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The Psychology of the Person Chapter 7 Trait Approach. Naomi Wagner, Ph.D Lecture Outlines Based on Burger, 8 th edition. Personality as Trait Dimension.

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The psychology of the person chapter 7 trait approach

The Psychology of the PersonChapter 7 Trait Approach

Naomi Wagner, Ph.D

Lecture Outlines

Based on Burger, 8th edition

Personality as trait dimension
Personality as Trait Dimension

  • The trait approach sees human characteristics as lying along a hypothetical continuum from less of the trait to more of the trait, and each person can be described in terms of his or her standing on this continuum.

  • Extravert________________Introvert

The normal distribution
The Normal Distribution

  • If we were to measure a large number of people along a trait, we will find that the scores are normally distributed (you need to understand this expression)

    The trait approach assumes that traits are stable over time in a person, and consistent across situations.

Special features of the trait approach
Special Features of the Trait Approach

  • The trait approach is interested in predicting the typical behavior of people who score within a certain segment of the trait continuum- such a low in social anxiety, or high in social anxiety.

  • The approach enables to compare across people, such as low or high in anxiety.

  • The approach does not attempt to predict the behavior of a specific person.

  • It describes personality, but does not attempt to explain it the underlying mechanisms of traits.


  • Allport was the founder of the trait approach

  • He suggested two avenues to study personality:

  • The nomothetic– that looks at typical behavior across people (e.g. how do anxious people typically behave)

  • The idiographic: the in-depth study of one person, such as in a case-study.

Nomothetic approach comparison across people
Nomothetic ApproachComparison across people

  • How people typically behave in agiven situation

Central secondary and cardinal traits according to allport
Central, Secondary, and Cardinal TraitsAccording to Allport

  • Central Traits: about 5 traits along which a particular person can be described

  • Secondary traits: other, less “central” traits in a particular individual

  • Cardinal trait: Just ONE trait that “takes over” , often related to psychopathology, for example, a person who is paranoid, a tendency that is reflected in all aspects of his/her behavior.

The idiographic approach studying one person in dpeth
The Idiographic Approach Studying ONE person in dpeth

  • The central traits of a given person are relevant in this approach

Henry murray
Henry Murray

  • Described personality along “psychogenic needs”, that can be regarded as traits, because they affect behavior.

  • Murray identified about 20 such needs

  • In an attempt to understand a person’s behavior, it is important to know how the strength of the needs within the person, relative to one another

The press
The “Press”

  • Murray maintained that an environmental factor may give rise to a need in a person

  • He labeled such factor “press”

  • For example- you may not be aware of your need for order, until you find yourself in a very messy room

  • Murray developed a projective test, the TAT (Thematic Apperception test)

Murray cont d
Murray (cont-d)

  • An example of the relative strength: Let us say that you have a strong need to affiliate (to be with other people), and also a strong need to achieve.

  • You are invited to a party tonight, while tomorrow there is an important test

  • Your decision whether to go to the party or study for the test reflects the relative strength of these 2 needs.

Thematic apperception test tat
Thematic Apperception Test (TAT)

  • What is going on in this picture?

Tat cont d
TAT (cont-d)

  • What is going on in this picture?


  • What is going on in this picture?

Cattell and factor analysis
Cattell and Factor Analysis

  • Raymond Cattell used the statistical technique of factor analysis to identify the “basic structure” of personality

  • Factor Analysis is a procedure looking for correlations among various measures (in this case- personality tests)

  • For example, each person is given 10 different tests, and the procedure identifies which tests “go together”, that is, the yield similar high scores, suggesting a common underlying “factor”

  • Cattell identified 16 basic traits, “source traits”

Factor analysis and the big five in search of the structure of personality
Factor Analysis and the Big FiveIn Search of the “Structure” of Personality

  • Extraversion (vs. Introversion)

  • Neuroticism (emotional stability-instability)

  • Conscientiousness: disciplined and goal-directed

  • Agreeableness: Being kind and warm to others

  • Openness: Intellectual curiosity, imagination

Big five studies
Big Five Studies

  • The same 5 dimensions have been identified in other cultures, other languages

  • When people describe their friends, they are using these dimensions

  • Studies suggested to refer to the dimensions as 5 plus-minus 2

  • Factor Analysis depends on the data being inserted into the procedure.

Criticism of the trait approach
Criticism of the trait approach

  • An enduring controversy in personality concerns the relative importance of traits compared to situational determinants of behavior.

  • Critics charge that traits do not predict behavior well

  • Critics also charge that there is little evidence for cross-situational consistency.

  • Traits explain only about 10% of differences among people.

In defense of traits
In Defense of Traits

  • Trait advocates answer that if traits and behaviors are measured correctly, a significant relationship can be found.

  • They suggest to aggregate (pull together) several behavioral measures of a trait

  • In addition, advocates maintain that the amount of behavioral variance explained by traits is considerable and important.

Defense cont d
Defense (cont-d)

  • Aggregating data- that is, looking at the person’s behavior across time and situations provides support for the trait assumption of consistency.

  • It is also important to identify traits that are relevant for the person in order to assess consistency along time and across situations.

  • Though traits are responsible for only 10% of the variance among people, this 10% is relevant when decisions need to be make based on comparisons between people.

In the workplace
In the Workplace

  • Conscientiousness was found to be the personality dimensions preferred in employment settings

Assessment self report inventories the mmpi
Assessment: Self-Report Inventories The MMPI

  • The MMPI was originally developed in the 1940’s to aid in making psychiatric diagnosis

  • It had undergone several revisions and it is now the most widely-used personality self-report inventory.

  • It has 10 clinical scales and 4 validity scales.

  • Validity scale to identify “faking”

Problems with self report inventories
Problems with Self-Report Inventories

  • Faking Good: Wanting to present oneself in a better light

  • Faking bad: Wanting to present oneself in a worth light (to be deemed incompetent to stand trial, for example)

  • Carelessness

  • Sabotage

  • Response Tendencies, such as social desirability or acquiescence

Current status of trait approach
Current Status of Trait Approach

  • Though originally the trait approach was not concerned with the underlying mechanisms, Allport suggested that “one day” the biological basis of traits will be identified, and this is the current status

  • The trait approach has generated a great deal of research

  • It enables the comparisons across people (e.g. when you want to identify the best candidate for a job)

  • It is NOT translated into psychotherapy.