Individual Differences


Introduction to
Perspectives on Personality

Last updated:
21 Oct 2003

The cognitive completes a return to the material focused on by introspectionists (e.g., Wundt, 1870's), that is, the actual content of mind.  The new cognitive psychology evolves most directly from social learning theory and extensions of behavioral theory.  It also has clear links to humanistic psychology in its focus on the "information stored about the self" and in suggesting considerable capacity for change in personality and mental health by altering thinking patterns.

The cognitive perspective, interestingly, has evolved hand in hand in the development of computers over since the mid-1950's and according to many in psychology has become  the most significant paradigm in psychology. 

Essentially, the cognitive perspective of personality is the idea that people are who they are because of the way they think, including how information is attended to, perceived, analyzed, interpreted, encoded and retrieved.  People tend to have habitual thinking patterns which are characterized as as personality.  Your personality, then, would be your characteristic cognitive patterns.

The cognitive perspective is that personality is a person's mental organization.  In order to cope with all the information you receive from the world, including sensory information, you need to cope with, integrate and organise all the information the world throws at you.  From this point of view, you are:

  1. What you THINK
  2. The way you PROCESS INFORMATION (including attending to, perceiving, interpreting, encoding and retrieving of information);
  3. The way you SELF-REGULATE via cognitive monitoring and adjusting thoughts and behaviors.  We are HOMEOSTATIC psychobiological creatures who try to self-regulate in order to progress towards GOALS.

The cognitive perspective is also often known as the information-processing model, with the computer serving as a convenient metaphor.  Basically, the computer's program is equivalent to the ways a human processes information.  In cognitive psychology, these "programs" include methods for attending, perceiving, representing, encoding, retrieving, and decision-making and problem-solving. 

A particular strength of cognitive theory is that it is readily compatible with all the other perspectives, thus there are also many hybrid cognitive theories, e.g., cognitive-behavioral theory, social cognitive theory.

Further background to the cognitive perspective

The cognitive approach is the outgrowth of Rotter’s and Bandura’s social-learning perspectives. Recall that Bandura’s approach has come to be called social cognitive theory. Bandura’s beliefs about the environment and expectations about the self are essentially cognitive concepts.

Another important influence on the cognitive perspective is the phenomenological approach, especially George Kelly’s ‘personal constructs’ theory. Kelly emphasised the way a person’s concepts for thinking about the world shape his or her personality and behaviour (Kelly greatly influenced Bandura).

The cognitive approach also draws on Freud’s notions concerning levels of consciousness. The preconscious and the unconscious are receiving increasing attention from many proponents of the cognitive approach to personality.


Burger, J.M. (1993). Personality (3rd ed.) Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Carver, C.S., & Scheier, M.F. (2000). Perspectives on personality (4th ed.) Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Ornstein, R. (1993). The Roots of the Self: Unraveling the mystery of who we are. New York: HarperSanFrancisco.

Phares, J.E. (1991). Introduction to Personality (3rd ed.). New York: Harper Collins.