Personality Chapter 7: Trait Approaches to Personality: Allport, Eysenck, and Cattell
Personality traits are psychological characteristics that are stable over time and across situations.
Factor Analysis is a statistical procedure is used to identify the most basic individual differences in
1) The Trait Concept
When talking about people we commonly use personality trait termswords that describe peoples
typical styles of experience and action.
A) What is a Trait?
Personality traits refer to consistent patterns in the way individuals behave, feel and think. Traits
may serve three major functions: they may be used to summarize, to predict, and to explain a
B) Basic Views Shared by Trait Theorists
The most basic assumption of the trait point of view is that people possess broad
predispositions, called traits, to respond in particular ways. It is assumed that personality can be
useful characterized in terms of an individuals consistent likelihood of behaving, feeling or
thinking in a particular way.
A related assumption is that there is a direct correspondence between the persons performance
of trait-related actions and their possession of the corresponding trait. The research procedures
of trait theory assume that overt behaviour and underlying traits are linked in a more direct,
Another shared assumption is that human behaviour and personality can be organized into a
hierarchy. At its simplest level, behaviour can be considered in terms of specific responses.
However, some of these responses are linked together and form more general habits. Groups of
habits tend to occur together to form traits. At an even higher level of organization, various traits
may be linked together to form secondary, high-order factors or superfactors.
In sum, trait theories suggest that people display broad predispositions to respond in certain
ways; that these dispositions are organized in a hierarchical manner; and that the trait concept
can be a foundation for a scientific theory of personality.
2) The Trait Theory of Gordon Allport (1897-1967)
Allport believed that traits are the basic units of personality. According to him, traits actually exist
and are based in the nervous system. They represent generalized personality dispositions that
account for regularities in the functioning of a person across situations and over time. Traits can be
defined by three properties: frequency, intensity and range of situations.
A) Traits and Distinctions among Kinds of Traits
Allport and Odbert defined traits as generalized and personalized determining tendencies
consistent and stable modes of an individuals adjustment to his environment. Allport and
Odberts classified personality descriptors into three categories: traits, states and activities.
Allport distinguished among cardinal traits, central traits and secondary dispositions.
1) A cardinal trait expresses a disposition that is so pervasive and outstanding in a persons life
that virtually every act is traceable to its influence. Generally, people have few, if any,
2) Central traits (ex: honesty, assertiveness, kindness) express dispositions that cover a more
limited range of situations than is true for cardinal traits.
3) Secondary dispositions are traits that are the least conspicuous, generalized and consistent.
In other words, people possess traits with varying degrees of significance and generality.
Allport recognized the importance of the situation in explaining why a person does not behave
the same way all the time. A trait expresses what a person generally does over many situations,
not what will be done in any one situation. The trait concept is necessary to explain the
consistency of behaviour, whereas recognition of the importance of the situation is necessary to
explain the variability of behaviour.B) Functional Autonomy
Allport emphasizes his concept of the functional autonomy of human motives. His idea is that
the motives of an adult may have their roots in the tension-reducing motives of the child;
however, the adult grows out of the earlier motives, becoming independent of these earlier
tension-reducing efforts. What originally began as an effort to reduce hunger or anxiety can
become a source of pleasure and motivation in its own right.
C) Idiographic Research
Allport emphasized the uniqueness of the individual. This idiographic research emphasis
highlights the pattern and organization of traits within a person rather than a persons standing,
relative to others, on isolated trait variables. Allports emphasis on the uniqueness of the
individual led him to suggest that there are unique traits for each person that cannot be
captured by science.
D) Comment on Allport
Allport valuably suggested that behaviour generally expresses the action of many traits, that
conflicting dispositions can exist within the person, and that traits are expressed in part by the
persons selection of situations as opposed to his or her response to situations.
Although he clarified the concept of trait, he did little research to establish the existence and
utility of specific trait concepts. He convincingly documented people display unique and
consistent patterns of trait-related behaviour, but he did not provide a detailed processing model
to explain that behaviour.
Some people interpreted his focus on the idiosyncratic individual to mean that it was impossible
to create a science of personality that yielded general, lawful psychological principles.
3) The Three-Factor Theory of Hans J. Eysenck (1916-1997)
Eysenck is one of the most influential and cited psychologists of the 20 century.
A) Trait Measurement: Factor Analysis
Eysenck greatly emphasized conceptual clarity and precise measurement. Much of his efforts
were devoted to developing reliable measures of personality traits. In pursuing trait theory, he