Among dispositional personality theories, it is possible to identify Allport’s Psychology of the Individual Theory and Trait and Factor perspective. Whereas the former approach consists in dividing personality traits into more and less significant in terms of manifestation, the latter considers the job matching personality characteristics. The present paper is aimed at discussing the strength and limitations of the two psychological theories.
Both dispositional personality theories view the set of traits, attributed to a certain individual, as unique, so they recognize the uniqueness of personality. Allport’s main purpose seemed to build a hierarchy of traits, which he did by identifying cardinal, central, and secondary traits, which altogether define human behavior and lifestyle. His approach is also flexible enough, as Allport distinguishes between motives and drives, the former of which refer to more stable and long-term ambitions or aspirations, whereas the latter are tactical steps, which allow the realization of motives (McWaters, 1977). This means, some personality traits might be manifested less apparently, as Allport admits: for instance if the person is normally stingy, but suddenly begins to purchase costly gifts for his friend, it means that he is motivated by the desire to establish a closer relationship with this friend (or romantic affair if the friend is female) and generosity or willingness to bring joy to another person appears a driver of the general motive. As one can assume, Allport’s view on personality is constructive and balanced enough so that personality is not placed in the rigid frames of doctrinal statements and canons. As Allport also belongs to the cohort of humanistic psychologists, he believes negative traits can be inhibited, “prevented” from manifestation, or replaced by more useful or favorable ones. His approach is extensively employed in counseling, so it might have helped thousands in developing self-awareness and creating a strategy of using hidden advantages of the character for one’s own or the others’ good.
Parson’s trait and factor approach are associated with a different purpose, which was facilitating the process of recruitment and helping individuals with their professional self-determination (McWaters, 1977; DeCarvalho, 1991). This perspective also recognizes the uniqueness of personality, but it has an obvious limitation. Its view on the perfect professional match is fixed in time, i.e. Parsons failed to take into consideration the change of personality’s aptitudes and interests over time as well as the transformation of the business environment, which represents employers. However, when applied to a specific case of career counseling or recruitment and staffing, one can assume that the approach work from this situational perspective, i.e. the person is assessed and receives a job of their liking. However, as their professional orientation alters (nowadays, this happens quite frequently in virtually every single person’s life), they should go through Parsons’ evaluation once again. However, because trait/factor assessment implies the idea the person should stay in the same professional area for the whole life, it requires adaptations to the contemporary reality. To sum up, it needs to be admitted that this perspective has a positive effect on personality and greatly assists in career planning.
The functional and motivational autonomy, underlying Allport’s theory, suggests that individuals build relationships “here and now”, basing on their current motives and drivers, which, in their turn, are only indirectly affected by their past. For instance, if a person has recently entered college, they are likely to be motivated for being involved in college life; for this purpose, they might become more sociable in peer interactions and study industriously to be positively perceived by their instructors. At the same time, they might temporarily lose connections with their old friends, who do not belong to the college environment, given that the current goal involves, first and foremost, the activation of traits like social interest or ability to learn new skills and activities. It also needs to be noted that certain interpersonal connections become weaker over time because life motives gradually replace one another and individuals might take different life directions. In addition, given Allport’s hierarchy of traits, one can assume that in interpersonal relationships, a positive connection is likely to be established between those people, whose cardinal characteristics are similar or at least congruent. For instance, Mohandas Gandhi’s cardinal trait was a sense of justice, so his closest environment was composed of similar justice-seekers.
The trait and factor approach considers rather interpersonal relations between colleagues since it is intended for the career dimension. If a team of similarly motivated, interested, and skilled people, whose jobs “fit” them, work together, they are likely to achieve mutual understanding, given the commonness of goals. Individuals perform best in those vocations, for which they are suited, and the actualization of one’s potential results in the strengthening of their self-respect and improvement of self-perception, which, in turn, make relationships with others more constructive.
As one can conclude, although both theories address the relationships between personality traits and the possible use of these traits, Allport’s perspective allows making broader assumptions about interpersonal relationships, whereas Trait and factor theory is less suitable for describing the psychological connections between people. Because both theories have high validity, they can be applied in the areas they are intended for.
- DeCarvalho, R. (1991) The founders of humanistic psychology. New York: Praeger.
- McWaters, B. (1977) Humanistic Perspectives: Current trends in psychology. Monterey, CA: Wadsworth