Individual Differences


Introduction to Biological & Evolutionary Perspectives on Personality

Last updated:
26 Sep 2005



One of the main criticisms of most Western personality theories is that they fall prey to Descartes' mind-body dualism, and treat personality and almost exclusively psychological.  But we also saw some examples where this was not the case, i.e., the 4 Greek humors, William Sheldon's 3 somatotypes, and Ayurvedic medicine's 3 doshas.


These theories do not identify the mechanisms of the proposed relationships between body and personality, and most theories of personality do not easily account for the origins of personality and personality characteristics.  These questions are taken up more directly by sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, and behavioral genetics.

"Most people of course, whatever they may say, do not in fact want a scientific account of human nature and personality at all....Hence they much prefer the great story-teller, S. Freud, or the brilliant myth-creator, C. G. Jung, to those who, like Cattell or Guilford, expect them to learn matrix algebra, study physiological details of the nervous system, and actually carry out experiments rather than rely on interesting anecdote, sex-ridden case histories, and ingenious speculation."
- Hans Eysenck, Psychology Is About People

We are biological creatures. We exist because of our genetics, the food we've eaten, the air we breathe; we think because of the neurons which fire in our brains. Is it possible, then, that variations in our biology may cause the personality differences we observe in behaviour?

Of all the perspectives on personality, chances are that this perspective will undergo the greatest amount of change and development in the next 100 years. The topics presented here in this lecture are, really, in their childhood - the modern attempt to link personality to biology has been a recent effort.

The biological model does not represent a cohesive, theoretical approach (compared, say, to the psychoanalytic perspective), but rather is a collection of efforts looking for links between personality and biology, and seeking out the origins of human personality and behavior in evolutionary theory and evidence.

The biological approach is most closely linked to the dispositional perspective since both attempt to identify underlying, consistent individual differences.

The main areas of investigation are:

  • the relationship between genetics and personality

  • the evolutionary explanations and evidence for the origins of personality

  • neuropsychology and personality

  • other biological functions and processes which influence human psychology and personality

Major themes & assumptions of the biological perspective


There are three general thrusts to the biological perspective:

  1. Many personality characteristics are genetically determined

  2. Behavioural tendencies derive from our evolutionary history

  3. Human behaviour produced is by a complex biological system (e.g. hormones, neurotransmitters)

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