Trait and Type Perspectives

A trait is a characteristic pattern of behavior or conscious motive which can be self‐assessed or assessed by peers. The term type is used to identify a certain collection of traits that make up a broad, general personality classification.

Trait theories

  • Gordon Allport proposed that an individual's conscious motives and traits better describe personality than does that person's unconscious motivation. He identified three types of traits:

  • Cardinal traits, such as a tendency to seek out the truth, govern the direction of one's life.

  • Central traits operate in daily interactions, as illustrated by a tendency to always try to control a situation.

  • Secondary traits, such as a tendency to discriminate against older people, involve response to a specific situation.

  • Raymond Cattell, by means of a statistical technique called factor analysis, organized the huge number of words used generally to describe personality (over 17,000) and reduced them to 16 basic factors.

  • emotional, easily upset vs. calm, stable

  • intelligent vs. unintelligent

  • suspicious vs. trusting

  • reserved, unfriendly vs. outgoing, friendly

  • assertive, dominant vs. not assertive, humble

  • sober, serious vs. happy‐go‐lucky

  • conscientious vs. expedient

  • shy, timid vs. venturesome

  • tender‐minded vs. tough‐minded

  • practical vs. imaginative

  • shrewd vs. forthright

  • self‐assured, placid vs. apprehensive

  • conservative vs. experimenting

  • group oriented vs. self‐sufficient

  • undisciplined vs. self‐disciplined

  • relaxed vs. tense, driven

Type theories

  • Hans Eysenck proposed a higher organization of personality traits into three basic groups (traits plus their opposites), which, he suggested, constituted types.

  • extraversion (as opposed to introversion)

  • neuroticism (as opposed to emotional stability)

  • psychoticism (as opposed to impulse control)

  • The Big Five. In recent years, theorists have felt the need for more personality dimensions than Eysenck's three. The five independent dimensions, selected using statistical procedures, are known as the “Big Five.”

  • extraversion/introversion: characteristics described in terms such as talkative, sociable, adventurous vs. reticent, turned inward

  • agreeableness/antagonism: characteristics described in terms such as good‐natured, cooperative, likable vs. hostile, spiteful

  • conscientiousness/undirectedness: characteristics described in terms such as responsible, neat, task motivated vs. disorganized

  • stability/instability: characteristics described in terms such as calm, poised, composed vs. uncertain, insecure

  • openness to experience/conforming: characteristics described in terms such as flexible, original, independent, creative, daring vs. rigid, conventional, conforming, noncreative, timid