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Personality Trait Theory


The personality trait theory within personality psychology uses a model of traits in an individual to characterize normal and abnormal functioning in an individual. In the field of psychology, many such theories exist in an attempt to understand the behavior of an individual, and like any such theory, it has its strengths and weaknesses.

Personality Trait Theory

Traits are present in all individuals and the personality of an individual can be traced to these traits. According to Boeree, 2003, “A trait is what we call a characteristic way in which an individual perceives feels, believes, or acts”. (1). The personality trait theory evolved with studies that attempted to study a combination of traits that made up personality types. This led to the identification of broad traits that possibly had a genetic basis in comparison to traits that were not stable. The identification of these stable traits has led to the hypothesis that personality may be reduced to these traits.

Two models have emerged. The first model is the 3F model and consists of the traits of extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism and the second model is the 5F model consisting of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Both these models are in broad agreement with the two top-level traits in extraversion and neuroticism, associating extraversion with the positive effect of sociability and neuroticism with the negative effect of emotional instability. Such traits are present as they the highest level of factors in a hierarchical taxonomy that is based on the statistical technique of factor analysis. Tracing the arrival at these highest-level factors requires starting with a factor analysis of behaviors seen in individuals and progressing to factor analysis of habits that give rise to these behaviors and on to the factor analysis of the lower order traits, which give rise to these top-level traits. Such a methodic analysis produces factors that may be considered as continuous and bipolar and used to differentiate and describe the differences among individuals.

Criticisms of the Personality Trait Theory

The personality trait theory is a poor predictor of future behavior. This is because it does no address a person’s state, even though it gives a general direction of whether an individual would belong to the high end or a low end of a particular trait. A state is a temporary way in which an individual interacts and deals with the self and with others.

The personality trait theory does not explain personality development. The strength of the personality trait theory stems from it being rooted in statistics. From this strength also comes this weakness, as with the lack of theoretical rooting it cannot explain personality development.

The personality trait theory provides no means of addressing change in traits for the improvement of the personality of an individual. The theory provides little understanding of trait development. This lack of understanding means that personality trait theory gives no clues on how to change traits and hence is useless for personality development. This is the main criticism of the personality trait theory in that it provides a measure of thing, but not the means to do anything about it.


Boeree, George, C. “Trait Theories of Personality”. General Psychology. 2007.

“Trait theory”. 2007. Web.

“Trait Theory”. AllPsych ONLINE. The Virtual Psychology Classroom. 2007. Web.