In psychology, Trait theory is a major approach to the study of human personality. 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 relatively stable over time, differ among individuals (e.g. some people are outgoing whereas others are shy), and influence behavior.
Gordon Allport was an early pioneer in the study of traits, which he sometimes referred to as dispositions. In his approach, central traits are basic to an individual's personality, whereas secondary traits are more peripheral. Common traits are those recognized within a culture and may vary between cultures. Cardinal traits are those by which an individual may be strongly recognized. Since Allport's time, trait theorists have focused more on group statistics than on single individuals. Allport called these two emphases "nomothetic" and "idiographic," respectively.
There is a nearly unlimited number of potential traits that could be used to describe personality. The statistical technique of factor analysis, however, has demonstrated that particular clusters of traits reliably correlate together. Hans Eysenck has suggested that personality is reducible to three major traits. Other researchers argue that more factors are needed to adequately describe human personality. Many psychologists currently believe that five factors are sufficient.
Virtually all trait models, and even ancient Greek philosophy, include extraversion vs. introversion as a central dimension of human personality. Another prominent trait that is found in nearly all models is Neuroticism, or emotional instability.
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