Eysenck's Theory of Personality

Eysenck's Theory of Personality

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Humans are curious beings, it seems that it is part of our nature to question ourselves about many things, especially regarding our existence, at least, at some point in our lives. Many philosophers and scientists throughout history have tried to solve many questions about man and his behavior or his way of proceeding, finding others in his path. Why do we act in a certain way in some circumstances? What makes us "like" and at the same time different from others?


  • 1 Approaches that influenced the work of Hans Jürgen Eysenck
  • 2 PEN: Dimensional and hierarchical personality structure
  • 3 Eysenck hierarchical personality structure
  • 4 Theory of cortical excitation-inhibition
  • 5 Theory of cortical arousal-activation

Approaches that influenced the work of Hans Jürgen Eysenck

To develop his theories was based on the typology Hippocratic-Galenic, in the update by Kant and Wundt, which tries to explain the similarities and differences between people, through the description of the 4 types of human temperament, formed by the personality: blood, choleric, phlegmatic and melancholic. However, he also relied on the contributions of great theorists within psychiatry such as: Gross, Heymans and Wiersma, Kretchmer and the famous Carl Gustav Jung, to name just a few.

Hans Jürgen Eysenck was a great English scientist and psychologist of German origin. He believed that greatly personality was also determined by the individual's own physiological aspects such as genes, which can arrange a subject to conduct themselves in a particular way.

His hard work led him to agree that Each person has certain characteristics or traits, which are relatively stable despite time. and the circumstances, he affirmed that the individual differences in behavior are due to the nervous system, thus participating in the establishment of the bases for further studies in this regard and contributing to the development of psychometrics.

You may be interested: Five-factor personality model

Through his investigations, he could see that these differences and similarities between individuals are also influenced by situational and environmental factors, that is, personality traits are also composed of sociocultural elements. Around this, he stated that:

"It is the more or less stable and lasting organization of a person's character, temperament, intellect and physicality, which determines his unique adaptation to the environment."

The search for the answer to his questions, prompted him to be a great researcher, used the correlational tradition, with its taxonomic or descriptive model and the experimental, the latter was influenced by the Russian school, because in those times many experimental studies were developed about the differences of each individual in psychophysical aspects, the latter tradition, followed it through the causal or explanatory model.

PEN: Dimensional and hierarchical personality structure

He tried to find the basic dimensions of personality as Cattell, although the latter was based on the terms that describe the personality within the language; instead Eysenck spoke of three inheritable and physiologically based primary dimensions, this was measured by the reactivity of the autonomic nervous system. Using the taxonomic or descriptive model, it proposes a personality model based on the features that make it up, it does so through factor analysis to describe the personality, then the three dimensions with their types of structure and some corresponding features:

Ppsychoticism: It has to do with the characteristics of aggressiveness, impulsivity (or under impulse control), creativity, coldness, cruelty, self-centeredness and hardness (immovable), they do not usually empathize, it may be difficult or impossible to confront reality.

Extraversion-Introversion: The traits of vitality, brilliance, sensation seeker, sociability, impulsivity and activity belong to this item, can be dogmatic and dominant.

Neuroticism-Emoctability: In this dimension the traits of variability, emotionality, irrationality, shyness, taciturnity, low self-esteem, guilt, anxiety and restlessness are understood. The associated brain structure would be specifically the limbic system, which is involved in emotional regulation. Individuals with a high degree of neuroticism are people whose autonomic nervous system can be activated very easily.

Examples of elements of Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (EPQ-R) (Eynsenck & Eynsenck, 1985) (Adapted from the Spanish version made by Ortet, Ibañez, Moro & Silva, 1997)
Item  Answers
1. Do you prefer to act independently rather than according to established standards?

2. Do you like the hustle and bustle around you?

3. Does your mood suffer highs and lows frequently?

4. Would you have a bad time if you see a child or an animal suffer?

5. Do you do many free time activities?

6. Do you tend to stay away from social situations?

7. Do you often have feelings of guilt?

8. Would you say of yourself that you are a nervous person?

9. Are you worried about having debts?










Note: These elements would be scored as follows: Extraversion: 2 yes, 4 yes and 6 no; Neuroticism: 3 yes, 7 yes and 8 yes; Psychotism: 1 yes, 4 no and 9 no.

It correlates it with the explanatory or causal model of personality by anchoring the biological structures at the base of these dimensions and confirming them experimentally.

Hierarchical structure of Eysenck's personality

He said that the hierarchical structure of the personality has:

  1. Specific answers: Behaviors that are observed once and may be characteristic of the subject or not.
  2. Usual answers: Behaviors with some stability.
  3. Features: Constructs resulting from the interrelation of various habits.
  4. Types: Constructs resulting from the interrelation of different traits.

Theory of cortical excitation-inhibition

The extraversion-introversion dimension is determined by the differences between the processes of excitation and cortical inhibition. Eysenck used physiological processes without locating them in any specific part of the cortical system, based mainly on Pavlov and Hull concepts, mainly. He said that people who develop introverted behavior patterns and who usually have dysthymic problems, if psychopathology is generated, are characterized by strong excitation plus a slow and weak cortical inhibition, which causes a behavior to be inhibited.

While in the dimensions of extroverts, It is quite the opposite, he proposed that people who are predisposed to develop patterns of extraverted behavior and to have hysterical-psychopathic alterations, also in the case that they have any psychopathology you can observe a weak excitation and intense but rapid cortical inhibition, which produces uninhibited behavior. Here, the concept of physiological inhibition is inversely proportional to behavioral inhibition, that is:

The greater cortical inhibition, the less behavioral inhibition, as shown in the behavior of extroverts and vice versa.

Arousal-cortical activation theory

The concept of cortical or arousal activationIt can be understood as a continuum of excitement that goes from the lowest level, typical of sleep states, to the highest state of alertness that is when panic states occur.

Try to explain the differences related to extraversion-introversion and is determined by level of cortical excitation (arousal-, which is controlled by a type of “Door with access to stimulation”: Ascending Reticular Activation System (SARA), It serves as the neurological base responsible for the level of care.

In natural circumstances of rest, introverted people seem overstimulated, since they show a high level of arousal, while extraverts are hypoestimulated so they tend to seek stimulation, the latter have a low level of arousal.

SARA activates and deactivates the upper parts of the brain (cerebral cortex), participates in the maintenance of alertness and concentration, as well as in the control of the sleep-wake cycle. One of the most direct strategies to test the highest level of cortical activation has been to work with the evoked potentials, their hypotheses have been tried to test indirectly through performance studies.

To better understand the issues, I leave here a table that includes some important aspects that were taken into account within Eysenck's biofactorial theory.

Similarity with the effect of depressant drugs+-
Testosterone levels+-
Fast execution+-
Stimulation Tolerance+-
Involuntary rest patterns+-
Boost Sensitivity+-
Sensitivity to punishment-+
Similarity with the effect of stimulant drugs-+
MAO enzyme levels-+
Learning (CC)-+
Sensitivity stimulate-+
Execution Accuracy-+
Antisocial behavior+-
Search for sensations+-
Sexual inhibition-+
Social concern-+
Autonomic Reactivity+-
Sympathetic excitability+-
Delayed return to parasympathetic equilibrium+-
Stress tolerance-+
Emotional stability-+
Excitation thresholds-+
Relationship with neurotic disorders+-
Relationship with psychosomatic disorders+-
Potentialization of socialized habits in introverts+-
Potentialization of antisocial habits in extroverts+-
Similarity with the effect of hallucinogenic drugs (LSD)+-
Testosterone levels+
MAO enzyme levels-+
Association with crime+-
Association with psychotic disorders+-
Association with antisocial disorders+-
Association with aggressive symptoms+-


Hans Eysenck He was a great researcher who dedicated his life to the study of human behavior, thanks to his work we have been able to make progress in such important areas as psychometry and the measurement of personality traits, since his work established an important antecedent in this area ; one of its main objectives was analyze the neurophysiological bases of human behavior, performed theories, models and tests for the measurement of certain traits that typified, which represented a great advance in the study of behavior.

Likewise, laid the empirical basis of therapies with cognitive and behavioral approach. The theories presented by him have their framework within the psychobiological models of personality, sustenance and the fruit of them resided under the scrutiny of the experimental methodology.


Bibliographic references

  • Bermudez Moreno, J., Pérez García A. M. and Sanjuán Suárez, P. (2017). Personality psychology: Theory and research. Volume I. Spain: UNED DIDÁCTICA
  • Eysenck, H.J. and Eysenck, S.B.G. (1994). Manual of the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire. California: Educational and Indu
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