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Trait theory

Learn how our traits make up our personality by taking a look at different psychologists' perspectives in how the Trait Theory came to be. By Shreena Desai. . Created by Shreena Desai.

Video transcript

Hi, everyone. Welcome back. We're going to be talking about the trait theory today. So what better way to describe individual personalities than by using traits? Well, the trait theory is a very straightforward approach describe personality. We do it everyday. It basically defines personality in terms of identifiable patterns of behavior. So that is a key word. They are patterns of behavior. And I'll explain that in a little bit, into a little bit more depth. So it describes traits instead of explaining them as in many other personality theories. So this theory uses description versus explanation, versus other theories of personality tend to use explanation to describe patterns of behavior. So what exactly is a trait? Now, if someone asked you to describe your best friend, what kind of things would you say? Maybe that your best friend was funny, caring, loyal, even-tempered? Well, all of these words that I just called off represent traits. A trait can be thought of as a relatively stable characteristic. So that is another defining word. It is a stable characteristic. And what do I mean by stable? So it's a stable characteristic that causes individuals to consistently behave in certain ways. So it has to be consistent. I guess that's synonymous with stable. So the combination and interaction of various traits forms a personality. And that's what's unique to each individual. No two people have the exact same personality. We can even see that within our families. Even though we share many genes, we all have different personalities because we all possess these different traits. Well, let's get into what different theorists of the trait theory have to say in trying to describe traits. So, a little aside over here, I found these personality tests to be so fascinating, like the Myers-Briggs personality type test. I don't know if you've taken it before. But basically, it gives you a set of four letters that categorizes you into one of 16 personality types. And then within each one of those personality types, there's a set of traits and behaviors that you tend to dominate in your everyday life. So anyways, if you haven't checked those types of personality tests out, I highly recommend it. I know a lot of companies use them for employment. And it's just a fun way to get to know yourself and your tendencies a little better. I'm always curious. So individual trait theories differ in terms of whether or not they believe that all individuals possess the same traits. And I'll get into that in a little bit. And you'll see why I say that. So let's go through the first theorist. His name was Gordon Allport. So what Allport said is that all of us have different traits. He didn't believe that all individuals have the same traits. He said that they could differ amongst individuals. And he actually came up with a list of 4,500 different descriptive words to describe traits. And that wasn't the original list. Apparently, the original had over 10,000. That's crazy. So anyways, from those 4,500, he was able to come up with three basic categories of traits. And the first one are our cardinal traits. The second one are our central traits. And the last are our secondary traits. Now of these three, the cardinal traits are the characteristics that direct most of a person's activities. So these are the dominant traits, the ones that lie in the cardinal category. For example, one person may have a cardinal trait of selflessness, or power motivation, but Allport says that not all individuals have selflessness or power motivation. So that's the key right there. Individuals have some subset of traits from a universal possibility of traits. But not all individuals have the same traits. We mix and match. We all possess different ones. Now these cardinal traits influence all of our behaviors, including the central and the secondary traits, or dispositions, which influence behavior to a lesser degree. So these are dominant, and these are expressed at a lesser degree. So an example of a essential trait is honesty or sociability or shyness, which are less dominant than these cardinal traits. And a secondary trait is something like a love for modern art or a reluctance to eat meat. And these are more preferences, or attitudes. Let's go to the second theorist. And his name was Raymond Cattell. So now what Cattell did is that he proposed that we all have 16 essential personality traits. We all do. He said that they represent the basic dimensions of personality. And he turned this into the 16 personality factor questionnaire, or 16PF for short. That was his contribution. So he categorized all of our traits into 16 personality traits that we all possess. The third theorist was Hans Eysenck. and what Eysenck did, his theory is based on the assumption that we all have three major dimensions. And these three major dimensions of personality encompass all traits that we all possess. But the degree to which we individually express them are different. So this is different from Allport. Again, Allport said we have different unique subsets of traits. Eysenck is saying we all have these traits, but we express them at different degrees. So there's three major dimensions of his theory. The first is extroversion. So you know what that is. Extroversion versus introversion, and that is the degree of sociability. The second is neuroticism, and neuroticism is our emotional stability. And the third is psychoticism. Let me make sure I'm spelling this right. There we go. Psychoticism is the degree to which reality is distorted. OK, so I know I said Eysenck said that we all possess traits that lie in these three categories, but we display them, or express them to different degrees. Well, there's a little caveat here because Eysenck said that we all have varying degrees of extroversion and neuroticism, but not necessarily psychoticism. All right, moving on, the last major theory trait is called the big five. And the big five, again, is found in all people of all populations. So the first major personality trait in the big five is openness. Let me do this in a different color. So the first is openness. And what I mean by openness is that we ask the question, are you independent, or are you conforming? Are you imaginative, or are you practical? The second is conscientiousness. And that is a mouthful. So in conscientiousness, we're asking the questions, are you careful or careless? Are you disciplined or impulsive? Are you organized or disorganized? The third is extroversion. And in extroversion, we're asking the questions, are you talkative, or are you quiet? Are you fun loving, or are you sober? The fourth is agreeableness. And in agreeableness, we're asking the questions, are you kind, or you cold? Are you appreciative or unfriendly? And the last we've already seen from Eysenck, and that is neuroticism. So in neuroticism, we're asking the questions, are you stable or tense? Calm or anxious? Secure or insecure? So the best way I learned to memorize the big five is using the acronym O.C.E.A.N, O-C-E-A-N. Easy. OK, so Cattell, Eysenck, and the big five all over here used something called factor analysis to come up with this these categories of our traits. So factor analysis is a statistical method that categorizes and determines our major categories of traits. And Allport's theory did not use that. He relied on different procedures to determine traits. So basically, factor analysis reduces the number of variables and detects structure in the relationships between variables. And we do that because we want to classify variables. So in the past, probably at the time of Cattell and Eysenck, all of this was done out by hand. All the possible combinations in determining the number of categories of traits was done by hand. But now, we have fancy computer software that can do all the math for us. And it's what gives us these final sets of variables or classification of personality traits.