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Personality Psychology. Chapter 9 Traits and Trait Taxonomies. Dispositional Perspective. People display continuity or consistency across their own actions, thoughts, and feelings People differ from one another in many profound ways Major theory under this perspective Type and Trait Theory.

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Personality Psychology

Chapter 9

Traits and Trait Taxonomies


Dispositional Perspective

  • People display continuity or consistency across their own actions, thoughts, and feelings
  • People differ from one another in many profound ways
  • Major theory under this perspective
    • Type and Trait Theory


  • Characteristic of most sciences in their attempt to find order
  • One of most basic approaches to understanding personality
  • Common sense approach
  • To discover order about personality

Type and Trait Theory Defined

  • A dispositional theory that explains personality as a set of stable characteristics within individuals
  • People exhibit these characteristics across various situations and across time

Specific Definitions

  • Types
    • Original definition: Discontinuous categories
    • Current definition: Large, continuous categories encompassing traits
  • Traits
    • Continuous categories

Key Components

  • Types and traits both exist in a hierarchical order
  • Types and traits are governed by a variety of potential processes
  • Factor analysis often used to determine hierarchies
  • Traits can be distilled into a few general categories; “Big 5” Model one of most popular

Key People

  • Allport
  • Cattell
  • Eysenck

Trait theory…

… is a way to describe/predict but it is NOT a theory of development


How do you discover traits?

Step 1: Choose your method

Lexical Approach: Collecting words and synonyms of traits

Statistical (Empirical) Approach: Use factor analysis

Theoretical Approach: Borrowing theories, especially from ancient scholars, and determining traits from these theories


Step 2: Distill using

Factor Analysis

  • Statistical procedure to identify items that group together and reflect a larger factor
  • Problems
    • Selection of traits
    • Labeling of factors
    • Number of factors

Gordon Allport

  • “Father” of trait theory
  • Founded upon personal experience
  • Took a lexical approach to developing trait theory

Allport’s view of trait theory

  • There is value in surface characteristics – there is more to a person than what is at the “unconscious” level
  • It is not necessary always to emphasize one’s past
  • To discover what someone is like – Ask them about themselves! They are the best source of information
  • Traits are both inherited and learned

Allport’s view of trait theory

  • Common Traits
    • Traits that are defined the same way for all people
  • Personal Traits
    • Unique manifestation of traits

Types of Personal Traits

  • Cardinal disposition
    • One single trait that defines everything everything for a person
  • Central disposition
    • 5 –10 highly characteristic and frequently seen personal traits
  • Secondary disposition
    • Influential traits that are less consistent and generalized than cardinal or central traits

Raymond Cattell

  • Empirical approach to trait theory
  • Factor analysis reduction of 4,500 trait words (left by Allport) to 16 most basic primary personality dimensions
  • Not as concerned with whether traits were inherited or learned

Cattell’s 16 personality dimensions

  • Reserved vs. Warm
  • Concrete Abstract
  • Reactive Emotionally stable
  • Deferential Dominant
  • Serious Lively
  • Expedient Rule-conscientious
  • Shy Bold
  • Utilitarian Sensitive
  • Trusting Vigilant
  • Practical Imaginative
  • Forthright Private
  • Self-assured Apprehensive
  • Traditional Open to change
  • Group-oriented Self-reliant
  • Tolerates disorder Perfectionistic
  • Relaxed Tense

Source versus Surface traits

  • Source trait
    • Causal factor trait that determines how a person responds
  • Surface trait
    • Manifestation of a source trait

Three types of traits

  • Ability traits
  • Temperament traits
  • Dynamic traits

Ability traits

  • Define various types of intelligence and determine how effectively a person works toward a desired goal
    • Fluid intelligence (innate ability to learn)
    • Crystallized intelligence (the effects of education; what has been learned)

Temperament traits

  • Inherited source traits that determine the general style of interaction

Dynamic traits

  • Motivational traits
    • Ergs (innate motivation traits)
    • Meta-ergs (learned, environmental origin)

Hans Eysenck

  • Theoretical approach to trait theory
  • Took theories of Hippocrates, Jung, et. al., and conceived of a basic 2x2 matrix of super traits
  • Believed traits were genetically-based” was very biologically oriented

Two dimensions (“Supertraits”)

  • Introversion/extraversion: Tendencies toward sociability, craving for excitement, liveliness, dominance, activeness
  • Emotionality/stability: Ease and frequency with which a person becomes upset and distressed, with greater moodiness, anxiety, and depression reflecting greater emotional instability

Eysenck’s Two Dimensions

Emotionally Stable Emotionally Unstable


Introvert |Phlegmatic (calm): Melancholic (depressed)

| passive, careful, controlled quiet, submissive, anxious,

| reserved

Extravert | Sanguine (optimistic) Choleric (irritable)

| sociable, outgoing, active, impulsive,

| lively, carefree excitable, aggressive


Trait issues

  • How many categories?
  • Does the approach used to develop trait theory (empirical, theoretical, lexical) make a difference in outcome?
  • Did all trait theorists follow the same assumptions presented for dispositional theory? What is the paradigm?

Where did trait theory go after

Cattell and Eysenck?

  • Following Cattell, trait data collected in new, more comprehensive, and multivariate ways
    • Further factor analysis
    • Cattell’s data replicated with new, diverse samples, multiple cultures, different languages, children, and over time
    • “lay-person” trait terms included
    • More observations and nonverbal assessments
  • Findings showed 5 factors!

The “Big 5”

  • Extraversion (Power)
  • Aggreeableness (Love)
  • Conscientiousness (Work)
  • Emotionality (Affect)
  • Openness to Experience (Intellect)

The Fifth Factor?

  • Given different names by different researchers
  • Cross-cultural differences

Reactions to “Big 5”

  • Support
    • Eysenck and his camp
    • More robust and replicable than any other taxonomy
    • Is a well-established basis on which to build
    • Research for additional factors is not compelling and the factors are not relevant to personality (attractiveness)
    • Is a framework for phenotypic attributes of personality based in human language
  • Opposition
    • There may be more factors (sexiness, attractiveness, faithfulness, spirituality)
    • Does not capture underlying personality processes