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4 Tutorials that teach Introduction to Trait Theory
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Introduction to Trait Theory

Introduction to Trait Theory

Description:

This lesson will introduce trait theory and its early history.

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Tutorial


What's Covered

This lesson is going to looking at trait theory of personality by covering:

  1. Theory of Personality
  2. Contributions of Allport

1. Theory of Personality

The theory of personality focuses on personality traits, but what is a personality trait?

personality trait is the basic, stable, and consistent qualities that people show over time and in different kinds of situations. These are the building blocks of a person’s self. Another way to say it they are the things we put together to say who a person is and what they're like. Personality traits can have an influence on our behaviors.

ExampleSo if somebody is an angry or irritable person, they may be more prone to do things out of anger or violence.

  • Term to Know
    Personality Trait
  • The basic and stable and consistent qualities people show over time and in different situations; the building blocks of a person’s self, or sense of who they are.

trait theorist is a personality psychologist that conducts a scientific study of personality to identify and measure these particular pieces or aspects of a person's personality. This area of study is considered reductive as a theory, like structuralism, because it tries to break it down into the smallest possible parts.

Term to Know

  • Trait Theorist
  • A personality psychologist that attempts to identify and measure particular aspects or pieces of a person’s personality (or traits).

2. Contributions of Allport

One of the founding figures in trait theory of personality is Gordon Allport. Allport studied and lived during the first half of the 1900s. His major contribution to personality trait theory was the identification of different levels and categories of traits.  

He developed the idea of general versus specific traits in personality. A general trait is what he called a common trait. Common traits are traits that are recognized and shared by most people within a certain culture.

ExampleIn the United States, competitiveness is a trait that is shared and valued by people in the U.S. However, collective or more group-oriented cultures in Africa or Asia might not value the trait of competitiveness as highly. 

Specific traits are individual traits a person has; these are unique and specific to each person over time.

ExampleA person from the U.S. may be a shy and less outgoing person while still sharing the general trait of competitiveness with someone from another region.

Terms to Know

  • Common Traits
  • Traits shared by most members of a specific culture.
  • Individual Traits
  • Specific person’s unique personality traits.

Individual traits are the focus of our trait theories. Within individual traits, Allport further identified levels of importance for those traits. He developed what is called Allport's "Lexical Hypothesis," and identified 18,000 words representing traits in the dictionary. He organized these in to levels of traits.

Term to Know

  • Allport’s “Lexical Hypothesis”
  • Gordon Allport identified 18,000 words representing traits in the dictionary and organized these into levels of traits.

People might take certain traits as being more important or more influential to their own ideas and behavior. A cardinal trait is the most influential and important trait that can be in a person, and they're essentially behind every kind of action that the person takes. Cardinal traits are very rare, since people are generally not defined by a single trait.

ExampleMother Teresa had a cardinal trait of kindness, because that guided essentially all of her actions within life.  

Term to Know

  • Cardinal Traits
  • Traits that are so basic that all of a person’s activities can be traced back to the trait.

The next level is the central traits, and this is probably the most important to the trait theory. Central traits are the prominent, influential traits that are at the core of the personality. They don't completely define a person, but it's the way that people usually act.

ExampleA person might be humorous, intelligent, or shy. 

Term to Know

  • Central Traits
  • Core qualities of a personality; major characteristics you would use to describe an individual.

The final level is the secondary traits. Secondary traits are a lot less influential. These can be things like preferences in what you like about food, or colors. It could also be certain kinds of traits that are only shown in certain situations or circumstances.

ExampleYou might only be shy or anxious when you're speaking in public, but otherwise you might be an outgoing person.

Term to Know
Secondary Traits

Preferences or dependent on the environment.


Summary

Today's lesson has focused on the theory of personality and personality traits, which are the basic and consistent qualities people show. These are studied by trait theorists trying to break down personality into its basic components. Gordon Allport is one of the founding fathers of trait theory. The contributions of Allport include identifying and creating levels for traits.

Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Erick Taggart.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Common Traits

    Traits shared by most members of a specific culture.

  • Individual Traits

    Specific person’s unique personality traits.

  • Central Traits

    Core qualities of a personality; major characteristics you would use to describe an individual.

  • Secondary Traits

    Preferences or dependent on the environment.

  • Cardinal Traits

    Traits that are so basic that all of a person’s activities can be traced back to the trait.

  • Trait Theorist

    A personality psychologist that attempts to identify and measure particular aspects or pieces of a person’s personality (or traits).

  • Personality Trait

    The basic and stable and consistent qualities people show over time and in different situations; the building blocks of a person’s self, or sense of who they are.

  • Allport’s “Lexical Hypothesis”

    Gordon Allport identified 18,000 words representing traits in the dictionary and organized these into levels of traits.