In this article we will discuss about the trait theory of personality with its evaluation.
G.W. Allport, R.B. Cattell and H.J. Eysenck are the chief exponents of the trait theory of personality. A trait is a dimension of personality which can be measured and must describe the consistent behaviour of an individual. A trait as a dimension is conceived quantitatively as a continuous scale of measurement from extensive positive end to the extreme negative end.
A trait in order to be a meaningful measure of the human personality, must be a distinctive and ‘enduring’ characteristic of an individual. According to the trait theorists, if we confine ourselves to a few basic characteristics which are consistent and distinctive of the human personality, the problem of describing it should become simpler.
Theorists often distinguish between the traits which are readily observed and those which are “deeper’ and nearer to the core personality. One of the approaches to the trait theory describes the readily observable traits as ‘surface traits’ and the deeper ones as ‘source traits’. The source traits are assumed to be basic influence on personality, and are mostly derived by factor analysis.
A scientific way to select a small number of distinctive traits to describe personality reliably is found in the new statistical procedure known as ‘Factor Analysis’ which utilises the correlational techniques. Cattell’s work is an illustrious example of trait approach. Starting from 4,000 traits, he reduced it to 35 clusters or factors.
Cattell’s technique combines all the traits that correlated highly with another set of traits under single category. Ultimately, traits were reduced to 12 basic or irreducible traits listed in the table. However, there is a good deal of disagreement among psychologists about the number of traits.
Trait theories assume that personality can be characterised by knowing a person’s traits. The ‘trait profile’ indicates an individual’s standing on each of the primary trait which emerges from his score. This provides description and measurement of personality.
Attempts to discharge the tension. It is wish-fulfillment. The example of it is a dream. It is clear that primary process is not able to fulfill the need. An hungry person cannot eat the image of the food or the food in the dream. Hence a secondary process starts developing. When this occurs, the Ego, second tier of personality starts taking place.
The Ego fulfills the need. Ego also operates with the energy derived from the Id but it is part conscious. Its main work is to find ways and means for satisfaction of the needs of Ego. Since the Ego takes into consideration the pressures of reality, its actions are guided by what is called the Principle of Reality.
The third tier of personality development in the individual is what is called Super Ego. It is the moral arm of the personality. It represents the sense of right and wrong, good and bad for the society. It represents the ideal as compared with the real of the Ego. In a general way the Super Ego is thought to be the social development of the personality. The Ego is regarded as the psychological component of the personality while Id is regarded as the biological component.
Conflicts can occur between the components or the three tiers of the personality. This results in anxiety. For preventing the painful feeling of anxiety, the Ego adopts a number of unconscious psychological strategies which are called the defence mechanisms.
Among the important defence mechanisms are:
(iv) Rationalisation, and
Explaining the relationship between Ego and the Id, Freud once said “Imagine that the relationship between a horse (Id) and its rider (Ego). While the rider usually determines the direction of the horse, there are those times when it is the horse who leads to rider.”
Consciousness gives expression to a very limited portion of human activity. It can be compared to an iceberg in which 1/10 part is visible and 9/10th part is submerged in the water. The nature of the iceberg is to be judged more in terms of its portion under the water rather than above it.
An Evaluation of Trait Theory:
The trait theory employs appropriate methods like correlation and factor analysis. It is, therefore, a straightforward approach to the measurement of personality.
Trait theory suffers from two weaknesses. When behaviour is broken down to traits, we have no way of knowing how they are actually expressed in life. Secondly, a change of the environment may alter the expression of a trait. In a provocative environment one may demonstrate an altogether different trait.