In one currently dominant view on personality, personality dimensions (e.g. extraversion) are causes of human behaviour, and personality inventory items (e.g. ‘I like to go to parties’ and ‘I like people’) are measurements of these dimensions. In this view, responses to extraversion items correlate because they measure the same latent dimension. In this paper, we challenge this way of thinking and offer an alternative perspective on personality as a system of connected affective, cognitive and behavioural components. We hypothesize that these components do not hang together because they measure the same underlying dimension; they do so because they depend on one another directly for causal, homeostatic or logical reasons (e.g. if one does not like people and it is harder to enjoy parties). From this ‘network perspective’, personality dimensions emerge out of the connectivity structure that exists between the various components of personality. After outlining the network theory, we illustrate how it applies to personality research in four domains: (i) the overall organization of personality components; (ii) the distinction between state and trait; (iii) the genetic architecture of personality; and (iv) the relation between personality and psychopathology. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.