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The trait approach to personality is one of the major theoretical areas in the study of personality.

The trait theory suggests that individual personalities are composed broad dispositions. Consider how you would describe the personality of a close friend. Chances are that you would list a number of traits, such as outgoing, kind and even-tempered. A trait can be thought of as a relatively stable characteristic that causes individuals to behave in certain ways.

Unlike many other theories of personality, such as psychoanalytic or humanistic theories, the trait approach to personality is focused on differences between individuals. The combination and interaction of various traits forms a personality that is unique to each individual. Trait theory is focused on identifying and measuring these individual personality characteristics.

Gordon Allports Trait Theory

In 1936, psychologist Gordon Allport found that one English-language dictionary alone contained more than 4,000 words describing different personality traits.1 He categorized these traits into three levels:

Cardinal Traits: Traits that dominate an individuals whole life, often to the point that the person becomes known specifically for these traits. People with such personalities often become so known for these traits that their names are often synonymous with these qualities. Consider the origin and meaning of the following descriptive terms: Freudian, Machiavellian, narcissism, Don Juan, Christ-like, etc. Allport suggested that cardinal traits are rare and tend to develop later in life.2

Central Traits: These are the general characteristics that form the basic foundations of personality. These central traits, while not as dominating as cardinal traits, are the major characteristics you might use to describe another person. Terms such as intelligent, honest, shy and anxious are considered central traits.

Secondary Traits: These are the traits that are sometimes related to attitudes or preferences and often appear only in certain situations or under specific circumstances. Some examples would be getting anxious when speaking to a group or impatient while waiting in line. Raymond Cattells Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire

Trait theorist Raymond Cattell reduced the number of main personality traits from Allports initial list of over 4,000 down to 171,3 mostly by eliminating uncommon traits and combining common characteristics. Next, Cattell rated a large sample of individuals for these 171 different traits. Then, using a statistical technique known as factor analysis, he identified closely related terms and eventually reduced his list to just 16 key personality traits. According to Cattell, these 16 traits are the source of all human personality. He also developed one of the most widely used personality assessments known as the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF).

Eysencks Three Dimensions of Personality

British psychologist Hans Eysenck developed a model of personality based upon just three universal trails:

Introversion/Extraversion: Introversion involves directing attention on inner experiences, while extraversion relates to focusing attention outward on other people and the environment. So, a person high in introversion might be quiet and reserved, while an individual high in extraversion might be sociable and outgoing.

Neuroticism/Emotional Stability: This dimension of Eysencks trait theory is related to moodiness versus even-temperedness. Neuroticism refers to an individuals tendency to become upset or emotional, while stability refers to the tendency to remain emotionally constant.

Psychoticism: Later, after studying individuals suffering from mental illness, Eysenck added a personality dimension he called psychoticism to his trait theory. Individuals who are high on this trait tend to have difficulty dealing with reality and may be antisocial, hostile, non-empathetic and manipulative.4 The Five-Factor Theory of Personality

Both Cattells and Eysencks theory have been the subject of considerable research, which has led some theorists to believe that Cattell focused on too many traits, while Eysenck focused on too few. As a

result, a new trait theory often referred to as the "Big Five" theory emerged. This five-factor model of personality represents five core traits that interact to form human personality.5 While researchers often disagree about the exact labels for each dimension, the following are described most commonly:

Extraversion Agreeableness Conscientiousness Neuroticism Openness Assessing the Trait Approach to Personality

While most agree that people can be described based upon their personality traits, theorists continue to debate the number of basic traits that make up human personality. While trait theory has objectivity that some personality theories lack (such as Freuds psychoanalytic theory), it also has weaknesses. Some of the most common criticisms of trait theory center on the fact that traits are often poor predictors of behavior. While an individual may score high on assessments of a specific trait, he or she may not always behave that way in every situation. Another problem is that trait theories do not address how or why individual differences in personality develop or emerge.


1 Allport, G.W. & Odbert, H.S. (1936). Trait-names: A psycho-lexical study. Psychological Monographs, 47(211).

2 Boeree, C.G. (2006). Gordon Allport. Personality Theories. Found online at

3 Cattell, R.B. (1965). The scientific analysis of personality. Baltimore: Penguin Books.

4 Eysenck, H.J. (1992). Four ways five factors are not basic. Personality and Individual Differences, 13, 667-673.

5 McCrae, R.R., & Costa, P.T. (1997) Personality trait structure as a human universal. American Psychologist, 52, 509-516.

date taken sept 14.2011 website:

Trait Theories of Personality

Dr. C. George Boeree

A trait is what we call a characteristic way in which an individual perceives, feels, believes, or acts. When we casually describe someone, we are likely to use trait terms: I am, for example, somewhat of an introvert, a pretty nervous person, strongly attached to my family, frequently depressed, and awesomely intelligent. I have a good sense of humor, fond of languages, very fond of good food, not at all fond of exercise, and a little obsessive. You see: I have just given you ten traits that actually go a long way towards describing me! Psychologists, especially personologists, are very interested in traits. They are especially interested in finding which traits are broad and possibly genetically based, as opposed to ones that are rather peculiar and can change easily. Over the years, we have had a number of theories that attempt to describe the key traits of human beings.

Carl Jung and the Myers-Briggs

One of the earliest trait theories was introduced by a colleague of Sigmund Freud's by the name of Carl Jung. Jung was never completely sold on Freud's ideas, and soon left his circle to develop his own theory. This is not the place to go into details, but one aspect of the theory concerned traits that Jung felt were inborn. These inborn, genetically determined traits are usually called temperaments.

Later, two students of Jung's theory named Myers and Briggs - mother and daughter - developed a personality test based on Jung's temperaments called the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory, or MBTI. It has gone on the become the most famous personality test of all time.

The traits are seen as opposites, and the first set is introversion and extraversion. Introversion refers to a tendency to prefer the world inside oneself. The more obvious aspects of introversion are shyness, a distaste for social functions, and a love of privacy.

Extraversion is the tendency to look to the outside world, especially people, for one's pleasures. Extraverts are usually outgoing and they enjoy social activities, but they don't like to be alone.

The majority of people in the world are extraverts, so introverts often feel a bit out of it. A society like ours is very pro-extravert, even to the point of seeing introversion as abnormal and shy people in need of therapy! There are some cultures, however, that see extraverts as the oddballs. We should note that it was Jung who first used the terms introversion and extraversion! Jung believed that introversion-extraversion was either-or. You are born one or the other and remain that way for the rest of your life. Now you could, as an introvert, learn to behave more like an extravert, or, as an extravert, learn to behave more like an introvert. But you can't really switch. If this is true, that would suggest that introversion-extraversion is determined by a single gene, something that is pretty unusual even for more physical differences! Nevertheless, it seems that introversion-extraversion is a very significant and fairly stable trait. Next, we have the contrast between sensing people and intuiting people. Sensing types, as the name implies, get all their information about life from their senses. They tend to be realistic, down-to-earth people, but they tend to see everything in rather simplistic, concrete, black-or-white terms.

Intuiting people tend to get their information from intuition. This means that they tend to be a little out of touch with the more solid aspects of reality - a little "flakey", you might say - but may see "the big picture" behind the details better. Intuiting people are often artistic and can be rather philosophical.

Again, the majority of people are sensing, and that can make intuiters feel rather lonely and underappreciated. Our society tends to be distrustful of dreamers, artists, and intellectuals - but other societies may be more appreciative.

Next, there's the contrast between thinkers and feelers. Thinking people make their decisions on the basis of thinking - reasoning, logic, step-by-step problem solving. This works very well for physical problems, but can leave something to be desired when dealing with something as complex as people.

Feeling people make their decisions based on their feelings. While this doesn't work so well when trying to fix you car or your computer, feelings are a kind of intuition that works very well when dealing with people.

Half of all people are thinking and half are feeling, but the proportions differ when we start looking at gender: The majority of men are thinkers and the majority of women are feelers. This goes along well with old stereotypes as well as recent research: Men tend to do better with step-by-step problem solving, especially involving mechanical things; Women tend to do better in social situations. Some people have criticized Jung for this apparent sexism, but we should note that a good third of men are feelers, and a good third of women are thinkers, so it is not a simple "men vs. women" kind of thing. Plus, Jung said that there is no reason to value thinking over feeling - each has its strengths and weaknesses. Note also that feeling men may feel odd, as may thinking women. Stereotypes do the greatest harm when they prevent individuals from being what they in fact are!

The last contrast is judging versus perceiving. Judging people tend to be more like Freud's anal retentive types - neat, orderly, hardworking, always on time, scheduling things very carefully. College professors tend to be judging!

Perceiving people are more spontaneous. They prefer to do things as the spirit moves them. They are probably more fun than the judging types but, as you can imagine, they tend not to get things done. It often seems to us college professors that college students are all perceiving.

Actually, the distribution of judging and perceiving people is pretty even - 50-50.

When you take the Myers-Briggs or similar tests like the Keirsey, you get a set of four letters: I for introvert or E for extravert, S for sensing or N for intuiting, T for thinking or F for feeling, and J for judging or P for perceiving. I, for example, am an INFP, which is in fact quite accurate. My wife is an ISFJ -- she is more down-to-earth and organized than I will ever be. That's why she controls the family finances! On the other hand, we are both introverted and feeling, which means that you are more likely to find us crying over a rented movie than out at some wild party!

Hans Eysenck Hans Eysenck was the first psychologist to make this trait or temperament business into something more mathematical: He gave long lists of adjectives to hundreds of thousands of people and used a special statistics called factor analysis to figure out what factors - trait dimensions - carry the most weight. He took the results of this work and created a test called the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (EPQ).

Instead of making these traits either-or, like Jung did, he saw them as dimensions. His first trait dimension was, like Jung, extraversion-introversion. But rather than say you were one or the other (an I or an E), he gave you a score on extraversion-introversion: A low score meant you were introverted, a high score extraverted. Of course, this meant you could be halfway in-between - as in fact most people are!

His second trait dimension he called neuroticism. If you scored high on this scale, that meant you tended to be a very nervous, emotional sort of person. While it doesn't mean you are necessarily a neurotic, it does mean you are more likely to develop neurotic problems such as phobias, obsessions, compulsions, and depression than someone who scores low. Low neuroticism is nowadays often called emotional stability.

The third dimension is called psychoticism. He added this later in his research, after he had gotten more data from people who were in mental institutions. As the name implies, these are people with tendencies to psychosis, meaning that they are more likely to have problems dealing with reality. Psychotic people sometimes have hallucinations and often have delusions such as odd beliefs about being watched, perhaps by the CIA or even by creatures from other planets. A middle score on psychoticism might mean that you are a bit eccentric or that you take risks that other people aren't as likely to take. A low score means that you are pretty normal in this regard.

Eysenck's research gets a great deal of respect, and most psychologists see his theory as on the right track.

The Big Five More recently, a number of researchers have been using the latest in computer technology to redo the work that Eysenck and other earlier researchers did in far more laborious ways. This has lead to what is known as the "big five" or the "five factor" theory.

The first dimension is, again, extraversion-introversion.

The second is usually called emotional stability, and is simply the reverse of Eysenck's neuroticism.

The third is called agreeableness. A high score means that you tend to be friendly and accommodating a nice person. You don't need to be extraverted: I am an introvert, but I score high on agreeableness. If you score low, you are likely to be more idiosyncratic and have trouble getting along with people. This is not entirely negative: Agreeable people often get their nice reputation by by conforming and compromising on their principles, while non-agreeable people are more likely to stick to what they think is right even if it's unpopular. Then again, some are just plain disagreeable!

The fourth is conscientiousness. This parallels closely with Jung's judging-perceiving. People who score high on conscientiousness are orderly, get their work done, arrive on time, and care about doing things right. Score low on conscientiousness and that probably means you tend to slack off on your work, rarely worry about deadlines or neatness, and are more interested in taking it easy.

The fifth has come with several different labels, such as culture, openness to experience, or just openness. If you score high on openness, you are more likely to enjoy cultural pursuits such as art, music, dance. You are more likely to go to museums, the symphony, the ballet. You are more likely to want to travel to exotic countries and meet people different from yourself. You are more open to new experiences, such as trying foods you've never tried before or listening to music from all over the world. You are more likely to be interested in reading about philosophies and religions other than your own,

and so on. If you score low, you are more likely to seek out the McDonalds, even when you are in Paris or Bangkok.

These five have stood up so well to research that I suspect most psychologists today accept them, at least until something even better comes along. It is also becoming clear that these are in fact strongly influenced by genetics. In other words, you are born with at least the general outline of your personality traits already laid out for you. That doesn't mean you can't change - it just means that it is less likely and more difficult.


16 Personality Factors From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia The 16 Personality Factors, measured by the 16PF Questionnaire, were derived using factor-analysis by psychologist Raymond Cattell. Below is a table outlining this model. Contents [hide] 1 Raymond Cattell's 16 Personality Factors 2 Relationship to the Big Five 3 Origins 4 See also

5 References 6 Further reading 7 External links [edit]Raymond Cattell's 16 Personality Factors

Descriptors of Low Range Impersonal, distant, cool, reserved,

Primary Factor

Descriptors of High Range

Warmth (A)

Warm, outgoing, attentive to others, kindly, easy-going, participating, likes people (Affectothymia)

Concrete thinking, lower general mental capacity, less intelligent, unable to handle abstract problems (Lower Scholastic Mental Capacity) Reasoning (B) Abstract-thinking, more intelligent, bright, higher general mental capacity, fast learner (Higher Scholastic Mental Capacity) Reactive emotionally, changeable, affected by feelings, emotionally less stable, easily upset (Lower Ego Strength) Emotional Stability (C) Emotionally stable, adaptive, mature, faces reality calmly (Higher Ego Strength)

Deferential, cooperative, avoids conflict, submissive, humble, obedient, easily led, docile, accommodating (Submissiveness) Dominance (E) Dominant, forceful, assertive, aggressive, competitive, stubborn, bossy (Dominance)

Serious, restrained, prudent, taciturn, introspective, silent (Desurgency) Liveliness (F) Lively, animated, spontaneous, enthusiastic, happy go lucky, cheerful, expressive, impulsive (Surgency) Expedient, nonconforming, disregards rules, self indulgent (Low Super Ego Strength) Consciousness Rule-

(G) Rule-conscious, dutiful, conscientious, conforming, moralistic, staid, rule bound (High Super Ego Strength) Shy, threat-sensitive, timid, hesitant, intimidated (Threctia) (H) Social Boldness

Socially bold, venturesome, thick skinned, uninhibited (Parmia)

Utilitarian, objective, unsentimental, tough minded, self-reliant, no-nonsense, rough (Harria) Sensitivity (I) Sensitive, aesthetic, sentimental, tender minded, intuitive, refined (Premsia)

Trusting, unsuspecting, accepting, unconditional, easy (Alaxia) Vigilance (L) Vigilant, suspicious, skeptical, distrustful, oppositional (Protension)

Grounded, practical, prosaic, solution oriented, steady, conventional (Praxernia) Abstractedness (M) Abstract, imaginative, absent minded, impractical, absorbed in ideas (Autia)

Forthright, genuine, artless, open, guileless, naive, unpretentious, involved (Artlessness) Privateness (N) Private, discreet, nondisclosing, shrewd, polished, worldly, astute, diplomatic (Shrewdness)

Self-Assured, unworried, complacent, secure, free of guilt, confident, self satisfied (Untroubled) Apprehension (O) Apprehensive, self doubting, worried, guilt prone, insecure, worrying, self blaming (Guilt Proneness) Traditional, attached to familiar, conservative, respecting traditional ideas (Conservatism) Openness to Change (Q1) Open to change, experimental, liberal, analytical, critical, free thinking, flexibility (Radicalism)

Group-oriented, affiliative, a joiner and follower dependent (Group Adherence) Self-Reliance (Q2) Self-reliant, solitary, resourceful, individualistic, self-sufficient (Self-Sufficiency)

Tolerates disorder, unexacting, flexible, undisciplined, lax, self-conflict, impulsive, careless of social rules, uncontrolled (Low Integration) Perfectionism (Q3) Perfectionistic, organized, compulsive, self-disciplined, socially precise, exacting will power, control, self-sentimental (High Self-Concept Control) Relaxed, placid, tranquil, torpid, patient, composed low drive (Low Ergic Tension) Tension

(Q4) Tense, high energy, impatient, driven, frustrated, over wrought, time driven. (High Ergic Tension)

Primary Factors and Descriptors in Cattell's 16 Personality Factor Model (Adapted From Conn & Rieke, 1994). [edit]Relationship to the Big Five

This article is a very brief summary of the in-depth information that appears under the main listings-16PF Questionnaire and Raymond Cattell. Cattell referred to the 16 factors listed below as primary factors. They were developed in the 1940s and 1950s by scientifically sampling the widest possible range of behaviors, including using ratings by observers, questionnaires, and objective measurements of actual behavior. [1][2] [3] This took more than a decade, and was later validated in a range of international cultures over time. [4] Thus, these factors were seen to represent a fairly comprehensive listing of the basic dimensions of human personality. He then factored these primary traits (i.e., performed a second-order factor analysis) and discovered a smaller number of over-arching personality factors or domains that provided the overall structure and meaning for the primary traits. He labelled these Second-Order or Global Factors. For example, Extraversion was found to be a Global Factor that contained primary factors Warmth/Reserve(A), Social Boldness/Shyness (H), Liveliness/Seriousness (F), Group-Orientation/Self-Sufficiency (Q2), and Forthrightness/Privatness (N). [5] In the original Fourth and Fifth Editions of the 16PF, there were five global factors that correspond fairly closely to the later "Big Five" (BF): BF Openness => 16PF Openness/Tough-mindedness; BF Conscientiousness => 16PF Self-Control; BF Extraversion => 16PF Extraversion; BF Agreeableness/DisAgreeablenss => 16PF Independence/Accommodation; and BF Neuroticism => 16PF Anxiety (Conn & Rieke, 1994). In fact, the development of the Big-Five factors began by factor-analyzing the original items of the 16PF [6]. However, one big technical difference between Cattell's five Global Factors and popular Five-Factor models was Cattell's insistence on using scientific, oblique rotations, whereas Goldberg and Costa & McCrae used orthogonal rotations. Oblique rotation allows the factors to locate and define themselves, whereas orthogonal rotation forces the factors to arbitrarily be unrelated to each other (at 90 degrees to each other)--a quality which is true of very few known personality traits. However, this makes the factors easier to agree upon and to work on statistically in research. This forced the Big-Five traits into somewhat skewed definitions compared to the 16PF Global factors. For example, in Cattell's model, the basic personality trait of Dominance (Factor E) is strongly located in the Independence/Accommodation Factor (i.e., Big-Five Agreeableness) which represents a quality of fearless, original thinking and forceful, independent actions. However, other popular big five models consider Dominance as a facet of several Big-Five traits, including Extraversion, Dis-Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness. Thus Dominance is spread very thinly across a range of Big-Five factors with little influence on any one (Cattell & Mead, 2008). [edit]Origins

In 1936 Gordon Allport and H.S. Odbert hypothesized that: Those individual differences that are most salient and socially relevant in peoples lives will eventually become encoded into their language; the more important such a difference, the more likely is it to become expressed as a single word. This statement has become known as the Lexical Hypothesis. Allport and Odbert had worked through two of the most comprehensive dictionaries of the English language available at the time, and extracted 18,000 personality-describing words. From this gigantic list they extracted 4500 personality-describing adjectives which they considered to describe observable and relatively permanent traits. In 1946 Raymond Cattell used the emerging technology of computers to analyse the Allport-Odbert list. He organized the list into 181 clusters and asked subjects to rate people whom they knew by the adjectives on the list. Using factor analysis Cattell generated twelve factors, and then included four factors which he thought ought to appear. The result was the hypothesis that individuals describe themselves and each other according to sixteen different, independent factors. With these sixteen factors as a basis, Cattell went on to construct the 16PF Personality Questionnaire, which remains in use by universities and businesses for research personnel selection and the like. Although subsequent research has failed to replicate his results[citation needed], and it has been shown that he retained too many factors, the current 16PF takes these findings into account and is considered to be a very good test*citation needed+. In 1963, W.T. Norman replicated Cattells work and suggested that five factors would be sufficient. [edit]See also

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Neuroticism Extraversion Openness Personality Inventory (NEO-PI) Trait theory Socionics Enneagram of personality [edit]References

Cattell, R. B. (1946). The description and measurement of personality. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace, & World. Cattell, R. B. (1957). Personality and motivation structure and measurement. New York, NY: World Book. Cattell, H. E. P., & Mead, A. D. (2008). The sixteen personality factor questionnaire (16PF). In G. Boyle, G. Matthews, & D. H. Saklofske, Eds.) The SAGE handbook of personality theory and assessment; Vol 2 Personality measurement and testing (pp. 135-178). Los Angeles, CA: Sage. Conn, S.R., & Rieke, M.L. (1994). The 16PF Fifth Edition technical manual. Champaign, IL: Institute for Personality and Ability Testing, Inc. Russell, M.T., & Karol, D. (2002). 16PF Fifth Edition administrators manual ^ Cattell, R.B. (1946). The description and measurement of personality. New York: World Book. ^ Cattell, R.B. (1957). Personality and motivation structure and measurement. New York: World Book. ^ Cattell, R.B. (1973). Personality and mood by questionnaire. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ^ Cattell, H.E.P. & Mead, A.D. (2008). The 16PF Questionnaire. In G.J. Boyle, G. Matthews, & D.H. Saklofske (Eds), The Sage Handbook of Personality Theory and Testing: Vol. 2, Personality Measurement and Testing., Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications. ^ Cattell, H.E.P. (1996). The original big-five: A historical perspective. European Review of Psychology, 46(1), 5-14. ^ Costa, P.T., Jr., McCrae, R.R. (1985). The NEO Personality Inventory Manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources. [edit]