Overview of Trait and Factor Theories

How can personality best be measured? By standardized tests? Clinical observation? Judgments of friends and acquaintances? Factor theorists have used all these methods and more. A second question is: How many traits or personal dispositions does a single person possess? Two or tlnee? Half a dozen? A couple of hundred? More than a thousand? During the past 25 to 45 years, several individuals (Cattell, 1973, 1983; Eysenck, 1981, 1997a) and several teams of researchers (Costa & McCrae, 1992; McCrae & Costa, 2003; Tupes & Christal, 1961) have taken a factor analytic approach to answering these questions. Presently, most researchers who study personality traits agree that five, and only five, and no fewer than five dominant traits continue to emerge from factor analytic techniques—mathematical procedures capable of sifting personality traits from mountains of test data.

Whereas many contemporary theorists believe that five is the magic number, earlier theorists such as Raymond B. Cattell found many more personality traits, and Hans J. Eysenck insisted that only tlnee major factors can be discerned by a factor analytic approach. In addition, we have seen that Gordon Allport's (see Chapter 13) commonsense approach yielded 5 to 10 traits that are central to each person's life. However, Allport's major contribution to trait theory may have been his identification of nearly 18,000 trait names hi an unabridged English language dictionary.

These trait names were the basis for Cattell's original work, and they continue to provide the foundation for recent factor analytic studies.

Eysenck s factor analytic technique yielded three general bipolar factors or types—extraversion/introversion, neuroticism/stability, and psychoticism/superego. The Five-Factor Theory (often called the Big Five) includes neuroticism and extra-version; but it adds openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. These terms differ slightly from research team to research team, but the underlying traits are quite similar.

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