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).

Photo credit: geralt (


Behrani, P. (2017). Beyond the Freud’s pleasure principle: The Indian perspective to pleasure. Indian Journal Of Positive Psychology, 8(1), 73.

Beratis, I. N., Rabavilas, A. D., Papadimitriou, G. N., & Papageorgiou, C. (2011). Eysenck’s model of personality and psychopathological components in right- and left-handers. Personality And Individual Differences, 501267-1272. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2010.10.033

Bowden, S. C., Saklofske, D. H., van de Vijver, F. R., Sudarshan, N. J., & Eysenck, S. G. (2016). Cross-cultural measurement invariance of the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire across 33 countries. Personality And Individual Differences, 10353-60. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2016.04.028

Boyle, G. J., Stankov, L., Martin, N. G., Petrides, K., Eysenck, M. W., & Ortet, G. (2016). Hans J. Eysenck and Raymond B. Cattell on intelligence and personality. Personality And Individual Differences, 103(Hans Eysenck: One Hundred Years of Psychology), 40-47. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2016.04.029

Cooper, C. (2010). Individual differences and personality (3rd ed.). London: Hodder Education.

Crown, S. (1975). Psychosomatics and the “unconscious” mind–critique and evaluation. Journal Of Psychosomatic Research, 19(5-6), 307-318.

Extroversion and introversion. (2017). Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition, 1.

Francis, L. J., Craig, C. L., & Robbins, M. (2008). The relationship between the Keirsey Temperament Sorter and the short-form Revised Eysenck Personality Questionnaire. Journal Of Individual Differences, 29(2), 116-120. doi:10.1027/1614-0001.29.2.116

Goetsch, V. L., & Veltum, L. (2016). Psychophysiological measures of personality. Salem Press Encyclopedia Of Health,

Harbeck, K. M. (2015). Biological and Psychological Theories of Deviance. Research Starters: Sociology (Online Edition),

Hur, Y. (2007). Evidence for Nonadditive Genetic Effects on Eysenck Personality Scales in South Korean Twins. Twin Research And Human Genetics, (2), 373.

Penny, G., Francis, L. J., & Robbins, M. (2015). Why are women more religious than men? Testing the explanatory power of personality theory among undergraduate students in Wales. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 18(6), 492-502. doi:10.1080/13674676.2015.1079603

Revelle, W. (2016). Hans Eysenck: Personality theorist. Personality & Individual Differences, 10332-39. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2016.04.007

Rushton, J. (2001). A scientometric appreciation of H. J. Eysenck’s contributions to psychology. Personality And Individual Differences, 31(1), 17-39.

  • “despite some lack of holism and the difficulty to proof ”
    Proof, well, that is not that important to me, since studies are mostly not objective enough in my opinion. However, and maybe I miss therefore a lot valuable information, an holistic approach is to me so, so important. I noticed the older I get, the more I dismiss theories who seems to be to ‘black-white’.

    • Hello Patty. Hope you’re fine, and thanks for your perspective. It could be (just a personal experience of mine) that after such a phase of embracing openness and wholeness, which may result in enough validated clarity, a clearer, simpler, and in some way more black-and- white standpoint will crystallize (again). Kind of cyclic gathering and consolidation of information?

      • Hi Mathias 🙂 Fine, thank you for asking. Vacation-time (Urlaub) for twee weeks together with my hubby and that provides more time to catch up on reading 🙂
        Ha, I get what you mean, but I wonder if it is even possible to reach a simpler view when it comes down to human beings. And if we really should want to retrieve that. Over-analyzing, to my experience, results in forgetting about natural instincts, being in touch with feelings, etc. ….

  • Really interesting coverage of the issues here, thank you. I’ve been catching up with Jeffrey Schwartz’s ideas on neuroplasticity recently, seems the brain is much more adaptable and dynamic in responding to our environment than ever previously thought. What do you think?

  • Absolutely, in line with my experience too. I’ve watched the steady increase in average age of populations but wondered what was happening to the quality of that extended life. A couple of my older siblings have fallen to dementia and many oof my peers become so sedentary and internalised.

    I’ve always kept fit but I started more relaxed yoga type stuff and meditation some years ago. I found it so beneficial over the longer term that, looking back, I’m sure it was the plasticity effect. The effects of my cyclothalmia eased considerably. I was slowly unlearning a lot of bad habits. I’ve always been an avid reader and cogitator (navel gazer 🙂 ) but now I am determined to keep stretching myself to learn new things. It’s very encouraging to think that we have a bit more control over our own destiny.

    Body and mind maintenance, I guess we don’t generally pay enough heed to it – with modern life determined to ease us the other way !Really interesting, I’ll follow those links and learn a bit more.

    • So good to hear and glad to learn how you lead (not just manage) your life and how actively you approach the challenges (of aging). To stay active is the way research also agrees. While it is appropriate to reduce intensity for bigger parts of exercising, don’t forget to still push, sometimes, towards your maximum performance levels too (e.g., doing sprints).
      You name it, stretching (physically and mentally) is so important to stay flexible and resilient. So, happy to keep updated about your activities, and don’t forget to rest too:-). All the best!

      • Thank you, Mathias, good advice. My brain stretches me without much encouragement and my body is reluctantly keeping up 🙂 the rest also takes care of itself, these days. Take care, I enjoy your articles and responses.

  • Thanks very much, Mathias, for your interest in my offerings and, in the process, connecting me to a treasure trove of information your site virtually is. The need to exercise also the mind along with the body is gradually gaining wide realisation. Games such as chess and bridge need to gain more popularity.

  • Thank you so much for visiting my site and for the follow!

    My experience with schools of thought when my daughter was a child patient with severe IBS (and being treated at the French children’s hospital in Montreal) wasn’t great! The intake person dismissed my Mother’s and brother’s symptoms as they hadn’t been diagnosed by an MD, and my mother was self treating while my brother was visiting a holistic doctor.

    Since their symptoms were dismissed, the psychologist on the team was seeking a cause to my daughters IBS problem and I was then pinned as the cause. When in doubt blame the mother?

    My mother’s and brother’s symptoms weren’t seen as valid by the medical team as they didn’t fit into the medically accepted parameters.

    Black and white thinking, though comfortable for the medical profession to feel confident of making diagnoses, doesn’t take into account factors which don’t fit into the defined parameters, and can then negatively affect the patient and their families!

    Imagine my daughters distress when she was told that her IBS wasn’t a family issue (because family hadn’t gone in for official diagnosis themselves, due to their own personal beliefs) but instead was because of her mother!

    My daughter and I had an extremely close relationship up to that point. When the psychologist made that pronouncement and it went into her medical records, everything changed. She stopped trusting me like she had (and it took years to earn it back) and the team of doctors treated me with such distain and disrespect.

    The effects of such black and white thinking created difficulties and made our lives even more difficult than they were! By not taking into account variables outside of their parameters, the intake person and the rest of the team were deaf to hearing anything that didn’t fit within their assumptions!

    I’m glad to say that my daughter wasn’t made out to be a pariah when her twins were recently diagnosed with IBS too.

    Hopefully the medical professionals are working on becoming more inclusive to elements which don’t necessarily fit within their black and white training. I’ve met other families who have been thrown into turmoil by medical pronouncements, only to find out years later that the school of thought had changed.

    Peace, Tamara

    • Many thanks for your valuable insight (and pardon for the late reply).
      First of all, I hope you’re all fine. I’m sorry to hear what you had to go through. I agree that it is unfortunate if the diagnosis is not open and holistic enough to avoid such negative effects as described by you. Indeed, black and white thinking is dangerous. The same is true for anything extreme. People should never rely too much on any one single diagnosis because these often are, as you mention, related to current opinion in the industry that is much influenced by political and economic interests as well.
      Thanks again for having shared your essential lessons learned. All the best

  • The article on the contrast and comparison of aspects of the analyses of Freud and Eysenck was a useful reminder of the primary views of both – always helpful to be reminded of the work of these two pioneers in the field of psychology.
    Valuable, too, was the interspersion of other prominent theories, e.g. those of Skinner, and the realization of how the modern understanding of psychological theory and practice has been developed during the past century.
    Another valuable edition to Mathias’ blog writing.

  • Hi Mathias, I see you started following my blog – thank you! Funnily, I have just recently a novel – Hilaryon Stories, magical realism, you’ll see it in my right menu – and in that book, Freud visits Hilaryon twice – once during his feud with Jung, and later when he dies. I went to Jungian Therapy myself for 4 years when i was in my twenties – and later trained as an expressive arts therapist. Nice to meet you!

    • Hi Nina. Likewise, thanks for your message. Happy to hear we share an appreciation for Jungian psychology/ideas.
      I’m looking forward to staying connected. All the best!