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Psychology Chapter on Personality

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Trait theories: Theoretical views stress that personality consists of broad enduring dispositions also known as traits that tend to lead to characteristic responses.

In other words, we can describe people in terms of the way they behave such as whether they are outgoing, friendly, private, or hostile.

Some people who have a strong tendency to behave in certain ways are referred to as “high” on the traits whereas those with the weak tendency are referred to as “low” on the traits.

Trait theorists differ about which traits make up personality but agree that the traits are fundamental components of personality.

Gordon Alport – father of American personality psychology - :

He stressed on each person’s uniqueness and capacity to adapt to the environment. Traits are the optimal way to understand personality.

He defined traits as mental structures that make different situations the same for the person i.e behavior should be consistent across different situations.

Disapproved the negative view of humanity of psychoanalysts

He believed that personality psychology should focus on understanding healthy well-adjusted individuals. A healthy, mature person has:

A positive but objective sense of self and others.

Interest in issues beyond their own experience

A sense of humor

Common sense

A unifying philosophy of life

Alport and H.S.Odbert came up with 4500 traits to summarize the way we describe personality.

Lexical approach: This approach reflects the idea that if a trait is important to people in real life, it’s represented in the natural language people use to talk about one another.

Factor Analysis: A statistical procedure that allows researchers to identify the traits that go together. It involve taking the various rating of  certain traits and reducing them down to a few underlying factors that explain their overlap.


There are essentially five broad personality dimensions that are represented in a natural language

Five factors of Personality (NEOAC or OCEAN): The five broad traits that are thought to describe the main dimension of personality:

  1. Neuroticism or emotional instability
  2. Extraversion
  3. Openness to experience
  4. Agreeableness
  5. Conscientiousness

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The five factors are independent of one another so a person can be any combination of them.

The role of personality traits in our life depends on the situations in which we find ourselves; they can be strengths or weaknesses.

If our personalities are not particularly well suited to a situation, we can change that situation or create one that fits better.


Personality change is continuous throughout life.

Social dominance (a type of extraversion), conscientiousness and emotional stability (opposite of neuroticism) were found to increase especially between the ages of 20 and 40.

Social vitality, another type of extraversion, and openness to experience increased most during adolescence but then declined in old ages.

Agreeableness showed a steady rise over the life course.

The factors most likely to emerge across cultures and languages are extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.

They also appear in animals.


Some researchers say that these traits migh not end up being the ultimate list of broad traits; they argue that more specific traits are better predictors of behavior (HEXACO model)

HEXACO model: incorporates a sixth dimension, honesty/humility, to capture the moral dimensions of personality.


Researchers who approach personality from the personological and life story perspectives tend to think that two people who have the same levels from the big five traits do not essentially have the same personality

One of the goals of personality psychology is to understand how each one of us is unique.

Personological and life story perspectives: Theoretical views stress that the way to understand the uniqueness of each person is to focus on his or her life history and life story.


Murray was a young biochemistry student who became interested in the psychology of personality after meeting Carl Yung

Murray and Allport saw personality very differently:

Alport was most comfortable focusing on conscious experience and traits whereas Murray embraced the psychodynamic notion of unconscious motivation.

Murray coined the word personology to refer to the study of the whole person.

He believed that to understand a person; we have to know the person’s history, including the physical, psychological, and sociological aspects of the person’s life.



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