People tend to use various adjectives to describe how a person behaves in public, with friends, or alone. Words like “kind,” “good,” “cruel,” careless,” “introverted,” and others come to our minds whenever we think of someone. These words represent traits of an individual personality, which are stable characteristics used to describe the patterns of behavior. Since traits are often used to describe an individual, the trait model of personality is often viewed as a more natural and common-sense type of theory, which is easily understood by people outside of the realm of psychology. As such, it attracted the attention of numerous theorists and researchers, which tried to evaluate and construct individual personalities based on these broader qualities and dispositions.
The trait model of personality is different from the psychoanalytic and the humanistic theories in that it focuses more on the unique traits of individual character rather than on matching qualities present in all human beings. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the history of the creation of the trait model of personality, describe each of the five major traits proposed by this theory, and reflect on the Big Five personality test taken prior to this assignment.
Trait Model of Personality Overview
One of the first theorists to conceive the trait model of personality was Gordon Allport, who had discovered that the English language alone contained over 4,000 different words used to describe personality traits (McMartin, 2016). He utilized these words as a framework in order to separate the traits discovered into three distinctive groups, those being the cardinal, central, and secondary personality traits. This theory was further elaborated on by Raymond Cattel, who simplified the initial vocabulary-based framework by eliminating traits that were either repetitive or closely associated with one another, thus reducing the total number of traits from 4,000 to 171 (McMartin, 2016). Cattel’s model further reduced the number of traits based on their frequency of appearance from 171 to 16, which were used to describe the most common archetypes of personality (McMartin, 2016). The 16 personality factors questionnaire is directly based on Cattel’s personality model.
Finally, the trait model of personality was streamlined and made popular by Hans Eysenck, who introduced the familiar concepts of extroversion, introversion, neuroticism, emotional stability, and psychoticism as major universal personality traits (McMartin, 2016). Extraversion and introversion focus on inner and outer experiences as a person, whereas neuroticism and stability describe the capacity to remain emotionally constant. Finally, the trait of psychoticism was used to describe major psychological and social disorders, usually found in a relatively small percentage of individuals.
Basic Assumptions of the Trait Model
The trait model is based on three major assumptions, which define the entirety of the theory (Bleidorn, Hopwood, & Lucas, 2018). The first assumption claims that personality traits are relatively stable and predictable. The second assumption states that these traits remain relatively stable in a great variety of situations. The third assumption states that each person has a different set of traits, which vary one from another to a degree. Traits are developed in early childhood, with various events, then shaping the person into a solid personality, which finishes its development when nearing adulthood (Allemand, Steiger, & Hill, 2013).
The assumptions behind the psychodynamic model are different. Whereas the trait model is largely motivated by external stimuli, the adverse theory claims that the majority of actions are being motivated by our subconscious models (Luyten, Mayes, Fonagy, Blatt, & Target, 2017). The second assumption states that all behavior has a cause and is predetermined. In that, it has a similarity with the trait model, which claims that all personality traits have an explanation and are predictable. Lastly, the psychodynamic model assumes the existence of three states of mind: the id, ego, and the super-ego, each representing biological, cognitive, and externally acquired processes and perceptions of the world. The theory suggests that personality develops in early childhood, with the scope of psychoanalysis revolving around the recollection and reformation of traits acquired during that period (Luyten et al., 2017).
The Big Five Model
The Big Five model of personality uses 5 major dimensions to classify an individual. These dimensions are as follows (Sorić, Penezić, & Burić, 2017):
- Openness – this trait relates to a person’s capacity to think outside the box. High scores in this trait are associated with creativity and intellectual pursuits, whereas low scores are associated with tradition and practicality;
- Conscientiousness – This trait describes the ability to exercise self-discipline in order to pursue various goals. High scores in this trait stand for high capacity for management and leadership, whereas low-scorers are more likely to act on a whim and express a lower capacity for emotional control.
- Extraversion – this personality trait describes an individual’s willingness and desire to interact with others. Extraverts are known for actively looking for interpersonal contact, whereas introverts are less interested in social rewards.
- Agreeableness – sharing many similarities to altruism, agreeableness is the trait that makes an individual a team player, letting others ahead of themselves and cooperating rather than competing with others. People low on agreeableness tend to be individualistic and competitive.
- Neuroticism – finally, neuroticism describes the capacity to deal with negativity, misfortune, and stress. High neuroticism individuals are more easily offended, remember anguish and loss for longer periods of time, and are more empathetic to others, whereas those with low scores can brush it off and keep going. As it is possible to see, the Big Five model borrowed from its predecessors, including Allport, Cattel, and Eysenck.
My test results presented in Figure 1 demonstrate a reasonably high degree of openness, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Conscientiousness levels are average, while extraversion levels are low. These results seem to be somewhat accurate in regards to my personality, which is defined by being an introvert, first and foremost. I spend most of my time alone or in a small company, where I can either think or exchange ideas about various abstract concepts and processes. The time my solitary life provides makes me high in openness, as I expose myself to different ideas during my studies and on the Internet. I have found a connection between my openness and agreeableness levels, a willingness to accept new ideas makes me more open to examining them in the first place. Many individuals are very entrenched in their core beliefs, making it hard for them to even consider a different point of view, much less investigate it. When dealing with issues I feel biased about, I do my best to put my personal super-ego aside, and look at the core of the matter clearly.
My conscientiousness level appears to be average, though personally, I feel it should be much lower. I am having trouble organizing myself, whether in studies, in household affairs, or in long-term plans. It creates a great deal of trouble for me when deadlines approach, forcing me to do everything at the same time, which negatively affects the quality of my work. Although I am working on increasing the levels of conscientiousness I have, the progress is slow, as I am an adult with a fully-formed number of traits that affect my decision-making.
Lastly, the test shows I have a high level of neuroticism. I do not have an explanation for it, but I always took negative experiences to heart. I cried extensively when my mother scolded me and tried to avoid any potential ways of angering her or anybody else. I can see neuroticism being connected to agreeableness and introversion in my case, as isolationism associated with introversion helps avoid potentially disturbing situations, and agreeableness helps avoid conflict by being considerate and placing the needs of others before one’s own.
After analyzing the results and connecting them to my personal thoughts and experiences, I can clearly see that there are connections between different parts of my personality. It is likely for some people to have different dominant and recessive traits, which all others are derived from. In my case, neuroticism seems to be the dominant trait, as it is the one that actively brings me pain and displeasure, with other traits, such as introversion, agreeableness, and openness being developed in order to mitigate the negative effects of neuroticism. Although conscientiousness does not seem to be actively connected to any of the traits, it could be indirectly associated with neuroticism, as the failure to discipline and self-organize often brings me negative emotions either from the inside or the outside.
Learning about the trait model of personality along with passing the Big Five test gave me new insights into my personality and the things that must be done in order to improve myself. It seems that the root of many issues I have lies in neuroticism, which is further exacerbated by a lack of discipline. Thus, becoming more emotionally detached and getting better at plotting, planning, and following through with my intentions would reduce the amounts of anguish I feel over contentious situations.
Allemand, M., Steiger, A. E., & Hill, P. L. (2013). Stability of personality traits in adulthood: Mechanisms and implications. GeroPsych: The Journal of Gerontopsychology and Geriatric Psychiatry, 26, 5-13.
Bleidorn, W., Hopwood, C. J., & Lucas, R. E. (2018). Life events and personality trait change. Journal of Personality, 86(1), 83-96.
Luyten, P., Mayes, L. C., Fonagy, P., Blatt, S. J., & Target, M. (Eds.). (2017). Handbook of psychodynamic approaches to psychopathology. New York, NY: Guilford Publications.
McMartin, J. (2016). Personality psychology: A student-centered approach. New York, NY: Sage Publications.
Sorić, I., Penezić, Z., & Burić, I. (2017). The Big Five personality traits, goal orientations, and academic achievement. Learning and Individual Differences, 54, 126-134.