Trait Theory of Personality – Assumptions, Important Trait Theories, Strengths and Weaknesses

Trait theory

Assumptions, Important Trait Theories, Strengths and Weaknesses

Trait theory presents a quantitative approach to the study of personality. It visualizes personality as reflection of certain traits of the individual. This theory postulates that an individual’s personality is composed of definite pre-dispositional attributes called traits. A trait may be defined as any distinguishable, relatively enduring way in which one individual differs from another. Thus, traits can be considered as individual variables. On the basis of the trait theory, people can be described as aggressive, loyal, pleasant, flexible, rumorous, sentimental, impulsive, cool and so on. For example, if we saw people behaving in an extrovert and forceful manner in most situations, we could label their personality as aggressive. Similarly, if a person is observed in different situations as letting someone else take the initiative in deciding what to do, we could describe his personality trait as “submissive”.

Assumptions of Trait Theory

The trait theory makes certain fundamental assumptions:
i. Traits are common to many individuals and vary in absolute amounts between individuals.
ii. Traits are relatively stable and exert fairly universal effects on behavior regardless of the environmental situation. Thus, a consistent functioning of personality variables is predictive of a wide variety of behaviors.
iii. Traits can be inferred from the measurement of behavioral indicators.

Important Trait Theories

1. Allport’s trait theory
2. Raymond Cattel theory
3. Big Five Model of Personality
4. Biological trait theory by Hans Eysenck

1. Allport’s trait theory

Golden Allport was an early pioneer in the study of traits. It was Gordon Allport who developed the first comprehensive modern trait theory. The is often called the father of personality theory. In his work, Gorgon Allport has incorporated insights from diverse fields such as philosophy, literature and sociology. His major contribution is that he identified personality as a unique pattern of traits of an individual. His view is that personality is dynamic, something that is constantly evolving. While people who study human genetics would explain a trait as something determined by a person’s genes, Allport initially used the word ‘trait’ but later changed it to ‘predisposition’, by which he meant unique individual characteristics, an understanding of which enables one to predict a person’s behavior. Allport identified 4500 words in the English language that could describe people. After compiling a list of 4,500 different traits, he organized them into three different trait categories.

(a) Cardinal traits

These traits dominate an individual’s entire personality but are rare. They tend to define a person to such an extent that their names become synonymous with their personality. For example Mother Teresa is strongly associated with goodness and charity. Einstein is known for his genius, and today his name is often used as a synonym for brilliance.

(b) Central Traits

They are the common traits that make up our personality. While central traits are not as dominating as cardinal traits, they describe the major characteristics you might use to describe another person. A few examples of central traits include honesty, friendliness, generosity, anxiety, and diligence.

(c) Secondary traits

They often appear only in certain situations or under specific circumstances. Some examples include public speaking anxiety, or impatience while waiting in line. They represent an individual’s specific preferences and attitudes in particular situations. For example, preference for chocolates, or a particular brand of perfume, which can be noticed by only a few close acquaintances.

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