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- Trait Theory -

Ψ   Personality consists of broad dispositions, called traits, that tend to lead to characteristic responses. People can be described in terms of the basic ways they behave, such as whether the are outgoing & friendly, or whether they are dominant & assertive.

Ψ   Identifying & finding traits:

•   Allport et. al. found 18,000 terms & reduced them to 4,500 traits (1930s).
 •   Using factor analysis Raymond Cattell reduced the list to 35 traits (1940s).
  •   Reduced further in the 1960s to just the "Big Five".

Big Five-Factor Model (OCEAN):

1.   Openness - Imaginative rather than practical, preferring variety to routine, and being independent rather than conforming.

1.   Conscientiousness - Being organized rather than disorganized, careful rather then careless, and disciplined, not impulsive.

1.   Extraversion - Sociable instead of retiring, fun-loving instead of sober, and affectionate instead of reserved.

1.   Agreeableness - Being softhearted, not ruthless, trusting, not suspicious, and helpful not uncooperative.

1.   Neuroticism - Level of emotional stability.


Personality Traits: Idiographic vs. Nomothetic

Ψ   The whole issue of whether a trait exists in all people to a greater or lesser degree is complicated by different views of the trait perspective. There are two different views as to whether all traits exist in all people:

It's a Mickey Mouse World , isn't it?

•   Idiographic: people have unique personality structures; thus some traits (cardinal traits) are more important in understanding the structure of some people than others.

•   Nomothetic: people's unique personalities can be understood as their having relatively greater or lesser amounts of traits that are consistent across people.

Ψ   The Idiographic view emphasizes that each person has a unique psychological structure & that some traits are possessed by only one person; & that there are times when it is impossible to compare one person with others. This viewpoint also emphasizes that traits may differ in importance from person to person (cardinal, central & secondary traits). It tends to use case studies, bibliographical information, diaries etc for information gathering.

Ψ   The Nomothetic view emphasizes comparability among individuals but sees people as unique in their combination of traits. This viewpoint sees traits as having the same psychological meaning in everyone. The belief is that people differ only in the amount of each trait. It is this which constitutes their uniqueness. People differ in their positions along a continuum in the same set of traits. This approach tends to use self-report personality questions, factor analysis etc. In theories of personality, the following could be categorized as nomothetic theories: Carl Jung's Psychological Types, the Big Five personality traits, & the Myers Briggs Type of Indicator.

Ψ   Today most psychologists tend towards a nomothetic approach (the trait approach is often viewed solely as a nomothetic approach), but they are aware of how a trait may be slightly different from person to person in the way that it is expressed.

General Psychology
Robert C. Gates