The Theory of Personality Traits and their main authors

The Theory of Personality Traits and their main authors

If someone asks you to describe the personality of a friend or relative, what kind of things would you say? You will surely think in descriptive terms, such as cheerful, calm or determined, among many others. All these terms represent traits. But What are personality traits?

A trait is a relatively stable characteristic of personality that causes people to behave in a certain way.. The theory of personality traits is one of the main theoretical areas in the study of personality.

The theory of personality traits suggests that individual personalities are composed of these a wide variety of factors.

Unlike many other personality theories, such as psychoanalytic or humanistic theories, personality traits theory focuses on differences between individuals. The combination and interaction of various traits form a personality that is unique to each individual. Trait theory focuses on the identification and measurement of these individual personality characteristics.


  • 1 Gordon Allport Trait Theory
  • 2 The sixteen personality types of Raymond Cattell
  • 3 The three dimensions of Eysenck's personality
  • 4 The Five Personality Factors Theory
  • 5 Assessment of the theory of personality traits

Gordon Allport Trait Theory

In 1936 the psychologist Gordon Allport found that a single English dictionary contains more than 4,000 words that describe the different personality traits. He categorized these features into three levels:

  • Cardinal features: These are the features that predominate throughout the life of an individual, often to the point that the person is specifically disclosed based on these features. People as often become as known by these traits as by their names, and are often synonymous with these qualities. These are the traits that dominate and shape a person's behavior. Allport also suggested that cardinal features are rare and tend to develop late in life. Some examples may be narcissistic, Don Juan and others equally specific.
  • Central features: These are the general characteristics that form the basic fundamentals of personality. The central features, although not as dominant as the cardinal features, their main features could be used to describe numerous people. Terms such as intelligent, honest, shy or anxious are considered central features.
  • Secondary features: These are traits that are sometimes related to attitudes or preferences and often appear only in certain situations or under specific circumstances. Some examples would be "he gets very nervous when he speaks in front of several people", "he is impatient when he has to wait" or "likes this or that"

Raymond Cattell's sixteen personality types

Raymond Cattell's personality traits theory reduces the number of the main personality traits of the initial Allport list from more than 4,000 to 171, mainly by eliminating unusual traits and combining common features. Next, Cattell classifies a large sample of individuals within these 171 different traits. Then, using a statistical technique known as factor analysis, he identified closely related terms and eventually reduced his list to only 16 personality traits.

According to Cattell, these 16 characteristics are the source of all human personality. He also developed one of the most used and known personality evaluations of all time, which is the Questionnaire of Sixteen Personality Factors (16PF).

The three dimensions of Eysenck's personality

British psychologist Hans Eysenck developed a personality model based on only three dimensions or factors:

  1. Introversion / Extraversion: Introversion consists in directing attention to internal experiences, while extraversion refers to focusing attention abroad on other people and the environment. Thus, a person who scores high in introversion could be calm and reserved, while scoring more in extraversion would be sociable and expansive.
  2. Neuroticism / Emotional Stability: This dimension of Eysenck's theory of features is related to emotional instability in the face of temperance. The Neuroticism It refers to the tendency of an individual to suffer instability on an emotional level, while stability refers to the tendency to remain emotionally constant or stable.
  3. Psychoticism: Later, after studying people suffering from mental illnesses, Eysenck added a personality dimension called psychoticism. People who have a high content of this trait tend to have a hard time coping with reality and can be antisocial, hostile, empathic and manipulative.

The Five Personality Factors Theory

Both the theory of Eysenck like the Cattell They have been the subject of numerous investigations, which has led some theorists to consider that Cattell focused on too many traits, while Eysenck concentrated on too few. As a result, a new theory of features emerges often referred to as the "Big Five" theory. This five-factor personality model represents five fundamental traits that interact to form the human personality. While researchers often disagree about the exact labels for each dimension, the following are described more frequently:

  • Extraversion
  • Niceness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Neuroticism
  • Frankness

Assessment of the theory of personality traits

Most psychologists agree that people can be described based on their personality traits, but theorists continue debating the number of basic traits that make up the human personality.

Some of the most common criticisms of feature theory lie in the fact that traits are often poor predictors of behavior. While an individual may have a high rating in the evaluation of a specific trait, he or she does not always behave that way in every situation. Another problem is that feature theories do not deal with how or why individual differences in personality emerge or develop.