History of Trait Approaches

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  • 0:04 Personality Traits
  • 1:02 Carl Jung
  • 1:59 Hans Eysenck
  • 3:21 Raymond Cattell & the Big Five
  • 5:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Why are people different from one another? What makes a personality? In this lesson, we'll look at the history of personality trait theory in psychology, including major figures in trait theory.

Personality Traits

Khadifa enjoys interacting with others and is very down to earth. These aspects of her personality help her to run a successful business. Her husband, Mo, on the other hand, is different. He's a homebody, a dreamer, and a philosopher. He prefers to think and read, rather than to be social and active.

A personality trait is one specific element of a person's personality that is generally stable over time. When Khadifa describes herself as outgoing, cheerful, and funny, or her husband as quiet, thoughtful, and kind, she is describing personality traits. Whenever we use descriptors such as ''good,'' ''nice,'' ''tough,'' or ''righteous'' in reference to other people, we are really describing their personality traits.

So how do psychologists think about personality traits? To understand the psychological approach to personality, let's take a look at the history of trait theory, including the major figures who shaped how we think about personality today.

Carl Jung

One of the key differences between Khadifa and Mo involves the way they interact with others. Khadifa is very outgoing and loves talking to others, while Mo tends to be quiet and shy.

In the early 1900s, Swiss psychologist Carl Jung was one of the first to espouse the belief that people could be categorized according to personality traits. Jung was originally a student of Sigmund Freud. Eventually, though, the two parted ways, and each developed his own theories about personality.

One of Jung's most significant contributions to the field of psychology is the theory that people can be classified as either introverted or extroverted. Introverted people, according to Jung, are shy, self-focused, and prefer quiet activities like reading or thinking. Extroverted people, in contrast, are bold, outgoing, focused on the world around them, and prefer social activities. It's pretty easy to see how Jung would classify Khadifa as extroverted and Mo as introverted.

Hans Eysenck

Khadifa and Mo are different in other ways as well. In the middle of the 20th century, German-English psychologist Hans Eysenck expanded Jung's ideas. He agreed that personality traits were what made people different from one another, but he disagreed that introversion and extroversion were the only traits that defined people's personalities.

Eysenck said that there were three major traits, each with its own continuum: introversion/extroversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism. Eysenck's concept of introversion/extroversion reflected Jung's theory.

The next dimension, neuroticism, categorized people based on their levels of anxiety, worry, and moodiness. For example, Mo is always thinking of worst-case scenarios. He gets very tense and worried about minor things. He is likely high in neuroticism, while Khadifa, who is laid back and rarely stressed, is low in neuroticism.

Finally, Eysenck posited that people who were high in psychoticism were unpredictable and temperamental. Khadifa tends to change her mood very quickly and can sometimes be unstable, so she is likely high in psychoticism. On the other hand, Mo is even-tempered and consistent, so he's probably low in psychoticism.

Eysenck's three dimensional theory provided a much fuller picture of personality compared to Jung's more simplistic introversion versus extroversion classification.

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