The Trait Theory asserts that an individual is composed of a set of definite predisposition attributes called as traits. These traits are distinguishable and often long lasting quality or a characteristic of a person that makes him different from the others.
Trait theorists are primarily interested in the measurement of traits, which can be defined as habitual patterns of behavior, thought, and emotion. According to this perspective, traits are aspects of personality that are relatively stable over time, differ across individuals (e.g. some people are outgoing whereas others are not), are relatively consistent over situations, and influence behavior. Traits are in contrast to states, which are more transitory dispositions.
In some theories and systems, traits are something a person either has or does not have, but in many others traits are dimensions such as extraversion vs. introversion, with each person rating somewhere along this spectrum.
There are two approaches to define traits: as internal causal properties or as purely descriptive summaries. The internal causal definition states that traits influence our behaviours, leading us to do things in line with that trait. On the other hand, traits as descriptive summaries are descriptions of our actions that don’t try to infer causality.
The two most common trait theories are:
Allport’s Trait Theory
This theory is given by Gordon Allport. According to him, the personality of an individual can be studied through a distinction between the common traits and the personal dispositions.
The common traits are used to compare the people on the grounds of six values, such as religious, social, economic, political, aesthetic and theoretical. Besides the common traits, there are personal dispositions which are unique and are classified as follows:
- Cardinal Traits: The cardinal traits are powerful, and few people possess personality dominated by a single trait. Such as Mother Teressa’s altruism.
- Central Traits: These traits are the general characteristics possessed by many individuals in the varying degrees. Such as loyalty, friendliness, agreeableness, kindness, etc.
- Secondary Trait: The secondary traits show why at times, a person behaves differently than his usual behavior. Such as a jolly person may get miserable when people try to tease him.
Cattell’s Trait Theory
This trait theory is given by Raymond Cattell. According to him, the sample of a large number of variables should be studied to have a proper understanding of the individual personality.
He collected the life data (everyday life behaviors of individuals), experimental data (standardizing experiments by measuring actions), questionnaire data (responses gathered from the introspection of an individual’s behavior) and done the factor analysis to identify the traits that are related to one another.
By using the factor analysis method, he identified 16 key personality factors:
- Abstractedness: Imaginative Vs Practical
- Warmth: Outgoing Vs Reserved
- Vigilance: Suspicious Vs Trusting
- Tension: Impatient Vs Relaxed
- Apprehension: Worried Vs Confident
- Emotional Stability: Calm Vs anxious
- Liveliness: Spontaneous Vs Restrained
- Dominance: Forceful Vs Submissive
- Social Boldness: Uninhibited Vs Shy
- Perfectionism: Controlled Vs Undisciplined
- Privateness: Discreet Vs Open
- Sensitivity: Tender Vs Tough
- Self Reliance: Self sufficient Vs Dependent
- Rule-Consciousness: Conforming Vs Non-Conforming
- Reasoning: Abstract Vs Concrete
- Openness to Change: Flexible Vs Stubborn
The trait theory is based on the assumption that the traits are common to many individuals and they vary in absolute amounts. Also, the traits remain consistent over a period of time, and thus can be measured through the behavioral indicators.