We are all actors who like to wear "mask" to hide feelings
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We are all actors who like to wear "mask" to hide feelings

Human faces, like fingerprints are unique. Did you ever wonder how it is possible for us to recognize people? Even a skilled writer probably could not describe all the features that make one face different from another. Yet a very young child or even an animal such as a horse can learn to recognize human faces. We all take this ability for granted. We also tell people apart by how they behave. When we talk about someoneÂ’s personality, we mean the ways in which he or she acts, speaks, thinks and feels that make that individual different from others.

Human faces, like fingerprints are unique. Did you ever wonder how it is possible for us to recognize people? Even a skilful writer probably could not describe all the features that make one face different from another. Yet a very young child or even an animal such as a horse can learn to recognize human faces. We all take this ability for granted. We also tell people apart by how they behave. When we talk about someone’s personality, we mean the ways in which he or she acts, speaks, thinks and feels that make that individual different from others.

Human Personality is very complex

Like the human face, human personality is very complex but describing someone’s personality in words is somewhat easier than describing his face. If you were asked to describe what a “nice face” looked like, you probably would have a difficult time doing so but if you were asked to describe a “nice person”, you might begin to think about someone who was kind, generous, friendly, warm, and so on.

There are many words to describe how a person thinks, feels and acts. Gordon Willard Allport (1897-1967), an American psychologist, found nearly 18,000 English words to describe the characteristic differences in people’s behavior. Such words as bookworm, conservative, liberal, authoritarian, sentimental, military type and many others are used for describing, or typing, people’s personalities.

People have always tried to “type” each other. Actors in ancient Greek drama wore masks to show the audience whether they played the role of a hero or that of a wicked man. In fact, the words “person” and “personality” come from the Latin word “persona”, which means “mask”. Today, television and movie actors do not wear masks but we can easily tell the “good guys” from the “bad guys” because the types differ in appearance as well as in actions.

Classify people using typology

The oldest and simplest method of describing differences in personality was to classify people according to types. Such a system is called a typology. A famous example of this method was introduced in Greece about the year 400 B.C. A physician named Hippocrates created a theory saying that there were four liquids in the human body. He called the liquids “humors”. According to each humor, he believed, there was a definite type of personality.

The four humors were blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm. If a person had a perfect balance of all four humors in his body, then he would have a harmonious or balanced personality. If a person had too much blood, he was called “sanguine” or cheerful and optimistic. Someone with too much yellow bile was “choleric”, that is easily angered or hot-tempered. Too much black bile made a person “melancholy” or pessimistic. Too much phlegm in the body caused a human being to be “phlegmatic”, meaning slow and unemotional. Modern scientists have long since rejected Hippocrates’ liquid theory but the term “humor” and the names of the four typical temperaments are still used even today to describe personality.

How can we measure personality?

To measure a person’s height, for instance, one uses a ruler. Scientists call height a physical dimension. Length, width and weight are also physical dimensions. Such dimensions are easy to measure, provided that we have the proper instruments. What are the dimensions of a personality? How can we measure them? In this case we are not able to use physical measurements because we are not dealing with physical objects.

Also, personality is a very complex matter. We cannot simply say “black” or “white”, for instance, in analyzing human typology. Rather, there are many shades of gray between these two colors. For example, when we say that Betty is “warm” or “friendly”, we mean that she behaves warmly more often and in a greater variety of situations than many other people. Psychologists would call social friendliness a “dimension” of personality.

Personality and Impression

Psychologists can measure friendliness and other personality dimensions, such as intelligence, honesty, happiness, courage and so on. They have developed tests, observations and experiments to compare one person with another. The simplest procedure is to observe what people say and do in real-life situations. All of us do this when we are with other people. We watch and compare their habits, speech and dress, and by so doing we learn much about them.

Then why are we not all experts in personality? There are many reasons. First, we cannot observe everybody in all situations. Second, we cannot remember every situation and what happened in it. Third, we have our own personal opinions about people and events. These opinions make it difficult for us to be scientifically objective and accurate. In other words, our own personalities influence our impressions of other people.

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