Personality traits are internal characteristics that are stable, consistent over time, and displayed through multiple situations. Trait theories predict how people will act or think based on their specific traits. For example, a person who is described as caring is caring in the classroom as well as at home. In addition, no two people display the exact same list of traits.
Types Versus Traits • People often confuse personality traits with personality types. Traits provide a list, or number, of descriptors that are used to describe a person, whereas types address whether a person “fits” that particular type, or whether he or she has certain characteristics. For example, if a person is the feeling type, then that person displays affection, sympathy, and dependability. If a person is not the feeling type, then that person does not display those traits. The problem with using types to describe a person is that they are vague and general. Types are not as specific as traits.
58.1 – Explain how psychologists use traits to describe personality. The Trait Perspective • An individual’s characteristic behaviors and conscious motives constitutes his or her personality. Exploring Traits • Each personality is uniquely made up of multiple traits.
58.1 – Explain how psychologists use traits to describe personality. 1) Gordon Allport’s Trait Theory • Gordon Allport, one of the first trait researchers, chose to identify traits based on their importance in describing personality. Through his research, he was able to identify more than 18,000 traits. He grouped these into central and secondary traits. Allport believed central traits, or source traits, are easily recognized and have a strong influence on personality, whereas secondary, or surface traits, are more specific to certain situations and have less of an effect on personality. For example, on the surface Jim is competitive (secondary trait), but deep down he is a nice person (central trait).
58.1 – Explain how psychologists use traits to describe personality. 2) Raymond Cattell • Raymond Cattell based his research on Gordon Allport’s and used a questionnaire that asked people to rate themselves on a number of traits to show which best described them. He then used a technique called factor analysis, a mathematical formula that explains how traits are related to one another. He believed that central traits could give rise to a number of secondary traits. For example, if a person’s central trait is caring, you could predict that that person would be dependable (secondary trait) in various situations. Through factor analysis, Cattell was able to identify sixteen basic personality factors. He verified his findings through a Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire, which showed a relationship among the factors.
58.1 – Explain how psychologists use traits to describe personality. 3) Biological Trait Theories (Hans Eysenck) • Hans Eysenck believed that people could be described along introversion-extroversion and emotionality-stability dimensions. He defined introverts as people who prefer privacy and extroverts as people who are outgoing and enjoy social settings. He said that people who displayed the characteristics of emotionality were moody and worried, and that those who displayed stability were calm and relaxed. Using factor analysis, people would fall between extroversion and introversion, and between emotionality and stability.
58.2 – Describe personality inventories, and discuss their strengths and weaknesses as trait-assessment tools. Assessing Traits • Personality inventories are questionnaires designed to gauge a wide range of feelings and behaviors, assessing several traits at once. • the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is the most widely researched and clinically used of all personality tests.
58.3 – Identify the traits that seem to provide the most useful information about personality variation. The Big-Five Model of Personality • Paul Costa and Robert McCrae, in turn, felt that Raymond Cattell identified too many traits and Hans Eysenck too few. As a result, they used factor analysis to develop the big-five model of personality. These factors were openness (to experience), conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. 1) Openness (to experience): curious, insightful, imaginative, structured, creative 2) Conscientiousness: organized, reliable, hardworking 3) Extraversion: active, energetic, affectionate 4) Agreeableness: forgiving, generous, trusting 5) Neuroticism: anxious, tense, vulnerable
58.3 – Identify the traits that seem to provide the most useful information about personality variation.
58.4 – Discuss whether research supports the consistency of personality traits over time and across situations. Evaluation of the Trait Approach • The trait theory is excellent at labeling behavior, but is doesn’t explain why a person acts in a certain way. As In the example mentioned earlier, a personal ad is good at describing an individual, but fails to explain why the person is caring or helpful. This perspective also does not consider how social situations could affect a person’s traits. For example, would a lack of money affect whether a person is dependable? Even though the big-five model of personality is widely accepted by most personality researchers, it fails to explain why a person possess those traits. The Person-Situation Controversy • Walter Mischel points out that traits may be enduring, but the resulting behavior in various situations is different. Therefore, traits are not good predictors of behavior. • However, trait theorists argue that behaviors from a situation may be different, but average behavior remains the same. Therefore, traits matter.