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Trait Theory is better at describing than explaining personality. Discuss

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Introduction

Trait Theory is better at describing than explaining personality. Discuss Word Count: The question of whether 'Trait Theory is better at describing than explaining personality' can be interpreted as 'Trait Theory is better at giving the main characteristics and features of personality rather than making it clear why we have personality and why it is the way it is.' This interpretation raises two significant questions. The first being what personality is and the second what Trait theory is. Personality is a unique combination of psychological and behavioural characteristics. Mischel (1986) defines personality as "distinctive patterns of behaviour (including thoughts and emotions) that characterises each individuals adaptation of the situations in his or her life." However according to Peterson 1992 personality has a number of attributes. It is an integrated part of every individual and refers to his or her actions, thoughts and feelings. Personality is made up of smaller units called characteristics and can be functional or dysfunctional, that is to say our characteristics can help us to succeed or hinder us. Thus personality is a key factor of modern research. Personality research offers valid and useful insights into human psychology and its main concern is to understand the role played by personality and to find out what factors make us different and consistent from others. ...read more.

Middle

They made individual differences understood through their five innate and universal factors, which are stable over time. These factors are extroversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness. Although there has been considerable support for 'The Big Five' theory, the trait labelled 'Openness' has been criticised because of different cultures and the difficulty for a single definition to be agreed upon. Nevertheless factor analysis does not end here. Hans J.Eysenck (1991) proposed a 'Three Factor Model' using three broad traits, which he believed were inherited. These traits are extroversion, psychoticism and neuroticism. Using these three basic trait dimensions Eysenck developed what is known as the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (EPQ) in order to measure individual differences. Despite the fact that Eysenck and Cattell had the same interests where personality was concerned the difference between them is that Eysenck emphasises fewer traits and he makes a greater attempt to relate individual differences in traits to biological functioning. Eysenck went a step further; he introduced a hierarchical model of personality using his three factor model. That is to say Eysenck labelled extroversion as 'Type level' followed by 'Trait level' for words such as sociable which describes extroversion. The next level is what is known as "Habitual response'. ...read more.

Conclusion

For example in the western society independence and uniqueness are regarded as strong and positive personality traits. Conformity and obedience on the other hand, demand that we abide by the rules and regulations provided by places such as work, schools and society in general. Because of this our environment is quite effective at controlling our personality, however our characteristics can regulate our obedience to rules. For instance an investigation by Forbes (2001) examined personality differences amongst students who have and have not got tattoos and body piercing. The results showed that those with tattoos and body piercing are associated with risk taking behaviour, greater use of alcohol and marijuana and less social conformity. This shows that the environment as well as genetics has a big impact on our personality. In conclusion personality itself is a complex phenomenom and has been subject to a great deal of research. Trait theorists, whose goal is to characterise individuals by reference of basic traits, disagree about the types and number of traits. However through the use of factor analysis, Eysenck, Cattell and Costa and Macrae have shown the extent to which a diverse number of traits can be simplified. Factor analysis is extremely powerful for analysing and simplifying data but the results are greatly dependent on the data provided. Yet factor analysis makes it difficult to identify the real dimensions of personality. ...read more.

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