Medicine & USMLE

Behaviorist Personality Theory

  1. Trait Personality Theory and Five-Factor Model
  2. Social Cognitive Theory of Personality
  3. Biological Theory of Personality
  4. Humanistic Personality Theory
  5. Behaviorist Personality Theory
  6. Psychoanalytic Personality Theory


The Behaviorist Theory of Personality posits that humans are born as “blank slates”, and that personality is entirely shaped by their environment. According to this theory, personality is learned or conditioned through reinforcement and punishment (see Operant Conditioning). In other words, rewards and punishments shape behavior, and by shaping behavior, they shape personality. This is a deterministic theory, since the ability to choose the environment a person develops in is limited.

Key Points

  • Behaviorist Theory of Personality
    • Personality is learned
      • Acquired through conditioning, esp. Operant Conditioning
      • Humans born as “blank slates” and shaped by environment
      • Deterministic theory - we cannot choose our environments


For example, a person who acts in an extroverted fashion will receive the reward of social validation and friendship. This reward increases behavior and shapes personality to be even more extroverted. On the other hand, a person who is lazy might be punished with a bad grade for not completing his homework. This punishment reduces behavior and disincentivizes a lazy personality.