Sport Psychology Researcher

Advantages of trait theories Trait theories are based upon scientific observations and are, thus, replicable. They also provide testable hypotheses and are subject to falsification. Generally speaking, trait approaches have stood up reasonably well. The trait approach emphasises the person rather than the situation. “A trait is a relatively stable and long-term characteristic which could be used to predict an individual’s behaviour in a variety of situations.” (Wesson et al 2000)

The trait theory suggests that the characteristics or “traits” could be identified, were consistent and could be generalised across the population as a whole. For example, if someone was assessed as being aggressive and competitive then this can be used to predict their reactions in future situations. “Trait Theory of Personality Trait theorists see personality as being determined by distinctive and stable underlying traits, which reflect fundamental individual differences in genetic make-up.

This concept provides a strong contrast with theorists who believe that personality is determined by either intra-psychic or environmental influences. There are several trait theorists including: Gordon Allport, Raymond Cattell (who isolated 16 personality traits), and Eysenck who specified three traits. An individual’s personality is defined by combinations of the traits. “A trait is a recognised fundamental quality or aspect of personality”.

Gordon Allport 1897 – 1967 is generally considered to be the father of trait theory. He identified thousands of personality traits and grouped these into three categories: – Cardinal Traits; A cardinal trait would be one trait that dominates personality across time and situations. If you had a cardinal trait, it would be the most important component of your personality e.g. ambition, power seeking. Relatively few people develop a cardinal trait. If they do, it tends to be late in life.

– Central Traits Five to ten traits that is stable across time and situations. Everyone has central traits and they are the building blocks of personality. Honesty, friendliness, happiness, introverted, extroverted, smart etc. – Secondary Traits Characteristics that is only evident in certain situations. These are of less importance to personality theorists. Preferences, attitudes, situational traits are all secondary. For example, “he gets angry when you try to tickle him”.

Raymond Cattell’s Personality model is primarily responsible for the development of a consistent and meaningful trait theory. Cattell acknowledged previous theories and realised 16 primary traits. In his model, he proposed that there are 16 traits that are universal in the realm of personality. He collected many relevant terms in his search of universal personality traits, and through advanced statistical methods of his time, he narrowed them down to 16 (1965). A personality test, the 16 PF (Personality Factors), which was based on this work, and are still in use today.

Eysenck’s (1916) work focuses on temperament which is an aspect of our personalities that is genetically based, inborn, there from birth or even before. That does not mean that a temperament theory says we don’t also have aspects of our personality that are learned! They just have a focus on “nature,” and leave “nurture” to other theorists! Eysenck found two personality dimensions which can be viewed as a continuum.

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