Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson was the first professional to describe and use the concept of ego identity in his writings on what constitutes healthy personality development for every individual over the course of the life span. Basic to Erikson’s view, as well as those of many later identity writers, is the understanding that identity enables one to move with purpose and direction in life, and with a sense of inner sameness and continuity over time and place. Erikson considered identity to be psychosocial in nature, formed by the intersection of individual biological and psychological capacities in combination with the opportunities and supports offered by one’s social context. Identity normally becomes a central issue of concern during adolescence, when decisions about future vocational, ideological, and relational issues need to be addressed; however, these key identity concerns often demand further reflection and revision during different phases of adult life as well. Identity, thus, is not something that one resolves once and for all at the end of adolescence, but rather identity may continue to evolve and change over the course of adult life too.
Following Erikson’s initial writings, subsequent theorists have laid different emphases on the role of the individual and the role of society in the identity formation process. One very popular elaboration of Erikson’s own writings on identity that retains a psychosocial focus is the identity status model of James Marcia. While Erikson had described one’s identity resolution as lying somewhere on a continuum between identity achievement and role confusion (and optimally located nearer the achievement end of the spectrum), Marcia defined four very different means by which one may approach identity-defining decisions: identity achievement (commitment following exploration), moratorium (exploration in process), foreclosure (commitment without exploration), and diffusion (no commitment with little or no exploration). These four approaches (or identity statuses) have, over many decades, been the focus of over 1,000 theoretical and research studies that have examined identity status antecedents, behavioral consequences, associated personality characteristics, patterns of interpersonal relations, and developmental forms of movement over time. A further field of study has focused on the implications for intervention that each identity status holds. Current research seeks both to refine the identity statuses and explore their dimensions further through narrative analysis.
Sarah E. Hampson
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology. Please check back later for the full article.
Although the belief that personality is linked to health goes back at least to Greek and Roman times, the scientific study of these links began in earnest only during the last century. The field of psychosomatic medicine, growing out of psychoanalysis, accepted that the body and the mind were closely connected. For a time, the medical world was captivated by the idea that Type A personality was related to cardiovascular disease. However, by the end of the 20th century, the application of modern, scientific conceptions of personality to the understanding of health and health behavior created a thriving field addressing the role personality plays in health and illness. The widespread acceptance of the five-factor model of personality traits, and the reliable and valid measures of personality traits that became available, transformed the study of personality and health. Of the Big Five broad domains of personality (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness), the most dramatic and consistent findings in relation to health have been obtained for conscientiousness (i.e., people who are reliable, restrained, hard-working). Children and adults who are more conscientious have better health and live longer lives than those who are less conscientious. Conscientious individuals engage in more health-enhancing and fewer health-damaging behaviors, which accounts for some, but by no means all, of the association between this trait and better health outcomes including longevity.
Recent developments in the independent fields of personality psychology and health psychology have influenced contemporary approaches to the study of personality and health. Personality traits are no longer viewed as stable across adulthood, but as developing across the entire life span. Researchers are examining the influence of personality change on health. Recognizing the complex, reciprocal influences between personality and health, researchers are also examining how changes in health may lead to changes in personality. A range of health outcomes, wider than ever before, is now available. In addition to disease diagnoses and longevity, there are numerous biomarkers that are risk factors for disease and death that can be studied. Changes on these biomarkers, such as inflammation, cortisol activity, and cellular aging, can be used to chart health in relation to personality traits and to test underlying theoretical models. Recognizing that both personality and health are moving targets necessitates longitudinal studies and a life-span perspective guided by sophisticated models of the relationship between personality and health.
Ryan E. Rhodes and Patrick Boudreau
The physical, psychological, and economic benefits of regular moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity are well substantiated. Unfortunately, few people in developed countries engage in enough physical activity to reap these benefits. Thus, a strong theoretical understanding of what factors are associated with physical activity is warranted in order to create effective and targeted interventions. Social/ecological approaches to understanding physical activity demonstrate the breadth of correlates that encompass intra-individual, inter-individual, environmental, and policy-related variables in physical activity performance. One longstanding intrapersonal correlate of interest is the relationship between personality traits—enduring individual-level differences in tendencies to show consistent patterns of thoughts, feelings, and actions—and physical activity.
Personality trait theories are broad in focus and differ in terms of proposed etiology, yet much of the recent research in physical activity has been with super traits in the five-factor model: neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Meta-analytic reviews suggest that conscientiousness and extraversion are positively associated with physical activity with some mixed evidence for a small negative relationship with neuroticism. The effect appears to be most pronounced with vigorous physical activities and less so with lower-intensity lifestyle activities and shows mixed evidence for whether proximal social cognitive variables (intention, self-efficacy) can mediate this relationship. More specific sub-traits show that facets of extraversion (excitement-seeking, activity) or conscientiousness (self-discipline, industriousness/ambition) have larger and more specific associations with particular types of physical activity or moderate key processes like the intention-behavior gap. Furthermore, personality appears to be linked to higher-intensity and adventure activities more than lower-intensity leisure physical activities. Contemporary longitudinal assessments of the bi-directionality of personality and physical activity have begun to advance our understanding of interconnectedness. Interventions that target personality traits to improve physical activity have been relatively understudied but hold some promise when used in tandem with larger theoretical approaches and behavioral change strategies.