Personality dynamics is a research perspective that focuses on intra-individual processes and their relationship with inter-individual personality traits such as Big Five. From the beginning, personality psychology has emphasized the dynamic nature of personality. Early theories of personality dynamics have been proposed but were not tested due to restrictions in methodology until the last two decades when the widespread use of intensive longitudinal analyses brought the personality dynamic approach back into focus.
Theories of personality dynamics have several emphases: (1) distinguishing between stable and unstable components in the personality system; (2) the personality system is self-regulating; (3) situational and environmental factors are integral to understanding personality; and (4) personality is a multi-process system. While different theories of personality dynamics share the goal of explaining the underlying processes of observable personality traits, they can be further divided into personality process models and integrative models according to their different theoretical emphases. Personality process models focus on the influencing factors and mechanisms that produce behaviors in different contexts, i.e., why people behave differently in different situations. Prominent theoretical perspectives include theories that explain behaviors based on neurophysiology (e.g., the reinforcement sensitivity theory), the social-cognitive theories that explain behaviors via processes such as information processing, goal pursuit, and self-regulation (e.g., the cognitive-affective personality system model), and theories that emphasize the different types of interactions between persons and situations/environments (e.g, the person-environment relations model). In contrast, personality integrative theories attempt to integrate personality process models and trait models, focusing on explaining the causes of stable intra- and inter-individual personality structures by zooming in on the evolutional basis of human beings or the complex interactions of dynamic social-cognitive processes. Research questions include, for example, “What is the specific set of causal processes that underlie a specific trait?”, or “What are the causing forces underlying the inter-individual personality structures such as the big five personality traits?”. Representative theories addressing these issues include the whole trait theory, the knowledge-and-appraisal model of personality architecture, and the cybernetic big five theory.
Empirical research on personality dynamics employs a range of methods designed to analyze the within-person multivariate dynamic functioning, the complex interrelationships therein, and the relationships between processes and traits. Intensive longitudinal design with the experience sampling method is commonly used. Intensive longitudinal data are usually analyzed using statistical models that can handle multi-level structures (e.g., multilevel models, multilevel structural equation modes), reciprocal relationship (e.g., dynamic structural equation models and group iterative multiple model estimation), multivariate network system analysis and visualization (e.g., graphical network analysis), and system-level feature extraction (e.g., dynamic system models). Based on these methods, applied personality research in organizational, educational, and clinical psychology has made progress on topics such as within-person variability in personality states and their correlation with variables of interest in the related field.
Future research could address the following issues. Theoretically, researchers should pay attention to the distinctions and connections between intra-individual and inter-individual personality structures. Also, theories of personality dynamics, which focuses on the personality of normal individuals, can be integrated with the theory of psychopathology. In addition, future researchers can also consider how to incorporate temporal effects into theories. Empirically, future researchers could: incorporate different sampling methods, such as self-reports, others’ reports, behavioral indicators, and electronic footprints, to further sort out the sources of variance in personality states; measure multiple psychological processes simultaneously, such as the biological, cognitive, affective, and motivational processes underlying a particular trait; manipulate or measure personality states in a clearer and more precise manner to ensure that they are representative of the chosen personality, for example, measure personality facets rather than traits; and report reliability at the within-person level in multilevel analyses.