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Personality 1: Trait Theories and Measurement


Personality 1: Trait Theories and Measurement Jos e L. Jarry, Ph.D., C.Psych. Introduction to Psychology Department of Psychology University of Toronto – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Personality 1: Trait Theories and Measurement

Personality 1 Trait Theories and Measurement
  • Josée L. Jarry, Ph.D., C.Psych.
  • Introduction to Psychology
  • Department of Psychology
  • University of Toronto
  • July 21, 2003

Personality Definition
  • Refers to the person's general style of
    interaction with the world
  • People differ from one another in their style of
    behaviour, in ways that are at least relatively
    consistent across time and situations
  • The study of personality focuses on differences
    between people.

  • The most central concept in personality
  • Relatively stable predisposition to behave in a
    certain way
  • Part of the person, not part of the environment
  • The actual manifestation of traits in the form of
    behaviour usually requires some perceived cue or
    trigger in the environment.

Traits and States
  • States of motivation and emotions are, like
    traits, defined as inner entities that can be
    inferred from observed behaviour
  • However traits are enduring, states are temporary
  • A trait might be defined as an enduring attribute
    that describes one's likelihood of entering
    temporarily into a particular state.

Trait Theories
  • The goal of trait theories is to specify a
    manageable set of distinct personality dimensions
    that can be used to summarize the fundamental
    psychological differences among individuals
  • Traits are not explanations of individual
  • Traits are inferred from behaviour.

Hierarchical Organization of Traits
  • Behaviours and traits are linked to one another
    in a hierarchical fashion
  • Specific behaviours are at the bottom of the
  • Surface traits are linked directly to a set of
    related behaviours
  • Central traits link related surface traits to one
  • Central traits are the fundamental dimensions of

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Elements of Trait Theories
  • The set of central traits that is deemed most
    useful for describing the psychological
    differences among individuals
  • The surface traits that are linked to each
    central traits
  • Objective means of measuring the surface and
    central traits
  • Usually involves a questionnaire, in which the
    person describes his or her own behaviour.

Building a Trait Theory (1)
  • Bottom up process
  • collect a large amount of data about the specific
    behaviours of a large number of people
  • statistical means to determine which classes of
    behaviours correlate most strongly with one
    another, indicating surface traits
  • and which surface traits correlate most strongly
    with one another, indicating central traits
  • generate a hierarchical set of proposed traits
    and give them names.

Building a Trait Theory (2)
  • develop a questionnaire that can be used reliably
    to measure the degree to which any given person
    manifests each of the traits specified by the
  • the primary goal of any trait theory is to
    account for the greatest amount of variation
    among individuals, while minimizing the number of
    separate central-trait dimensions used
  • In the ideal theory, the central traits are

Cattell's 16 PF (1)
  • Raymond Cattell (1950)
  • began his research by condensing 18,000 English
    adjectives describing personality, down to about
    170 that are logically different from one another
  • these were his initial set of surface traits
  • large numbers of people rated themselves on each
    of the surface traits
  • used factor analysis to determine which surface
    traits correlated most with one another.

Cattell's 16 PF (2)
  • identified a preliminary set of central traits by
    finding clusters of surface traits that
    correlated strongly with one another within the
    clusters but not across the clusters
  • developed various questionnaires aimed at
    assessing these traits
  • used the questionnaire results to modify the set
    of central traits
  • identified 16 central traits
  • developed a questionnaire called the 16 PF
    Questionnaire to measure them.

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The Eysenck Personality Inventory
  • Hans Eysenck (1952)
  • Introversion-extroversion
  • is related to the person's tendency to avoid or
    seek excitement in the external environment
  • Neuroticism-stability
  • pertains to one's tendency to become emotionally
  • Psychoticism-nonpsychoticism
  • pertains to a lack of concern for others vs.
    peaceableness and empathy.

The Big-Five Theory
  • Cattell's 16 factor theory is overly complex,
    with redundant factors
  • Eysenck's three-dimensional theory is
  • Researchers conducting factor analytic studies in
    various country, in several languages, find
    consistent results
  • The most efficient set of central traits for
    describing personality consists of 5 traits.

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Predictive Value of Traits
  • Are personality traits consistent across
    situations or are they specific to particular
  • Are personality traits stable through time?

The Stability of Personality Measures Over Time
  • Studies in which people rate themselves or are
    rated by others on personality questionnaires
  • At widely separated times in their lives
  • The results indicate high stability of
    personality throughout adulthood
  • Correlation coefficients on repeated measures of
    the Big Five typically range from .50 to .70
  • Even with time spans between the first and second
    test of 30 or 40 years.

Consistency Across Situations (1)
  • Walter Mischel (1968, 1984)
  • describing personality in situations specific
    terms is more useful in predicting behaviour than
    are global traits statements
  • Social learning approach
  • personality characteristics are learned habits of
    thinking and behaving, which are acquired and
    manifested in particular social situations.

Consistency Across Situations (2)
  • Hugh Hartshorne and Mark May (1928)
  • conducted a classic study of morality involving
    thousands of schoolchildren
  • children were provided with opportunities to be
    dishonest in a wide variety of situations
  • the results showed high correlations within any
    given type of situation,
  • but low correlations across different situations.

Consistency Across Situations (3)
  • Mischel and Peake (1982)
  • assessed repeatedly by direct observation 19
    different forms of behaviour presumed to be
    related to the trait of conscientiousness
  • they found high consistency within any one of
    these measures,
  • but relatively low consistency across measures.

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Reanalysis of the Mischel Peake Study
  • Factor analysis showed that the measures
    clustered in separate traits
  • Within these traits, there was high correlation
    across situations,
  • but not necessarily between the traits
  • The lack of correlations between behaviours
    supposed to measure conscientiousness meant that
    these behaviours clustered in different traits
    rather than in one global trait.

Reanalysis of the Hartshorne May Study
  • Little consistency was found when the behaviours
    related to dishonesty were measured within one
    individual, between situations
  • When comparisons were made between children,
    averaging situations within individuals,
  • Large differences existed between individuals,
    larger than would be accounted for by chance.

Biological Foundations of Traits
  • Eysenck
  • proposed that individual differences in
    extroversion-introversion stem from differences
    in how easily the higher parts of the brain are
    aroused by sensory input
  • all people seek an optimal level of brain arousal
  • but to achieve that level, extroverts require
    more stimulation than do introverts
  • introverts avoid stimulating environments to
    prevent their arousal level from exceeding the

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The Heritability of Traits
  • Twin studies
  • standard personality questionnaires are
    administered to identical and fraternal twins
  • identical twins are much more similar than are
    fraternal twins raised together on every
    personality dimension measured
  • same results are found for twins raised apart
  • even trait that logically should be influenced by
    learning are found to be heritable.

Reliability (1)
  • Refers to the stability of the scores
  • Does the test measure consistently what it is
    supposed to measure?
  • The capacity of the test to yield the same or
    comparable scores on different testing occasions
    on a given population
  • Measured with the Reliability Coefficient.

Reliability (1)
  • Test-retest reliability
  • assesses the stability of the scores over time
  • administer the same test to the same population
  • Parallel-form reliability
  • administer similar forms of the test to the same
    population twice
  • Split-half reliability
  • measure of internal consistency
  • administer the test once
  • split the items in two and perform a correlation.

Validity (1)
  • Refers to the meaning of the scores
  • Does the test measure what it is supposed to
  • Measured with a validity coefficient.

Validity (2)
  • Predictive or criterion validity
  • consists of comparing the performance of the test
    with a real world measure of the trait
  • Construct validity
  • related to the theory underlying the test
  • does the test measure the theoretical construct
    it is supposed to measure?
  • can be done by deriving a network of predictions
    from the theory
  • can be done by correlating the new tests scores
    with scores on existing measures.