information about the person’s goals and longings and how they change.
The Trait Approach to Adult Personality
Characteristics of Traits
-Principles underlying the trait approach
1. Traits are general dispositions or thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that endure
over substantial periods of time
2. Traits have relatively little to do with the determination of single, specific
behaviors. Specific behaviors are usually controlled by situational influences. Traits do,
however, show an appreciable influence over behaviors that are averaged over long periods
of time and over a range of diverse situations
3. Traits, by their inherent nature, are highly interactive (example trait anxiety is
the tendency to experience fear when threatened, sociability involves the tendency to act
friendly when in the presence of other people, and so forth). Thus, trait theory recognizes
the importance of person-situation interactions
4. Traits are not merely reactive. Traits possess dynamic, motivating tendencies that
seek out or produce situations that allow for the expression of certain behaviors. For
example, a person who is open to experience may react with interest when presented with a
new idea and may actively seek out new situations (by attending lectures, reading books, or
changing an occupation) that lead to new experiences.
5. The enduring quality of general traits may manifest itself through the emergence
of seemingly different types of behaviors that occur at different times in the adult life span.
For example, an anxious person may be afraid of rejection in high school, economic
recession in adulthood, and illness and death in old age
6. Traits need not to be purely inherited or biologically based. The origin of
personality traits can and should remain in open question
7. Traits are most useful in describing and predicting psychologically important
global characteristics in individuals. Because traits are sensitive to generalities in behavior,
trait theory is especially useful in giving a holistic picture of the person. This feature of
trait theory makes it the ideal basis for the study of personality and aging. If one adopted
an interactionist or contextual model of personality, one would never attempt to address
such global matter as how personality changes with age.