Traits, Motives & Behavior

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  • 0:04 Behavior and Personality
  • 0:45 Traits
  • 2:33 Motives
  • 3:20 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 do people act the way they do? In this lesson, we'll examine the difference between personality traits and motives, and demonstrate how both can influence a person's behavior.

Behavior and Personality

Jolie is a strong, passionate person, whereas her brother Jules is quiet and reserved. They behave very differently when put in the same situation.

A person's behavior is the way they act or respond in any given situation. Personality, on the other hand, is someone's character, nature, or the set of qualities that make them who they are. Behavior is influenced by personality. For example, if a stranger cuts in line or says something rude to Jolie, she might yell at them, whereas Jules might just let it go.

What makes Jolie and Jules so different? Two influences on a person's behavior are traits and motives. Let's look at each one more closely.


A stable characteristic of personality is known as a personality trait. When we say that Jolie is passionate, while Jules is reserved, we are talking about specific traits. Being passionate isn't all of Jolie's personality, but it is one of the stable characteristics that makes up part of her personality, and is therefore a trait.

There are many, many different traits that can make up a personality. Ambition, empathy, intelligence; all of these are traits. Psychologists have narrowed the list down to five traits that more or less make up a personality. These are known as the Big Five and include:

  • Extraversion - whether a person's attention is focused inward or outward
  • Agreeableness - characterized by how empathetic and easy-going a person is
  • Conscientiousness - refers to how organized and detail-oriented a person is
  • Neuroticism - level of emotional instability
  • Openness to experience - characterized by adventurousness and creativity

While a layperson may describe Jolie as assertive, passionate, and outspoken, psychologists might instead say that she is high in extraversion and low in agreeableness. We might say that Jules is organized, cautious, or laid back, while a psychologist might say that he is high in conscientiousness, and low in both neuroticism and openness to experience.

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