In a London population of around 8.788 million, it may at times feel as if you’re being swallowed up by the city. Home to such rich, diverse culture and a sense of constant movement, can the introvert really survive in such an environment? For years now, I’ve defined myself as the former. I’m not a fan of new large groups, I can barely manage public speaking and I have an affinity for diverting personal questions. I just took all these things as a given of the personality trait; in a way I felt not responsible for them. It’s simply out of my control, I am simply an introvert.
After much consideration, I’ve come to an opinion that labelling oneself is potentially dangerous. First, how does one even measure or define personality? In my case, I seemed to pinpoint aspects that I considered to be dominant in specific situations. For example, my opposition to immediately open-up to others. For a long time, I found myself questioning this difficulty; why are some so effortlessly able to reveal all parts of themselves whilst I’m not? I’ve come to learn that such an abstract and complex concept can’t be reduced to sometimes social unease.
If this is the case what is it that makes us, us? There’s no concrete way to define personality and this is shown through the extensive research carried out on the subject. Such an emotional, varied and personal concept like ‘personality’ appears impossible to reduce to a clear-cut theory. In mathematics we learn that a+b=c. Everything has an equation, its precise and definitive whereas human emotion is not. It’s messy and raw. Yes, biologically we can be explained, but when it comes to the core of what distinguishes us, our thoughts and feelings, things aren’t so simple. The 20th century saw further development within the field, birthing two theories in response to this age-old question: Trait theory which defines our personalities through present and persisting behaviour patterns. And Social cognitive perspective that takes note of the links between behavioural traits and social contexts they occur in.
Thinking about personality in terms of ‘traits’ could be the most plausible way forward. After all people come to know us for our little quirks and reoccurring habits. I’m the friend you’re bound to get a regular phone call from, whilst my sister is renowned for her insistent lateness. These things may seem unimportant, but on a larger scale form the fundamental characteristics that sum up our personality. The theory also addresses behaviour within its context, understanding that it shifts under different circumstances. So, even in this way of measuring personality there’s no concrete formula. The human response for the most part is instant and cannot be expected to be consistent. Here, personality is a thing subject to change and the theory aims to predict rather than define.
The Social cognitive perspective on ‘personality’ states that our behaviours are learned from those around us through observation and imitation, discussing how these interactions affect them. Ultimately, our environment has the largest impact on our behaviour; my taste in music and interest in literature and art all stem from it. Whilst we control the situations we put ourselves in, they are also what mould us. The theory more strongly argues that in some ways we are the products of our environments. It isn’t just repeated behaviour that defines personality but also the social context these behaviours are performed in.
Personality isn’t something that can be neatly placed; It’s fluid and constantly evolving. Maybe the answer to this question is a culmination of everything discussed above. Our surroundings, the people we interact with and our responses all build who we are. Who’s to say that one way of mapping ‘personality’ is more effective than another. In a world that’s constantly evolving, and in a city like London that at times feels restless and unrelenting, there can be a need to ‘define’. We have a desire to put things into tidy boxes and create a sense of order. It’s convenient to categorise our responses as extroverted, introverted or any number of personality types because its fuss free. However, in doing this we remove one of the best experiences as a human: Simply existing.