Karen J. Prager, Ph.D., A.B.P.P.

Professor of Psychology and  Program Head for Gender Studies

Diplomate in Family Psychology

The University of Texas at Dallas

More Information About Dr. Prager's work

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Research on Intimacy

Processes in Couple Relationships 

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Selected Papers and Publications

 

For Students:

Personality Syllabus

 

 

TRAIT APPROACHES TO PERSONALITY

BASIC PREMISE:

Human behavior can be summarized by a few TRAITS.

What is the goal of research from a trait theory perspective?

WHAT IS A TRAIT?

**dimension of personality used to categorize people according to the degree to which they manifest a particular characteristic.

TWO ASSUMPTIONS OF TRAIT APPROACH

**characteristics are stable over time

**characteristics are stable across situations

PRECURSORS OF TRAIT THEORIES: PERSONALITY TYPOLOGIES

William Sheldon & Carl Jung:

Tried to classify people into types.

"Types" had sets of characteristics in common.

This approach was abandoned: why?

 

TRAITS ARE PERSONALITY DIMENSIONS

What is the "trait continuum?"

Aspects of the trait continuum:

1) TRAITS ARE CONTINUOUS

People can have more (or less) of a trait, by demonstrating behavior:

a) more frequently

b) with more intensity

c) across a wider range of situations.

2) TRAITS DESCRIBE INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES

People respond to the same situation in different ways.

3) TRAITS ARE BIPOLAR.

For any trait, there is an opposite. Both lie on the same dimension.

4) TRAITS CAN BE DISTINGUISHED FROM STATES.

Traits: enduring and stable over long periods

States: brief, situation-specific.

HOW DOES TRAIT THEORY DIFFER FROM THE PSYCHODYNAMIC APPROACH? (Which of the following are more characteristic of trait theory?)

1) Focus on predicting one person’s behavior vs. focus on predicting typical behavior of a group of people.

2) Focus on identifying mechanisms underlying behavior vs. focus on describing personality and predicting behavior

3) Focus on in-depth analysis of one person vs. focus on making comparisons between people.

4) Focus on constancy in personality vs. focus on change in personality.

 

IMPORTANT TRAIT THEORISTS

GORDON ALLPORT

*Born & grew up in the U.S.A.

*Did not find a place for himself in psychology right away: "didn’t fit in"

*Developed the field of "individual differences psychology"

*An influential methodologist as well as a theorist

 

Highlights of Theory:

*Personality is dynamic. Adult motivation is different from children's.

*A few traits can explain behavior.

*Healthy personality is as important to understand as neurosis.

*Conscious values shape personality.

 

Structure of Personality:

Traits

**Personality is a real entity with neurophysiological components.

**Traits are building blocks of personality.

**Traits occur in combinations. The combination makes each of us unique and shapes our behavior.

**Traits are organized hierarchically based on how much they influence behavior.

**Most people: can identify 5-10 traits that describe themselves best. These are:

Central traits – in combination organize most of a person's behavior.

**An occasional person can be best described by a single, overriding trait:

 

Cardinal traits -- influence most behavior. Most people have no cardinal trait.

 

**Secondary dispositions : Not among the 5-10 most descriptive traits although they appear in some situations.

 

The Proprium

**The dynamic, central organizing structure of personality.

Functions of the proprium:

Bodily self

Self-identity

Self-esteem

Self-extension

Self-image

Self as coping rationally

Propriate striving

**Like the "self" of humanistic psychology (for this reason, Allport also identified as an early humanist)

 

A New Research Method

Allport developed a method of personality research. Which of the two approaches, below, was Allport’s creation?

1. Idiographic approach: determine which traits are most important for a particular individual and study those (rather than studying everyone on the same traits).

2. Nomothetic approach: predetermine which traits to study and study all people on those traits.

 

Development of personality.

**Allport emphasizes discontinuity.

Functional autonomy: adult motivation is not the same as that of the past, in childhood. The same behaviors do not mean the same thing nor are they performed for the same reasons.

How is the concept of functional autonomy different from Freud’s views of development?

**The development of the proprium

Begins when infant distinguishes "my body" from everything else.

Continues through adolescence

"An awesome enigma" for personality psychologists to study!

**Values shape personality because they shape our direction in life.

 

Maturity and mental health

**Personality theory should address maturity.

**Examples from his concept of maturity:

*Extension of sense of self: like Adler's social interest.

*Emotional security and self-acceptance: Able to accept one's own emotions. Like Horney's ideal vs. real self.

 

HENRY MURRAY

*Influenced by the writings of Carl Jung

*After studying medicine & other areas of natural science, trained as a psychoanalyst

*First applied his theory to the selection of undercover agents for the C.I.A.

*Influenced by psychoanalytic concept of the unconscious

 

Two important contributions:

1) A typology of psychological needs.

2) The Thematic Apperception Test and the assessment of motives

 

A Need:

*A force in the brain

*Organizes our perceptions

*Directs our behavior toward satisfaction of the need.

*Largely unconscious

 

Structure of Personality: a hierarchy of needs

*Which needs do we have?

*How strong are our needs, relative to one another?

*Prepotent needs: Every one has.

Press:

*Environmental constraints that affect behavior and need fulfillment.

Alpha press: the real environment

Beta press: the perceived environment

The study of lives in depth.

*The complexity of the person is most interesting.

*The study of needs (and motives) reveals personality.

*The Thematic Apperception Test reveals motives.

*Stimuli: Cards with pictures.

*Person makes up a story about the picture.

*Story reflects needs and motives.

 

Raymond B. CATTELL

*Born & raised in England. Studied & worked in U.S.A.

*Studied chemistry before beginning his psychology career

*Experiences as a soldier persuaded him to study human beings

*Argued strongly for empirical methods for studying personality

*Developed factor analysis for the study of personality

**Cattell & Allport worked together at Harvard & had similar views:

Traits explain behavior.

Traits are "mental structures" that explain consistency.

Traits are organized hierarchically.

Some traits are inherited.

**Cattell used factor analysis to study personality

Discovery of source traits the most important goal of personality psychology.

Source traits are underlying, broadly influential. Basic building blocks of personality.

Surface traits are easily observable clusters of behavior. Surface traits should group together under larger source traits.

 

Factor analysis:

1) Derives source traits from surface traits.

2) Summarizes large data sets with a few dimensions.

3) Dimensions are called factors & represent intercorrelations among multiple personality traits.

Cattell's data sources:

1) self-ratings

2) life records (observations of behavior in every day situations),

3) objective tests (experimental situations elicit behavior that would allow prediction to other situations).

 

Factor analysis in action

THE IDENTIFICATION OF "SOURCE TRAITS:" FIVE-FACTOR THEORY

PREMISE: All individual differences can be summarized by 5 uncorrelated dimensions of personality.

**The 5 factors:

1) Extraversion

2) Agreeableness

3) Conscientiousness

4) Emotional stability/Neuroticism

5) Openness to Experience/Intellect

 

What are the "surface traits" associated with each of the five

factors? (Hint: see Table 7:3).

**WHY FIVE? Five dimensions are repeatedly identified by research.

**STEP 1: CORRELATIONAL ANALYSIS**

To discover associations among measures.

For example, do people who score high on one measure also score high on another?

A strong association (high correlation) means:

1) that people with one trait are likely to have the second trait (or its opposite),

2) that the measures may overlap. That is, they may, in part or wholly, be measuring the same trait or set of traits.

 

Replication is important

Why? Helps to interpret measure overlap.

Common sources of high correlations between measures:

1) Common method variance

2) Common items

3) Common "source traits"

**STEP 2: FACTOR ANALYSIS**

*Examines scores that cluster together along a single dimension.

*Examines associations between scores and "underlying" dimensions.

*Can identify uncorrelated or correlated dimensions.

SO WHY 5?

Repeated studies, using different measures, keep identifying the same 5 dimensions.

WHY DO SOME RESEARCHERS NOT ACCEPT THE "BIG 5"?

There is always variation.

**There is debate about what the five factors mean

    *They may reflect quirks of the English language as much as the structure of personality.

    *They may reflect limitations in our thinking (i.e., the complexity of information people can understand) rather than limitations in the complexity of personality.

**Not all studies yield the same number of factors.

**Scores do not always correlate with the same factors.

**Researchers do not always give factors the same label. Related perhaps? No strong theory explains the existence of this particular five.

**Researchers decide whether factors will be correlated (by how they conduct their factor analysis).

GENERAL CRITICISMS OF TRAIT THEORY AND PERSONALITY TESTS

1. Tests are often misused.

What are some ways tests can be misused?

2. Tests do not predict behavior very well.

What is "situationism?"

What does it mean that person & situation interact to produce behavior?

3. There is not much evidence for cross-situational consistency.

Burger suggests that personality psychologists could do a better job identifying consistency across situations than they now do.

How would they do that?

They could also do a better job of identifying the appropriate traits to study.

How would they do that?

PSYCHOMETRIC APPROACH TO PERSONALITY ASSESSMENT

**quantitative, orderly study of individual differences

**innovations in measurement

**innovations in hypothesis testing

CHARACTERISTICS OF PERSONALITY TESTS

Basic assumption: If personality traits can be quantified, they can be measured.

1) Traits must be "scalable."

2) People can be "scored" on traits.

3) Scores are most meaningful when compared with norms.

4) People can describe themselves accurately.

5) Personality tests should be objective.

Objectivity is achieved through standardization.

Things are standardized because they can affect test results.

MEASURES OF PERSONALITY

1) Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory: MMPI

Scales on MMPI initially devised to identify particular types of psychiatric patients.

550 true-false items

Items chosen to differentiate groups from one another. Only items that significantly differentiate are retained.

10 scales:

1) Hypochodriasis

2) Depression

3) Hysteria

4) Psychopathic Deviance

5) Masculinity-femininity

6) Paranoia

7) Psychasthenia

8) Schizophrenia

9) Hypomania

10) Social introversion

These scales, however, do not diagnose people with these illnesses!! Scales are interpreted in relationship to each other. That is, psychologist interprets a profile, and, in combination with other data about the person, predicts what his/her concerns, weaknesses, and strengths will be.

MMPI was the first personality test to include CONTROL SCALES. These scales attempt to correct for test-taking styles that bias results in self-report inventories.

SELF-REPORT INVENTORIES – e.g., The MMPI is a self-report inventory

Characteristics:

Paper-and-pencil

Easily administered to groups

Require little training to administer or interpret

Often have good face validity

Problems:

Easy to "fake" or give misleading information

Do not stand alone: do best in concert with other information (e.g., interview)

Boring, subject to carelessness or sabotage

Vulnerable to response sets

The MMPI corrected for some of the problems of self-report inventories:

1) Lie Scale (L): A group of items, if all answered in a particular way, suggest examinee wanted to present him/herself in a favorable/socially desirable manner. Unlikely all would be true.

2) Validity Scale (F): A group of items all infrequently answered in the scored direction. Each might reflect symptoms of a different disorder, and unusual that anyone would endorse all. If someone does, then they may not be understanding the items, or may be answering randomly.

3) Correction Score (K): A different set of items that perhaps captures a more subtle attitude on the part of the examinee. A high score may indicate "defensiveness," i.,e., an unwillingness to acknowledge problems or concerns. A low score may indicate "faking bad."

Collections of profiles have been gathered, with accompanying discussions, in scoring compendia for clinicians. However, as with the Rorschach, being able to formulate judgements based on combinations of scale scores requires that one use the scale frequently with many different kinds of clients so that one begins to make associations between particular types of profiles and behavior. There is some research to support the validity of interpreting specific profiles in certain ways.

MORE TYPICAL PERSONALITY TESTS MEASURE ONE TRAIT

For example: Trait anxiety.

Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale measures a generalized tendency to experience anxiety in the face of stress, or, one's tendency to feel somewhat anxious all the time.

Like many other inventories, it borrowed items from the MMPI to start, then selected only those that were selected as relevant by clinicians, and that then intercorrelated sufficiently when administered to test populations.

For example: Internal-external locus of control

Rotter's I-E Scale. Measures people's tendencies to attribute their good/bad fortune to luck, ability, hard work, or external circumstances. People who attribute their outcomes to ability and hard work make INTERNAL attributions while those who attribute their outcomes to luck or external circumstances make EXTERNAL attributions.

Early work indicated that people who attributed personal outcomes to INTERNAL causes seemed better adjusted. further work, however, as Mischel pointed out, indicated that when attributions were made about social systems, sometimes a combination of internal and external attributions was a better predictor of adjustment, especially for groups (African-Americans) who had traditionally not benefitted, or been harmed, by social systems.