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Trait Theory / Dispositional Theory


Trait Theory, also known as Dispositional Theory, is an approach to study human personality and behaviour. It is the measurement of steady patterns of habit in an individual’s behaviour, thoughts and emotions. Trait theorists focus on the measurement of ‘traits’, which lead to a better understanding of human personality. Over a period of time, traits become relativelystable, depending on the individual and his social and environmental surroundings, which influence behaviour.

TRAIT THEORY / DISPOSITIONAL THEORYHasloo Group/dollar photo club

Three Traits of an Individual

Gordon Allport is one of the earliest trait theorists who conducted research on human traits. He believed that every individual’s personality consist of or it is shaped by a set of traits. He categorized traits as central, common and cardinal.

  1. Central traits are those traits which define an individual’s personality. They are considered to be the most important traits and influence behaviour considerably for example kindness, sincerity and compassion.
  2. Common traits are usually restricted to a specific culture and may differ from others. For example, the degree of bows in many East Asian and South East Asian culture indicates the social and economic status of the person.
  3. Cardinal traits are those traits with which an individual identifies very assertively such that he will be known and recognized in the context of those traits. For example, the Pope is seen as a religious figure all over the world. Allport also made a division between ‘Nomothetic’ and ‘idiographic’ traits. Nomothetic trait means that the individual is the main focus which ‘idiographic’ trait means that the focus is more on collective groups.

Main Traits in Trait Theory

There are 16 main traits in Trait theory which are used as parameters.

  1. Warmth
  2. Reasoning
  3. Emotional stability
  4. Dominance
  5. Liveliness
  6. Rule-consciousness
  7. Social boldness
  8. Sensitivity
  9. Vigilance
  10. Abstractedness
  11. Privateness
  12. Apprehension/apprehensiveness
  13. Openness to change
  14. Self-reliance
  15. Perfection
  16. Tension

Trait Theory can be applied in many ways. For example, The Thematic Apperception Test, 16PF the tests designed to measure the five factors. These tests are self-report tests and the candidates are asked to answer the questions.

Criticism of Trait Theory

The main criticism against Trait Theory is that it fails to predict future behaviour. It cannot address a person’s emotional state of mind or his future behaviour. A state is a temporary means of interacting both with oneself and with others. For example, an individual who is perceived as introverted and reserved in social circumstances may be the opposite when around with his friends. He may be quite friendly and social with his friends.

Another critique is that trait theory does not address personality development. Its basis for study is empirical and relies heavily on statistics rather than theory. Hence, it neither provides any explanation of personality development nor gives any information on how to develop personality. It merely measures the current personality of the individual without any scope for change in the future.


Lastly, since there is no scope for personality development, trait theory also ignores the challenge of changing traits, particularly the negative traits. Since the acceptable development (i.e.,positive traits) is an important factor in human personality, changes in traits are frequent and sometimes inevitable. However, trait theory has neither no scope for the study of trait change, nor it gives any guidance about such changes.

Thus, Trait theory focuses on the various aspects of human personality and illustrates such traits as the main components and shapers of human personality. Even though it does not have a futuristic outlook, it is still important for analysis of short term personality and behaviour.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Khaled Alyami January 1, 2020, 5:05 pm

    Crystal clear,,,

    Thank you,,,

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