Personality Traits Theory

20/04/2020 1 By indiafreenotes

Among the best-known essential trait approaches are:

  1. Murray (20 + ‘needs’)
  2. Cattell (16 traits): 16 Personality Factors questionnaire
  3. Eysenck (3 traits): Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (EPQ)—extra- version, neuroticism, and psychotocism
  4. Costa and McCrae (5 traits): NEO—neuroticism, extraversion, open­ness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness

Needs as personality—Henry murray

Henry Murray (1893-1988) was active in developing a theory of motivation from the 1930s to the 1960s. He believed that a need is a potentiality or readiness to respond in a certain way under certain given circumstances. It is a noun which stands for the fact that a certain trend is apt to recur. (Murray et al. 1938) A major assumption of Murray’s theory was that behaviour is driven by an internal state of disequilibrium. In other words, we lack something and this drives us, or we are dissatisfied and we desire for something.

Murray classified needs as follows:

Primary needs (biological needs) are food, water, air, sex, and avoidance of pain

Secondary needs (either derived from our biological needs or inherent in our psychological nature) are:

  • Achievement, recognition, acquisition
  • Dominance, aggression, autonomy
  • Affiliation, rejection
  • Nurturance, play, cognizance (asking questions of others)

Murray believed that stronger needs are expressed more often over time and lead to more intense behaviour. Murray’s main contribution was that he understood personality as being driven by the secondary needs: achievement, dominance, affiliation, and nurturance. The extent to which each of these needs was felt by an individual shaped his/her personality and behaviour. Since the 1960s and the 1970s, the main needs studies have examined achievement, power, affiliation, and intimacy.

For example, the need for achievement (or achievement motivation) was studied extensively by David McLelland in the 1970s, and is the single most- researched need. Achievement motivation refers to the desire to do things well and overcome obstacles to do things better. People possessing high achievement motivation tend to choose more difficult tasks than people with low achievement motivation. This is because they want to find out more about their ability to achieve.

The need for power was studied intensely by David Winter in the 1970s. The need for power is the desire to have dominance, impact on others, prestige, position, and influence over others. Those who have the need for power are often concerned about controlling the image of themselves portrayed to others. If the need for power can be combined with taking on responsibility, then ‘acceptable’ displays of power can be experienced.

The need for affiliation has been studied by McAdam in the 1980s. The need for affiliation refers to the desire to spend time with other people. It can be more useful to look at subcomponents such as social comparison, emotional support, positive stimulation, and attention from others.

The need for intimacy is the desire to experience warm, close, and communicative exchanges with another person. Ultimately, it is the desire to merge oneself with another. The need for intimacy correlates (medium correlation) with the need for affiliation, but focuses more on one-to-one interactions, particularly self-disclosure and listening.

Murray’s needs theory is sometimes studied as a part of the trait perspective, as ‘needs’ are seen as akin to traits. But probably, you will see the needs’ theory studied more often within the psychoanalytic perspective because it is seen as a Drive theory of personality. We will return to this when we look at the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) in the psychoanalytic section of the course. The TAT was derived from Murray’s needs theory.


Cattell (1905) viewed language as a useful source of information about personality. A quality described by many words, he figured, was likely to be a more important part of personality. Cattell used this lexical criterion in determining his original list of trait names.

Cattell narrowed Allport and Odbert’s (1936) listing of over 17,000 words down to 4,500 words and then narrowed these down further to 171 trait names. Cattell then collected self-ratings on these words and conducted a factor analysis. He used both observer and behavioural data.

The result was his 16 personality factors (16 PF):

  1. Reserved vs. warm
  2. Concrete reasoning vs. abstract reasoning
  3. Reactive vs. emotionally stable
  4. Deferential vs. dominant
  5. Serious vs. lively
  6. Expedient vs. rule-conscious
  7. Shy vs. socially bold
  8. Utilitarian vs. sensitive
  9. Trusting vs. vigilant
  10. Practical vs. imaginative
  11. Forthright vs. private
  12. Self-assured vs. apprehensive
  13. Traditional vs. open-to-change
  14. Group-oriented vs. self-reliant
  15. Tolerates disorder vs. perfectionist
  16. Relaxed vs. tense


Hans Eysenck (1916-97) believed initially that all people could be described in terms of two super traits, which he believed had a biological basis:

  1. Introversion-extraversion (continuum of sociability, dominance, liveli­ness, etc.)
  2. Emotionality-stability (neuroticism) (continuum of upset and distress)
  3. Psychoticism (added later, less researched), a predisposition towards becoming either psychotic or sociopathic (psychologically unattached to other people); also, a tendency to be hostile, manipulative, and impulsive

Eysenck designed the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (EPQ). A second-order factor analysis of Cattell’s 16 PF shows two factors— introversion/extraversion and anxiety. So, the underlying factors of Cattell’s scales are very similar to those of Eysenck.

An example of the research supporting the super traits was a 1968 study by Giese and Schmidt with a group of college students over the age of nineteen (reported by Eysenck 1973), in which extraversion strongly predicted the age of first experiencing sexual intercourse.

There are many studies on primary personality traits, but an effective measurement of personality traits for identification and classification is widely done using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the Big-Five Model. MBTI is essentially a 100-question personality test to understand from people their feelings and actions in a given situation.

The responses are then classified into four major types, such as extroverted vs introverted, sensing vs intuitive, thinking vs feeling, and judging vs perceiving. These were then combined into 16 personality types—ESTJ, INFP, ESFP, INTJ, ESFJ, INTP, ENFP, ISTJ, ESTP, INFJ, ENFJ, ISTP, ENTJ, ISFP, ENTP, and ISIJ. Attributes of some of the types are as follows.

(i) ESTJ

The ESTJ personality types prefer dealing with facts and the present, and make decisions using logic. They are organized on a logical basis, and are therefore practical. They like to solve problems in a businesslike and impersonal manner. They take care of details before considering any strategies.

(ii) INFP

People with this personality type are more focused on their inner world and therefore they are driven by thoughts and emotions. They give more importance to personal values, are flexible and open to new insights, and are adaptable. They take fancy to new ideas and sometimes make very creative contributions. They like to grow and feel that others should grow too. They undertake work that has a meaningful purpose.

(iii) ESFP

People with this personality type derive their energy from the outside world of actions and spoken words. They prefer dealing with facts, enjoy friendship, and are often impulsive. They tend to take part in fire fighting and troubleshooting and come out with practical solutions to problems involving people.

(iv) INTJ

People with this type of personality derive their energy from the inner world and more from their emotions. They deal with patterns and possibilities for the future, making impersonal decisions. They are strategists, capable of identifying long-term goals and achieving them. However, they are also a bit sceptical and critical, both about themselves and others. They have a keen sense of deficiencies in quality and competence.

(v) ESFJ

The ESFJ types take their energy from the outer world of actions and spoken words. They deal with facts and people and make decisions on the basis of personal values. They are very warm and seek to maintain harmonious relationships with colleagues and friends. They have a strong sense of duty and loyalty.

(vi) INTP

The INTP types take their energy from the inner world of thoughts and emotions. They make decisions on the basis of logic. Their life is flexible and they follow new insights and possibilities. They are quiet, detached, and adaptable only when there is a clear principle. They are not interested in routine and they will often experiment or change things to see if they can be improved. They operate best when solving complex problems that require the application of intellect.

It is important to mention here that the MBTI questionnaire cannot be printed here for the obvious lack of copyright. But interested researchers can obtain this from available web sites to assess the personality types of employees.


Despite the wide popularity of MBTI, its results are not always fool proof. Many researchers recommend its use only for self-awareness.

The Big-Five Model, in contrast, has a strong application support and often researchers feel that it is a better alternative.

The Big-Five personality factors are:

  1. Extroversion
  2. Conscientiousness
  3. Openness to stability
  4. Agreeableness
  5. Emotional stability

A strong consensus has emerged since the mid-1980s about the number and nature of personality traits. Five superordinate factors have emerged, often referred to as the ‘Big Five’ or the 5-factor model. The presence of these five factors is well supported by a wide variety of research.

In 1949, Fiske published early evidence supporting the 5-factor model. During the 1980s and 1990s a vast array of research was combined to support the 5-factor model. Not everyone, however, agrees to the nomenclature of the five super-traits.

The 5-factor model is commonly measured by the NEO by Costa and McCrae (1992).

The Big Five, according to the NEO are neuroticism, extra- version, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness (remember OCEAN, or NEOAC):

  1. Neuroticism (emotional stability)
  2. Extraversion (introversion)
  3. Openness to experience (closeness to experiences)
  4. Agreeableness (disagreeableness)
  5. Conscientiousness (lack of conscientiousness)

Each super-trait is measured by 6 facets (or subordinate traits). These are displayed in Table 1.