Dispositional Theory

Dispositional Theory: Cattell, Eysenck and Allport

Hans Eysenck Trait theories focus on the description of personality and the ability to group personality characteristics into a relatively permanent set of dispositions. Typically, trait theorists spend little time discussing the motivation, formation, or dynamics of personality; rather, they are concerned with identifying and labeling personality characteristics. Unlike previous chapters, there is not a single theorist who is primarily responsible for advances in trait theory or our understanding of trait dimensions. Rather, there are a variety of theorists who have each contributed to various aspects of trait identification and factor analysis. View the video “Personality Traits” (text version) for an overview of trait theory.

This week we will examine the trait theories of Cattell, Eysenck and Allport. Using different analytical techniques, each theorist has identified a different set of core personality traits and a different description of the structure of personality.

To get started, read Chapter 13 – Cattell and Eysenck: Trait and Factor Theories and Chapter 14 – Allport: Psychology of the Individual.

Factor Analysis

A trait is a basic dimension of personality that accounts for a cluster of related variables. Typically, traits are identified through factor analysis, a statistical technique based on correlations (a correlation is a statistical relationship between two variables). In simplified terms, factor analysis identifies groups of personality characteristics that are highly correlated with one another. For example, characteristics such as social, talkative, and outgoing are highly correlated; through factor analysis, these characteristics can be grouped together into a more basic dimension, extraversion. The illustration to the right provides a visual depiction of factor analysis. The overlap between characteristics shows the correlation; as a group the characteristics cluster together to create a a personality trait (in this example, the trait is introversion).

Raymond Cattell

Cattell defined a trait as “that which defines what a person will do when faced with a defined situation;” similarly, personality is “that which permits a prediction of what a person will do in a given situation.” Personality, then, is based on a collection of traits. But, Cattell differentiated traits even further and distinguished a range of dimensions:

Cattell's Trait Types Surface versus Source:

· Surface traits are the numerous characteristics used to describe personality.

· Source traits are the underlying factors that connect various surface traits.

Common versus Unique:

· Common traits are general traits shared by many people.

· Unique traits are traits that are peculiar to a single individual.

Temperament versus Motivation versus Ability:

· Temperament traits focus on how a person behaves.

· Motivation traits traits explain why a person behaves the way they do.

· Ability traits refer to the skills or performance abilities.

Much of Cattell’s work emphasized the research methods utilized to identify traits. He introduced two different techniques for measuring personality: P technique and dR technique. The P technique examined the correlations between scores obtained by one person on multiple tests. The dR technique focused on the correlation of scores between large groups of people taking multiple tests. Used together, these two techniques can differentiate traits from states and identify traits that can be generalized across people. In addition, Cattell identified three sources of data:

Data Source Description Example
L data life record data based on observations of other people report card, arrest record, tax statement, employment evaluation
Q data questionnaire data based on self-reported information personality test, opinion survey, career inventories
T data test data based on objective measures intelligence test, reaction time, ability to follow directions

In addition, Cattell created the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF), which is still a widely used trait test today. Through factor analysis, Cattell was able to identify 16 core personality traits which were detailed enough to provide an individualized picture of personality, yet were broad enough to be relevant to most populations.

Hans Eysenck

Like Cattell, Eysenck’s research relied primarily on factor analysis. But while Cattell used inductive reasoning in which he allowed the data to guide the conclusions without the constraints of a particular theory, Eysenck utilized deductive reasoning in which he gathered data consistent with a specific theoretical explanation. Eysenck identified four criteria necessary for the identification of a factor:

· psychometric evidence – factors must be reliable and replicable

· heritability – factors are limited to non-learned characteristics and fit a genetic model

· theoretical framework – factor must be explainable within the context of a particular theory

· social relevance – factor must have a relationship with issues of societal importance

In addition, Eysenck highlighted the hierarchical nature of behaviors in relation to personality types. At the lowest level of the hierarchy are specific thoughts and behaviors; these are highly dependent upon the situation and may or may not be representative of personality. Similar, common behaviors group together to form habits; habits are behaviors that are likely to appear under similar conditions. Related habits combine to form traits; traits are relatively permanent ways of thinking, acting and feeling. At the top of the hierarchy are types; types are essentially superfactors that include related traits. Eysenck's Hierarchy of Behaviors

Eysenck is most well-known for his three factor theory of personality. Through factor analysis, Eysenck was able to identify a core set of superfactors: extraversion, neuroticism and psychoticism. View the following presentation for a detailed discussion of these three factors:

· PowerPoint on Eysenck’s Personality Factors (If the link does not work, please go to Doc Sharing to download the powerpoint. Remember to check out all the notes under each slide. The notes explain the slides)

Five Factor Model

Most of the current research in trait theory centers around the Five Factor Model. Expanding on the work of Eysenck, McCrae and Costa proposed a more comprehensive five factor theory of personality. The Five Factor Model, also called the Big Five, consists of a continuum of five core personality factors:

Diagram of Five Factor Model As you can see in the diagram, there are five core personality dimensions: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Each factor occurs on a continuum ranging from high to low; every individual possesses a degree of each of these dimensions somewhere within the continuum. As such, there is a virtually limitless combination of trait dimensions. It is through this variability that five core factors can account for the wide range of personalities found in the world.

The Five Factor Model has proven to be a reliable measure of personality across a range of populations and cultures. There are a variety of Big Five tests available on the Internet; to complete your own trait analysis, try the Five Factor Personality Test or All About You.

Trait theory provides the basis for the majority of personality tests used today. Trait inventories are used to predict such things as marital satisfaction, activity preferences and job success. View the video “Personality Testing for Career Choice” (text version) to see how trait inventories are used to assist with career choice.

Raymond  Cattell Supplemental resources:

· Chapter outline

· PowerPoint review of chapter

Questions for further thought:

· Explain briefly how factor analysis is used to measure personality traits.

· Describe Cattell’s method of data collection and investigation.

· Name and describe Eysenck’s three general types, or superfactors.

Gordon Allport

Allport’s trait theory differs considerably from that of Cattell or Eysenck. While most trait theories emphasize core traits shared by the general population, Allport was more interested in the uniqueness of each individual. As such, Allport defined personality as “the dynamic organization within the individual of those psychophysical systems that determine his unique adjustments to his environment.” This definition highlights five key factors central to Allport’s philosophy:

conscious motivation focus on current drives and conscious awareness
psychologically healthy individuals emphasis on normal, well-developed personalities
proactive behavior approach to life emphasizing future behaviors and goals
uniqueness of each individual emphasis on aspects of personality that are unique to an individual rather than shared by the population
eclectic approach toward other theories acknowledged and recognized the contributions of a variety of theorists in explaining personality

As indicated in the diagram below, Allport differentiated between three types of personality traits: common traits, personal dispositions, and the proprium. Common traits focus on characteristics shared by many people; Allport had little interest in common traits and minimized their importance in the study of personality. Personal dispositions are individual traits; Allport emphasized the value of personal dispositions in gaining insight into the unique nature of each person. The proprium is the unifying force within the personality that contains the behaviors and characteristics that people regard as central and important in their lives. View the video “Personality Traits” (text version) to hear Allport describe his views on the structure of personality.

Diagram of Allport's Structure of Personality

Allport believed that personal dispositions were the key to understanding personality. Personal dispositions are divided into three levels: cardinal, central and secondary.

Personal Dispositions Description Example
cardinal dispostion Dispositions that are so pervasive they influence virtually every aspect of one’s life; very few people have a cardinal disposition. Kindness would be a cardinal disposition for Mother Theresa.
central dispostion The handful of basic dispositions that describe an individual’s character; everyone has 5 to 10 central dispostions. Bill Clinton’s central dispositions might be powerful, outgoing, social, intelligent, impulsive, competitive, and logical.
secondary disposition The numerous set of situational dispositions includes preferences and habits; everyone has hundreds of secondary dispositions. Secondary dispositions might include things like a preference for the color red, aggressiveness in sports, and enjoyment of watching television.

One of the key factors in Allport’s theory of motivation is functional autonomy. Functional automony refers to the fact that the motivation that originally is responsible for a personality trait can change over time. As such, the trait begins to function independently of the original motive and is motivated by current factors. This view on motivation is central to Allport’s belief that current conscious experience is much more powerful than the past.

While Allport recognized that there are extreme personalities, he chose to focus on normal, healthy individuals. Allport believed that it was human nature to continually grow, develop and strive to seek potential; he defined psychologically healthy individuals as people who are moving in this direction. The characteristics of a psychologically healthy individual are highlighted in the illustration to the right. Illustration of the Psychologically Healthy Individual
Gordon Allport Supplemental resources:

· Chapter outline

· PowerPoint review of chapter

Questions for further thought:

· Discuss Allport’s concept of personal dispositions and explain how personal dispositions differ from traits.

· Describe Allport’s notion of functional autonomy and give examples of functionally au

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