Critically evaluate trait theories of personality.

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Critically evaluate trait theories of personality.

 “There are as many definitions of personality as there are personality psychologists” is what Sternberg stated about personality (Intelligence and Personality /Sternberg). Unfortunately, this statement isn’t far from the truth. Personality is one of the most general and unclearly defined terms in psychology (Eysenck, 1957).

This essay evaluates trait theories of personality on the basis of Block, Weiss and Thorne’s (1979) definition of personality: Personality refers to “more of less stable internal factors that make one person’s behaviour consistent from one time to another, and different from the behaviour other people would manifest in comparable situations”.

To begin with it will present a general description of trait theories. It then assesses trait theories on several levels of analysis. It begins by looking at the validity and reliability of assessment forms for traits and the resulting  predictive value specific traits in people will have on behaviour. It then evaluates individual and situational factors that affect predictability. The extent to which trait theories can be used to predict behaviour and in which situations. An assessment of the practical application and benefit the development of trait theories has had in different areas follows. Finally trait theories of personality are compared to other personality theories. It will conclude that….

Trait theories focus on describing personality by rating people as high or low on a limited number of traits  (characterisitics or tendencies to behave in a specific kind of way in specific situations) or dimensions ( continuum of possible traits running between two opposite traits). The theories differ from one another mainly in terms of how many traits or dimensions are considered necessary to adequately describe personality. This can, to a large extent, be explained by the fact that the different theories deal at different levels of generality. Cattell for example, deals at primary factor level (gives more detailed picture of personality, but reliability and separaility is questionable). Eysenck in contrast, deals on a second order level.  Cattels 16 factors or traits are intercorrelated, they can be further factor analyzed. When they are factor analysed, Eysenck’s 2 traits appear as superfactors. A description of personality in which more factors or traits are used will produce a more differentiated description of personality in which less distinctions are lost, whilst a theory in which fewer more general traits are used will yield more stable results that are more probable to recur in other analyses.

The most widely accepted trait theory nowadays is McCrae and Costa’s “Five Factor Theory of Personality (1987)" It claims that people’s personalities can be described using five factors, the “Big Five”. Different theories still name and interpret these factors differently. A widely used way to summarize them however is by using the acronym OCEAN (Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism).

The validity and reliability of assessement forms for trait personality tests is influenced by a number of factors.

First of all, personality tests are greatly affected by a person's mood when taking the tests, which makes them less reliable.  Reliability can be determined by comparing the person's scores if they take the same test twice (test-retest reliability), comparing scores on two different versions of the same tests (interform reliability), or comparing score on two parts of the same test (e.g., even versus odd questions - split-half reliability).                                         Secondly, reliability and validity of personality tests can also be affected by the inconsistency between self report and actual behavior. A person's might desire to convey a particular impression to the person scoring the test or using the test results and give answers that do not point towards what they would truly do or think; but rather what they may they think the examiner wants to hear, or that they think will make them look best.                                                 Thirdly, there is the possibility of discrepancy in how others view a person compared to how the person sees her/himself. People are often unaware of the biases they possess about themselves.                                        Through these factors, the main criticism about trait theories can be understood: Personality traits often do not predict or correlate with behaviour.

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The predictability of behaviour can be affected by individual and situational factors.First of all, people who describe their behaviour as dependent on the situation, luck or behaviour of powerful others shape are difficult to predict because they are controlled from without, not within.

Secondly people who are conscious or defensive of socially desirable things to do or be. will not behave according to their natural preferences, but to what they believe will get more approval. This again, makes them more difficult to predict.

Thirdly, traits are better predictors of behaviour when the social content is familiar, ...

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Here's what a teacher thought of this essay

It would be advisable before writing an essay to make a plan first. This would be helpful to the writer since this particular essay lacks structure and is rather disjointed. The writer could start by defining personality and give a brief introduction to the concept of 'Trait Theory'. Then the writer could go into more detail about the main trait theorists. Although measuring personality is part of the critical evaluation, there needs to be a balance and at the moment there is too little about 'Trait Theory' and too much about the measurement of personality.