PSYC 2130 Chapter 7: Using Personality traits to understand behaviour
- The research that seeks to connect traits with behaviour has used four basic methods
1. The single trait approach: examines the link between personality and behaviour by
asking, what do people like to do?
2. The many trait approach: works from the opposite direction, beginning with the
(implicit) research question, who does that? Researchers attack the behaviour of
interest with long lists of traits intended to cover a wide range of personality. They
determine which ones correlate with the specific behaviour, and then seek to explain
the pattern of correlations.
3. The essential trait approach: addresses the difficult question, which traits are the
most important? Tries to narrow the list to the traits that really matter. The big five
list includes traits of extraversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness, agreeableness and
4. The typological approach: stems from a doubt and a hope. The doubt is whether it is
really valid to compare people with each other quantitatively on the same trait
dimensions. The hope is that researchers can identify groups of people who resemble
each other enough, and are different enough from everybody else, that it makes sense
to conclude they belong to the same type. Instead of focusing on traits directly, this
approach focuses on the patterns of traits that characterize whole persons, and tries to
sort these patterns into types.
The single trait approach
- Some of the most influential research in personality has focused on the nature, origins
and consequences of single traits of special importance. It zeros in on one particular trait
and its consequences for behaviour. These include:
1. Authoritarianism, has implication for social problems: it has been theorized as a
basis of racial prejudice and even fascism
2. Conscientiousness, has turned out to be surprisingly useful for predicting who will
be productive employees
3. Self monitoring, is important because it addresses fundamental issues concerning
the relationship between one’s private inner reality and the external self presented to
- Authoritarianism, to avoid frightening personal choices, some people turn their will
over to an external authority, such as a government or church, and take the comforting
attitude that they are just following orders.
- Right wing authoritarianism (RWA) scale is made up of three clusters of attitudes and
behaviours: 1. Authoritarian submission: the tendency to be obedient and submissive to
established leaders of the government and other important institutions
2. Authoritarian aggression: the tendency to act with aggressive hostility toward
anybody perceived as a deviant or a member of an outgroup, or anyone who is
described by authorities as someone to be despised (ex. Enemies, a country might be
3. Conventionalism: the tendency to follow traditions and social norms that are
endorsed by society and by the people in power
- Two points are important to remember about authoritarianism. The first is that
authoritarianism is an individual difference construct, it tries to explain which individuals
within any society. Second, authoritarianism provides an example of how personality trait
can be helpful to understanding a complex social phenomenon.
- Conscientiousness conscientious people live longer, they are more likely to avoid many
kinds of risky behaviours as well as engage in activities that are good for their health.
They are less likely to smoke, overeat, or use alcohol to excess. They avoid violence,
risky sex, and drug abuse. They are more likely to exercise regularly.
- Self monitoring, high self monitoring carefully survey every situation looking for cues as
to the appropriate way to act, and then adjust their behaviour accordingly. Low self
monitors by contrast, tend to be more consistent regardless of the situation, because their
behaviour is guided more by their inner personality. One nice thing about the self
monitoring scale is that you probably got the score you wanted.
- High self monitors: skilled in social techniques, talkative, initiates humor, verbally fluent.
Low self monitors: distressful, perfectionists, touchy and irritable, anxious, introspective,
independent, feeling cheated and victimized by life.
- Self monitoring: the degree to which behaviour and emotion are controlled by the
environment (high self monitoring) or by the person (low self monitoring)
The many trait approach
- Although it can be highly informative to explore the implications of single traits in depth,
a number of personality psychologists enjoy looking at many traits at once.
- The many trait approach looks at the relationship between a particular behaviour and as
many different traits as possible
- One test used in this approach is The California Q set: the set consists of 100 phrases
printed on separate cards. Each phrase describes an aspect of personality that might be
important for characterizing a particular individual. The phrases are more complex t