Evaluate the Alternatives to Trait Approaches to Personality.

Authors Avatar

Nicholas Butt                                Page 1                                26th January 2004

Psychology: Individual in Society

Evaluate the Alternatives to Trait Approaches to Personality

Personas (Latin) the role that one assumes or displays in public or society; one's public image or personality, as distinguished from the inner self.

‘Persona’ describes the underlining basis for a definition of personality - being a ‘mask or façade’ and therefore is what makes individuals distinctively themselves. At the centre of personality theory is an interest in individuality – the occurrence of individual differences where biological or social pressures are the same or indeed the converse. Definitions of personality vary over a wide spectrum of people, the ‘correct’ definition depending upon the perspective and the context in which it is used. Personality is a constitutional quality of every human being and has been subject to many investigations and experiments by personologists throughout time. Numerous theories and approaches have been conceived as to accurately describe and explain or essentially understand individualism. The most dominant approach to personality and its’ development is known as the trait approach, believed to have been conceived by Aristotle in is writing of Ethics in the fourth century BC. The purpose of this essay is to analyse trait approach and identify and evaluate the alternative approaches to the trait theory as to their ability to define personality. The trait approach has been widely criticised in many areas as to its ability to ‘explain the whole person’, through several weaknesses in its structure. As a result many alternative approaches have been developed in order to tackle these discrepancies. However, like the trait approach these alternative techniques are surrounded by criticism. It is therefore evident that all the techniques possess apt and justifiable theories to personality, the underlining factor being that the success of any technique depends on which context and perspective in which they are being viewed. I will critique this argument by assessing and evaluating each of the main approaches to personality, identifying the ability to explain personality as well as looking at the thoughts of the critiques.


It is a commonly held belief that people’s personality characteristics can explain their thoughts and behaviour. A number of experiments use ‘traits’ to describe and explain behaviour. Traits are

“dimensions of individual differences in tendencies to show consistent patterns of thoughts, feelings and actions”

(McCrae and Costa, 1990)

It is important to state, when exploring this technique, that personality traits should differentiate between people, predict mental processes or behaviours and should be relatively stable i.e. they should be constant across time. There are three general studies for the trait approach.

Join now!

The first approach being the single trait approach that converges on one particular personality trait that may explain important behaviours. Any single trait scale must be satisfactory wit respect to three essential criteria: reliability, stability and validity.  This method is however, unsuitable for describing an acceptable model of personality, as it is only a collection of traits. This leads to the second method which is the many-trait approach, known as the factor analysis, which, using many traits (estimated to be at around 20000), identifies many dimensions of personality and associate these with certain behavioural characteristics e.g. the California Q-set. The ...

This is a preview of the whole essay