Personality Psychology

Trait Theory

Trait theory is an approach to the study of human personality that tests and describes the degree to which unique character characteristics occur from individual to person. The theory indicates that, regardless of the situation, characteristics remain consistent but differ among individuals. It also means that humans, regardless of their genetic variations, vary in characteristics. Gordon Allport, Hans Eysenck and Raymond Cattell were the chief proponents of this hypothesis. The multiple personality traits were grouped into three levels by Gordon, namely cardinal traits, core traits and secondary traits (Carver & Scheier, 2017). According to him, cardinal traits act as the dominant force in personality, overshadow all other traits and become an individual’s defining personality trait. These traits develop later in life and are quite rare. The central traits are a small group of traits that rule the behavior of a person (Carver & Scheier, 2017). These traits are descriptions such as anxious, intelligent, shy or honest. The secondary traits are related to preferences and attitudes.

Eysenck's Perspective

Eysenck believed that that biology governs personality. He viewed people as having three specific personalities, namely, the extroversion versus introversion, psychoticism versus socialism and neuroticism versus stability (Carver & Scheier, 2017). According to him, extroverts are outgoing, sociable and readily connect to others while introverts engage in solitary, like being alone and limit their interactions with other people. Psychotic people are cold, impulsive, hostile and independent thinkers (Carver & Scheier, 2017). Conversely, those high on socialization are empathetic, conventional, cooperative and altruistic.

Raymond's Perspective

Raymond believed that all uncommon traits should be eliminated, and hence he combined the most common traits and eliminated the uncommon traits. According to Raymond, the 16 traits are responsible for human personality.

The Motive Perspective

The basic theoretical elements of this perspective are needs, motive, and press. According to Murray, a supporter of the theory, need is an internal directional force that determines the way in which people respond to situations and objects in their environment (Matz, Chan & Kosinski, 2016). According to this perspective, behavior is understood as the reflection of how strong the needs of a person are. Motives, by contrast, appear in a person's preoccupations and thoughts and hence are emotionally toned (Matz et al., 2016). Motives always follow needs but are also influenced by external forces. When they become strong, they influence behavior and over time, the motive nature begins to form the picture of a person's personality.

Comparing and Contrasting the Trait Perspective and the Motive Perspective

The motive perspective relies on motives as the determinants of a person's personality. However, motives keep on changing depending on the environment and needs, which makes it hard for individuals to predict motives (Yeager, Johnson, Spitzer, Trzesniewski, Powers & Dweck, 2014). By contrast, the trait theory refers to traits as the main determinants of a person's personality. A major advantage of this perspective is that these traits are relatively stable over a long period and are not affected by needs or the environment, hence making it easy to predict traits more easily than motives. The trait perspective measures and labels the personality of a person but does not provide information on how or why a person behaves in a certain way, which is a major weakness of the theory (Yeager et al., 2014). Conversely, the motive perspective provides information on motivational processes and how they lead to certain behavior.

Both trait and motive perspectives are similar in that both argue that personality is determined by more than one factor, i.e., there is no single trait or motive that determines personality, but instead a system of motives and traits does. The two perspectives are also similar in that they both recognize that the personality of a person is also affected by nature and nurture.


Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (2017). Perspectives on personality (8thEd.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Matz, S., Chan, Y.W.F., & Kosinski, M. (2016). Models of personality. In Emotions and Personality in Personalized Services (pp. 35-54). New York: Springer International Publishing.

Yeager, D., Johnson, R., Spitzer, B.J., Trzesniewski, K.H., Powers, J., & Dweck, C.S. (2014). The far-reaching effects of believing people can change: Implicit theories of personality shape stress, health, and achievement during adolescence. Journal of personality and social psychology, 106(6), 867.

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