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Personality theories - although traits and motives have many similarities, they are two separate personality concepts which each play an important but different role in influencing behaviour.

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Introduction

Personality is difficult to define because it is such a broad concept. A useful definition was provided by Eysenck (1994, p556), "stable, internal factors which underlie consistent individual differences in behaviour." There are several different approaches to personality psychology. This essay will focus on two important theories - trait theories and motive theories, and proceed to discuss their similarities and differences. Both concepts can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks (Winter, John, Stewart, Klohnen, and Duncan, 1998). Empedocles (5th century BC) emphasized motive forces of love and strife. Hippocrates (4th century BC) and later Galen (2nd century AD) divided people into four different personality types - choleric, melancholic, sanguine, phlegmatic. These describe distinct, discontinuous categories of membership which a person either belongs to or not; contrasted to traits which are dimensions of personality that people vary. Today personality theorists prefer to think of people in terms of continuous trait dimensions. Traits can be defined as basic tendencies (McCrae and Costa, 1996 as cited in Winter et al. 1998) and frequency trends of specific acts (D.M. Buss and Craik, 1983 as cited in Winter et al. 1998). The nomothetic approach to personality emphasizes the idea that traits exist and have the same psychological meaning in everyone (Allport 1961, as cited in Carver and Scheier 2000). Whereas the idiographic approach to personality believes that each person is unique, and traits are individualized (Allport 1961, as cited in Carver and Scheier 2000). ...read more.

Middle

For example, why might a person have a high level of stress? One answer might be because that individual is susceptible to stress (trait approach); or another answer might be that exposure to a stressful situation (situationist approach) will create a high level of stress. But the interactionist approach would argue it is the interaction of the individual's stress-prone personality and being faced with a stressful situation which causes a high stress level. Research on how a stressful situation interacts with people high in trait anxiety causing anxiety (Hodges 1968, as cited in Eysenck 2002) supports this theory. The above argument can be applied to the motivational theory. Motives are influenced by internal needs but also by the environment and different situations, termed press (Carver and Scheier 2000). "A press is an external condition that creates a desire to obtain or avoid something" (Carver and Scheier 2000, pp94). For example, the need for food creates a biological hunger motive, which is satisfied by eating a sandwich. However when somebody presents you with a pizza, you are no longer as satisfied. The motive to eat has been regenerated, not by a need but by a press. Another similarity between motive and trait theories is that it is agreed that no single motive or trait is the only determinant of personality (Carver and Scheier 2000). Personality is a system of multiple needs and traits, some are easier to see and measure than others. ...read more.

Conclusion

Research by Helson and Moane (1987, as cited in Carver and Scheier 2000) concluded that most personality traits remain fairly consistent over long periods despite pressures from a person's environment. This is a strong advantage to the trait theory and allows us to predict traits more easily than motives. Murray first believed that motives derive from biological and psychological needs making them relatively stable. However, McClelland (1965, as cited in Carver and Scheier 2000) believes that motives are learned. This supports that motives can be altered relatively easily, especially when influenced by needs and press. Perhaps motives change but the basic needs that cause these motives remain stable. Motives refer to the wishes, desires and goals people would like to bring about, whereas traits channel ways in which motives are expressed in particular actions (Winter et al. 1998). Trait theorists are more concerned about describing the structure of personality than describing the mechanics by which personality traits exist. Traits label and measure a person's personality but don't tell you anything about how or why a person behaves in that way. In contrast, the motive theory looks at motivational processes and how they influence behaviour - intrapersonal functioning (Carver and Scheier 2000). In conclusion, although traits and motives have many similarities, they are two separate personality concepts which each play an important but different role in influencing behaviour. In order to understand personality psychology it is necessary to accept both trait and motive theories. ...read more.

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