Sigmund Freud versus Hans J. Eysenck – The Development of Personality


Freud and Eysenck are two of the greatest psychologists of the 20th century. Indeed, both are living on in contemporary views and research, although, according to Eysenck (1996), Freud’s genius lied mainly in convincingly telling fairy tells. Indeed, the unconscious sexual desires that are making up entirely an individual’s psychic motivation are hardly testable and may degenerate into adventurous explanations of human behavior. It is the scientific scrutiny and broad application and integration of Eysenck’s work that might make a qualitative distinction. Eysenck’s three-dimensional theory of personality consistently explains broad patterns of individual differences in Extraversion, Neuroticism, and Psychoticism, all with a strong genetic basis. Contemporary psychology continues to build upon Eysenck’s legacy, although it won’t hurt to more holistically integrate theories of the mind (and even not to forget Freud).

Two heavy weights in psychology

When Hans. J. Eysenck died in 1997 he was amongst the most cited scientists in psychology, only Freud and Jean Piaget topping him (Rushton, 2001). Although not in modern dominant psychology, Freud remained influential primarily related to unconscious experiences sought to explain behavior (Cooper, 2010). Eysenck is still today systematically linked with contemporary research, i.e., the attempt to integrate his trait psychology with motivational theory (Revelle, 2016). Eysenck’s Personality Questionnaire still contributes to and gets support from a broad range of research areas, such as psychopathology, personality genetics, and neurology (Beratis, Rabavilas, Papadimitriou, & Papageorgiou, 2011).

Unconscious drives vs. brain arousal needs

Both Freud and Eysenck were theorizing a similar mental high-level mechanism that either requires the stimulation of arousal needs (Eysenck) or the satisfaction of sexual desires (Freud)

(Harbeck, 2015). Freud insists on the absolute nature of the sexual “pleasure principle” innate in every individual that demands immediate gratification by all means (Behrani, 2017). Eysenck provides a more differentiated classification of human drive in the form of two poles consisting of extraversion and introversion (Extroversion and introversion, 2017). In contrast to Freud, Eysenck used statistics to support the existence of these personality factors (Harbeck, 2015). Freud’s emphasis on the manifestation of the human “unconscious” led to the critique of un-testability (Crown, 1975), while Eysenck relies on experimental psychology (Boyle et al., 2016). And indeed, Eysenck’s biological approach to the development of his personality inventory continues to be a tool for studying correlations between personality and physical characteristics in animals and humans (Beratis et al., 2011).

Inheritability of personality

At the core, for Eysenck personality is mainly acquired by birth, and for Freud, childhood development is most significantly determining individual development (Goetsch & Veltum, 2016). In that respect, both theories may fall short in explaining possible changes in personality over a lifetime. The consideration of environmental circumstances, as assumed to be the single influencing factor by B. F. Skinner (Goetsch & Veltum, 2016), may be underrepresented by both Freud and Eysenck. Eysenck’s rather nomothetic approach to demonstrate empirical evidence for general laws may miss a more holistic perspective including concepts that are less easy to scientifically scrutinize, such as, e.g., Freud’s unconscious mind, and the Rogerian self-actualization tendency (Boyle et al., 2016). Nevertheless, the validity and importance of Eysenck’s personality trait theory have to be credited, as even the Five Factor Model’s dimensions of neuroticism and extraversion base on Eysenck’s study of human behavior (Revelle, 2016). Strong evidence for Eysenck’s emphasis on genetic influences comes from twin studies that are confirming the dominant genetic effects that are much more impactful than even the family environment for a child’s personality development (Hur, 2007).


In conclusion, despite some lack of holism and the difficulty to proof how personality traits reliably predict specific behavior (Harbeck, 2015), Eysenck’s scientific legacy on personality and individual differences seems to base, compared to Freud, on more scientific scrutiny both from a theoretical plausibility and empirical evidence point of view. A legacy that also lives on in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that replaced the preceded psychodynamic doctrine (Rushton, 2001).

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About mathias sager

Welcome to the 'Happy Colorful Growth' way of life I am thinking and writing for happiness, painting colorfully, and enabling personal growth for all. If people can be touched at the heart level, peace will ensue. I value co-operative and humanitarian principles, economic and social equality, as well as environmental sustainability. Important personal characteristics are my broad international experience and progressive, egalitarian and global outlook, as well as my social commitment.
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