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Trait Theory of Personality

Evaluating Trait Perspectives – Biological Approaches to Personality

Trait theory seeks to explain, in a straightforward way, the consistencies in individuals’ behavior. Traits are enduring patterns of behavior, such as thinking acting, and feeling, that are relatively consistent across different situations. Traits tend to lead to characteristic responses:

People can be described in terms of the basic ways they behave, such as whether they are outgoing and friendly or dominant and assertive.

People who have a strong tendency to behave in these ways are described as high on the traits; those who have a weak tendency to behave in certain ways are described as low on the traits.

Gordon Allport referred to as the father of American personality psychology, Allport was particularly bothered by the negative view of humanity that psychoanalysis portrayed:

Allport rejected the notion that the unconscious was central to an understanding of personality, he believed that to understand healthy people, we must focus on their lives in the present, not on their childhood experiences.  In defining personality, Allport (1961) stressed the uniqueness of each person and his/her capacity to adapt to the environment

In the late 1930s, Allport and his colleague H.S. Odbert (1936) identified 4500 words (traits) that could be used to describe a person—a method called the lexical approach.

In 1946, Raymond Cattell applied the relatively new statistical procedure of factor analysis to the Allport and Odbert traits.

Cattell concluded that 16 underlying factors summarized the lexical data. This work led to the development of the 16PF, a personality scale that is still used today.

In 1963, W.T. Norman reanalyzed Cattell’s data and concluded that only five factors were needed to summarize these traits.

For the last two decades, the most influential trait approach contends that five traits or factors lie at the core of personality

Researchers have identified a similar set of five factors that underlie personality

1. Openness to experience
2. Conscientiousness
3. Extraversion
4. Agreeableness
5. Neuroticism

The big five factors of personality (“supertraits”) are thought to describe the main dimensions of personality—specifically, neuroticism (emotional instability), extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.

Use the acronym OCEAN to remember the big five personality factors:







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Friedman, H.S. & Schustack, M.W. (2012), Personality: classic theories and modern research (5th ed). Boston: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.
McGraw-Hill.McGraw Hill Higher Education (2013), The McGraw Hill Companies, Inc.
Ryckman, R. M. (2013). Theories of personality (10th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.


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