I am starting a new series of articles related to Personality. I tutored this class recently and I came across interesting facts and situations that I want to put on paper, to save it for rainy days. I know, it is a matter of speech, but I literally love to go through my old writings on rainy days. :)
Psychology uses methods of science to understand human nature. Personality is the study of individuals.
Personality may be defined as the underlying causes within the person of individual behavior and experience.
The three fundamental questions in Personality psychology are:
1 - How can personality be described? How do people differ from one another, and should we describe personality traits by comparing people with one another or use some other strategy, such as studying each individual separately?
2 - How can we understand personality dynamics? How people think about and adjust to their life situations, and how they are influenced by culture?
3 - What can be said about personality development? How personality changes over the life span, influenced by biological factors and experience?
We can classify people into a limited number of separate groups, and that is a type approach. Or we can decide that people vary in gradations and describe people by saying how much of the basic dimensions they possess, and that is a trait approach.
TYPES. The type approach proposes that personality comes in a limited number of distinct categories. Such personality types are categories of people with similar characteristics. A small number of types suffice to describe all people. In ancient Greece, for example, Hippocrates described four basic types of temperament: sanguine (optimistic), melancholic (depressed), choleric (irritable), and phlegmatic (apathetic) (Merenda, 1987). Each person belongs to only one category.
TRAITS AND FACTORS. Nature often presents us with more gradual transitions, therefore personality researchers generally prefer quantitative measures, which give each person a score, ranging from very low to very high or somewhere in between. In contrast to types, traits are such quantitative measures. They describe a narrower scope of behavior. Traits permit a more precise description of personality than types because each trait refers to a more focused set of characteristics, and each person is a combination of many traits.
More traits than types are necessary to describe a personality. One classic study counted nearly 18,000 traits among words listed in the dictionary (Allport & Odbert, 1936). Do we really need that many? To eliminate unnecessary redundancy (e.g., by combining synonyms such as “shy” and “withdrawn”), researchers rely on statistical procedures that compute correlations among trait scores, and on that basis they have proposed broad factors of personality.
Factors are quantitative, like traits, but they include a broader range of behavior. Factors are often thought to derive from underlying biological variables.
Types, traits, and factors all have a role in personality theory and research. The terms are sometimes used imprecisely, but knowing their differences helps us understand the variety of ways that personality can be described and measured.