CHAPTER 2 – Personality Traits: A Good Theory
Behavioural residue: when people live in an environment, they leave behind traces that
hint at the personality of the person.
What is a personality trait?
Def.: describe a person‟s typical style of thinking, feeling, acting in different kinds of
situations and at different times.
Temporary states (emotions), attitudes, physical attributes are not considered
Traits are measured over a continuum – a continuous stretch from low to high. They
can‟t be directly measured (like height/weight) so psychologists view them as
Two Approaches to the Study of Personality Traits
Idiographic: goal is to understand personality of a single individual with all of the
idiosyncrasies/characteristics that make them unique
Nomothetic: goal is to discover universals – concepts that can apply to everyone – by
identifying traits that describe all people or can be applied to any person.
Eysenck found that both approaches could be used to study a single person and
develop a theory of personality from there. He hypothesized that the human personality
is organized into a hierarchy. According to Eysenck, the lower on the pyramid = the
more idiosyncratic. The higher = more similar to other people who may have same
This pyramid categorizes human personality from most general level at the top to
most specific level at bottom.
o General = trait is universal. Specific = trait is more unique to one individual
The very bottom level = specific behaviours like responses, acts, cognitions, and
reactions to everyday life.
o While these may not be unique, if they occur many times = habit or typical
way of responding
When certain traits tend to occur together in people then it is said that a
personality type/syndrome/superfactor/ “observed constellation of traits” has
been identified. What do we know about personality from the idiographic approach?
Studying individual personalities
Allport identified three different kinds of traits:
Central traits: traits that are a major importance in understanding person. 5 or 10
traits that people might use to describe one person to another. (“They‟re
talkative, outgoing etc.)
Secondary traits: traits of lesser importance, less consistently displayed or
seldom displayed or only slightly revealed so only a close friend might recognise
Cardinal traits: these are for unusual people where only trait can describe them.
They are extremely pervasive and extremely influential that practically every
aspect of the person‟s life is touched by the „ruling passion‟.
o Example: Oscar the Grouch
What do we know about personality from the nomothetic approach?
Def.: personality psychologists start with a theory or even common wisdom about
Def.: explores a particular language and identifies the number of synonyms that
The reasoning is that if a concept is important to the speakers of a language, then that
concept is encoded in their language in multiple ways.
If this same personality trait is found in many languages may = human universal
The Measurement Approach
Def.: discovering important aspects of personality and trying to measure personality
One of these methods is factor analysis: statistical technique that mathematically
identifies meaningful underlying structure among a set of variables.
Cattell started with 4504 trait terms identified by Allport and reduced them to 160
by eliminating the similarities that eventually narrowed down to Cattell‟s 16
Personality Factors More on Factor Analysis
Achieved by looking at the correlations between all of the questions of the data.
Patterns of correlations will tell which variables go together and which ones don‟t fit.
This finally results in the formation of factors.
Eigenvalue of a factor: Each factor can explain a certain amount of variation (variance)
in answers between participants.
Factor loadings: calculated from the eigenvalue, an estimate of how strongly each
questions fits into a given factor.
May lead to finding underlying concept
When doing factor analysis, the first factor generally accounts for the most amount of
variation. It doesn‟t guarantee making sense because it is derived mathematically. This
leads to rotating the factors to find which questions go together best.
Researchers may take pragmatic approach and only keep factors that are
Once the right numbers have been identified, the factors must be named – this is
accomplished by looking at the items that fall together on each factor and see what
concept they seem to be getting at.
The great nomothetic search for universal principles of personality
The Big Five followed a series of different approaches.
1. Allport‟s lexical approach
2. Cattell‟s factor analysis down to 16 factors
3. Other‟s built on Cattell‟s factors to narrow them down to only five
The five factors seemed to summarize a large number of more distinct lower level traits.
Many popular questionnaire tests also seemed to reveal the five traits. They also
seemed to be based in biological/evolutionary and are therefore universal.
The Big Five is composed of Surgency (Extraversion), Agreeableness,
Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability, and Culture.
Three Superfactors: Eysenck
Eysenck‟s PEN model of personality: Identified three broad dimensions of personality,
based on physiological/biological differences between people:
Psychoticism, Extraversion, Neuroticism Also identified narrow traits (more specific traits) associated with each of the factors.
Psychoticism: how tough-minded or antisocial a person is. People high in psychoticism
tend to be selfish and antisocial. Narrow traits:
Aggressive, cold, egocentric, impersonal, impulsive, antisocial, unsympathetic,
Extraversion: how outgoing people are to social/physical environment. People high in
extraversion tend to be outgoing and experience many positive feelings.
Sociable, lively, active, assertive, sensation-seeking, carefree, dominant,
Neuroticism: refers to negative emotionality and emotional reactivity. People high in
neuroticism tend to be easily upset and vulnerable to negative emotions. People low in
neuroticism tend to be even-tempered and calm, somewhat unemotional, and recover