many researchers have contributed to these findings, including Albert Bandura, Roy Baumeister and Robert Wood.

What is Rationalisation (Psychology)?


Rationalisation is a defence mechanism (ego defence) in which apparent logical reasons are given to justify behaviour that is motivated by unconscious instinctual impulses.

It is an attempt to find reasons for behaviours, especially ones own. Rationalisations are used to defend against feelings of guilt, maintain self-respect, and protect oneself from criticism.

Rationalisation happens in two steps:

  • A decision, action, judgement is made for a given reason, or no (known) reason at all.
  • A rationalisation is performed, constructing a seemingly good or logical reason, as an attempt to justify the act after the fact (for oneself or others).

Rationalisation encourages irrational or unacceptable behaviour, motives, or feelings and often involves ad hoc hypothesizing. This process ranges from fully conscious (e.g. to present an external defence against ridicule from others) to mostly unconscious (e.g. to create a block against internal feelings of guilt or shame). People rationalise for various reasons – sometimes when we think we know ourselves better than we do. Rationalisation may differentiate the original deterministic explanation of the behaviour or feeling in question.

Many conclusions individuals come to do not fall under the definition of rationalisation as the term is denoted above.

Brief History

Quintilian and classical rhetoric used the term colour for the presenting of an action in the most favourable possible perspective. Laurence Sterne in the eighteenth century took up the point, arguing that, were a man to consider his actions, “he will soon find, that such of them, as strong inclination and custom have prompted him to commit, are generally dressed out and painted with all the false beauties [colour] which, a soft and flattering hand can give them”.

DSM Definition

According to the DSM-IV, rationalisation occurs “when the individual deals with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by concealing the true motivations for their own thoughts, actions, or feelings through the elaboration of reassuring or self serving but incorrect explanations”.



  • Rationalisation can be used to avoid admitting disappointment: “I didn’t get the job that I applied for, but I really didn’t want it in the first place.”

Egregious rationalisations intended to deflect blame can also take the form of ad hominem attacks or DARVO (deny, attack, and reverse victim and offender). Some rationalisations take the form of a comparison. Commonly, this is done to lessen the perception of an action’s negative effects, to justify an action, or to excuse culpability:

  • “At least [what occurred] is not as bad as [a worse outcome].”
  • In response to an accusation: “At least I didn’t [worse action than accused action].”
  • As a form of false choice: “Doing [undesirable action] is a lot better than [a worse action].”
  • In response to unfair or abusive behaviour: “I must have done something wrong if they treat me like this.”

Based on anecdotal and survey evidence, John Banja states that the medical field features a disproportionate amount of rationalisation invoked in the “covering up” of mistakes. Common excuses made are:

  • “Why disclose the error? The patient was going to die anyway.”
  • “Telling the family about the error will only make them feel worse.”
  • “It was the patient’s fault. If he wasn’t so (sick, etc.), this error wouldn’t have caused so much harm.”
  • “Well, we did our best. These things happen.”
  • “If we’re not totally and absolutely certain the error caused the harm, we don’t have to tell.”
  • “They’re dead anyway, so there’s no point in blaming anyone.”

In 2018 Muel Kaptein and Martien van Helvoort developed a model, called the Amoralisations Alarm Clock, that covers all existing amoralisations in a logical way. Amoralisations, also called neutralisations, or rationalisations, are defined as justifications and excuses for deviant behaviour. Amoralisations are important explanations for the rise and persistence of deviant behaviour. There exist many different and overlapping techniques of amoralisations.


  • Collective rationalisations are regularly constructed for acts of aggression, based on exaltation of the in-group and demonisation of the opposite side: as Fritz Perls put it, “Our own soldiers take care of the poor families; the enemy rapes them”.
  • Celebrity culture can be seen as rationalising the gap between rich and poor, powerful and powerless, by offering participation to both dominant and subaltern views of reality.


Some scientists criticise the notion that brains are wired to rationalise irrational decisions, arguing that evolution would select against spending more nutrients at mental processes that do not contribute to the improvement of decisions such as rationalisation of decisions that would have been taken anyway. These scientists argue that learning from mistakes would be decreased rather than increased by rationalisation, and criticise the hypothesis that rationalisation evolved as a means of social manipulation by noting that if rational arguments were deceptive there would be no evolutionary chance for breeding individuals that responded to the arguments and therefore making them ineffective and not capable of being selected for by evolution.


Ernest Jones introduced the term “rationalisation” to psychoanalysis in 1908, defining it as “the inventing of a reason for an attitude or action the motive of which is not recognized” – an explanation which (though false) could seem plausible. The term (Rationalisierung in German) was taken up almost immediately by Sigmund Freud to account for the explanations offered by patients for their own neurotic symptoms.

As psychoanalysts continued to explore the glossed of unconscious motives, Otto Fenichel distinguished different sorts of rationalisation – both the justifying of irrational instinctive actions on the grounds that they were reasonable or normatively validated and the rationalising of defensive structures, whose purpose is unknown on the grounds that they have some quite different but somehow logical meaning.

Later psychoanalysts are divided between a positive view of rationalisation as a stepping-stone on the way to maturity, and a more destructive view of it as splitting feeling from thought, and so undermining the powers of reason.

Cognitive Dissonance

Leon Festinger highlighted in 1957 the discomfort caused to people by awareness of their inconsistent thought. Rationalisation can reduce such discomfort by explaining away the discrepancy in question, as when people who take up smoking after previously quitting decide that the evidence for it being harmful is less than they previously thought.

What is Personality Psychology?


Personality psychology is a branch of psychology that examines personality and its variation among individuals. It aims to show how people are individually different due to psychological forces. Its areas of focus include:

  • Construction of a coherent picture of the individual and their major psychological processes;
  • Investigation of individual psychological differences; and
  • Investigation of human nature and psychological similarities between individuals.

“Personality” is a dynamic and organised set of characteristics possessed by an individual that uniquely influences their environment, cognition, emotions, motivations, and behaviours in various situations. The word personality originates from the Latin persona, which means “mask”.

Personality also pertains to the pattern of thoughts, feelings, social adjustments, and behaviours persistently exhibited over time that strongly influences one’s expectations, self-perceptions, values, and attitudes. Personality also predicts human reactions to other people, problems, and stress. Gordon Allport (1937) described two major ways to study personality: the nomothetic and the idiographic. Nomothetic psychology seeks general laws that can be applied to many different people, such as the principle of self-actualisation or the trait of extraversion. Idiographic psychology is an attempt to understand the unique aspects of a particular individual.

The study of personality has a broad and varied history in psychology, with an abundance of theoretical traditions. The major theories include dispositional (trait) perspective, psychodynamic, humanistic, biological, behaviourist, evolutionary, and social learning perspective. Many researchers and psychologists do not explicitly identify themselves with a certain perspective and instead take an eclectic approach. Research in this area is empirically driven – such as dimensional models, based on multivariate statistics such as factor analysis – or emphasizes theory development, such as that of the psychodynamic theory. There is also a substantial emphasis on the applied field of personality testing. In psychological education and training, the study of the nature of personality and its psychological development is usually reviewed as a prerequisite to courses in abnormal psychology or clinical psychology.

Philosophical Assumptions

Many of the ideas conceptualised by historical and modern personality theorists stem from the basic philosophical assumptions they hold. The study of personality is not a purely empirical discipline, as it brings in elements of art, science, and philosophy to draw general conclusions. The following five categories are some of the most fundamental philosophical assumptions on which theorists disagree:

Freedom versus DeterminismThis is the question of whether humans have control over their own behaviour and understand the motives behind it, or if their behaviour is causally determined by forces beyond their control. Behaviour is categorised as being either unconscious, environmental or biological by various theories.
Heredity (Nature) versus Environment (Nurture)Personality is thought to be determined largely either by genetics and biology, or by environment and experiences. Contemporary research suggests that most personality traits are based on the joint influence of genetics and environment. One of the forerunners in this arena is C. Robert Cloninger, who pioneered the Temperament and Character model.
Uniqueness versus UniversalityThis question discusses the extent of each human’s individuality (uniqueness) or similarity in nature (universality). Gordon Allport, Abraham Maslow, and Carl Rogers were all advocates of the uniqueness of individuals. Behaviourists and cognitive theorists, in contrast, emphasize the importance of universal principles, such as reinforcement and self-efficacy.
Active versus ReactiveThis question explores whether humans primarily act through individual initiative (active) or through outside stimuli. Traditional behavioural theorists typically believed that humans are passively shaped by their environments, whereas humanistic and cognitive theorists believe that humans play a more active role. Most modern theorists agree that both are important, with aggregate behaviour being primarily determined by traits and situational factors being the primary predictor of behaviour in the short term.
Optimistic versus PessimisticPersonality theories differ with regard to whether humans are integral in the changing of their own personalities. Theories that place a great deal of emphasis on learning are often more optimistic than those that do not.

Personality Theories

Type Theories

Personality type refers to the psychological classification of people into different classes. Personality types are distinguished from personality traits, which come in different degrees. There are many theories of personality, but each one contains several and sometimes many sub theories. A “theory of personality” constructed by any given psychologist will contain multiple relating theories or sub theories often expanding as more psychologists explore the theory. For example, according to type theories, there are two types of people, introverts and extroverts. According to trait theories, introversion and extroversion are part of a continuous dimension with many people in the middle. The idea of psychological types originated in the theoretical work of Carl Jung, specifically in his 1921 book Psychologische Typen (Psychological Types) and William Marston.

Building on the writings and observations of Jung during World War II, Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother, Katharine C. Briggs, delineated personality types by constructing the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. This model was later used by David Keirsey with a different understanding from Jung, Briggs and Myers. In the former Soviet Union, Lithuanian Aušra Augustinavičiūtė independently derived a model of personality type from Jung’s called socionics. Later on many other tests were developed on this model e.g. Golden, PTI-Pro and JTI.

Theories could also be considered an “approach” to personality or psychology and is generally referred to as a model. The model is an older and more theoretical approach to personality, accepting extroversion and introversion as basic psychological orientations in connection with two pairs of psychological functions:

  • Perceiving functions: sensing and intuition (trust in concrete, sensory-oriented facts vs. trust in abstract concepts and imagined possibilities).
  • Judging functions: thinking and feeling (basing decisions primarily on logic vs. deciding based on emotion).

Briggs and Myers also added another personality dimension to their type indicator to measure whether a person prefers to use a judging or perceiving function when interacting with the external world. Therefore, they included questions designed to indicate whether someone wishes to come to conclusions (judgement) or to keep options open (perception).

This personality typology has some aspects of a trait theory: it explains people’s behavior in terms of opposite fixed characteristics. In these more traditional models, the sensing/intuition preference is considered the most basic, dividing people into “N” (intuitive) or “S” (sensing) personality types. An “N” is further assumed to be guided either by thinking or feeling and divided into the “NT” (scientist, engineer) or “NF” (author, humanitarian) temperament. An “S”, in contrast, is assumed to be guided more by the judgment/perception axis and thus divided into the “SJ” (guardian, traditionalist) or “SP” (performer, artisan) temperament. These four are considered basic, with the other two factors in each case (including always extraversion/introversion) less important. Critics of this traditional view have observed that the types can be quite strongly stereotyped by professions (although neither Myers nor Keirsey engaged in such stereotyping in their type descriptions), and thus may arise more from the need to categorise people for purposes of guiding their career choice. This among other objections led to the emergence of the five-factor view, which is less concerned with behaviour under work conditions and more concerned with behaviour in personal and emotional circumstances (The MBTI is not designed to measure the “work self”, but rather what Myers and McCaulley called the “shoes-off self.”).

Type A and Type B personality theory: During the 1950s, Meyer Friedman and his co-workers defined what they called Type A and Type B behaviour patterns. They theorised that intense, hard-driving Type A personalities had a higher risk of coronary disease because they are “stress junkies.” Type B people, on the other hand, tended to be relaxed, less competitive, and lower in risk. There was also a Type AB mixed profile.

John L. Holland’s RIASEC vocational model, commonly referred to as the Holland Codes, stipulates that six personality types lead people to choose their career paths. In this circumplex model, the six types are represented as a hexagon, with adjacent types more closely related than those more distant. The model is widely used in vocational counselling.

Eduard Spranger’s personality-model, consisting of six (or, by some revisions, 6 +1) basic types of value attitudes, described in his book Types of Men (Lebensformen; Halle (Saale): Niemeyer, 1914; English translation by P.J.W. Pigors – New York: G. E. Stechert Company, 1928).

The Enneagram of Personality, a model of human personality which is principally used as a typology of nine interconnected personality types. It has been criticised as being subject to interpretation, making it difficult to test or validate scientifically.

Perhaps the most ancient attempt at personality psychology is the personality typology outlined by the Indian Buddhist Abhidharma schools. This typology mostly focuses on negative personal traits (greed, hatred, and delusion) and the corresponding positive meditation practices used to counter those traits.

Psychoanalytical Theories

Psychoanalytic theories explain human behaviour in terms of the interaction of various components of personality. Sigmund Freud was the founder of this school of thought. He drew on the physics of his day (thermodynamics) to coin the term psychodynamics. Based on the idea of converting heat into mechanical energy, Freud proposed psychic energy could be converted into behaviour. His theory places central importance on dynamic, unconscious psychological conflicts.

Freud divides human personality into three significant components: the id, ego and super-ego. The id acts according to the pleasure principle, demanding immediate gratification of its needs regardless of external environment; the ego then must emerge in order to realistically meet the wishes and demands of the id in accordance with the outside world, adhering to the reality principle. Finally, the superego (conscience) inculcates moral judgment and societal rules upon the ego, thus forcing the demands of the id to be met not only realistically but morally. The superego is the last function of the personality to develop, and is the embodiment of parental/social ideals established during childhood. According to Freud, personality is based on the dynamic interactions of these three components.

The channelling and release of sexual (libidal) and aggressive energies, which ensues from the “Eros” (sex; instinctual self-preservation) and “Thanatos” (death; instinctual self-annihilation) drives respectively, are major components of his theory. It is important to note that Freud’s broad understanding of sexuality included all kinds of pleasurable feelings experienced by the human body.

Freud proposed five psychosexual stages of personality development. He believed adult personality is dependent upon early childhood experiences and largely determined by age five. Fixations that develop during the infantile stage contribute to adult personality and behaviour.

One of Sigmund Freud’s earlier associates, Alfred Adler, agreed with Freud that early childhood experiences are important to development, and believed birth order may influence personality development. Adler believed that the oldest child was the individual who would set high achievement goals in order to gain attention lost when the younger siblings were born. He believed the middle children were competitive and ambitious. He reasoned that this behaviour was motivated by the idea of surpassing the firstborn’s achievements. He added, however, that the middle children were often not as concerned about the glory attributed to their behaviour. He also believed the youngest would be more dependent and sociable. Adler finished by surmising that an only child loves being the centre of attention and matures quickly but in the end fails to become independent.

Heinz Kohut thought similarly to Freud’s idea of transference. He used narcissism as a model of how people develop their sense of self. Narcissism is the exaggerated sense of self in which one is believed to exist in order to protect one’s low self-esteem and sense of worthlessness. Kohut had a significant impact on the field by extending Freud’s theory of narcissism and introducing what he called the ‘self-object transferences’ of mirroring and idealisation. In other words, children need to idealize and emotionally “sink into” and identify with the idealised competence of admired figures such as parents or older siblings. They also need to have their self-worth mirrored by these people. Such experiences allow them to thereby learn the self-soothing and other skills that are necessary for the development of a healthy sense of self.

Another important figure in the world of personality theory is Karen Horney. She is credited with the development of “Feminist Psychology”. She disagrees with Freud on some key points, one being that women’s personalities are not just a function of “Penis Envy”, but that girl children have separate and different psychic lives unrelated to how they feel about their fathers or primary male role models. She talks about three basic Neurotic needs “Basic Anxiety”, “Basic Hostility” and “Basic Evil”. She posits that to any anxiety an individual experiences they would have one of three approaches, moving toward people, moving away from people or moving against people. It is these three that give us varying personality types and characteristics. She also places a high premium on concepts like Overvaluation of Love and romantic partners.

Behaviourist Theories

Behaviourists explain personality in terms of the effects external stimuli have on behaviour. The approaches used to evaluate the behavioural aspect of personality are known as behavioural theories or learning-conditioning theories. These approaches were a radical shift away from Freudian philosophy. One of the major tenets of this concentration of personality psychology is a strong emphasis on scientific thinking and experimentation. This school of thought was developed by B.F. Skinner who put forth a model which emphasized the mutual interaction of the person or “the organism” with its environment. Skinner believed children do bad things because the behaviour obtains attention that serves as a reinforcer. For example: a child cries because the child’s crying in the past has led to attention. These are the response, and consequences. The response is the child crying, and the attention that child gets is the reinforcing consequence. According to this theory, people’s behaviour is formed by processes such as operant conditioning. Skinner put forward a “three term contingency model” which helped promote analysis of behaviour based on the “Stimulus – Response – Consequence Model” in which the critical question is: “Under which circumstances or antecedent ‘stimuli’ does the organism engage in a particular behavior or ‘response’, which in turn produces a particular ‘consequence’?”

Richard Herrnstein extended this theory by accounting for attitudes and traits. An attitude develops as the response strength (the tendency to respond) in the presences of a group of stimuli become stable. Rather than describing conditionable traits in non-behavioural language, response strength in a given situation accounts for the environmental portion. Herrstein also saw traits as having a large genetic or biological component, as do most modern behaviourists.

Ivan Pavlov is another notable influence. He is well known for his classical conditioning experiments involving dogs, which led him to discover the foundation of behaviourism.

Social Cognitive Theories

In cognitive theory, behaviour is explained as guided by cognitions (e.g. expectations) about the world, especially those about other people. Cognitive theories are theories of personality that emphasize cognitive processes, such as thinking and judging.

Albert Bandura, a social learning theorist suggested the forces of memory and emotions worked in conjunction with environmental influences. Bandura was known mostly for his “Bobo doll experiment”. During these experiments, Bandura video taped a college student kicking and verbally abusing a bobo doll. He then showed this video to a class of kindergarten children who were getting ready to go out to play. When they entered the play room, they saw bobo dolls, and some hammers. The people observing these children at play saw a group of children beating the doll. He called this study and his findings observational learning, or modelling.

Early examples of approaches to cognitive style are listed by Baron (1982). These include Witkin’s (1965) work on field dependency, Gardner’s (1953) discovering people had consistent preference for the number of categories they used to categorise heterogeneous objects, and Block and Petersen’s (1955) work on confidence in line discrimination judgments. Baron relates early development of cognitive approaches of personality to ego psychology. More central to this field have been:

  • Attributional style theory dealing with different ways in which people explain events in their lives. This approach builds upon locus of control, but extends it by stating we also need to consider whether people attribute to stable causes or variable causes, and to global causes or specific causes.

Various scales have been developed to assess both attributional style and locus of control. Locus of control scales include those used by Rotter and later by Duttweiler, the Nowicki and Strickland (1973) Locus of Control Scale for Children and various locus of control scales specifically in the health domain, most famously that of Kenneth Wallston and his colleagues, The Multidimensional Health Locus of Control Scale. Attributional style has been assessed by the Attributional Style Questionnaire, the Expanded Attributional Style Questionnaire, the Attributions Questionnaire, the Real Events Attributional Style Questionnaire and the Attributional Style Assessment Test.

  • Achievement style theory focuses upon identification of an individual’s Locus of Control tendency, such as by Rotter’s evaluations, and was found by Cassandra Bolyard Whyte to provide valuable information for improving academic performance of students. Individuals with internal control tendencies are likely to persist to better academic performance levels, presenting an achievement personality, according to Cassandra B. Whyte.

Recognition that the tendency to believe that hard work and persistence often results in attainment of life and academic goals has influenced formal educational and counselling efforts with students of various ages and in various settings since the 1970s research about achievement. Counselling aimed toward encouraging individuals to design ambitious goals and work toward them, with recognition that there are external factors that may impact, often results in the incorporation of a more positive achievement style by students and employees, whatever the setting, to include higher education, workplace, or justice programming.

Walter Mischel (1999) has also defended a cognitive approach to personality. His work refers to “Cognitive Affective Units”, and considers factors such as encoding of stimuli, affect, goal-setting, and self-regulatory beliefs. The term “Cognitive Affective Units” shows how his approach considers affect as well as cognition.

Cognitive-Experiential Self-Theory (CEST) is another cognitive personality theory. Developed by Seymour Epstein, CEST argues that humans operate by way of two independent information processing systems: experiential system and rational system. The experiential system is fast and emotion-driven. The rational system is slow and logic-driven. These two systems interact to determine our goals, thoughts, and behaviolr.

Personal construct psychology (PCP) is a theory of personality developed by the American psychologist George Kelly in the 1950s. Kelly’s fundamental view of personality was that people are like naïve scientists who see the world through a particular lens, based on their uniquely organised systems of construction, which they use to anticipate events. But because people are naïve scientists, they sometimes employ systems for construing the world that are distorted by idiosyncratic experiences not applicable to their current social situation. A system of construction that chronically fails to characterise and/or predict events, and is not appropriately revised to comprehend and predict one’s changing social world, is considered to underlie psychopathology (or mental illness). From the theory, Kelly derived a psychotherapy approach and also a technique called The Repertory Grid Interview that helped his patients to uncover their own “constructs” with minimal intervention or interpretation by the therapist. The repertory grid was later adapted for various uses within organisations, including decision-making and interpretation of other people’s world-views.

Humanistic Theories

Humanistic psychology emphasizes that people have free will and that this plays an active role in determining how they behave. Accordingly, humanistic psychology focuses on subjective experiences of persons as opposed to forced, definitive factors that determine behaviour. Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers were proponents of this view, which is based on the “phenomenal field” theory of Combs and Snygg (1949). Rogers and Maslow were among a group of psychologists that worked together for a decade to produce the Journal of Humanistic Psychology. This journal was primarily focused on viewing individuals as a whole, rather than focusing solely on separate traits and processes within the individual.

Robert W. White wrote the book The Abnormal Personality that became a standard text on abnormal psychology. He also investigated the human need to strive for positive goals like competence and influence, to counterbalance the emphasis of Freud on the pathological elements of personality development.

Maslow spent much of his time studying what he called “self-actualizing persons”, those who are “fulfilling themselves and doing the best they are capable of doing”. Maslow believes all who are interested in growth move towards self-actualizing (growth, happiness, satisfaction) views. Many of these people demonstrate a trend in dimensions of their personalities. Characteristics of self-actualisers according to Maslow include the four key dimensions:

Awarenessmaintaining constant enjoyment and awe of life. These individuals often experienced a “peak experience”. He defined a peak experience as an “intensification of any experience to the degree there is a loss or transcendence of self”. A peak experience is one in which an individual perceives an expansion of themselves, and detects a unity and meaningfulness in life. Intense concentration on an activity one is involved in, such as running a marathon, may invoke a peak experience.
Reality and Problem CentredHaving a tendency to be concerned with “problems” in surroundings.
Acceptance/SpontaneityAccepting surroundings and what cannot be changed.
Unhostile Sense of Humour/DemocraticDo not take kindly to joking about others, which can be viewed as offensive. They have friends of all backgrounds and religions and hold very close friendships.

Maslow and Rogers emphasized a view of the person as an active, creative, experiencing human being who lives in the present and subjectively responds to current perceptions, relationships, and encounters. They disagree with the dark, pessimistic outlook of those in the Freudian psychoanalysis ranks, but rather view humanistic theories as positive and optimistic proposals which stress the tendency of the human personality toward growth and self-actualization. This progressing self will remain the centre of its constantly changing world; a world that will help mould the self but not necessarily confine it. Rather, the self has opportunity for maturation based on its encounters with this world. This understanding attempts to reduce the acceptance of hopeless redundancy. Humanistic therapy typically relies on the client for information of the past and its effect on the present, therefore the client dictates the type of guidance the therapist may initiate. This allows for an individualised approach to therapy. Rogers found patients differ in how they respond to other people. Rogers tried to model a particular approach to therapy – he stressed the reflective or empathetic response. This response type takes the client’s viewpoint and reflects back their feeling and the context for it. An example of a reflective response would be, “It seems you are feeling anxious about your upcoming marriage”. This response type seeks to clarify the therapist’s understanding while also encouraging the client to think more deeply and seek to fully understand the feelings they have expressed.

Biopsychological Theories

Biology plays a very important role in the development of personality. The study of the biological level in personality psychology focuses primarily on identifying the role of genetic determinants and how they mould individual personalities. Some of the earliest thinking about possible biological bases of personality grew out of the case of Phineas Gage. In an 1848 accident, a large iron rod was driven through Gage’s head, and his personality apparently changed as a result, although descriptions of these psychological changes are usually exaggerated.

In general, patients with brain damage have been difficult to find and study. In the 1990s, researchers began to use electroencephalography (EEG), positron emission tomography (PET), and more recently functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which is now the most widely used imaging technique to help localise personality traits in the brain.

Genetic Basis of Personality

Ever since the Human Genome Project allowed for a much more in depth comprehension of genetics, there has been an ongoing controversy involving heritability, personality traits, and environmental vs. genetic influence on personality. The human genome is known to play a role in the development of personality.

Previously, genetic personality studies focused on specific genes correlating to specific personality traits. Today’s view of the gene-personality relationship focuses primarily on the activation and expression of genes related to personality and forms part of what is referred to as behavioural genetics. Genes provide numerous options for varying cells to be expressed; however, the environment determines which of these are activated. Many studies have noted this relationship in varying ways in which our bodies can develop, but the interaction between genes and the shaping of our minds and personality is also relevant to this biological relationship.

DNA-environment interactions are important in the development of personality because this relationship determines what part of the DNA code is actually made into proteins that will become part of an individual. While different choices are made available by the genome, in the end, the environment is the ultimate determinant of what becomes activated. Small changes in DNA in individuals are what leads to the uniqueness of every person as well as differences in looks, abilities, brain functioning, and all the factors that culminate to develop a cohesive personality.

Cattell and Eysenck have proposed that genetics have a powerful influence on personality. A large part of the evidence collected linking genetics and the environment to personality have come from twin studies. This “twin method” compares levels of similarity in personality using genetically identical twins. One of the first of these twin studies measured 800 pairs of twins, studied numerous personality traits, and determined that identical twins are most similar in their general abilities. Personality similarities were found to be less related for self-concepts, goals, and interests.

Twin studies have also been important in the creation of the five factor personality model: neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Neuroticism and extraversion are the two most widely studied traits. Individuals scoring high in trait extraversion more often display characteristics such as impulsiveness, sociability, and activeness. Individuals scoring high in trait neuroticism are more likely to be moody, anxious, or irritable. Identical twins, however, have higher correlations in personality traits than fraternal twins. One study measuring genetic influence on twins in five different countries found that the correlations for identical twins were .50, while for fraternal they were about .20. It is suggested that heredity and environment interact to determine one’s personality.

Evolutionary Theory

Charles Darwin is the founder of the theory of the evolution of the species. The evolutionary approach to personality psychology is based on this theory. This theory examines how individual personality differences are based on natural selection. Through natural selection organisms change over time through adaptation and selection. Traits are developed and certain genes come into expression based on an organism’s environment and how these traits aid in an organism’s survival and reproduction.

Polymorphisms, such as gender and blood type, are forms of diversity which evolve to benefit a species as a whole. The theory of evolution has wide-ranging implications on personality psychology. Personality viewed through the lens of evolutionary psychology places a great deal of emphasis on specific traits that are most likely to aid in survival and reproduction, such as conscientiousness, sociability, emotional stability, and dominance. The social aspects of personality can be seen through an evolutionary perspective. Specific character traits develop and are selected for because they play an important and complex role in the social hierarchy of organisms. Such characteristics of this social hierarchy include the sharing of important resources, family and mating interactions, and the harm or help organisms can bestow upon one another.

Drive Theories

In the 1930s, John Dollard and Neal Elgar Miller met at Yale University, and began an attempt to integrate drives, into a theory of personality, basing themselves on the work of Clark Hull. They began with the premise that personality could be equated with the habitual responses exhibited by an individual – their habits. From there, they determined that these habitual responses were built on secondary, or acquired drives.

Secondary drives are internal needs directing the behaviour of an individual that results from learning. Acquired drives are learned, by and large in the manner described by classical conditioning. When we are in a certain environment and experience a strong response to a stimulus, we internalise cues from the said environment. When we find ourselves in an environment with similar cues, we begin to act in anticipation of a similar stimulus. Thus, we are likely to experience anxiety in an environment with cues similar to one where we have experienced pain or fear – such as the dentist’s office.

Secondary drives are built on primary drives, which are biologically driven, and motivate us to act with no prior learning process – such as hunger, thirst or the need for sexual activity. However, secondary drives are thought to represent more specific elaborations of primary drives, behind which the functions of the original primary drive continue to exist. Thus, the primary drives of fear and pain exist behind the acquired drive of anxiety. Secondary drives can be based on multiple primary drives and even in other secondary drives. This is said to give them strength and persistence. Examples include the need for money, which was conceptualised as arising from multiple primary drives such as the drive for food and warmth, as well as from secondary drives such as imitativeness (the drive to do as others do) and anxiety.

Secondary drives vary based on the social conditions under which they were learned – such as culture. Dollard and Miller used the example of food, stating that the primary drive of hunger manifested itself behind the learned secondary drive of an appetite for a specific type of food, which was dependent on the culture of the individual.

Secondary drives are also explicitly social, representing a manner in which we convey our primary drives to others. Indeed, many primary drives are actively repressed by society (such as the sexual drive). Dollard and Miller believed that the acquisition of secondary drives was essential to childhood development. As children develop, they learn not to act on their primary drives, such as hunger but acquire secondary drives through reinforcement. Friedman and Schustack describe an example of such developmental changes, stating that if an infant engaging in an active orientation towards others brings about the fulfilment of primary drives, such as being fed or having their diaper changed, they will develop a secondary drive to pursue similar interactions with others – perhaps leading to an individual being more gregarious. Dollard and Miller’s belief in the importance of acquired drives led them to reconceive Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychosexual development. They found themselves to be in agreement with the timing Freud used but believed that these periods corresponded to the successful learning of certain secondary drives.

Dollard and Miller gave many examples of how secondary drives impact our habitual responses – and by extension our personalities, including anger, social conformity, imitativeness or anxiety, to name a few. In the case of anxiety, Dollard and Miller note that people who generalise the situation in which they experience the anxiety drive will experience anxiety far more than they should. These people are often anxious all the time, and anxiety becomes part of their personality. This example shows how drive theory can have ties with other theories of personality – many of them look at the trait of neuroticism or emotional stability in people, which is strongly linked to anxiety.

Personality Tests

There are two major types of personality tests, projective and objective.

Projective tests assume personality is primarily unconscious and assess individuals by how they respond to an ambiguous stimulus, such as an ink blot. Projective tests have been in use for about 60 years and continue to be used today. Examples of such tests include the Rorschach test and the Thematic Apperception Test.

The Rorschach Test involves showing an individual a series of note cards with ambiguous ink blots on them. The individual being tested is asked to provide interpretations of the blots on the cards by stating everything that the ink blot may resemble based on their personal interpretation. The therapist then analyses their responses. Rules for scoring the test have been covered in manuals that cover a wide variety of characteristics such as content, originality of response, location of “perceived images” and several other factors. Using these specific scoring methods, the therapist will then attempt to relate test responses to attributes of the individual’s personality and their unique characteristics. The idea is that unconscious needs will come out in the person’s response, e.g. an aggressive person may see images of destruction.

The Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) involves presenting individuals with vague pictures/scenes and asking them to tell a story based on what they see. Common examples of these “scenes” include images that may suggest family relationships or specific situations, such as a father and son or a man and a woman in a bedroom. Responses are analysed for common themes. Responses unique to an individual are theoretically meant to indicate underlying thoughts, processes, and potentially conflicts present within the individual. Responses are believed to be directly linked to unconscious motives. There is very little empirical evidence available to support these methods.

Objective tests assume personality is consciously accessible and that it can be measured by self-report questionnaires. Research on psychological assessment has generally found objective tests to be more valid and reliable than projective tests. Critics have pointed to the Forer effect to suggest some of these appear to be more accurate and discriminating than they really are. Issues with these tests include false reporting because there is no way to tell if an individual is answering a question honestly or accurately.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (also known as the MBTI) is self-reporting questionnaire based on Carl Jung’s Type theory. However, the MBTI modified Jung’s theory into their own by disregarding certain processes held in the unconscious mind and the impact these have on personality.

Personality Theory Assessment Criteria

  • Verifiability – the theory should be formulated in such a way that the concepts, suggestions and hypotheses involved in it are defined clearly and unambiguously, and logically related to each other.
  • Heuristic value – to what extent the theory stimulates scientists to conduct further research.
  • Internal consistency – the theory should be free from internal contradictions.
  • Economy – the fewer concepts and assumptions required by the theory to explain any phenomenon, the better it is Hjelle, Larry (1992). Personality Theories: Basic Assumptions, Research, and Applications.

Psychology has traditionally defined personality through its behavioural patterns, and more recently with neuroscientific studies of the brain. In recent years, some psychologists have turned to the study of inner experiences for insight into personality as well as individuality. Inner experiences are the thoughts and feelings to an immediate phenomenon. Another term used to define inner experiences is qualia. Being able to understand inner experiences assists in understanding how humans behave, act, and respond. Defining personality using inner experiences has been expanding due to the fact that solely relying on behavioural principles to explain one’s character may seem incomplete. Behavioural methods allow the subject to be observed by an observer, whereas with inner experiences the subject is its own observer.

Methods Measuring Inner Experience

Descriptive Experience Sampling (DES)Developed by psychologist Russel Hurlburt. This is an idiographic method that is used to help examine inner experiences. This method relies on an introspective technique that allows an individual’s inner experiences and characteristics to be described and measured. A beep notifies the subject to record their experience at that exact moment and 24 hours later an interview is given based on all the experiences recorded. DES has been used in subjects that have been diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression. It has also been crucial to studying the inner experiences of those who have been diagnosed with common psychiatric diseases.
Articulated Thoughts in Stimulated Situations (ATSS)ATSS is a paradigm which was created as an alternative to the TA (think aloud) method. This method assumes that people have continuous internal dialogues that can be naturally attended to. ATSS also assesses a person’s inner thoughts as they verbalise their cognitions. In this procedure, subjects listen to a scenario via a video or audio player and are asked to imagine that they are in that specific situation. Later, they are asked to articulate their thoughts as they occur in reaction to the playing scenario. This method is useful in studying emotional experience given that the scenarios used can influence specific emotions. Most importantly, the method has contributed to the study of personality. In a study conducted by Rayburn and Davison (2002), subjects’ thoughts and empathy toward anti-gay hate crimes were evaluated. The researchers found that participants showed more aggressive intentions towards the offender in scenarios which mimicked hate crimes.
Experimental MethodThis method is an experimental paradigm used to study human experiences involved in the studies of sensation and perception, learning and memory, motivation, and biological psychology. The experimental psychologist usually deals with intact organisms although studies are often conducted with organisms modified by surgery, radiation, drug treatment, or long-standing deprivations of various kinds or with organisms that naturally present organic abnormalities or emotional disorders. Economists and psychologists have developed a variety of experimental methodologies to elicit and assess individual attitudes where each emotion differs for each individual. The results are then gathered and quantified to conclude if specific experiences have any common factors. This method is used to seek clarity of the experience and remove any biases to help understand the meaning behind the experience to see if it can be generalised.

What is Organic Personality Disorder?


Organic personality disorder (OPD), irrespective of the apparent nomenclature, is not included in the group of personality disorders.

For this reason, the symptoms and diagnostic criteria of the organic personality disorder are different from those of the other mental health disorders included in this various group. According to the Tenth Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) organic personality disorder is associated with a “significant alteration of the habitual patterns of premorbid behaviour”. There are crucial influences on emotions, impulses and personal needs because of this disorder.

Thus, all these definitions about the organic personality disorder support that this type of disorder is associated with changes in personality and behaviour.


Organic personality disorder is associated with “personality change due to general medical condition”. The organic personality disorder is included in a wide group of personality and behavioural disorders. This mental health disorder can be caused by disease, brain damages or dysfunctions in specific brain areas in frontal lobe. The most common reason for this profound change in personality is the traumatic brain injury (TBI). Children, whose brain areas have been injured or damaged, may present attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and organic personality disorder. Moreover, this disorder is characterised as “frontal lobe syndrome”. This characteristic name shows that the organic personality disorder can usually be caused by lesions in three brain areas of frontal lobe. Specifically, the symptoms of organic personality disorder can also be caused by traumatic brain injuries in orbitofrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. It is worth mention that organic personality disorder may also be caused by lesions in other circumscribed brain areas.

Diagnosis and Symptoms

The ICD-10 includes a diagnostic guideline for the wide group of personality and behavioural disorders. However, every disorder has its own diagnostic criteria. In case of the organic personality disorder, patient has to show at least three of the following diagnostic criteria over a six or more months period. Organic personality disorder is associated with a large variety of symptoms, such as deficits in cognitive function, dysfunctional behaviours, psychosis, neurosis, emotional changes, alterations in expression function and irritability. Patients with organic personality disorder can present emotional lability that means their emotional expressions are unstable and fluctuating. In addition, patients show reduction in ability of perseverance with their goals and they express disinhibited behaviours, which are characterised by inappropriate sexual and antisocial actions. For instance, patients can show dissocial behaviours, like stealing. Moreover, according to diagnostic guideline of ICD-10, patients can suffer from cognitive disturbances and they present signs of suspiciousness and paranoid ideas. Additionally, patients may present alteration in process of language production that means there are changes in language rate and flow. Furthermore, patients may show changes in their sexual preference and hyposexuality symptoms.

Another common feature of personality of patients with organic personality disorder is their dysfunctional and maladaptive behaviour that causes serious problems in these patients, because they face problems with pursuit and achievement of their goals. It is worth to be mentioned that patients with organic personality disorder express a feeling of unreasonable satisfaction and euphoria. Also, the patients show aggressive behaviours sometimes and these serious dysfunctions in their behaviour can have effects on their life and their relationships with other people. Specifically patients show intense signs of anger and aggression because of their inability to handle their impulses. The type of this aggression is called “impulsive aggression”. Furthermore, it is worth to be mentioned that the pattern of organic personality disorder presents some similarities with pattern of temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE). Specifically patients who suffer from this chronic disorder type of epilepsy, express aggressive behaviours, likewise it happens to patients with organic personality disorder. Another similar symptom between Temporal lobe epilepsy and organic personality disorder is the epileptic seizure. The symptom of epileptic seizure has influence on patients’ personality that means it causes behavioural alterations”. The Temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) is associated with the hyperexcitability of the medial temporal lobe (MTL) of patients. Finally, patients with organic personality disorder may present similar symptoms with patients, who suffer from the Huntington’s disease as well. The symptoms of apathy and irritability are common between these two groups of patients.


As it has already been mentioned, patients with organic personality disorder show a wide variety of sudden behavioural changes and dysfunctions. There are not a lot of information about the treatment of this mental health disorder. The pharmacological approach is the most common therapy among patients with organic personality disorder. However, the choice of drug therapy relies on the seriousness of patient’s situation and what symptoms are shown. The choice and administration of specific drugs contribute to the reduction of symptoms of organic personality disorder. For this reason, it is crucial for patients’ treatment to be assessed by clinical psychologists and psychiatrists before the administration of drugs.

Additionally, the dysfunctions in expression of behaviour of patients with organic personality disorder and the development of symptom of irritability, which are caused by aggressive and self-injurious behaviours, can be dealt with the administration of carbamazepine. Moreover, the symptoms of this disorder can be decreased by the administration of valproic acid. Also, emotional irritability and signs of depression can be dealt with the use of nortriptyline and low-dose thioridazine. Except from the symptom of irritability, patients express aggressive behaviours. At the onset of drug therapy for effective treatment of anger and aggression, the drug of carbamazepine, phenobarbital, benztropine (or benzatropine) and haloperidol can be administrated in order to reduce the symptoms of patients with organic personality disorder. In addition, the use of propranolol may decrease the frequent behaviours of rage attacks.

Finally, it is important for patients to take part in psychotherapy during drug therapy. In this way, many of the adverse effects of the medications, both physiological and behavioural, can be lessened or avoided entirely. Furthermore, the clinicians can provide useful and helpful support to patients during these psychotherapy sessions. Thus, the combination of drug therapy with psychotherapy can lead to the reduction of symptoms of this disorder and the improvement of patients’ situation.

What is Egosyntonic and Egodystonic?


In psychoanalysis, egosyntonic refers to the behaviours, values, and feelings that are in harmony with or acceptable to the needs and goals of the ego, or consistent with one’s ideal self-image.

Egodystonic (or ego alien) is the opposite, referring to thoughts and behaviours (dreams, compulsions, desires, etc.) that are in conflict, or dissonant, with the needs and goals of the ego, or, further, in conflict with a person’s ideal self-image.


Abnormal psychology has studied egosyntonic and egodystonic concepts in some detail. Many personality disorders are egosyntonic, which makes their treatment difficult as the patients may not perceive anything wrong and view their perceptions and behaviour as reasonable and appropriate. For example, a person with narcissistic personality disorder has an excessively positive self-regard and rejects suggestions that challenge this viewpoint. This corresponds to the general concept in psychiatry of poor insight. Anorexia nervosa, a difficult-to-treat (formerly considered an Axis I disorder before the release of the DSM 5) characterised by a distorted body image and fear of gaining weight, is also considered egosyntonic because many of its sufferers deny that they have a problem. Problem gambling, however, is only sometimes seen as egosyntonic, depending partly on the reactions of the individual involved and whether they know that their gambling is problematic.

An illustration of the differences between an egodystonic and egosyntonic mental disorder is in comparing obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. OCD is considered to be egodystonic as the thoughts and compulsions experienced or expressed are not consistent with the individual’s self-perception, meaning the patient realises the obsessions are unreasonable and are often distressed by their obsessions. In contrast, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is egosyntonic, as the patient generally perceives their obsession with orderliness, perfectionism, and control, as reasonable and even desirable.

Freudian Heritage

“Ego syntonic” was introduced as a term in 1914 by Freud in On Narcissism, and remained an important part of his conceptual armoury. Freud saw psychic conflict arising when “the original lagging instincts…come into conflict with the ego (or ego-syntonic instincts)”.

Otto Fenichel distinguished between morbid impulses, which he saw as ego-syntonic, and compulsive symptoms which struck their possessors as ego-alien. Anna Freud stressed how defences which were ego-syntonic were harder to expose than ego-dystonic impulses, because the former are familiar and taken for granted. Heinz Hartmann, and after him ego psychology, also made central use of the twin concepts.

Later psychoanalytic writers emphasised how direct expression of the repressed was ego-dystonic, and indirect expression more ego-syntonic.

What is Displacement Activity?


Displacement activities occur when an animal experiences high motivation for two or more conflicting behaviours: the resulting displacement activity is usually unrelated to the competing motivations.


Displacement head-scratching occurs when humans do not know which of two options to choose.

Birds, for example, may peck at grass when uncertain whether to attack or flee from an opponent; similarly, a human may scratch their head when they do not know which of two options to choose. Displacement activities may also occur when animals are prevented from performing a single behaviour for which they are highly motivated. Displacement activities often involve actions which bring comfort to the animal such as scratching, preening, drinking or feeding.

In the assessment of animal welfare, displacement activities are sometimes used as evidence that an animal is highly motivated to perform a behaviour that the environment prevents. One example is that when hungry hens are trained to eat from a particular food dispenser and then find the dispenser blocked, they often begin to pace and preen themselves vigorously. These actions have been interpreted as displacement activities, and similar pacing and preening can be used as evidence of frustration in other situations.

Psychiatrist and primatologist Alfonso Troisi proposed that displacement activities can be used as non-invasive measures of stress in primates. He noted that various non-human primates perform self-directed activities such as grooming and scratching in situations likely to involve anxiety and uncertainty, and that these behaviours are increased by anxiogenic (anxiety-producing) drugs and reduced by anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) drugs. In humans, he noted that similar self-directed behaviour, together with aimless manipulation of objects (chewing pens, twisting rings), can be used as indicators of “stressful stimuli and may reflect an emotional condition of negative affect”.

More recently the term ‘displacement activity’ has been widely adopted to describe a form of procrastination. It is commonly used in the context of what someone does intentionally to keep themselves busy whilst, at the same time, avoiding doing something else that would be a better use of their time.

Brief History

The subsequent development of research on displacement activities was a direct consequence of Konrad Lorenz’s works on instincts. However, the first mentions of the phenomenon came in 1940 by the two Dutch researchers Nikolaas Tinbergen and Adriaan Kortlandt.

Tinbergen in 1952 noted, for example, that “two skylarks engaged in furious combat [may] suddenly peck at the ground as if they were feeding”, or birds on the point of mating may suddenly begin to preen themselves. Tinbergen adopted the term “displacement activities” because the behaviour appeared to be displaced from one behavioural system into another.

In 1902, in The Little White Bird, J.M. Barrie refers to sheep in Kensington Gardens nibbling the grass in nervous agitation immediately after being shorn, and to Solomon, the wise crow, drinking water when he was frustrated and outwitted in an argument with other birds. Another bird encourages him to drink in order to compose himself. These references to displacement activities in a work of literature indicate that the phenomenon was well recognised at the turn of the twentieth century. A further early description of a displacement activity (though not the use of the term) is by Julian Huxley in 1914.

What is Denialism?


In the psychology of human behaviour, denialism is a person’s choice to deny reality as a way to avoid a psychologically uncomfortable truth.

Denialism is an essentially irrational action that withholds the validation of a historical experience or event, when a person refuses to accept an empirically verifiable reality.

In the sciences, denialism is the rejection of basic facts and concepts that are undisputed, well-supported parts of the scientific consensus on a subject, in favour of ideas that are radical, controversial, or fabricated. The terms Holocaust denial and AIDS denialism describe the denial of the facts and the reality of the subject matters, and the term climate change denial describes denial of the scientific consensus that the climate change of planet Earth is a real and occurring event primarily caused in geologically recent times by human activity. The forms of denialism present the common feature of the person rejecting overwhelming evidence and trying to generate political controversy in attempts to deny the existence of consensus.

The motivations and causes of denialism include religion, self-interest (economic, political, or financial), and defence mechanisms meant to protect the psyche of the denialist against mentally disturbing facts and ideas; such disturbance is called cognitive dissonance in psychology terms.

Definition and Tactics

Anthropologist Didier Fassin distinguishes between denial, defined as “the empirical observation that reality and truth are being denied”, and denialism, which he defines as “an ideological position whereby one systematically reacts by refusing reality and truth”. Persons and social groups who reject propositions on which there exists a mainstream and scientific consensus engage in denialism when they use rhetorical tactics to give the appearance of argument and legitimate debate, when there is none. It is a process that operates by employing one or more of the following five tactics in order to maintain the appearance of legitimate controversy:

  • Conspiracy theories: Dismissing the data or observation by suggesting opponents are involved in “a conspiracy to suppress the truth”.
  • Cherry picking: Selecting an anomalous critical paper supporting their idea, or using outdated, flawed, and discredited papers in order to make their opponents look as though they base their ideas on weak research. Diethelm and McKee (2009) note, “Denialists are usually not deterred by the extreme isolation of their theories, but rather see it as an indication of their intellectual courage against the dominant orthodoxy and the accompanying political correctness.”
  • False experts: Paying an expert in the field, or another field, to lend supporting evidence or credibility. This goes hand-in-hand with the marginalization of real experts and researchers.
  • Moving the goalposts: Dismissing evidence presented in response to a specific claim by continually demanding some other (often unfulfillable) piece of evidence (aka Shifting baseline).
  • Other logical fallacies: Usually one or more of false analogy, appeal to consequences, straw man, or red herring.

Common tactics to different types of denialism include misrepresenting evidence, false equivalence, half-truths, and outright fabrication. South African judge Edwin Cameron notes that a common tactic used by denialists is to “make great play of the inescapable indeterminacy of figures and statistics”. Historian Taner Akçam states that denialism is commonly believed to be negation of facts, but in fact “it is in that nebulous territory between facts and truth where such denialism germinates. Denialism marshals its own facts and it has its own truth.”

Focusing on the rhetorical tactics through which denialism is achieved in language, Alex Gillespie (2020) of the London School of Economics has reviewed the linguistic and practical defensive tactics for denying disruptive information. These tactics are conceptualised in terms of three layers of defence:

  • Avoiding: The first line of defence against disruptive information is to avoid it.
  • Delegitimising: The second line of defence is to attack the messenger, by undermining the credibility of the source.
  • Limiting: The final line of defence, if disruptive information cannot be avoided or delegitimised, is to rationalise and limit the impact of the disruptive ideas.

In 2009 author Michael Specter defined group denialism as “when an entire segment of society, often struggling with the trauma of change, turns away from reality in favor of a more comfortable lie”.

Prescriptive and Polemic Perspectives

If one party to a debate accuses the other of denialism they are framing the debate. This is because an accusation of denialism is both prescriptive and polemic: prescriptive because it carries implications that there is truth to the denied claim; polemic since the accuser implies that continued denial in the light of presented evidence raises questions about the other’s motives. Edward Skidelsky, a lecturer in philosophy at Exeter University writes that “An accusation of ‘denial’ is serious, suggesting either deliberate dishonesty or self-deception. The thing being denied is, by implication, so obviously true that the denier must be driven by perversity, malice or wilful blindness.” He suggests that, by the introduction of the word denier into further areas of historical and scientific debate, “One of the great achievements of The Enlightenment—the liberation of historical and scientific enquiry from dogma—is quietly being reversed”.

Some people have suggested that because denial of the Holocaust is well known, advocates who use the term denialist in other areas of debate may intentionally or unintentionally imply that their opponents are little better than Holocaust deniers. However, Robert Gallo and colleagues defended this latter comparison, stating that AIDS denialism is similar to Holocaust denial since it is a form of pseudoscience that “contradicts an immense body of research”.

Current Examples


AIDS denialism is the denial that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the cause of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). AIDS denialism has been described as being “among the most vocal anti-science denial movements”. Some denialists reject the existence of HIV, while others accept that the virus exists but say that it is a harmless passenger virus and not the cause of AIDS. Insofar as denialists acknowledge AIDS as a real disease, they attribute it to some combination of recreational drug use, malnutrition, poor sanitation, and side effects of antiretroviral medication, rather than infection with HIV. However, the evidence that HIV causes AIDS is scientifically conclusive and the scientific community rejects and ignores AIDS-denialist claims as based on faulty reasoning, cherry picking, and misrepresentation of mainly outdated scientific data. With the rejection of these arguments by the scientific community, AIDS-denialist material is now spread mainly through the Internet.

Thabo Mbeki, former president of South Africa, embraced AIDS denialism, proclaiming that AIDS was primarily caused by poverty. About 365,000 people died from AIDS during his presidency; it is estimated that around 343,000 premature deaths could have been prevented if proper treatment had been available.

Climate Change

Some international corporations, such as ExxonMobil, have contributed to “fake citizens’ groups and bogus scientific bodies” that claim that the science of global warming is inconclusive, according to a criticism by George Monbiot. ExxonMobil did not deny making the financial contributions, but its spokesman stated that the company’s financial support for scientific reports did not mean it influenced the outcome of those studies. Newsweek and Mother Jones have published articles stating corporations are funding the “denial industry”.

In the context of consumer protection, denialism has been defined as “the use of rhetorical techniques and predictable tactics to erect barriers to debate and consideration of any type of reform, regardless of the facts.” The Bush Administration’s replacement of previous science advisers with industry experts or scientists tied to industry, and its refusal to submit the Kyoto Protocol for ratification due to uncertainties they asserted were present in the climate change issue, have been cited by the press as examples of politically motivated denialism.


The term “COVID-19 denialism” or merely “COVID denialism” refers to the thinking of those who deny the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic. or, at the very least, deny that deaths are happening in the manner or proportions scientifically recognised by the World Health Organisation. The claims that the COVID-19 pandemic has been faked, exaggerated, or mischaracterised are pseudoscience. Some famous people who have engaged in COVID-19 denialism include Elon Musk, President Donald Trump, and Brazilian President Bolsonaro.


Religious beliefs may prompt an individual to deny the validity of the scientific theory of evolution. Evolution is considered an undisputed fact within the scientific community and in academia, where the level of support for evolution is essentially universal, yet this view is often met with opposition by biblical literalists. The alternative view is often presented as a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis’s creation myth. Many fundamentalist Christians teach creationism as if it were fact under the banners of creation science and intelligent design. Beliefs that typically coincide with creationism include the belief in the global flood myth, geocentrism, and the belief that the Earth is only 6,000-10,000 years old. These beliefs are viewed as pseudoscience in the scientific community and are widely regarded as erroneous.

Flat Earth

The superseded belief that the Earth is flat, and denial of all of the overwhelming evidence that supports an approximately spherical Earth that rotates around its axis and orbits the Sun, persists into the 21st century. Modern proponents of flat-Earth cosmology (or flat-Earthers) refuse to accept any kind of contrary evidence, dismissing all spaceflights and images from space as hoaxes and accusing all organizations and even private citizens of conspiring to “hide the truth”. They also claim that no actual satellites are orbiting the Earth, that the International Space Station is fake, and that these are lies from all governments involved in this grand cover-up.

Adherents of the modern flat-Earth model propose that a dome-shaped firmament encloses a disk-shaped Earth. They may also claim, after Samuel Rowbotham, that the Sun is only 3,000 miles above the Earth and that the Moon and the Sun orbit above the Earth rather than around it. Modern flat-Earthers believe that Antarctica is not a continent but a massive ice flow, with a wall 150 feet or higher, which circles the perimeter of the Earth and keeps everything (including all the oceans’ water) from falling off the edge.

Flat-Earthers also assert that no one is allowed to fly over or explore Antarctica, despite contrary evidence. According to them, all photos and videos of ships sinking under the horizon and of the bottoms of city skylines and clouds below the horizon, revealing the curvature of the Earth, have been manipulated, computer-generated, or somehow faked. Therefore, regardless of any scientific or empirical evidence provided, flat-Earthers conclude that it is fabricated or altered in some way.

When linked to other observed phenomena such as gravity, sunsets, tides, eclipses, distances and other measurements that challenge the flat earth model, claimants replace commonly-accepted explanations with piecemeal models that distort or over-simplify how perspective, mass, buoyancy, light or other physical systems work. These piecemeal replacements rarely conform with each other, finally leaving many flat-Earth claimants to agree that such phenomena remain “mysteries” and more investigation is to be done. In this conclusion, adherents remain open to all explanations except the commonly accepted globular Earth model, shifting the debate from ignorance to denialism.

Genetically Modified Foods

There is a scientific consensus that currently available food derived from GM crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food, but that each GM food needs to be tested on a case-by-case basis before introduction. Nonetheless, members of the public are much less likely than scientists to perceive GM foods as safe. The legal and regulatory status of GM foods varies by country, with some nations banning or restricting them, and others permitting them with widely differing degrees of regulation.

However, opponents have objected to GM foods on grounds including safety. Psychological analyses indicate that over 70% of GM food opponents in the US are “absolute” in their opposition, experience disgust at the thought of eating GM foods, and are “evidence insensitive”.


Statin denialism is a rejection of the medical worth of statins. Cardiologist Steven Nissen at Cleveland Clinic has commented “We are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of our patients to Web sites…” promoting unproven medical therapies. Harriet Hall sees a spectrum of “statin denialism” ranging from pseudoscientific claims to the understatement of benefits and overstatement of side effects, all of which is contrary to the scientific evidence.

Mental Illness Denial

Refer to Mental Illness Denial.

Mental illness denial or mental disorder denial where a person denies the existence of mental disorders. Both serious analysts, as well as pseudoscientific movements question the existence of certain disorders. A minority of professional researchers see disorders such as depression from a sociocultural perspective and argue that the solution to it is fixing a dysfunction in the society not in the person’s brain. Certain analysts argue this denialism is usually fuelled by narcissistic injury. Anti-psychiatry movements such as Scientology promote mental illness denial by having alternative practices to psychiatry.

Historical Examples

Historical negationism, also called denialism, is falsification or distortion of the historical record. It should not be conflated with historical revisionism, a broader term that extends to newly evidenced, fairly reasoned academic reinterpretations of history. In attempting to revise the past, illegitimate historical revisionism may use techniques inadmissible in proper historical discourse, such as presenting known forged documents as genuine, inventing ingenious but implausible reasons for distrusting genuine documents, attributing conclusions to books and sources that report the opposite, manipulating statistical series to support the given point of view, and deliberately mistranslating texts.

Some countries, such as Germany, have criminalized the negationist revision of certain historical events, while others take a more cautious position for various reasons, such as protection of free speech; others mandate negationist views, such as California and Japan, where schoolchildren are explicitly prevented from learning about the California genocide and Japanese war crimes, respectively. Notable examples of negationism include Holocaust denial, Armenian genocide denial, the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, the myth of the clean Wehrmacht, Japanese history textbook controversies, and historiography in the Soviet Union during the Stalin era. Some notable historical negationists include Arthur Butz, David Irving, and Shinzo Abe. In literature, the consequences of historical negationism have been imaginatively depicted in some works of fiction, such as Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell. In modern times, negationism may spread via new media, such as the Internet.

Armenian Genocide Denialism

Armenian genocide denial is the claim that the Ottoman Empire and its ruling party, the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), did not commit genocide against its Armenian citizens during World War I – a crime documented in a large body of evidence and affirmed by the vast majority of scholars. The perpetrators denied the genocide as they carried it out, claiming Armenians were resettled for military reasons, not exterminated. In the genocide’s aftermath, incriminating documents were systematically destroyed, and denial has been the policy of every government of the Republic of Turkey, as of 2022.

Borrowing the arguments used by the CUP to justify its actions, denial rests on the assumption that the “relocation” of Armenians was a legitimate state action in response to a real or perceived Armenian uprising that threatened the existence of the empire during wartime. Deniers assert the CUP intended to resettle Armenians rather than kill them. They claim the death toll is exaggerated or attribute the deaths to other factors, such as a purported civil war, disease, bad weather, rogue local officials, or bands of Kurds and outlaws. Historian Ronald Grigor Suny states that the main argument is “There was no genocide, and the Armenians were to blame for it.” Denial is usually accompanied by “rhetoric of Armenian treachery, aggression, criminality, and territorial ambition.”

One of the most important reasons for this denial is that the genocide enabled the establishment of a Turkish nation-state. Recognition would contradict Turkey’s founding myths. Since the 1920s, Turkey has worked to prevent official recognition or even mention of the genocide in other countries; these efforts have included millions of dollars spent on lobbying, the creation of research institutes, and intimidation and threats. Denial also affects Turkey’s domestic policies and is taught in Turkish schools; some Turkish citizens who acknowledge the genocide have faced prosecution for “insulting Turkishness”. The century-long effort by the Turkish state to deny the genocide sets it apart from other cases of genocide in history. Azerbaijan also denies the genocide and campaigns against its recognition internationally. Most Turkish citizens and political parties in Turkey support the state’s denial policy. The denial of the genocide contributes to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as well as ongoing violence against Kurds in Turkey.

Holocaust Denial

Holocaust denial refers to denial of the murder of 5 to 6 million Jews by the Nazis in Europe during World War 2. It is an essentially irrational action that withholds validation of a historical experience or event.” In this context, the term is a subset of the more accurate genocide denial, which is a form of politically motivated denialism.

Srebrenica Massacre Denialism

Sonja Biserko, president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, and Edina Bečirević, the Faculty of Criminalistics, Criminology and Security Studies of the University of Sarajevo have pointed to a culture of denial of the Srebrenica massacre in Serbian society, taking many forms and present in particular in political discourse, the media, the law and the educational system.

What is Relapse Prevention?


Relapse prevention (RP) is a cognitive-behavioural approach to relapse with the goal of identifying and preventing high-risk situations such as unhealthy substance use, obsessive-compulsive behaviour, sexual offending, obesity, and depression.

It is an important component in the treatment process for alcohol use disorder, or alcohol dependence.

Underlying Assumptions

Relapse is seen as both an outcome and a transgression in the process of behaviour change. An initial setback or lapse may translate into either a return to the previous problematic behaviour, known as relapse, or the individual turning again towards positive change, called prolapse. A relapse often occurs in the following stages: emotional relapse, mental relapse, and finally, physical relapse. Each stage is characterised by feelings, thoughts, and actions that ultimately lead to the individual’s returning to their old behaviour.

Relapse is thought to be multi-determined, especially by self-efficacy, outcome expectancies, craving, motivation, coping, emotional states, and interpersonal factors. In particular, high self-efficacy, negative outcome expectancies, potent availability of coping skills following treatment, positive affect, and functional social support are expected to predict positive outcome. Craving has not historically been shown to serve as a strong predictor of relapse.

Efficacy and Effectiveness

Carroll et al. conducted a review of 24 other trials and concluded that RP was more effective than no treatment and was equally effective as other active treatments such as supportive psychotherapy and interpersonal therapy in improving substance use outcomes. Irvin and colleagues also conducted a meta-analysis of RP techniques in the treatment of alcohol, tobacco, cocaine, and polysubstance use, and upon reviewing 26 studies, concluded that RP was successful in reducing substance use and improving psychosocial adjustment. RP seemed to be most effective for individuals with alcohol problems, suggesting that certain characteristics of alcohol use are amenable to the RP. Miller et al. (1996) found the GORSKI/CENAPS relapse warning signs to be a good predictor of the occurrence of relapse on the AWARE scale (r = .42, p < .001).

Prevention Approaches

General Prevention Theories

Some theorists, including Katie Witkiewitz and G. Alan Marlatt, borrowing ideas from systems theory, conceptualize relapse as a multidimensional, complex system. Such a nonlinear dynamical system is believed to be able to best predict the data witnessed, which commonly includes cases where small changes introduced into the equation seem to have large effects. The model also introduces concepts of self-organisation, feedback loops, timing/context effects, and the interplay between tonic and phasic processes.

Rami Jumnoodoo and Dr. Patrick Coyne, in London UK, have been working with National Health Service users and carers over the past ten years to transfer RP theory into the field of adult mental health. The uniqueness of the model is the sustainment of change by developing service users and carers as ‘experts’ – following RP as an educational process and graduating as Relapse Prevention Practitioners. The work has won many national awards, been presented at many conferences, and has resulted in many publications.

Terence Gorski MA has developed the CENAPS (Centre for Applied Science) model for relapse prevention including Relapse Prevention Counselling (Gorski, Counselling For Relapse Prevention, 1983) and a system for certification of Relapse Prevention Specialists (CRPS).


For the prevention of relapse in Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), several approaches and intervention programmes have been proposed. Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy is commonly used and was found to be effective in preventing relapse especially in patients with more pronounced residual symptoms. Another approach often used in patients who wish to taper down antidepressant medication is Preventive Cognitive Therapy, an 8-weeks lasting psychological intervention programme delivered in individual or group sessions that focuses on changing dysfunctional attitudes, enhancing memories of positive experiences and helping patients to develop personal relapse prevention strategies. Preventive Cognitive Therapy has been found to be equally effective in preventing a return of depressive symptoms as antidepressant medication use alone in the long-term treatment of MDD. In combination with pharmaceuticals, it was found to be even more effective than antidepressant use alone.