Trait Theory

Definition: The Trait Theory asserts that an individual is composed of a set of definite predisposition attributes called as traits. These traits are distinguishable and often long lasting quality or a characteristic of a person that makes him different from the others.

The two most common trait theories are:

Trait Theory

Allport’s Trait Theory: This theory is given by Gordon Allport. According to him, the personality of an individual can be studied through a distinction between the common traits and the personal dispositions.

The common traits are used to compare the people on the grounds of six values, such as religious, social, economic, political, aesthetic and theoretical. Besides the common traits, there are personal dispositions which are unique and are classified as follows:

  • Cardinal Traits: The cardinal traits are powerful, and few people possess personality dominated by a single trait. Such as Mother Teressa’s altruism.
  • Central Traits: These traits are the general characteristics possessed by many individuals in the varying degrees. Such as loyalty, friendliness, agreeableness, kindness, etc.
  • Secondary Trait: The secondary traits show why at times, a person behaves differently than his usual behavior. Such as a jolly person may get miserable when people try to tease him.

Cattell’s Trait Theory: This trait theory is given by Raymond Cattell. According to him, the sample of a large number of variables should be studied to have a proper understanding of the individual personality.

He collected the life data (everyday life behaviors of individuals), experimental data (standardizing experiments by measuring actions), questionnaire data (responses gathered from the introspection of an individual’s behavior) and done the factor analysis to identify the traits that are related to one another.

By using the factor analysis method, he identified 16 key personality factors:

  1. Abstractedness – Imaginative Vs Practical
  2. Warmth – Outgoing Vs Reserved
  3. Vigilance – Suspicious Vs Trusting
  4. Tension – Impatient Vs Relaxed
  5. Apprehension – Worried Vs Confident
  6. Emotional Stability – Calm Vs anxious
  7. Liveliness – Spontaneous Vs Restrained
  8. Dominance – Forceful Vs Submissive
  9. Social Boldness – Uninhibited Vs Shy
  10. Perfectionism – Controlled Vs Undisciplined
  11. Privateness – Discreet Vs Open
  12. Sensitivity – Tender Vs Tough
  13. Self Reliance – Self sufficient Vs Dependent
  14. Rule-Consciousness – Conforming Vs Non-Conforming
  15. Reasoning – Abstract Vs Concrete
  16. Openness to Change – Flexible Vs Stubborn

The trait theory is based on the assumption that the traits are common to many individuals and they vary in absolute amounts. Also, the traits remain consistent over a period of time, and thus can be measured through the behavioral indicators.


  1. Aliya Waheed Reply

    Thank you so much for the content. It really helped me a lot. Though the explanation is deep but it is very clear and to the point. I really liked it. 👍🏼

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