Is our behavior completely situational

Medical Psychology and Sociology: Personality Psychology

Table of Contents

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Property theories

Try to describe the characteristics of someone close to you. Above all, you will find the enduring properties (traits) that have a particular impact on the person's life. Is she z. B. extroverted, reserved or open to new ideas? The following terms are used in connection with personality traits in psychology:

  • Trait: Persistent personality traits - personality is defined as the sum of these traits.
  • Predispositionism: The characteristics of the individual determine his behavior.
  • Temporal consistency / stability: Personality traits remain stable over a longer period of time (months or years), e.g. B. Negligence vs. Conscientiousness.
  • Transitional consistency: Personality traits remain stable in different situations, e.g. B. Unreliability in both work and friendship.

Also important are:

  • temperament: a biologically determined mode of reaction in relation to the level of activity
  • Trait state: enduring condition vs. current condition

You can find out more about emotions here.

The most important personality models

The currently most up-to-date and universally recognized personality model is the Big Five (five-factor model) It has been used in approximately 3,000 scientific studies over the past two decades. In the Big Five you can recognize parts of the other personality models.

Notice: The Big Five model is empirically proven best.

Eysenck's 3 Dimensions of Personality (1953)

The two dimensions of personality still come today Extraversion and Neuroticism in questionnaires, while the third dimension assumed by Eysenck Psychoticism was repeatedly the focus of harsh criticism.

Notice: There is no connection between extraversion and neuroticism, so people can show completely different degrees of expression in the different dimensions.

Extraversion and intraversion

The two poles Extraversion and Intraversion stand for the degree of sociability and personal exposure to restraint and control.

- Open, sociable, impulsive - Looking for excitement, change - Happy, carefree - Optimistic

- Higher excitation threshold of the ascending, activating system ⇒ seek external stimulation

- Calm, serious, reserved - Looking for calm, withdrawal - Observing, reliable - Pessimistic

- Lower excitation threshold ⇒ seek quieter surroundings

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People with one highly pronouncedNeuroticism are emotionally unstable, overly sensitive and often tormented by worries and fears. Psychosomatic complaints such as headaches, restless sleep, gastrointestinal complaints, etc. often occur. Other characteristics are: nervousness, insecurity, mood swings, susceptibility to negative emotions, impulsiveness.

People with one low level of neuroticism are more balanced and emotionally more stable. You can deal with stress and strain and remain calm even in extreme situations. Little to no focus is placed on negative feelings and self-doubt is rare.


According to Eysenck, the third dimension of psychoticism includes one Range from realistic / normal to psychopathic / criminalup to psychotic. People with a very high psychoticism score are unable to show empathy and are considered cold and unkind.

Note: Many HR departments do psychological personality tests as part of an interview or as part of a pre-selection process. Read more about it here.

The Big Five: The Five Factor Model

The founders of the Big Five assumed that Personality is reflected in language. The “lexical hypothesis” was central: all important aspects of human personalities can be seen from the use of certain adjectives to describe oneself and others. After a thorough factor analysis of the various dictionaries, the adjectives turned out to be the same across cultures.

Personality research over decades has led to five dimensions of the human personality.

With the help of these dimensions, all people can be compared and described. Already shaped by Goldberg in the 1980s, you became well known through the standardized personality test NEO Personal Inventory (Neo Five Factor Inventory).

What is special about the Big Five model is that people are not classified into type grids, but rather very individual personality profilescan be created based on the five dimensions.


High degree of expression Low degree of expression
1. CompatibilityCooperative, empathetic, helpful, indulgent, good-natured.Suspicious, competitive behavior, critical, confrontational
2. Openness to experienceCurious, non-conforming, creative, interestedCareful, traditional, conservative, factual
3. ConscientiousnessLoose, erratic, inconsistent, unreliable, messy.Determined, organized, disciplined, orderly, pedantic, reliable.
4. Extraversion / intraversion (after Eysenck)Restrained, calm, quiet, happy to be alone, reservedActive, sociable, talkative, cheerful, showing positive emotions.
5. Neuroticism (after Eysenck)Balanced, relaxed, carefree, calmAnxious, nervous, worried, emotionally unstable.

Exam tip: Make a good note of the Big Five - they have been included in the IMPP's questions every six months for years.

The interactionist approach

Despite individual personality traits, people behave differently depending on the situation and the environment. Do you behave in the same way in a lecture, a doctor-patient conversation, at a party or within your family? The current state of research is based on the dynamic-interactionist approach: the environment and personality mutually influence one another.

Interactionism= Dispositionism (characteristics of the person) + situationism (influences of the environment)

The learning-theoretical personality model

The behaviorist approach assumes that any behavior is formed solely by the reinforcers in the environment. Everyone behaves in certain situations according to his or her learning history. Learning theorists focus particularly on the possibility that learned behavior can also be systematically changed again.

personality= The sum of the stimulus-response connections

The psychodynamic model (Freud)

Freud's approach is particularly focused on early childhood experiences. The different psychosexual stages of developmentthat need to be dealt with create a great potential for conflict. If the person fails in a development phase, a corresponding fixation on this phase (oral, narcissistic, anal, phallic, latent and genital) takes place.

Personality disorders

Where does “normal” end and where does “disturbed” begin? in the ICD code (F60) the personality disorders are listed under personality and behavior disorders with the following description:

“These are serious disorders of the personality and behavior of the person concerned, the not directly attributable to brain damage or disease or any other psychiatric disorder are. They cover different areas of personality and are almost always associated with personal and social impairments. Personality disorders usually appear in childhood or adolescence and persist through adulthood. "

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Hardly a diagnosis is more difficult to make than a personality disorder. The following criteria must be assessed - but always against the background of the respective situation and the social and cultural context of the person concerned:

  • adaptability
  • Emotional responsiveness
  • Self-control
  • Social adjustment
  • Relationship ability

Familiarize yourself with the following Personality disorders imDSM IV and familiar with its main characteristics:

  • Paranoid: Suspicion, hostility, always expecting to be betrayed and in general for bad things, jealousy
  • Schizoid: Loner, aloof, difficulty with social relationships, little empathy
  • Schizotypical: Illusions, flattened affect, fear of social relationships, eccentricity in behavior and appearance
  • Dissocial (also sociopathic or psychopathic): aggressive, reckless, impulsive, emotionally brutalized and incapable of empathy
  • Emotionally unstable: Borderline personality, extremely emotional, push-pull relationship behavior, auto-aggressive behavior, unstable self-image, impulsive
  • Histrionic: Exaggerated drama in behavior, attention-seeking, shallow affect, self-centered
  • Narcissistic: excessive self-love, extremely selfish, needs constant admiration and attention, not very empathetic, problems with social relationships
  • Confused: low self-esteem with a feeling of incompetence and worthlessness, fear of rejection, embarrassment, humiliation
  • Dependent: Almost completely oriented towards others, no / little focus on own needs, great fear of being alone and being left alone
  • Anankastic: compulsive, constant preoccupation with planning and regulating (problems in social relationships), perfectionist, very conscientious

Personality constructs and behavioral styles

Field dependence and field independence (cognitive style)

According to this construct, people differ according to how well they can extract items from a context. The people are through the Embedded Figure Test classified into “differentiated / analytical” and “global”.

In the Embedded Figure Test, the person must Recognize "embedded figures" in a hidden context as quickly as possible. Anyone who can differentiate the items well from the context is said to be field-independent.

Tendency to interference

The interference tendency describes the degree of Susceptibility to irrelevant stimuli: the degree of cognitive control. A typical measurement method is the Stroop test, in which people have to name the color of a word without being distracted by the choice of words (red, green, yellow, ...). The response time is measured.

Here is an example of that Stroop test:

Sensation Seeking (Zuckerman, 1979)

Each personality seeks a different level of stimulation. Zuckerman's construct is very similar to Eysenck's approach to extraversion / intraversion. Translated means sensation seeking, have a tendency to seek out new stimulating situations.

A risky, non-conformist behavior with a tendency to extremes (e.g. extreme sports or party excesses) is therefore aimed for.

The sensation seeking is in four levels divided. Where do you classify yourself?

  1. Thrill and adventure seeking: physically risky activities
  2. Experience seeking: Variety through an unconventional lifestyle (travel, music, drugs)
  3. Disinhibition seeking: Variety through social stimulation (party, promiscuity, social drinking)
  4. Boredom susceptibility: Aversion to boredom and a tendency to restlessness when the environment no longer offers variety.

Special behavioral styles from the clinical area

The following Personality constructs are particularly important with regard to the relationship between personality and illness and corresponding coping styles.

Belief in control: Internal and external

In the concept of control belief, you will find many similarities to the learned helplessness model and styles of attribution. The conviction of control plays an important role, especially in the clinical area. Depending on whether the patient internal or external convinced of control is, shape the course and genesis of the disease.

  • Internal control belief: People with a high level of internal control rate the importance of their own behavior on the events in their life as very high.
  • External belief in control: People with an external belief in control blame fate, other people and circumstances for the events in their lives. Little importance is attached to one's own influence.
Clinic: In cancer patients, a high level of internal control has proven to be beneficial in the course of the disease.

Sensitization and repression

This construct focuses on how people deal with anxiety-inducing stimuli. Sensitizer confront these stimuli and place an increased focus on the processing and origin of them. Repressors rather push these stimuli aside and suppress a confrontation with their fear.

Passive-resigned style

In the passive-resigned style, failures are internally attributed. The people show a lower level of activity, react more depressively and behave overall “bearable” with the constant basic attitude: "It's all pointless anyway". This style of behavior is based on that Construct of learned helplessness according to Seligman traced back.

Classification of behavior into type A, type B and type C.

Are Certain Personalities at High Risk of Coronary Heart Disease? The classification of behavior into types A and B would like to answer this question. Originally developed in the 1960s, the type classification was initially very successful. A real causal connection between health-critical behavior and an actual coronary disease could not be proven.

The simplicity of the construct is another disadvantage. The further development of the type C tries to find out personality traits that are related to cancer (empirically not confirmed!).

Type A behavior "Heart attack personality"Type B behaviorType-C behavior "Cancer Personality"
Constant pressure to perform

High ambition

High commitment, often exceeding energetic limits

High need for control (little delegation)

Hurry, impatience

Hostility, aggressiveness

Competitive pressure


All people who do not exhibit Type A behavior

Search for rest and relaxation

Social relationships are a high priority

Need for rest


Denial of negative emotions

Inability to articulate anger

Tendency to be depressed


Little combative




Self-concept and self-esteem

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We have Assumptions and value judgments about ourselveswhich are mostly relatively stable with mental health. This self-concept develops from social experiences in different areas (school, sport, university, social relationships, etc.) and is significantly shaped in childhood and adolescence. Many scientists share this concept of self in two parts on:

  • Cognitive-descriptive part (Example: "I have a good command of German grammar.")
  • Emotionally evaluating part (Example: "I am satisfied with my average grade in the hammer exam.")
Notice: Healthy people overestimate their abilities to a small extent. Depressed people judge themselves to be more realistic or less capable.

Popular personality psychology exam questions

The solutions are given below the sources.

1. Which of the following disorders does not belong to the personality disorders (e.g. according to DSM IV)?

  1. Dependent personality disorder
  2. Anankastic Personality Disorder
  3. Dissociative personality disorder
  4. Narcissistic Personality Disorder
  5. Dissocial Personality Disorder

2. The five-factor model (FFM) - also called the Big Five model - is a recognized model for recording and describing the human personality. Which of the following dimensions does not belong to the FFM?

  1. conscientiousness
  2. Neuroticism
  3. Openness to experience
  4. Self-protection
  5. Extraversion

3. One The model of behavioral styles is inter alia. important in coping with the disease and divides patients into repressors and sensitizers. Why is this model of particular clinical importance for your medical work?

  1. To adapt the communication of information
  2. To choose between a behavioral and psychoanalytic approach
  3. To assess drug compliance
  4. To categorize the potential for side effects
  5. To use medical terminology or slang
Course tip: With our Lecturio course in medical psychology and sociology you can deepen your knowledge and prepare yourself as best as possible for the exams in the preclinical and the physikum. It's worth it, because you can collect a lot of points in the Physikum with this subject. Try our course for free.


[1] M. Schön (2007): GK1 Medical Psychology and Sociology. Springer publishing house.

[2] S. Rothgangel (2010): Short textbook medical psychology and sociology. Thieme publishing house.

[3] Big Five via

[4] Winterhoff-Spurk, P. (2004). Media Psychology: An Introduction. Kohlhammer Verlag.

[5] Lexicon of Psychology via

Solutions to the questions: 1C, 2D, 3A

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