Trait Theory of Personality

Majority of notes I took from the fantastic Maltby, Day and Macaskill ‘Individual Differences’ textbook (click image).

 

THE TRAIT APPROACH TO PERSONALITY

– aim to (scientifically) build an image of people from a few personality traits

– nomothetic approach: identify personality traits/variables occurring consistently bet. people

– can then locate people on these variables

– aim is to identify & measure main traits that differentiate people & reveal basic structure of personality

– personality types: discrete categories; personality traits: continuous dimensions

 

DEFINING PERSONALITY TRAITS

– traits are dispositions to respond in certain ways

Burger (1997) – trait: a dimension of personality used to categorise people depending on how much they show a particular characteristic

– trait theory assumes personality characteristics are stable over (i) time and (ii) situations

– current view is that situations do affect behaviour but you can still see effect of personality

– more interested in general descriptions of behaviour than explaining & making predictions

– not much about personality change as they’re more from academic than clinical background

 

SHELDON & SOMATYPES (c1954)

– used correlational technique to show body type is associated with a particular temperament

– surveyed thousands; 3 basic ‘somatypes’: mesomorphy, endomorphy, ectomorphy

– claimed people differed in terms of which organs were most prominent/ had focus in body

 


 

EARLY LEXICAL APPROACHES TO PERSONALITY & THE LEXICAL HYPOTHESIS

– important differences will have trait words for that difference in language

– frequency of personality word use indicates the importance of that characteristic

– the number of synonyms of the personality word indicates its importance as a differentiator

 

GORDON ALLPORT (1961) – (LIMITATIONS OF TRAIT APPROACH)

– he identified 18,000 words of which 4500 described personality traits

– near impossible to use personality traits to predict behaviour in specific situations

– there’s variability but also constancy in our behaviour – personality traits are the constant bit

– traits have a physical presence in our nervous systems

– it’s the way that indiv traits combine that’s important, makes us unique

– this unified personality evolves and can change

– Allport made distinction bet. idiographic & nomothetic approaches

– nomothetic approach allows identification of ‘common traits’ & classification of people

– BUT ‘personal disposition’ – idiographic approach – is much more useful

– further: 3 types of personality traits: cardinal (dominant), central (real personality) & secondary traits (preferences)

– concept of self also important: how it develops; a challenge to theories as tricky to define

 


 

RAYMOND CATTELL AND THE EMERGENCE OF FACTOR ANALYSIS

– arrived at 16 traits using factor analysis (correlating attributes to make clusters)

– distinguished between ‘constitutional’ (genetic) and ‘environmental-mold’ (env) traits

– also ability (coping, goals), temperament (goal getting style) & dynamic (motivation) traits  

– 3 dynamic traits: (1) attitudes – interest in people or objects, predicting how we’ll behave

– (2) sentiments (how we feel about people/ thing) & (3) ergs (innate drives/ motivators)

– also distinguished common (shared by many) & unique (person specific) traits

– distinguished surface (measurable traits, that are associated) & source traits (key trait underlying cluster)

– 16 source traits represent the basic structure of personality: 16 P(ersonality)F(actor) questionnaire

– ranked traits in order of how important they were for predicting behaviour

– e.g. Factor A – outgoing-reserved. Important to determine who’d be hospitalised for mental illness

EVALUATION

– good predictability but difficult to understand so less research

– subjectivity in selection of traits used for factor analysis

 


 

HANS EYSENCK’S TRAIT THEORY OF PERSONALITY

– identify main dimensions of personality, measure them & test them with quantitative procs  

– stressed importance of genetic inheritance (met with skepticism)

– personality is the way that character, temperament, intelligence, physique & NS are organised

– this organisation/traits are stable and long-lasting

– large samples; factor analysis: 3 basic personality dimensions – ‘Types’ – covering all traits

 

EYSENCK’S STRUCTURE OF PERSONALITY

(- hierarchical typology: specific responses>>habitual responses>>trait clusters>>personality type)

– using factor analysis, found that many traits are highly correlated >> supertraits/ pers type

– originally 2 supertraits; each supertrait is a continuum along which people can be placed

– introversion (quiet, introspective, internal orientation) to extroversion (sociable, impulsive, ext)

– neuroticism (unstable, irrational, phobias, obsessive or impulsive)

– psychoticism (later): specific neurotic type – cold, impulsive, creative, egocentric, aggressive

– developed Eysenck Personality Questionnaire to measure the 3 types & underlying traits

– those who score highly aren’t necessarily neurotic/ psychotic, but have predisposition

– ⅔ variance in personality development down to biology; biology imposed limits to change

 

RESEARCH EVIDENCE FOR EYSENCK’S TYPES

– neuroticism & extraversion scales reliable measures; psychoticism less reliable

– Eysenck (1982): primary factors found in 24 nations + twin studies = 3 factor genetic basis  

– longitudinal studies showed this structure of personality was stable over time

– genes give a strong tendency but some modification is possible (didn’t give much detail)

 

PSYCHOPATHOLOGY & EYSENCK’S THERAPEUTIC APPROACH

– psychopathology is a result of how people respond to their environment

– some more vulnerable to developing psychopathology because of inherited vulnerabilities

– Eysenck was a behaviourist so treatment was behaviour therapy

 

EYSENCK’S CONTRIBUTION TO TRAIT THEORISING

– focuses heavily on genetic factors not social and how these might change behaviour

– did more than just describing, giving explanations of what caused differences (genetics)

– might be too parsimonious with just 3 factors: is this the basic structure of personality?  

 


 

THE FIVE FACTOR MODEL

– psychologists increasingly agree 5 supertraits describe the structure of personality

– differences regarding the names but Costa & McCrae’s most popular

 

THE LEXICAL APPROACH SUPPORT FOR 5 FACTORS

– hyp: if a specific personality difference is important for interaction, then it will be labelled

– a number of researchers produced 5 factors using lexical approach e.g. Goldberg (1981)

– Goldberg (1990): love, work, affect, power, intellect

– Goldberg & Saucier (2001) – the etic/external approach gives 5, but emic approach is variable

 

COSTA & McCRAE (1992) – FACTOR ANALYSIS EVIDENCE FOR 5 FACTOR MODEL

– large sample responses to 2+ questionnaires; factor analysed to get clusters of traits

– 5 factors (OCEAN): openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism

– data derived hypothesis, not theoretically based one

– measured personality & the 6 underlying ‘facets’ (subordinate traits) with their NEO-PIR (neuroticism extraversion open personality inventory)

 

OTHER EVIDENCE IN SUPPORT OF THE BIG 5

McCrae & Costa (1989): compatible with factor analysed Myers-Briggs scores – 5 factors

Boyle (1989): compatible with Cattel’s 14 & Eysenck’s 3 factors

Costa & McCrae (1997): showed differences stable over time and have genetic basis

– they claim factors found in different languages, ages and races; but etic approach

 

EVALUATION OF THE BIG 5 AND TRAIT APPROACHES

Saucier (1995): current research should look for contradiction rather than confirmation

– labelling clusters depends on researcher’s judgement e.g. Norman (1963) called agreeableness ‘conformity’

Digman (1990): are the factors modelling language rather than representing underlying structures?

‘Briggs (1989)’ – model is atheoretical (Eysenck’s not though) – lack of theoretical underpinning

Mischel (1990) – measures are descriptive and only 10% of behaviour down to these factors

Kraus (1995) – 10% isn’t insignificant & is similar to relationship bet. attitude & behaviour

 


 

The following is a summary of a paper which is a trait theorist argument against the views of Walter Mischel. I used it for my essay on the person-situation debate, for which I got a distinction!

 

PAPER: THE PERSON-SITUATION DEBATE IN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE – EPSTEIN & O’BRIEN (1985)

– resolution is that behaviour is often highly situationally specific at individual-item level, but general at the aggregate level p514

– looking at single items of behaviour is unreliable & Mischel didn’t take this into account p515

– there are broad & stable response dispositions if you aggregate observations over occasions & situations p515

– traits allow prediction if behaviour is averaged/aggregated over situations & occasions p516

– Epstein (1977-84) found high levels of reliability & generality for multiple (but not single) items of behaviour p517

– found 0.75-0.93 correlations when behaviour averaged over 12 days; low if 2 days p518

– data shows we can talk about broad dispositions (traits) without specifying situations p518

– re-analyzed e.g. Mischel & Newcombe’s study data to show broad & stable responses p520

– we agree behaviour is discriminative in different situations, but it’s also general p520

– Mischel (1983) disputes this view and says recent research added nothing new & resolved nothing p514

– Mischel believes that because there’s discrimination there can’t be generalisation & traits p520

– Mischel was right to say trait measures were being used incorrectly p515

– e.g. to infer traits from single items of behaviour or use trait measures to predict single items of behaviour p515

– e.g. predict single acts (e.g. aggression when insulted) from a trait measure


 

The following summarises a paper with a compromise position regarding the person-situation (socio-cognitive vs trait) debate. It’s a nice way to conclude the person-situation debate. Also cited in my essay.

 

PAPER: FLEESON (2004) – MOVING PERSONALITY BEYOND THE PERSON SITUATION DEBATE

– person-situation debate coming to an end & both sides are right p83

– from moment to moment beh is variable: traits don’t predict or influence beh. strongly

– for trends/ typical beh. beh is stable: traits predict beh. over long stretches of time p83

– variability >> view no typical behaviour, no traits, people don’t differ; no need for pers psych. p83

– argument is, if beh. due to traits they’ll act the same most of the time p83

– or if behaviour due to situation they’ll act differently in diff sits (extraverted here, intro there)

– silly to say someone is extraverted if they’re extroverted and introverted equally often

– these views necessitate different focuses for study: traits & indiv diffs vs. processes of perceiving situations and reacting to them p83&84

– compromise is interactionism e.g. M&P(1983): situation is primary; p84

– personality is diffs in how people react to situations not general ways of acting (traits) p84

– Fleeson (2001) study: personality/beh. variability as great as emotional variability, which is treated as a temporary state & not trait p85

– Fleeson (2001) study: personality/beh. variability greater within people than between people, presumably due to situation p85

– found this pattern in several studies using several different methodologies

– Mischel (1968) showed person’s ranking relative to others changes i.e. extrovert not always most extrovert relative to others

– Epstein (1979): people have different central points and vary around it

Fleeson (2001) study: people have different central points, which are stable week to week

Fleeson (2001) study: correlation of relative position of central points week to week 0.9 on Big5 traits – one of the highest in psychology

Mischel & Peake (1983) found the same and this isn’t in dispute

– so person side also correct: person’s behaviour very similar when seen as averages over weeks

– personality is variations around stable trait anchors/ centres

– person side admits traits aren’t good for predicting momentary beh; situation admits traits good for describing typical beh. over longer time period: no need for conflict

– traits are best used for predicting trends