Trait Theory and the Big Five


• Gordon Allport wrote the influential book, “Personality” in 1937. He developed his ideas about “traits” viewing these as the basic structural elements of personality. • Traits were defined as a predisposition to respond in a particular way to a broad range of situations. So an even-tempered person remains calm across a broad range of situations. The situations or stimuli are rendered “functionally equivalent” - opportunities to exercise restraint. Each person has a certain expressive and adaptive style that they bring to the situation.

traits have an actual physical location in the nervous system. a shy person faced with invite a party-avoids going. Idiographic traits were those unique to the individual. we infer its existence because of consistency of behavior. So for example. Nomothetic traits were trait units that could be applied to all people. looking for a hobby-chooses a solitary activity like model building. • Dissimilar stimuli are capable of arousing the trait. takes a class at collge-doesn’t raise hand • Allport also made the distinction as to whether traits could be used to describe people in general or just a single individual. .Allport: More on Traits • According to Allport.

represent dispositions that are more limited in range. Peripheral disposition. example: likes Coca Cola.Categories of Traits  Cardinal Traits-pervasive example: stingy w/ money. broadly consistent but perhaps not always Secondary Dispositions-least conspicuous and generalized. time. prefers Italy to France . compliments or person like Marquis de Sade  Central Traits.

traits are components of self that initiate and direct behavior in unique ways. skills along with traits. . • Proprium goes beyond the traits of the person and includes habits.Proprium • Allport has a special name for what we would normally called the self-called proprium. • Thus. interests.

• Idiographic Approach was therefore his favored method.Personality Unique? • Allport felt that the personality was unique and that the assessment of personality should take this in to account. he rejected the idea that human motivation could be limited to a few motives (sex and aggression for example). • Finally. • More important to know about organization of traits w/i the person rather than to look where they stand on common traits relative to others. This couldn’t adequately describe the varied functioning of people . • Did not use factor analysis because he felt it emphasized the average and individual got lost in the process.

But it was a start. Allport and Odbert were looking at “natural language. Should help you understand how things differ. There is no reason to assume that all the important ways that people differ exist in the natural language.Big Five • Taxonomy. Involves ordering. • They found that the English dictionary contained roughly 1800 descriptors of persons.” This is the rub. Allport and Odbert (1936) were early innovators in trying to describe differences in personality using a so-called lexical approach. naming and systematically distinguishing between things.a scientific classification system. . • Applying this concept to personality.

• Endomorphy is centered on the abdomen. Limbs relatively long with drooping shoulders • Each person rated on a seven point scale for each attribute. and the whole digestive system. • Or develop a taxonomy based on body type as William Sheldon didpsychological types based on body type.More on Taxonomies • There are many other potential starting points for taxonomies of human differences other than the dictionary and natural language. Individual is muscular. • Ectomorphy is characterized as thin and delicate. so a 7:1:1 is an extreme endomorph. . • We could start for instance with the insights of psychiatrists and psychologists about their patients. A soft and round person around middle • Mesomorphy is focused on the muscles and the circulatory system.

There were too many descriptive terms to be of much value. • The major problem with the original lexical approach was not so much one of ultimate truth about personality but rather one of “unwieldiness. the lexical system became the foundation for the Big Five .” How to make it more manageable. • However.Taxonomies • Or we could examine individual differences in motives and goals. each approach has its problems. Murray’s taxonomy (1938) was based on a classification of twenty motives. None-the-less. In fact.

Norman’s further explorations left us with 1400 words. . He then assigned each cluster to one of five dimensions. and words describing physical characteristics (short-tall). • He further pruned to including only traits (broad descriptions of behavioral tendencies with some implied stability) yielding 1600 terms.The Lexical Approach Becomes More Manageable • In 1967. • He did this by making a rational decision to initially eliminating evaluative words (for example. words not typically known to literate speakers of English.000 words. Norman attempted to reduce the number of descriptive terms in the lexical approach (to make it user friendly!). grouped by him into 75 clusters (based on prior studies and insights). • Eventually. • This left about 8. the word nice).

.Analyzing the Set of Terms • The terms defined by Norman’s work could be “dimensionalized.” • One thing this means we could look at them on a continuum by creating their negations… not irascible………………………. easily provoked) Introverted………………………extroverted • Once the terms were dimensionalized.irascible (quick-tempered. a person could be rated on each dimension (five or seven point scale for instance). Then statistical techniques like factor analysis could be used to explore relationships among the ratings.

• He then used factor analysis to analyze relationships of the cluster scores. . • Goldberg had college students rate their personalities on 1400 dimensions. he summed scores for dimensions that belonged to the same cluster.Goldberg’s Work • Goldberg (1990) did a factor analysis of rating scores based on Norman’s work. • Next. • He used Norman’s classifications to form 75 clusters.

we know they are related. • But this isn’t a perfect world… • So for example.0 on some other factor (Factor 2).Factor Analysis • He also looked at the relationships between all possible pairs of dimensions to see if they were correlated. we could look at the correlation between introverted-extraverted and quiet-talkative. We might say that individuals who describe themselves as extraverted also tend to describe themselves as talkative. • So the question answered by factor analysis is .0 and 0.0 correlation and 0. The opposite would be true of the other 35 clusters. in the real world. if we might take our 75 clusters and find that 35 load on one factor (Factor 1) at a 1. If the correlation is say . They would load on Factor 2 at 1. “ Are sets of dimensions correlated” and ultimately can they be collapsed? .50.0 on Factor 1. Could the 75 factors be collapsed? • In a perfect world.

• For example…dimension courteous p. Dimensions that load highly on more than one factor are called blends.Factor Analysis • In the end. • The factor is an abstract concept. the result of a factor analysis is the discovery of a so-called factor. . This can be the subject of debate. These are called marker variables. It is whatever the interrelated measures have in common. We can give the commonality a name. • Some dimensions may load (correlation between the measure and factor) on a particular factor. 89 loads on two factors…agreeableness and conscientiousness…perhaps being courteous is an offshoot of being careful in an interpersonal sense.

Openness to experience Conscientiousness Extraversion Agreeableness Neuroticism What does it spell? Go to page 28 in Brody and Ehrlichman.Big Five Factors • • • • • • • • Goldberg found five factors. .

. psychoticism) • Vagaries of factor analysis means that there could be more than one acceptable factor solution for the same set of data. Some people talk about more factors being needed.More on Big Five • These factors have been found to be quite robust across cultures. introversion. others less (Eysenck -3 factorsextraversion. • However not everyone agrees with five factor model.

NEO-PI-R Five factor Inventory • Questionnaire associated with Big Five Model. Developed by Costa and McCrae. • Current version 243 items/approx 45 minutes to complete • Five point scale is used and the person self-assesses how characteristic or uncharacteristic a certain statement is characteristic or representative of them. . • Authors argue strongly for use of questionnaires to assess personality and are critical of projective testing. • Designed to provide a general description of normal personality.

. non-neurotic partner as opposed to the opposite. we might look at the Big Five in terms of specific issue of partner selection and interpersonal relations. conscientious. • Evolutionary psychology-emphasizes importance of judging the behavior of others in terms of promoting survival. • Most people might therefore want an agreeable.Evolutionary Psychology and the Big Five • Has been used to explain the origin of the Big Five. energetic. extraverted. • In this regard.

• But we are sill left with the important question of why people differ on these traits. a certain set of traits in the other person might mean having a partner who is cooperative. • Put another way. How do those with less preferable traits survive? And how do these traits survive? What is the answer? . Or the traits in us might make us more attractive to others and insure that our genes survive.Evolutionary Psychology • This question of selection interweaves with the issue of our survival as individuals and as a race.

• Moral of the story: Perhaps every Bonnie needs a Clyde! . The introverted stayed with the introverted.Birds of a Feather Flock Together • Example might be two librarians marry. as actually was the case with to of one of my clients who was a librarian.

This has been an explicit or implicit assumption of trait theorists.Trait-Situation Controversy • We have examined the historical development of trait theory from Allport to the present. • In this sense trait models were similar to psychodynamic models. especially the Freudian model. which also proposed that personality was stable . • One important notion embedded in trait theory is the notion that personality is consistent and stable.

Skinner showed us that reinforcement contingencies could influence behavior. In fact. due to the ascendance of models like that of B. Eysenck and Catell on up to Costa and McCrae. • This was. the question eventually arose as to whether situations could override personality variables and affect behavior.Trait-Situation Controversy • In the trait camp are people like Allport. in part.F. Skinner. • None-the-less. This is a well-entrenched theoretical point of view. Skinner thought personality was essentially the product of history of reinforcement .

• Ellis in the 50’s. .Cognitive Revolution • And personality theorists were also being influenced by the cognitive revolution… • Kelly. • This work set the stage for the social-cognitive theories of Mischel and Bandura and what became the trait controversy. perceiving and interpreting events.idea of constructs which were defined as ways of construing. developed Rational Therapy which later became Rational-EmotiveTtherapy and now is REBT and theory. Constructs and construct systems became the basic unit of personality.

For our purposes. which might be called transitional ideas moving toward cognitive theories and the social-cognitive models of Mischel and Bandura. D and M also wanted to extend Behaviorism to deal with issues like cognition and motivation.Transitioning from Behaviorism to Cognitive Approaches Dollard and Miller • In the 50’s. What D and M did…  Identified 4 shortcomings of Behaviorism  Developed notion of a “habit hierarchy. we will look at 3 ideas of D and M.”  Discussed Freudian defense mechanisms as “cognitive behaviors.” .

Behavior was the unit of analysis in Operant conditioning and the components to be studied were  Antecedents  Behaviors  Consequences Traffic Light Example Traffic Light Example .Beyond BFS • These ideas (Kelly and Ellis and D and M) were taking us further away from Skinner’s pure behavioral theory which was not phenomenological or cognitive in the least.

first of all.Walter Mischel’s Model Social Learning Theory • • Mischel. In 1968. was mentored by Kelly so he had a cognitive bent. . he came forward with his critique of trait theory and over the ensuing years to the present. he attempted to develop an alternative conceptualization of personality.

Three Key Points • Situational Specificity • Discrimination • Adaptive or self-regulation aspects of personality functioning .

3. . Emphasis on how people construe dataself. 2. preferences and goals (can visualize end points). People have expectancies about probable outcomes. People have subjective values.Units of Mischel’ Cognitive Reconceptualization of Personality 1. other world. If…then thinking. People have personal constructs-encoding strategies. This means behavior in two situations may differ-child rewarded in school with attention for good behavior may behave badly at home.

. Mischel has emphasized the interaction of all of these units 1-6 Cognitive-affective personality system (CAPS) 5. 7.Mischel 4. Actual achievement may vary dependent on other factors. Self-regulatory systems. selecting plans for achieving goals.people differ in their ability to use information.refers to the individual’s ability to develop and enact long-term plans.affects. etc. More recently a new unit of personality has been added. Finally. Cognitive and Behavioral competencies.related to potential achievement. 6. This involves dealing with frustration.

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