PSYB30- Chapter 2 Personality Traits: A Good Theory
Behavioural Residue: Physical traces left behind by everyday actions, which
provide hints and cues to the personality of the occupant.
Traits: descriptors of personality (e.g. anxious, easily upset, sociable and so on)
What Is a Personality Trait?
Traits: describe a person‟s typical style of thinking, feeling, and acting in different
kinds of situations and at different times.
Temporary states (such as emotions), attitudes (liberal, conservative), and
physical attributes (short, muscular) are not considered personality traits.
Traits are measured over a continuum- that is, in a continuous stretch, from low to
Because traits cannot be directly measured in the same way that, height and
weight can psychologists think of traits as hypothetical concepts. For this reason
some psychologists view traits are purely descriptive summaries of behaviour
without thinking about where they came from or why a person acts that way.
(Mario is very sociable, just look at how he‟s getting along with everyone)
Other psychologists see traits as internal, causal properties. (Well of course Mario
is getting along with everyone he‟s a sociable person)
There are two main ways that psychologist have approached the study of traits:
through the detailed study of a single individual and through the combined study
of numerous people. These approaches have been called idiographic and
Two Approaches to the Study of Personality Traits
In the idiographic approach the goal is to understand the personality of a single
individual with all of his or her quirks or idiosyncrasies and characteristics that
make them unique.
In the nomothetic approach the goal is to discover universals- concepts that can
apply to everyone- by identifying traits that can describe all people or that can be
applied to any person.
Hans Eysenck realized that one could study both the general (nomothetic) and the
specific (idiographic) within a single person and develop a theory of personality
from there. He hypothesized that the human personality is organized into a
hierarchy, which we can think of as a pyramid.
This pyramid categorizes human personality from the most general level at the top
to the most specific level at the bottom. General means a trait is universal or
applicable to other people, whereas specific means a trait is more unique to single
What Do We Know About Personality From the Idiographic Approach?
Studying Individual Personalities: The Idiographic Approach Using the idiographic approach to personality Allport identified three different
kinds of traits: central traits, secondary traits, and cardinal traits.
- Central traits: are traits that are of major importance in understanding the
person. They are the 5 or 10 traits that people who know you might mention in
your letter of recommendation or to someone who doesn‟t know you when
- Secondary traits: are traits of lesser importance, less consistently displayed or
seldom displayed or only revealed so that only very close friends might
- Cardinal traits: traits that completely dominate a personality, it occurs in
people who may have one and only one trait that describes him or her.
What Do We Know About Personality From the Nomothetic Approach?
Finding Universals: The Nomothetic Approach
There are at least three different ways to identify the most meaningful and
applicable words to describe personality. Researchers typically use a combination
of the theoretical approach, the lexical approach, and the measurement approach.
One the basic traits have been identified by one of these methods, psychologists
use statistical techniques, such as factor analysis, to verify and validate that they
have indeed found important traits
- The Theoretical Approach: Is a theory or common wisdom about human
- The Lexical Approach: explores a particular language and identifies the
number of synonyms that describe personality. The reasoning is that if a
concept is important to speakers of language, then that concept will be
encoded in their language in multiple ways. If the same personality trait is
found across many different languages, such a trait may qualify as a human
- The Measurement Approach: attempts to discover important aspects of
personality and tries to measure personality.
Research Methods Illustrated: Factor Analysis
Factor Analysis: is a statistical technique that mathematically identifies a
meaningful underlying structure among a set of variables. Suppose some
questions are related to each other- but not to other questions; then we can say
that we have identified a unique factor in participants‟ responses.
To know whether some questions go together, we must look at the correlations
among all of the questions in our data.
Correlation (r) represents the strength of a relationship between two variables.
The sign of r tells us that the two variables are either directly related (positive) or
inversely related (negative). The pattern of correlations will tell us which variables go together or correlate
with each other and which variables don‟t seem to fit.
Each factor can explain a certain amount of variation, called variance, in answers
between participants, which is called the eigenvalue of the factor.