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Traits approach to personality development

Traits Approach To Personality Development

There are four different approaches to understand personality. They are psychoanalytic and pschodynamic, phenomenological, learning and trait approaches. This paper concentrates on the trait approach.

Personality theories

The working definition of personality means characteristic of the person that account for consistent patterns of feeling, thinking, and behaving. However, for the trait theorists, their definitions are quite unique. Gordon Allport states that the most important structures of personality are those that permit the description of the person in terms of individual characteristics. Thus, the basic unit of personality is personal dispositions, which he called ¡¥trait¡¦ and his personality was utilized the concept of personal dispositions.

Raymond B. Cattell defined personality as ¡¥that which permits a prediction of what a person will do in a given situations¡¦. This prediction can be measured and described by the source traits.

Hans J. Eysenck states that behavior can be considered in terms of specific responses that some of them are linked together and form more general habits. Groups of habits occur together to form traits. He defined traits as ¡¥important semi-permanent personality disposition¡¦ (1981,p.3).

Concept of trait theory

The basic assumption of the trait point of view is that people possess broad predisposition, called traits, to respond in particular ways. In order words, people may be described in terms of likelihood of their behaving, feeling, or thinking in a particular way. For example, the likelihood of their acting outgoing and friendly or feeling nervous and worried.

Trait is a basic unit of personality and is biological basis. Human behavior and personality can be organized into a hierarchy that is shown in the works of Hans Eysenck. The concept of trait assumes that behavior follow some patterns, regularity overtime and across situations.

Trait approach to understand personality development

Traits are the basic units of personality and according to Allport, there are eight theoretical assertions. They are more than nominal existence; more generalized than habits; they are dynamic and determine behavior; they may be established empirically; they are only relatively independent of other traits; traits are not synonymous with moral or social judgements; they may be viewed either idiographically or nomothetically and acts; and even habits, that are inconsistent with a trait are not proof of the nonexistence of the trait.

Allport also believes that they exist and are based in the nervous system. Allport uses concept of functional autonomy to suggest that the motives of an adult may have their roots in the tension-reducing motives of the child, the adults grows out of them and becomes independent of these earlier tension-reduction efforts, therefore, genetic underlies personality.

In addition, Cattell determines that human motivation consists of innate tendencies, called ergs, and environmentally determined motives, called sentiments. The effort to satisfy motives and sentiments are made in the service of the more basic ergs or biological goals. Eysenck says that humans are biosocial organisms whose behaviors are ¡¥determined equally by biological factors such as hunger, thirst etc.¡¦ (Eysenck, 1990, p.64). By conducting studies of identical and fraternal twins, he suggests that heredity plays a major part in accounting for differences between individuals.

Eysenck has recognized a four-level hierarchy of behavior organization and more concentrated on the higher level where various traits may be linked together to form what he has called secondary, higher-order factors or superfactors. For example, the traits of sociability, impulsiveness, and liveliness, and excitability can be grouped together under the superordinate concept of extraversion. Superfactor defines a dimension with a low end (introversion) and a high end (extraversion), such that people may fall along various points between the two extremes. He labeled the three dimensions as introversion-extraversion, neuroticisms and psychoticism.

Traits account for regularities in the functioning of a person across situations and overtime. Allport places personal dispositions on a continuum from those that are most central to those that are of only peripheral importance to a person. There are three levels of personal traits or dispositions.

The first one is a cardinal trait that expresses a disposition that every act is traceable to its influence and it dominated an individual. The second is central traits (e.g. honesty, kindness, and assertiveness) express dispositions that cover a more limited range of situations than is true for cardinal traits. The last one is secondary traits represent dispositions that are the least salient and more restricted in their applicability.

Allport suggested that behavior expressed the action of many traits, that conflicting dispositions can exist within the person, and the traits are expressed in part by the person¡¦s selection of situations as opposed to his or her response to situation. Hence, traits are different from states and activities, which describe those aspects of personality that are temporary, brief, and caused by external circumstances. For example, the introverted person may behave in an extraverted fashion in certain situations.

As stated before, source traits can predict personality of a person in a given situation, but this must be distinguished from surface traits. Surface traits express behaviors that on a superficial level may appear to go together and do not have a common cause. Surface traits and source traits are one of the two important distinctions between traits and the second one is among ability traits, temperament traits, and dynamic traits.

Ability, temperament, and dynamic traits are seen as capturing the major stable elements of personality. Ability traits relate to skills and abilities that allow the individual to function effectively. Temperament traits relate to the emotional life of the person, the stylistic quality of behavior, the behavior of a person that vary from individual to individual. Dynamic traits relate to the strong, motivational life of the individual, the kinds of goals that are important to the person.

Cattell views that a person behaves at one time depends on the traits and motivational variables relevant to the situation. Two concepts are vital in attempts to account for variability in behavior. The first one is states, which refer to emotional, and mood changes that are partly determined by the proactive power of specific situations. Illustrative states are anxiety, depression, fatigue, arousal, and curiosity. Whereas traits describe stable and general action patterns, he emphasizes that the exact disposition of an individual at a given moment requires measurement of both traits and states. The second concept is roles which expresses the fact that the same stimulus is perceived in a different way by an individual according to his or her roles in the situation.

Eysenck discovered that individual variations in introversion-extraversion reflect differences in neurophysiological functioning. It is hypothesized that individual differences along the dimension have both hereditary and environmental origins. Allport supports this hypothesis that both the trait and situation concepts are necessary to understand behavior. The trait concept is to explain the consistency of behavior, whereas recognition of the importance of the situation is necessary to explain the variability of behavior. Cattell determines that customs can modify an influence of personality traits.

Research Method on personality

In order to test for the concept of trait, theorists use different method to test it. Like Eysenck, he developed a statistical technique named factor analysis that a large number of test items is administrated to many subjects. Factor analysis assumes that behaviors that covary across individuals are related but independent of others, thereby determining the units or natural elements in personality structure.

Cattell (1993) uses an inductive method as opposed hypothetical-deductive method in his scientific research. He uses three methods in the study of personality: bivariate, multivariate, and clinical. The typical bivariate experiment contains two variables, an independent variable and dependent variable that is measured to observe the effects of the experimental manipulations. The multivariate method studies the interrelationships among many variables at one. The clinical method has the advantage that researchers can study important behaviors as they occur and look for lawfulness in the functioning of the total organism. The difference between the clinician and the multivariate researcher is that whereas the former uses intuition to assess variables and memory to keep tracks of events, the latter uses systematic research procedures and statistical analyses. Thus, Cattell prefers using the factor analysis with a larger number of factors at the trait level, which have a more narro!

w definition but tend to correlate with each other.

He demonstrated that multivariate factor-analytic research is able to determine the basic structures of personality, then the same traits should be obtained information from life record data (L-data), questionnaire data (Q-data) and objective-test data (OT data).

In contrast to the factor analysis, Allport emphasis on utility of idiographic research, or the independent study of individuals for the purpose of learning more about people generally. One part of the research involves using materials unique to the individual while another part involves using the same measures for all people but comparing an individual¡¦s scores on one scale with one¡¦s scores on other scales. This aspect of the idiographic approach leads to an emphasis on the pattern and organization of traits within a person rather than an emphasis on how a person stands on each trait relative to other people.


Lewis R. Goldberg (1981) has reviewed the works of others and suggests that individual difference will have to encompass at some level like ¡¥Big Five¡¦ dimensions. Big refers each factor subsumes a large number of more specific traits. The ¡¥Five¡¦ includes Neuroticism (n), Extraversion (E), Openness (o), Agreeableness (a) and Conscientiousness (C), which can abbreviated as OCEAN.

The Big Five is designed to capture those personality traits that people consider most important in their lives. Goldberg has postulated the rationale for this approach in terms of the fundamental lexical hypothesis. Thus, he determines that individual differences are important in their interactions and communicate information about individual differences that are important to our own well being or that of our group or clan. They help us to predict what others will do and control our life outcomes. There are increase evidence to show that people in diverse cultures, using very different languages, construe personality in accord with the five ¡V factor model (Bond ,1994).

In addition, the Big-Five theory explains that an individuals traits remains stable after about 30, and before it, the personality development, is similar to height of an individual, not complete until the end of 20s.

Trait theorists view the five ¡V factor model and traits within an evolutionary perspective. According to Goldberg¡¦s (1990) fundamental lexical hypothesis, there is the view that trait terms have emerged to help people categories behaviors fundamental to the human condition. In addition, humans are biologically similar to the great apes and therefore share certain characteristics with them because seven traits are shared by primates and humans.


Eysenck has developed the Maudsley Personality Inventory, the Eysenck Personality Inventory and the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire to measure people along the dimension of introversion and extroversion. Cattell develops questionnaire known as the Sixteen-Personality Factor (16 P.F.) Questionnaire that contains 12 traits that match those found in the L-data research and 4 traits that appear to be unique to questionnaire methods.

Goldberg has developed ¡¥Transparent Bipolar Inventory¡¦ that individuals can use to quickly rate their own standing on the Big Five dimensions.

Strength of the trait approach

Trait psychologists are being active in conducting researches to provide evidence of stability in personality functioning. Over the past decade, an impressive amount of evidence has been gathered to support the view that many important personality traits have a substantial inherited component, .For example, recently scientists reported discovery of a gene linked to the trait of novelty seeking. About 40 percent of individual differences in personality traits are due to inheritance (Benjamin et al., 1996).

Traits possess a high level of versatility. They can be viewed as highly specific factors, not much broader than a habit, or they can be clustered to form generalized dispositions or types; they can be seen as individual traits or as common traits; and as unitary as well. Trait and factor theories have the power to give meaning too much of what is known about personality.

The first fundamental hypothesis suggests that individual differences will be encoded in language . Early studies have provided evidence in supporting this hypothesis by conducting cross-cultural research, although the results are clear-cut when individuals using non-western languages generate their own personal descriptions (Bond, 1994). In addition, environments are important in personality development.

Limitations of trait approaches

In contrast to strengths of trait approaches, limitation on approaches are also be concerned. First of all, Allport did little research to establish the existence and utility of specific trait concepts and substantiate that traits are hereditary. Although the functionally autonomous motives of psychologically healthy adults are covered, but what about the motives of children and of psychotic and neurotic adults?

Second, problem on methodology is identified. If factor analysis is a powerful as its proponents suggested. The same factors should be derived from different studies; therefore, question arises whether factor analysis will provide the basic units of personality.

Third, although it has been stated that the five factor model is a basic discovery of personality psychology and the five factors are ¡¥just right¡¦ (McCrae & John, 1992), some researchers still insist that fewer than five are sufficient (Eysenck, 1993;Zuckerman, 1990) and others suggest that five is not nearly (Pervin and John, 1997).

Fourth, the trait concept suggests a disposition to respond similarly across a variety of situations. However, many trait researchers include many nonobservable behaviors in their definition of traits can not explain individual differences in emotions, motives and attitudes in the change of situation.

At Last, trait theorists define the concept in any way they want, but what is included and whether there is agreement on the definition does make a difference. Besides traits are not real or whether they are ¡¥convenient fictions by which we communicate¡¦. For instance, if we look at a person who acts some introverted behaviors, can we conclude that person is introvert. Hence, the five-factor model by itself is not an explanatory model of personality.

Suggestion on improvement on trait theory

Although the ¡¥Big Five¡¦ is culturally sanctioned, it does not provide us with a comprehensive model of personality because there is more to personality than the Big Five. Cultural factors may affect personality development and produce complicated traits.

Previous researches does not show pattern and organization in the core of personality, until recently efforts have been made to describe how the Big Five traits combine within individuals to form personality types.

In addition, trait theory does not explain personality change. It is one thing to document the stability of personality and to suggest reasons for such stability ¡V genetic factors, selection and shaping of situations, and stereotyped or self-confirming responses by others so future studies are recommended to study the personality change. The advance in technology increases opportunity in studying brain functioning, for example, DNA may have effect on personality development.


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