Personality Theory

            Gordon Allport is considered the founder of trait theory.  Trait theory is sometimes viewed as dry, inflexible, and devoid of paying attention to the rich and interesting developmental aspects of personality that so many students enjoy studying.  Those same students would probably be quite surprised to learn that Allport is generally considered to have been humanistic in his approach.  It was within his effort to understand the individual, however, that Allport focused on traits, psychological phenomena that allow some ability to predict the behavior of an individual.  Allport was also concerned about factors that negatively affect people, such as prejudice.  Indeed, in 1954, he published a classic study on prejudice in which he argued that despite all of humanity’s scientific advances we remain “in the Stone Age so far as our handling of human relationships is concerned” (Allport, 1979).  This concern for all people likely grew out of his profound spiritual faith (for a collection of Allport’s daily prayer reflections see Bertocci, 1978).  Thus, the trait approach to psychology, as envisioned by Allport, was anything but dry and inflexible, and it paid careful attention to the unique value of each individual.

            Raymond Cattell provides a dramatic contrast to Allport.  His approach to trait theory was purely scientific and mathematical.  He focused on psychological testing, and made extraordinary contributions to psychology in this regard.  Unfortunately, he was also quite different than Allport with regard to his views on racial, ethnic, and other forms of diversity.  Cattell was a staunch advocate of eugenics, the controlled interbreeding of people to enhance desired human traits.  He believed that the government should decide how to control the eugenic breeding, that rich people should be encouraged and allowed to have more children than other people, there should be genetic experiments to pursue new and more favorable traits, and once we can identify such favorable traits we should provide prenatal screening and abort those children who will not be good enough (Cattell, 1972).

            Hans Eysenck, followed by Paul Costa and Robert McCrae, attempted to identify a smaller number of traits that could be used to provide a reasonable description of an individual’s personality.  The Five-Factor Model of personality, identified by Costa & McCrae (see, e.g., McCrae & Costa, 2003), is considered by many to be the culmination of this area of psychology.  However, there are many personality traits that are significant factors for certain individuals, but which do not comprise one the five major factors.  One example is the sensation-seeking trait described by Marvin Zuckerman (see, e.g., Zuckerman, 1994).  As such, Zuckerman represents the approach of many trait theorists today:  take a trait of interest, such as sensation-seeking or religiosity, and study it in great detail.  In this chapter, we will examine the approaches taken by these theorists, as well as the form of the theories they subsequently presented.

Brief Biography of Gordon Allport

            Gordon Willard Allport was born on November 11, 1897, in Montezuma, Indiana.  His father had been a businessman, but then decided to go into medicine and become a country doctor.  It was in Indiana that Allport’s father set up his first medical practice shortly before Allport was born, the youngest of four brothers.  The family soon moved to Ohio, eventually settling in Glenville, where Allport spent his school years.  His brothers were considerably older, causing him to feel like an outsider.  Despite feelings of isolation, he worked hard to be the star of a small group of friends.  He also did well in school, though he was uninspired and not curious about much outside of routine adolescent concerns (Allport, 1968).

            His home life was marked by trust and affection, but it was not one of leisure.  Rather, it was marked by “plain Protestant piety and hard work” (pg. 379; Allport, 1968).  His mother had been a schoolteacher, and she encouraged philosophical and religious interests among her children.  Also, the family home doubled as his father’s medical clinic and hospital, so there was always much work to be done around the house.  Family vacations were rare, and his father liked it that way.  According to Allport, his father believed that everyone should work as hard as they could and accept as pay only what their family needed to survive, so that there might be enough wealth to go around for everyone.  In many ways, the Allport children were taught the importance of being concerned with the welfare of others (Allport, 1968).

            After graduating from high school, in 1915, Allport followed his brother Floyd to Harvard University.  Floyd Allport had graduated from Harvard in 1913, and then continued in the graduate program in psychology.  Floyd Allport encouraged his younger brother to study psychology, and he was the teaching assistant for Allport’s first psychology course.  At the beginning of his first semester Allport received poor grades, but after redoubling his efforts, he ended his first year with all As.  What Allport found most interesting was the distinction between “causal” psychology and “purposive” psychology, and he wondered if the two couldn’t be reconciled.  During World War I he was a member of the Students’ Army Training Corps, but the war ended before he had to serve in Europe.  Allport also studied in the Department of Social Ethics, and he engaged in extensive community service.  He ran a boys’ club in Boston, Massachusetts, did volunteer work for the Family Society and as a probation officer, and he spent a summer working at the Humane Society in Cleveland, Ohio.  Allport found this community service to be very rewarding, partly because he enjoyed it, and partly because it helped him to feel competent (offsetting his general feelings of inferiority).  He became convinced that effective social service could only be provided if one first had a sound understanding of human personality.  At the 1919 Harvard commencement, he received his bachelor’s degree and his brother Floyd received a Ph.D. (Floyd Allport is considered one of the founders of the discipline of social psychology).

            After graduating, Allport spent a year teaching English and sociology at Robert College in Constantinople, Turkey.  He was then offered a fellowship for the graduate program in psychology at Harvard.  On the way back to the United States, Allport had an extraordinarily influential meeting with Sigmund Freud.  He stopped in Vienna to visit his brother Fayette, and while there he requested a meeting with Freud.  He received a kind invitation, and when he arrived Freud sat silently waiting for Allport to state the purpose of their meeting.  Unprepared for silence, Allport quickly chose to relate a story of a young boy he had seen who was terribly afraid of dirt.  The boy's mother was so dominant and proper that Allport thought the source of the boy's anxiety was clear.  Freud, however, looked at Allport and asked “And was that little boy you?”  Freud had entirely misinterpreted Allport’s reason for visiting him, assuming that it was a therapeutic encounter.  Allport became convinced that depth psychology might plunge too deeply, and that psychologists should consider manifest motives before digging into the unconscious (Allport, 1968).

            Allport found graduate school quite easy, and in 1922 he received his Ph.D.  However, he was unable to find any colleagues who shared his interest in a humanistic approach to the study of personality.  Thus, he had to chart his own path.  His first paper, published with his brother, was on classifying and measuring personality traits.  His course entitled Personality:  Its Psychological and Social Aspects, first taught at Harvard in 1924, was probably the first personality course in America.  Allport then received a fellowship that allowed him to spend 2 years studying in Germany and England.  In 1925 he married Ada Lufkin Gould, who had a masters’ degree in clinical psychology, and in 1927 they had a son named Robert.  Allport also moved to Dartmouth College that year.  In 1928 he and Floyd published a test for measuring dominant and submissive tendencies, but they never collaborated again.  Although they helped each other from time to time, their psychological perspectives were simply too different as their careers progressed (Allport, 1968).

            In 1930 Allport returned to Harvard, where he remained for the rest of his career.  His first book, Studies in Expressive Movement, included a section on handwriting analysis and personality, known as graphology (Allport & Vernon, 1933).  This was followed by The Psychology of Radio (Cantril & Allport, 1935), and then the landmark Personality: A Psychological Interpretation (Allport, 1937).  It was in the latter book that Allport outlined the majority of the theory for which he is recognized, and it was the culmination of ideas that had been “cooking” in his head since graduate school.  It was his ambition at the time to give a psychological definition to the field of personality.  He certainly helped to accomplish that task, but it should also be noted that another landmark personality text, with a similar goal, was published the same year by Ross Stagner, entitled Psychology of Personality (Stagner, 1937; for a discussion of the significance of these two books see Craik, 1993; Stagner, 1993).  Somewhat unfairly, Allport is often recognized for having published the first personality textbook, and Stagner is overlooked.  However, Stagner was quite young at the time (only 28 years old).  Accordingly, Allport was well-established in his field, and Stagner cites earlier work by both Gordon and Floyd Allport numerous times in his textbook.

            During World War II, Allport worked with the Emergency Committee in Psychology under the American Psychological Association.  He spent some time working on the problem of morale among the American people, and he wrote a daily column for the Boston Traveler that focused, in part, on rumors.  An important aspect of rumors was those rumors designed to enhance prejudice and group antagonism.  This work led to a series of seminars on race relations for the Boston Police Department, a book entitled The Psychology of Rumor (Allport & Postman, 1947), and ultimately to Allport’s classic study The Nature of Prejudice (first published in 1954; Allport, 1979).  Another factor facilitating Allport’s work on social issues was the establishment of a new department at Harvard shortly after WWII:  the Department of Social Relations.  Given his lifelong interest in social ethics, Allport flourished in this new environment, remaining active in its administration throughout his career.  Later in his career Allport continued to refine his personality and social psychological theories, he pursued his interest in social and religious development, with books such as The Individual and His Religion (Allport, 1950) and Becoming (Allport, 1955), and the application of trait theory to the analysis of an individual’s historical documents.  With regard to the latter, Allport had published The Use of Personal Documents in Psychological Science in 1942, and after using a collection of personal letters reflecting a mother-son relationships as lecture aids for many years, he eventually published Letters from Jenny in 1965.  In 1966, as Allport was entering into semiretirement, Harvard University appointed him the first Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics.  Cabot, a wealthy Boston philanthropist, was also a professor of cardiology and social ethics at Harvard.  Cabot had been a professional friend and mentor to Allport for many years, and Allport credited him with having a great influence on Allport’s career.  As early as 1919, when Allport was just earning his bachelor’s degree, Cabot was commenting on the poor state of the study of personality.  Thus, it is perhaps no surprise that he mentored and supported Allport, who went on to become the “patron saint” of personality psychology (Nicholson, 2003).

            Allport died in 1967, 1 month shy of his seventieth birthday, leaving behind many unfinished books, articles, and two psychological tests.  He had received many honors, including a Gold Medal Award for Life Achievement from the American Psychological Foundation in 1963 (an award his older brother Floyd won five years later) and a Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association in 1964 (Maddi & Costa, 1972).  He was the first personality psychologist elected president of APA, and a 1951 survey placed him second only to Freud as a personality theorist whose work was directly applicable to clinical practice.  However, one award stood out for him, and it is the only one he mentions in his autobiography.  At the XVII International Congress of Psychology, fifty-five of his former doctoral students gave him a two-volume set of their own writings, with an inscription thanking him for respecting their individuality.  In Allport’s own words, this was “an intimate honor, and one I prize above all others” (pg. 407; Allport, 1968).  In that same autobiography, which was actually published after his death, he acknowledged a small number of personality theorists whom he felt were on the right path toward understanding human life, including Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, and Henry Murray.


Placing Allport in Context:  The Beginning of Trait Theory

     Gordon Allport is viewed by many as the founder of trait theories of personality.  In addition, because of his specific focus on personality itself, he is also viewed as the founder of personality psychology as a distinct discipline.  His entire approach to psychology, and more specifically to personality, was born of his strong devotion to social ethics.  He was a profoundly spiritual man, who challenged the negative aspects of religious dogma and championed the positive aspects of having a spiritual direction in one’s life.  Because his psychology carried with it that devotion to social ethics, he wrote one of the most famous books on prejudice, in which he suggested that the future role of psychology in understanding this disturbing inclination of people everywhere must be based on values.

     Since his approach to studying and teaching psychology emphasized the value and uniqueness of each person, he is considered to have been a humanistic psychologist, even though he is seldom grouped with Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow (instead, he is grouped with other trait theorists).  Always aware of the future challenges facing those who would study personality, Allport hoped that movements toward individual, humanistic, and existential psychology would continue:


     I’m quite certain there will be a strong movement toward what is called a third force which will be neither behavioristic nor psychoanalytic.  But I wouldn’t be willing to predict that it will dominate the field, though I can say I do hope it will develop sturdily and result in fruitful new methods to approach molar and complex levels of personality structure and social behavior…Human nature is such a hard nut to crack that no one should be denied a chance to contribute to it at any level. (pg. 112; Allport cited in Evans, 1981b

Allport's Psychology of Personality

            As a rule, science regards the individual as a mere bothersome accident.  Psychology, too, ordinarily treats him as something to be brushed aside so the main business of accounting for the uniformity of events can get under way…With the intention of supplementing this abstract portrait by one that is more life-like, a new movement within psychological science has gradually grown up.  It attempts in a variety of ways and from many points of view to depict and account for the manifest individuality of mind.  This new movement has come to be known (in America) as the psychology of personality. (pg. vii; Allport, 1937)


            With these words, in the preface to Personality: A Psychological Interpretation, Allport “officially” established the study of personality as a discipline in the field of psychology.  His goal was two-fold:  (1) to gather together the most important research on personality to date, and (2) to provide a framework within which the study of personality might then proceed toward understanding this “endlessly rich subject-matter” (Allport, 1937).

What is Personality and What Are Traits?

            Allport provides an interesting history of the use of the term persona, including a set of definitions written by Cicero (106-43 B.C.):  as one appears to others (but not as one really is); the part one plays in life; the collection of personal qualities that fits one’s career (or place in life); and distinction and dignity.  These and other definitions of persona represent a contradiction, that persona, or personality in psychological terms, is both something vital and internal and yet also something external and false.  Although psychologists came to favor definitions that emphasized an assemblage of personal qualities, Allport noted that no two psychologists could easily agree on one definition for the term “personality.”  So Allport offered a definition of his own:


     Personality is the dynamic organization within the individual of those psychophysical systems that determine his unique adjustments to his environment. (pg. 48; Allport, 1937)


            Dynamic Organization:  According to Allport, personality involves active organization, which is constantly evolving and changing, and which involves motivation and self-regulation.  Thus, it is dynamic, not static.  Organization also brings with it the possibility of disorganization, and the resulting abnormalities associated with personality disorders and/or mental illness.

            Psychophysical Systems:  The term “psychophysical” is meant to remind us that personality reflects both mind and body, the total organism.  The systems include habits, attitudes, sentiments, and dispositions of various kinds.  Most important, however, are the traits, which may be either latent or active.

            Determine:  In Allport’s view, “personality is something and does something.”  Personality is not synonymous with behavior, it underlies it, and it comes from within the individual.  The systems mentioned above can be viewed as determining tendencies.

            Unique:  Naturally, each adjustment by an individual is unique in time, space, and quality.  However, Allport mentioned this aspect in anticipation of his later discussion of individual vs. common traits (see below).

            Adjustments to His Environment:  Personality, according to Allport, is a mode of survival, it has functional and evolutionary significance.  For humans, we are not simply reactive, as plants and animals are, because we can be spontaneous and creative.  We can, and do, seek mastery over our environment (both behavioral and geographic).  Unfortunately, once again the possibility exists for maladaptive behavior that arises under abnormal conditions (such as an abusive home environment).


            In 1961, Allport wrote an updated and substantially revised version of his personality text entitled Pattern and Growth in Personality.  He made only one significant change to his definition of personality, which reflected a greater emphasis on cognitive processes.  He changed the phrase “unique adjustments to his environment” to “characteristic behavior and thought” (pg. 28; Allport, 1961).  He described “characteristic” in essentially the same way as he had described “unique” so that change was insignificant.  However, the phrase “behavior and thought” was intended to indicate that individuals do more than simply adjust to their environment, they also reflect on it.  Thus, the human intellect is an important factor in the manner in which we seek mastery over our environment and, indeed, over our lives.

            So now we turn our attention to traits, those special psychophysical systems that are at the center of Allport’s theory of personality.  In 1936, Allport and Odbert had examined the 1925 edition of Webster’s New International Dictionary and identified 17,953 words (4½ percent of the English language) that described aspects of distinctive and personal behavior that would commonly be described as traits (see Allport, 1937).  Allport viewed a trait as both a form of readiness and a determining tendency.  There are a number of other concepts that share some similarity with traits, such as habits, attitudes, needs, types, and instincts.  In each case, however, these other forms of readiness to engage in certain responses or activities are different than traits, particularly with regard to their specificity and external focus or, as in the case of types, they describe a collection of correlated attributes.  After describing the differences, Allport arrived at the following definition of a trait:


     We are left with a concept of trait as a generalized and focalized neuropsychic system (peculiar to the individual), with the capacity to render many stimuli functionally equivalent, and to initiate and guide consistent (equivalent) forms of adaptive and expressive behavior. (pg. 295; Allport, 1937)


            The essential aspect of this definition is equivalence, both perceptually and behaviorally.  As the result of a trait, different stimuli are perceived as similar, and responded to in similar ways.  This occurs regardless of the nature of the stimuli themselves.  Suppose, for example, an individual is paranoid.  If someone walks by and says “Hi, how are you today?” the paranoid individual might wonder “What is that supposed to mean?  Why are they pretending to be so nice?  What are they really up to?”  As illogical as this response might seem, a paranoid trait has the ability to render even a simple hello as a threat.

            Allport also made an important distinction between individual traits and common traits.  Underlying this discussion was another important topic in Allport’s approach to psychology:  the distinction between the idiographic and nomothetic approaches to studying psychology.  As psychologists attempted to define their discipline as a scientific endeavor, they pursued a nomothetic approach, one that emphasizes general rules that apply to all.  However, the psychology of personality that Allport was pursuing is inherently idiographic, an approach that emphasizes individuality.  Strictly speaking, no two people can have exactly the same trait.  Thus, all traits are inherently individual traits.  However, this creates an extraordinary challenge for psychologists, both experimental psychologists who would measure traits and clinical psychologists who would describe an individual as possessing a certain trait (at some level) in order to provide a framework for communication and therapy.  Allport agreed that is was logical to assume the existence of common traits, since normal people in a given culture would naturally tend to develop comparable modes of adjustment.  However, Allport cautioned that developing clinical or experimental measures of such traits would at best be approximations of the individual traits present in each person (Allport, 1937, 1961).

Discussion Question:  Allport described the persona as something vital and internal, yet external and false.  How can this be?  Can you think of different aspects of your personality that fit both perspectives, and if so, how do those aspects of your personality fit together?

Personal Dispositions

            Having acknowledged that there is logic to examining common traits as opposed to individual traits, Allport then returned to each individual’s unique personality by addressing personal dispositions.  A personal disposition is based on traits, but somewhat more complex, such as in a unique combination of traits (e.g., someone who is tentatively aggressive, as opposed to someone who is belligerently aggressive).  In another important change between the 1937 and 1961 editions of Allport’s general personality text, the latter book discusses cardinal, central, and secondary dispositions, rather than cardinal, central, and secondary traits.

            A cardinal disposition is one that dominates an individual’s entire life.  It cannot remain hidden, and the individual will be known by it.  Historically, some commonly used terms have adopted the reputation of famous figures, including at least one that appears in the DSM-V:  the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (named after Narcissus, from Greek mythology).  Another example would be to describe someone as Christ-like.  Personalities that posses one cardinal disposition, however, are quite unusual.

            Much more common are central dispositions.  If you were asked to describe a good friend, you would most likely offer a handful of distinguishable central dispositions.  The interesting question, of course, is how many central dispositions does a typical personal have?  Allport suggested that a person’s central dispositions would be those things one would mention in a carefully written letter of recommendation, a response that might make sense to someone like a professor, who often writes such letters.

            Of lesser importance, according to Allport, are the secondary dispositions.  These are less conspicuous, less consistent, and are less often called into play.  In concluding his discussion of cardinal, central, and secondary dispositions, Allport acknowledged that these gradations are arbitrary, and presented primarily for convenience.  In reality, he said, there are many degrees of personality organization, from the most loosely structured and unstable to the most pervasive and firmly structured.  The value of these distinctions is to provide a relative measure of the influence of traits and dispositions when discussing personality.

Personality Development, Functional Autonomy, and the Mature Personality

            According to Allport, a newborn infant has no personality, for it has not experienced the world in which it will live and it has had no opportunity to develop its distinctive modes of adjusting to that environment.  Personality exists only later, after the common elements of human nature have interacted and produced the unique, self-continuing, and evolving systems that form the individual’s personality.  The basic aspects of growth, following the infant’s initial random and diffuse behavior, involve differentiation, integration, maturation, and learning.  As the child’s nervous system develops, it gradually gains finer control over its movement.  Little by little, the young child differentiates more efficient and adaptive patterns of behavior, including vocal behavior.  Psychologically, this differentiation involves more than just behaviors themselves, it also includes the ability to control the initiation of those behaviors.  Very young children have little capacity for delaying their actions; they want to do things now!  As the child’s behavioral repertoire increases, it becomes just as necessary and adaptive to begin integrating some of those behaviors into coordinated actions.  Once again, if applied to psychological and cognitive processes, the development of traits and dispositions begins with the integration of life’s experiences.  As these processes are occurring, the child is also maturing physically.  Allport did not view maturation as something that contributed directly to personality, but it does indirectly by bringing out every inherited feature of the individual, including temperament, intellectual capacity, physical features, etc.  All of these factors, plus the extensive contribution of different types of learning, contribute to the manner in which the individual experiences their environment (Allport, 1937).  However, we can never truly know the personality that develops:


            Of the whole of our own natures we are never directly aware, nor of any large portion of the whole.  At any single moment the range of consciousness is remarkably slight.  It seems only a restless pencil point of light entirely insufficient to illuminate the edifice of personality…It is through…temporal reference and content, that we arrive at the conviction that we do somehow possess consistent personalities surrounding the momentary conscious core. (pg. 159; Allport, 1937)


            As a sense of self develops, these developmental processes of childhood progress through a series of stages:  (1) a sense of bodily self, (2) a sense of continuing identity, (3) a sense of self-esteem or pride, (4) the extension of self, (5) a self-image, (6) a sense of self as rationally able to cope, and finally, in adolescence, (7) a sense of “directedness” or “intentionality.”  Allport described these seven aspects of selfhood as a sense of self-relevance that we feel.  When combined, they create the “me” as felt and known.  In order to identify this sense of “me” or “I” Allport recommended the term proprium.  Proprium is derived from the Latin term proprius, and it refers to a property common to the members of some class, but which is not part of the definition of that class.  In other words, everyone has a personality, but no one’s personality is part of the definition of what it means to be a person.  But why not simply use the word “self?”  Allport felt that many psychologists use the words “self” and “ego” to mean only one or two aspects of the entire proprium.  Also, Allport wanted to distinguish between the self as an object, and the self as the “knower” of that object.  The proprium refers specifically to the self as an object, whereas self refers both to the object and the “knower.”  We can be directly aware of the proprium in a way that we can never be fully aware of the “knower” (Allport, 1961).

            As the child matures, both physically and psychologically, the individual’s interests and motives become stable and predictable.  A special type of psychological maturity (as opposed to genetic/biological maturity) takes place, which Allport termed functional autonomy.  Functional autonomy regards adult motives as varied, and as self-sustaining systems that are unique to the individual.  They may have arisen out of developmental processes and experiences, but they are independent of them.  This means that any tie between adult motives and early childhood experience is historical, not functional.  This is a radically different view than that of Sigmund Freud and most psychodynamic theorists, who considered early childhood experiences to be the driving force behind adult behavior, especially neurotic behavior.  Allport offers the example of a good workman.  Such a workman feels compelled to do his best work, even though his income no longer depends on maintaining high standards.  Indeed, doing his very best on every job may actually hurt him financially, but his personal standards, his motivation, demand nothing less (Allport, 1937, 1961).  When viewed a different way, functional autonomy serves another important motivational role.  If one considers early childhood experiences to be the determining factors in personality, then all adult motives must have some infantile source.  However, by separating adult motives from their childhood antecedents, then there does not need to be anything childish about what motivates adults.  This allows for entirely new sources of motivation to be relevant during adulthood, motives that might have been completely beyond the intellectual and cognitive capacities of children.

            In considering what constitutes a mature personality, Allport considered the writings of Sigmund Freud, Richard Clarke Cabot, Erik Erikson, and Abraham Maslow.  He also considered the length of each man’s list.  Allport settled on a list of six ideal characteristics of the mature personality.  He described the list as an ideal, because he freely acknowledged that no one is perfect, even the “sturdiest of personalities have their foibles and their regressive moments; and to a large extent they depend on environmental supports for their maturity” (pp. 282-282; Allport, 1961).


            Extension of the Sense of Self:  The mature person focuses on more than simple needs or drive-reduction; they develop strong interests outside of themselves.  By truly participating in life, they give direction to their life.

            Warm Relating of Self to Others:  The mature person is marked by two kinds of warmth.  On one hand, through self-extension they are capable of great intimacy in their capacity for love, whether it involves family members or friends.  On the other hand, they avoid gossipy, intrusive, or possessive relationships with other people.  They respect other persons as persons, they express tolerance and the so-called “democratic character structure.”

            Emotional Security (Self-Acceptance):  Mature individuals demonstrate emotional poise; they have the ability to avoid overreacting.  Especially important, according to Allport, is that they possess the quality of “frustration tolerance.”

            Realistic Perception, Skills, and Assignments:  Generally speaking, the mature person is in close contact with what we call the “real world.”  They see things, including people, for what they really are.

            Self-Objectification - Insight and Humor:  In describing this characteristic, Allport quoted Socrates:  “know thyself.”  In Allport’s psychology classes, 96 percent of his students thought they had average or better than average insight (by definition, only 50 percent can be above the average).  So people think they have good insight, but this is often not the case.  There does appear to be a high correlation between insight and humor.  People who truly know themselves are able to look at themselves objectively, and to laugh at their own failings and mistakes.

            The Unifying Philosophy of Life:  According to Allport, humor may be essential, but it is never sufficient.  Maturity requires a sense of life’s purpose.  This sense of purpose can be found in having a clear direction to one’s life, in a strong orientation to values, within one’s religious sentiment, or through a generic conscience.  Allport found it quite interesting that many people consider their desire to serve society was a more important generic motive than the fulfillment of any sense of religious or spiritual duty.  He concluded that an integrated sense of moral obligation can provide a unifying philosophy of life regardless of whether or not it is tied to one’s religious sentiments.

Discussion Question:  Consider Allport’s definition of a mature personality.  Do you know anyone who fits all of the criteria?  What are they like as a person, and do you consider them a friend (or, do they consider you a friend)?

The Assessment of Personality

            Personality is so complex a thing that every legitimate method must be employed in its study. (pg. 369; Allport, 1937)


            In Chapter 1 we examined the common procedures used to assess personality today, and Allport reviewed similar concepts, as well as procedures that were available at the time.  It is interesting to note that, in his 1937 text, the very first topic in Allport’s survey of assessment methods is the importance of evaluating the cultural setting.  Two other topics were also of particular interest to Allport:  the study of expressive behavior and the use of personal documents.

            Allport’s first two books, Studies in Expressive Movement (Allport & Vernon, 1933) and The Psychology of Radio (Cantril & Allport, 1935), both addressed what Allport considered to be the second level at which personality is evaluated (the first level consists of the traits, interests, attitudes, etc., that compose the “inner” personality).  He considered the study of expressive movement to be a more direct analysis of personality, since it is based on observation, and does not require the use of tests that only indirectly address the inner dispositions revealed in the first level of analysis.  For example, what a patient says or writes while taking the Rorschach test is projective, but how they say or write it, the tone of their voice or the style of their handwriting, is expressive (Allport, 1961).  Perhaps the primary value of expressive behavior is that it is freely emitted by the person being observed.  It can include all aspects of behavior, including walking, talking, handwriting, gesturing, shaking hands, sketching, doodling, etc.  Cantril and Allport examined a variety of curious aspects of radio voices.  For example, a natural voice is more revealing of personality than a voice transmitted over the radio.  They also found that blind people are not better at judging personality from voices than other people, perhaps dispelling the common belief that when people lose one sense they enhance their ability to rely on other senses.  Much of what they found was difficult to interpret, however.  Voice definitely conveyed accurate measures of personality, but there are no characteristics of personality that are always revealed correctly.  Most people preferred to hear a male voice on the radio, but no one could actually explain why, and there were a variety of differences based on the specific aspects of the message or its content (Cantril & Allport, 1935).  As for handwriting analysis, Allport felt that through careful research it could become a valid tool for personality analysis.  He acknowledged that this was a difficult and complex task, but he concluded that both handwriting and gestures reflect essentially stable and consistent individual styles (Allport & Vernon, 1933).

            There are many types of personal documents, including letters, diaries, recorded interviews, and autobiographies.  Perhaps the richest of these sources, personal letters, may well become a thing of the past.  Letter writing has become much less formal with the advent of phone calls and email.  Today, text messages don’t even rely on whole words.  Politicians often rely on speech writers, so even their written words aren’t necessarily their own.  Of greater concern, according to Allport, is that personal documents are not representative samples and they are not objective (Allport, 1942, 1961).  However, if they can still provide insight into the nature of an individual’s personality, then why shouldn’t they be used with caution?  Allport had a unique set of letters that had been written over a number of years by a woman, between the ages of 58 and 70, to a young married couple.  The young husband had been her son’s college roommate.  Seeing value in the letters as a source of psychological material, the couple made them available for publication, and they came into Allport’s possession to be published.  For many years he used the letters to provide examples in his own classes, and eventually Allport published them again, along with his analysis of the woman’s personality, in Letters from Jenny (Allport, 1965).  Of particular interest, is that Allport interpreted the letters in a variety of ways, including existential, Jungian, Adlerian, and Freudian perspectives.  Allport concluded by addressing whether or not Jenny was normal, a point on which some people disagreed.  Using his six characteristics of a mature personality, he assigned relatively low scores to Jenny based on her letters, but he also found some strengths within each characteristic.  Thus, although Jenny appears to have been troubled, Allport concludes that it is not a simple matter to say she is normal or abnormal, but “her tangled life has contributed stimulus and challenge to posterity” (pg. 223; Allport, 1965).

Religion and Prejudice

            Two contrary sets of threads are woven into the fabric of all religion - the warp of brotherhood and the woof of bigotry.  I am not speaking of religion in any ideal sense, but, rather, of religion-in-the-round as it actually exists historically, culturally, and in the lives of individual men and women, the great majority of whom (in our land) profess some religious affiliation and belief.  Taken in-the-round, there is something about religion that makes for prejudice, and something about it that unmakes prejudice.  It is this paradoxical situation that I wish to explore here. (pg. 218; Allport, 1968)


            Allport was a deeply spiritual man, and he often wrote about the role of religion in personality.  Religion is such an important factor in so many people’s lives, that Allport considered it “thoroughly ridiculous” that psychologists had paid so little attention to it (see Evans, 1981b).  Although Allport acknowledged that there were useful and logical reasons for psychology to establish itself as a scientific endeavor, he felt it was just as illogical to reject religion.  Allport made neither assumptions nor denials regarding the claims of revealed religion, and he felt that as a scientist he had no right to do so.  Still, he believed that psychology must examine subjective religion in the structure of personality whenever and wherever religion is involved.  So he delivered a series of six lectures on religion, and published them as The Individual and His Religion (Allport, 1950).  The book takes a positive perspective on the role of religion.  Allport acknowledged that religion seems primarily symptomatic of fear and frustration in many people’s live, but he preferred to focus on the psychology, not the psychopathology, of religion.  What he found was that the religious sentiment, as it pertains to personality, is as varied and unique as each individual.  His findings echoed those of William James, whose own foray into this area of psychology was published in The Varieties of Religious Experience (James, 1902/1987).

            The relation between religion and prejudice seems to stem from a dichotomy within religion itself.  There appears to be an intrinsic value and an extrinsic value associated with religion.  The extrinsic or outwardly directed attitude, one that the individual uses for their own purposes, is correlated with prejudice, whereas the intrinsic attitude is correlated with very low prejudice (Evans, 1981b).  In focusing on the positive aspects of the intrinsic religious sentiment, Allport suggested that it was attached to the most elusive facets of becoming, enhancing one’s unifying philosophy of life and a sense of direction, intentionality, and good conscience (Allport, 1955).  When fully developed, the religious sentiment is distinct from its developmental origins (it has functional autonomy).  In other words, it is not simply the following of family tradition, or the practice of meaningless rituals, but rather it becomes a unique part of the individual.  It becomes morally true for the person, as it engages reason, faith, and love.  This was particularly true for Allport.  From 1938 to 1966, about twice a year, Allport offered a prayerful meditation during the daily prayers in Appleton Chapel at Harvard University (collected in Bertocci, 1978).  In a meditation offered on The Virtues and Social Science, Allport wrote:


            We have much to learn about industrial relations, about the resolution of conflict (personal, national, international); about the control of prejudice, the strengthening of brotherhood and compassion.  In such areas as these we have yet to make vital discoveries; we have yet “to think God’s thoughts after Him.” (pp. 89-90; Allport cited in Bertocci, 1978)


            Unfortunately, however, there remains the extrinsic attitude toward religion that is correlated with prejudice.  In many ways, religions encourage bigotry, most commonly through doctrines of revelation or election.  Revealed truth is not to be tampered with, and certain people are chosen, or cursed, above all others.  However, these attitudes often follow a very selective reading of the religious texts, and even disagree with other writings.  Nonetheless, one cannot deny the horrifying impact that religion can have when perverted for purposes of those who wield power.  Allport relates stories such as the Nazi Propaganda Minister Goebbels declaring that Hitler was the intermediary between the German people and God’s throne, or the member of the Ku Klux Klan (an allegedly Christian organization) who justified killing Black children by saying that when you kill rattlesnakes you don’t care if they are young or old (Allport, 1960, 1968).  Allport described such people as using religion as they would use any social group, for their own purposes:  making friends, influencing people, furthering business pursuits, gaining prestige, etc.  It becomes exclusionistic so that only the members of the group benefit, not anyone else.  However, although this is a common outcome of religious activity, there remains a minority of people for whom this does not occur.  They serve their religion, not the other way around.  They have adopted the creeds and doctrines as an important component of their value system, but included within that value system is the doctrine of human brotherhood (see Evans, 1981b).  Religion is, of course, only one factor that leads to prejudice and discrimination.  Allport studied those factors in great detail in his classic work on prejudice.


Connections Across Cultures:  The Nature of Prejudice

     Since Allport was committed to social ethics throughout his life, his classic study on prejudice did not arise suddenly.  During World War II, one of his projects was to study the effects of rumor.  A rumor, according to Allport’s definition, is a specific proposition for belief, passed from person to person, without any secure standards of evidence.  When a rumor follows some event, the information that people report is based on memory.  Important aspects of those memories are often false, and they are false in conjunction with negative stereotypes.  Interestingly, this is much less likely to occur with children, who often fail to identify the racial aspects of scenes they have observed (at least in a research setting).  Rumors are particularly dangerous when they incite riots, and Allport and Postman wrote that “no riot ever occurs without rumors to incite, accompany, and intensify the violence” (pg. 193; Allport & Postman, 1947).  In 1943 there were major riots in Harlem and Detroit, in which negative racial rumors played an important role.  In Detroit in particular, according to Allport, if the authorities had listened to the rumors the violence might have been avoided.

     The following year, Allport taught a course on minority group problems to the police captains for the city of Boston, Massachusetts.  In 1947 he repeated the course for police officers in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  One year later, he presented some of his material in a Freedom Pamphlet entitled ABC’s of Scapegoating (Allport, 1948).  This pamphlet later grew (rather dramatically, from 36 pages to 537 pages) into his book The Nature of Prejudice, which was published in 1954 (Allport, 1979).  Despite this preparation, the challenge of a major study on prejudice was still daunting.  The problem of the causes of prejudice was so large that it took Allport several years to work out the table of contents, which ended up being eight pages long, including sections on preferential thinking, group differences, perceiving and thinking about group differences, sociocultural factors, acquiring prejudice, the dynamics of prejudice, character structure, and reducing group tensions.

     Despite being over 500 pages long, The Nature of Prejudice is concise.  In part, this indicates the magnitude of the problem of prejudice, and also makes it extremely difficult to summarize the book.  Allport begins by asking “What is the problem?”  He describes five levels at which people act on prejudice.  Most people will only talk about their prejudice with like-minded friends.  If the prejudice is strong, they may actively avoid members of another group, and then they may discriminate against them, engaging in detrimental activities toward the disliked group.  More extreme prejudice may actually lead to physical attacks, and ultimately, to extermination, such as lynchings or genocide.  Is this behavior to be expected?  According to Allport, the essential ingredients of prejudice, erroneous generalization and hostility, are natural and common capacities of the human mind.  What is necessary, however, is the formation of in-groups, and the rejection of out-groups.  We form in-groups naturally as we develop; we learn to like the things we are familiar with.  This does not require hostility toward out-groups, but it is an unfortunate reality that many people define their loyalty to the in-group in terms of rejecting the values and customs of the out-group.  For those people, rejecting the out-group becomes a powerful need.

     Although many differences exist between groups, why has race been emphasized?  The answer is, in part, disturbingly simple:  we can see race.  In addition, most people don’t know the difference between race and ethnic group, or race and social caste.  Thus, it is simply easier to identify out-groups on the basis of race.  Making matters worse, of course, is the reality that we can’t even define race that well.  Allport discusses research that has suggested as many as thirty different human races or types, yet most of us think in terms of three basic races:  White, Black, and Asian (more recently the number would be four, including Hispanics).  Discriminating against one “race,” such as Blacks in America, without even beginning to understand individual character (i.e., personality) or other aspects of culture, such as religion, customs, or national character (which can also be quite complex), is simply an ignorant act.  Yet a point that Allport returns to, as an explanation regarding how natural it is to be prejudice, is that people who are different seem strange, and strangeness is something that makes most people uncomfortable, and it may actually be aversive to many people.

     Unfortunately, the victimization of minority groups can enhance the differences and discomfort that exist between groups.  As Allport noted:


     Ask yourself what would happen to your own personality if you heard it said over and over again that you were lazy, a simple child of nature, expected to steal, and had inferior blood.  Suppose this opinion were forced on you by the majority of your fellow-citizens.  And suppose nothing that you could do would change this opinion - because you happen to have black skin. (pg. 142; Allport, 1979)


     Minorities can become obsessively concerned about everything they do and everywhere they go in public.  They develop a basic feeling of insecurity.  The simplest response to prejudice is to deny one’s membership in the minority group.  For example, some very light-skinned Blacks have passed as White people.  But this can lead to great personal conflict, and the feeling that one is a traitor.  Huey Newton, co-founder of the Black Panthers, had to fight against prejudice within the Black community itself against those Blacks whose skin was viewed as too light.  Oppressed minority group members might also become withdrawn, passive, or they might act like clowns, trying to make fun of their circumstances.  Worse, they may identify with the majority group, leading to self-hate and acting out against members of their own group.  Of course, there are those who will also fight back aggressively, such as Huey Newton and the members of the Black Panthers.

     How might we begin to combat prejudice?  Allport discussed an interesting study that addressed the sociological theory of contact between groups.  During the Detroit riots of 1943, both Black and White students at Wayne University (which later became Wayne State University) attended class peacefully during what became known as Bloody Monday.  It has been suggested that when groups of humans meet they go through a four-stage process:  contact itself, followed by competition, then accommodation, and finally assimilation.  Thus, the initial contact naturally leads to a peaceful progression of the inter-group relationship.  While this is not always the case, there are many examples where it has been.  But, it cannot occur without the initial contact.  Thus, encouraging contact between groups is an important step in combating prejudice.  Allport notes, however, that it is important for the contact to be of equal status and to be in the pursuit of common goals.

     Allport also addressed the issue of using legislation to fight prejudice.  Unfortunately, as he points out, laws can only have an indirect effect on personal prejudice.  They cannot affect one’s thoughts and feelings, they can only influence behavior.  However, it is also known that behavior can influence one’s thoughts, opinions, and attitudes.  Thus, Allport encourages the continued use of legislation as a significant method for reducing public discrimination and personal prejudice.  More important, however, is the need to take positive action toward reducing prejudice, including the use of intercultural education.

     In a fascinating study published one year after The Nature of Prejudice, Gillespie & Allport presented the results of a study entitled Youth’s Outlook on the Future (Gillespie & Allport, 1955).  What made the study remarkable was that it included students from the United States, New Zealand, South Africa (both Black and White students), Egypt, Mexico, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, and Israel.  Included among the questions was the issue of racial equality, whether students desired greater racial equality and whether they expected greater racial equality.  A large majority of college students reported that they desired greater racial equality, ranging from 83 to 99 percent.  The notable exceptions were Germany (65 percent), and English speaking South Africans (75 percent) and Afrikaners in South Africa (14 percent - this was during Apartheid).  As for the expectation that there would be greater racial equality in the future, students in most of the countries studied said yes between 67 to 73 percent of the time, with notable exceptions being Black South Africans (57 percent), Japanese (53 percent), and Mexicans (87 percent).  Thus, most college students around the world (in 1955) desired racial equality, but a significant portion of them did not expect to see it in the future.  Considering the state of the world today, we are far from learning the final outcome of this crucial social issue.

     If it were possible to achieve a world in which people were not prejudice, what attitude should replace it?  This question was recently addressed by Whitley and Kite (2006), and they identify the two most commonly raised options:  color-blindness and multiculturalism.  The color-blind perspective suggests that people should ignore race and ethnicity, acting as if they simply don’t exist, whereas the multicultural perspective considers ethnic/racial identity as cognitively inescapable and fundamental to self-concept.  Color-blind proponents argue that as long as race is an issue, there will be some forms of discrimination.  Multicultural proponents argue in favor or retaining one’s cultural heritage, thus preserving integrity, while also encouraging group interaction and harmonious coexistence.  Does one approach appear to be more effective at reducing prejudice?  To date, the evidence favors the multicultural approach.  Whitley and Kite suggest that reducing prejudice is most likely to occur as a result of individuals both changing their own attitudes and working to help others change their attitudes as well.  It is important to reflect on one’s own thoughts and behaviors, and to help others become aware of their attitudes and behaviors.  In addition, it is important to learn more about other groups, and to actively participate in inter-group contact (Whitley & Kite, 2006).  In other words, multiculturalism works best when it actually exists; people need to associate with people of other races, religions, and cultures.  Only then can ignorance, as in simply not knowing about other people and their cultural differences, be replaced by knowledge and acceptance.

     When Allport published his study on prejudice, it was important that the topic was even being addressed.  Today, it is more common to examine the nature of cultural differences and to pursue positive aspects of the value of multicultural settings.  A number of recent studies have emphasized various aspects of the differences between people from various cultures, the importance of not feeling so different, and how interaction between groups can prove valuable.  For example, the Chinese tend to anticipate change more readily than Americans, they predict greater levels of change when it begins, and they consider those who predict change to be wise (Ji, Nisbett, & Su, 2001).  Asian Americans, South Koreans, and Russians are more likely than Americans to adopt avoidance goals, but the adoption of those goals is not a negative predictor of subjective well-being in those collectivist cultures, as it is in individualistic cultures (Elliot et al., 2001).  The Japanese appear to be subject to cognitive dissonance effects in a “free” choice paradigm, but only in the presence of important others.  Americans, in contrast, are less affected by social-cue manipulations in a “free” choice situation (Kitayama et al., 2004).  Although social stereotyping typically results in an over-generalized tendency to include people in groups, under certain circumstance it can also lead to excluding certain individuals from their apparent in-group (Biernat, 2003).  Particularly for young people, in-group connection is very important.  Low-income, high risk African American and Latino teens who do not “look” like other members of their in-group are at a much higher risk for dropping out of school, but the ability to fit in has a protective effect (Oyserman et al., 2006).  Even when significant contact between groups does occur, it may only reduce certain aspects of prejudice, and may do so only for the minority group (as opposed to any change in the majority group; Henry & Hardin, 2006).  So how can contact between different cultural groups begin to reduce prejudice and discrimination in such a complex issue?  It has been shown that when college students are placed in racially diverse groups, they actually engage in more complex thinking, and they credited minority members with adding to the novelty of their discussions (Antonio et al., 2004).  Perhaps most importantly, multiculturalism can also foster the development of a character strength described by Fowers and Davidov (2006) as openness to the other.

     However, multiculturalism is not without its challenges.  Working in diverse teams can lead to social divisions, increasing the likelihood of negative performance teams.  Accordingly, it is essential to examine the types of diversity that come into play, since some favor and exploit a wider variety of perspectives and skills, whereas others more readily lead to conflict and division (Kravitz, 2005; Mannix & Neale, 2005).  Within the field of psychology, a discipline actively encouraging the growth of minority group membership, there has been a lag in successfully moving students beyond the bachelor’s degree to the doctoral level (Maton et al., 2006).  The challenges faced by minority graduate students and faculty are, not surprisingly, as diverse as the individuals themselves (see Vasquez et al., 2006).  Thus, we have a long way to go in understanding and overcoming prejudice and discrimination.  However, within a framework first established in detail by Allport, our examination and understanding of the major issues is rapidly growing.

Discussion Question:  Are you prejudiced?  Now that you have probably answered no, think again.  Are there times, or situations, where you find yourself having thoughts that make you uncomfortable when you stop to really think about them?  What do you think is more important, eliminating prejudice, or enacting laws against discrimination?

Brief Biography of Raymond Cattell

            Raymond Bernard Cattell was born on March 20, 1905, in the seaside town of Staffordshire, England.  Cattell developed a great love for the sea, and his first book was actually about sailing.  His father was a mechanical engineer who worked on projects such as innovations for WWI military equipment, the steam engine, and the new internal combustion engine.  Cattell was an excellent student, and he earned a scholarship to attend London University.  He majored in chemistry, and he received his bachelor’s degree in 1924, with first class honors.

            The years following World War I were a time of great change in Europe, and Cattell decided that studying psychology would provide him with the opportunity to address the political and economic issues facing society.  He entered University College in London, where he worked on his Ph.D. with Charles Spearman, the renowned statistician and expert on intelligence testing (a student of Wilhelm Wundt, and advisor to David Wechsler as well).  During his studies, he was involved in the development of factor analysis, a new statistical method that was to have a profound effect on the development of psychological tests (including the MMPI).  He completed his Ph.D. in 1929, after which he both worked and continued his education.  He spent six years as the director of the City Psychological Clinic, a child guidance center in Leicester, earned a master’s degree in education, and a doctorate of science degree.

            In 1937, he came to America to work with E. L. Thorndike at Columbia University, where he continued his work on theories of intelligence.  In 1939, he moved to Clark University, where his research interests turned to developing objective measures of personality.  In part, this work led to his theory on fluid vs. crystallized intelligence.  Then, in 1941, at the invitation of Allport, Cattell joined the faculty at Harvard University.  While at Harvard, he was influenced by Allport and Henry Murray, and Cattell became even more strongly interested in the study of personality.  It was in this stimulating environment that be began to consider applying factor analysis to the study of personality.

            In 1945, Cattell accepted a research professorship at the University of Illinois, where he remained for nearly 30 years.  The University of Illinois soon became the site of the first electronic computer, providing Cattell with the technology necessary to conduct large-scale factor-analytic studies on personality (factor analysis is a math intensive statistical technique, even relative to other statistical techniques).  He established the Laboratory of Personality Assessment and Group Behavior, where he and his colleagues were highly productive and produced a number of influential books advancing psychological science, including Description and Measurement of Personality (Cattell, 1946), An Introduction to Personality Study (Cattell, 1950a), Personality: A Systemic Theoretical and Factual Study (Cattell, 1950b), Factor Analysis (Cattell, 1952), and Personality and Motivation Structure and Measurement (Cattell, 1957).  In these books, Cattell gathered together extensive data from a methodologically sophisticated program of research on the development and organization of personality.  In 1960, he called for an international meeting of researchers in the scientific study of personality, which resulted in the foundation of the Society of Multivariate Experimental Psychology, and in 1966 he co-wrote and edited the influential Handbook of Multivariate Experimental Psychology (Cattell, 1966).

            After retiring in 1973, Cattell continued his research in Colorado.  In 1978, he moved to Hawaii, where he taught at the University of Hawaii and the Hawaii School of Professional Psychology (which later became the American School of Professional Psychology).  During his career, Cattell received many honors, including the Wenner-Gren Prize from the New York Academy of Sciences, and in 1972 the Society of Multivariate Experimental Psychology established the Cattell Award for young psychologists.  In 1997, he was chosen to receive a Gold Medal Award for Life Achievement (the same honor received by both Gordon and Floyd Allport).  However, the announcement resulted in objections that Cattel should not be honored, because he had used his psychological theories to support eugenics.  Essentially, he was accused of using his research to support racism, and, therefore, he was a racist.  In an open letter to the American Psychological Association, Cattell claimed that his views had been misinterpreted, and that he was being held accountable for statements made as a young man in the 1930s.  However, he continued to publish these controversial ideas in the 1970s and 1980s.  Regardless, Cattell asked that his name be withdrawn from consideration.  Less than two months after writing the letter, Cattell died at his home in Honolulu on February 2, 1998 (Cattell & Horn, 2007; Gale Reference Team, 2004).


Placing Cattell in Context:  Statistical Analysis of Trait Dimensions

     Raymond Cattell stands alongside Allport as one the two principal founders of the trait approach to understanding personality.  As his unique contribution, Cattell brought a level of precision to the scientific and statistical analysis of personality factors that was not available beforehand.  Indeed, Cattell helped to develop the factor analysis method that revolutionized objective psychological testing.  His 16-PF test was the forerunner of the research that led to today’s highly regarded conception of the Big Five personality traits.

     In addition, although he is not generally known for it, Cattell was one of the few early personality theorists who considered the continuation of personality development throughout the lifespan.  His publication of these ideas coincides with Erik Erikson’s publication of his first major book, so Cattell was not simply echoing the work of someone who came before him, but rather had developed this interest on his own.

     Unfortunately, Cattell also provided the basis for one of the most controversial topics in psychology today.  Specifically, he advocated directing the efforts and support of society toward those already advantaged within it.  In contrast, the discipline of psychology, as a social science, is held by the vast majority of its members to expectations of ethics and morality that emphasize improving the good of all people.  Thus, most psychologists would agree that our discipline, as well as our society, should focus most of its support on those who need it most, even if that approach does not stand up well to a cost-benefit analysis.  After all, how does one apply the concept of costs and benefits to the value of a human being?

Basic Concepts of Cattell's Theory

            Cattell studied a variety of personality types and personality traits.  Of particular interest to Cattell was how to assess personality, and his work is heavily influenced by the systematic collection of scientific data.  This is quite different than many of the psychodynamic and humanistic theorists, who based their theories on clinical observation, but it is similar to the learning theorists, who also value careful, objective observation and the collection of scientific data.  Neither approach is inherently better, since they each serve a different purpose.  Cattell’s approach, however, has had a dramatic effect on psychological testing.

Types and Traits

            A psychological type refers to a broader description of personality than a psychological trait, and is often associated with abnormal psychology.  According to Cattell, a type can only be understood in terms of personality traits.  For example, a villain is a type based on a pattern of associated traits such as immorality, cruelty, and disregard for the law and the rights of others.  Cattell considered types to fall into one of five principal categories:  temperamental characteristics, interests and character, abilities, disposition, and disintegration and disease processes.  As further examples, and in accordance with Cattell’s type categories, we can include the ancient personality types of Hippocrates (sanguine, choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic), the oral-erotic and anal-erotic types of Sigmund Freud, musical vs. mathematical geniuses, unrestrained vs. restrained personalities, and various neurotic and psychotic syndromes (Cattell, 1946, 1950a,b, 1965).

            Cattell believed that clinical psychologists always took personality traits for granted, but focused their attention on the patterns of traits that defined clinical syndromes (or types).  However, if one wishes to conduct a thorough description and measurement of personality, traits must be the target of that investigation.  Thus, Cattell focused his attention on the details of understanding and describing traits.  He agreed with Allport’s description of individual vs. common traits, though he preferred the use of the term unique traits to describe the former.  Cattell described a trait as a collection of reactions or responses bound by some sort of unity, thus allowing the responses to be covered by one term and treated similarly in most situations.  The challenge lies in identifying the nature of the unity, which has been done in different ways throughout the history of studying personality.  For Cattell:


     …the unity of a set of parts is established by their moving - i.e., appearing, changing, disappearing - together, by their exercising  an effect together, and by an influence on one being an influence on all. (pg. 71; Cattell, 1946)


            Thus, a trait guides behavior in a specific direction, by connecting all aspects of that trait into a unit (whether the process is directed outward, a response, or the result of external stimuli, a reaction).  Since an understanding of an individual’s traits would allow us to predict the nature of such responses or reactions, Cattell offered a rather simple definition of personality:


     Personality is that which permits a prediction of what a person will do in a given situation. (pg. 2; Cattell, 1950b)


            According to Cattell, traits and types are not fundamentally different, but rather opposite extremes of the same statistical measures.  The fundamental, underlying traits are known as source traits.  Source traits often combine and/or interact in ways that appear, on the surface, to indicate a single trait.  For example, in the area of abilities, a unitary intelligence shows itself in good academic performance, such a child who does well in school.  Of course, children who do well in school typically do well in most areas, such as math, English, social studies, etc.  What may now appear to be a type, a “good student,” can also be described as a surface trait (Cattell, 1950b).  As useful as surface traits, or types, may be descriptively, in order to truly understand personality, one must address the source traits.  First, however, they must be identified.

Source Traits and Factor Analysis

            Cattell used the factor-analytic technique to identify sixteen source traits.  He often uses the terms source trait and factor interchangeably.  Factor analysis is a statistical technique that determines a number of factors, or clusters, based on the intercorrelation between a number of individual elements.  Cattell considered factor analysis to be a radical departure from the personality research that preceded his, because it is not based on an arbitrary choice as to which variables are the most important.  Instead, the factor-analytic technique determines the relevant variables, based on the available data:


            …the trouble with measuring traits is that there are too many of them!...The tendency in the past has been for a psychologist to fancy some particular trait, such as ‘authoritarianism’, ‘extraversion’, ‘flexibility-vs-rigidity’, ‘intolerance of ambiguity’, etc., and to concentrate on its relations to all kinds of things…individual psychologists lead to a system which tries to handle at least as many traits as there are psychologists! (pg. 55; Cattell, 1965)


            When Cattell applied factor analysis to the list of words identified by Allport and Odbert, he identified 16 personality factors, more or less.  The reason for saying more or less is that any statistical technique is subject to known probabilities of error.  Thus, Cattell considered his sixteen factors to be only an estimate of the number of source traits (Cattell, 1952).  As potential source traits were identified that Cattell found difficult to put into words, he assigned them a Universal Index (U.I.) number, so that they could be kept for consideration until they could be studied and explained.  Cattell identified as many as forty-two personality factors (see Cattell, 1957).  By 1965, when Cattell wrote The Scientific Analysis of Personality, he had included three additional factors to his primary list, giving him nineteen personality factors, and kept thirteen of the remaining factors on his list as yet to be confirmed (though each one had a tentative name).

            In the late 1940s, Cattell and his colleagues developed the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (commonly known as the 16-PF), based on the 15 factors they considered best established by their data, plus general intelligence as the sixteenth factor (see Cattell, 1956).  The sixteen factors are described in Table 13.1.  In a very interesting chapter written by Heather Cattell (Cattell’s third wife), the 16-PF profiles are presented, and compared, for a married couple in which the husband was undergoing therapy with Heather Cattell (see H. Cattell, 1986).  She described how the profiles offer insight into the problems occurring for Mr. A (as the husband is identified in the chapter), both in his personal life and in his marriage.  Although the marriage ended in divorce, a subsequent follow-up found both Mr. A and Mrs. A seemingly doing well in their separate lives.


Table 13.1:  The Sixteen Personality Factor
Questionnaire Dimensions


Low Score Description

High Score Description


Reserved - detached, critical,

aloof, stiff

Outgoing- warmhearted,

easy-going, participating


Less Intelligent - concrete-thinking

More Intelligent - abstract-thinking, bright


Affected By Feelings - emotionally less stable, easily upset, changeable

Emotionally Stable - mature,

faces reality, calm


Humble - mild, easily led, docile, accommodating

Assertive - aggressive, stubborn, competitive


Sober - taciturn, serious

Happy-Go-Lucky - enthusiastic


Expedient - disregards rules

Conscientious - persistent, moralistic, staid


Shy - timid, threat-sensitive

Venturesome - uninhibited, socially bold


Tough-Minded - self-reliant, realistic

Tender-Minded - sensitive, clinging, overprotected


Trusting - accepting conditions

Suspicious - hard to fool


Practical - “down-to-earth” concerns

Imaginative - bohemian,



Forthright - unpretentious,

genuine but socially clumsy

Astute - polished, socially aware


Self-Assured - placid, secure, complacent, serene

Apprehensive - self-reproaching, insecure, worrying, troubled


Conservative - respecting traditional ideas

Experimenting - liberal,



Group-Dependent - a “joiner” and sound follower

Self-Sufficient - resourceful, prefers own decisions


Undisciplined Self-Conflict - lax, follows own urges, careless of social rules

Controlled - exacting will power, socially precise, compulsive


Relaxed - tranquil, unfrustrated, composed

Tense - frustrated, driven, overwrought

For examples of 16-PF profiles used in a therapy setting see H. Cattell (1986).

The Types of Data Used in the Assessment of Personality

            In a rather obvious statement, Cattell noted that in order for a psychologist to study correlations there must be two measures available to be correlated.  The systematic measure of various aspects of the mind, including personality, has led to the development of a specific branch of psychology known as psychometry.  In order for a psychometrist to get a complete and unbiased measure of personality, they must have a concept of the individual’s total behavior, what Cattell called the personality sphere.  Cattell believed this could best be accomplished by taking a sample 24-hour period in the person’s life and collecting three types of data:  measures of the individual’s “life-record,” or L-data; information provided by questionnaires, or Q-data; and data on their personality structure provided by objective tests, or T-data (Cattell, 1965).

            L-data deals with the individual’s actual everyday situations.  Ideally, L-data can be collected without the need for the judgment of a trained psychometrist.  Examples of specific behaviors include things such as their grades in school, the number of automobile accidents a person has had, the number of times they have been arrested by the police, how many organizations they belong to, etc.  Sometimes these data are not so easy to obtain, and must be gathered from someone who knows the person well.  For example, we may ask friends or family members to rate the person in terms of how sociable they are in school, how emotionally stable they are when playing sports, or how responsible they are (Cattell, 1965).

            Q-data is obtained by having the person fill out a questionnaire, such as the information sheet you fill out when waiting to see a doctor for a medical exam.  Unfortunately, these data are subject to a number of problems, such as distortions due to poor self-knowledge, delusions about the self, or the deliberate intention to fake the outcome of the questionnaire.  Therefore, it is very important that a psychologist choose the right words when developing a questionnaire:


     Although a questionnaire looks like a simple series of questions to which a person underlines a brief answer, such as ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘generally’, [sic] etc., actually a great deal of art enters into the psychologist’s choice of words, the direction of the question, the use of adjectives to ensure that all alternatives are well used, and so on. (pg. 61; Cattell, 1965)


            As noted above, T-data is obtained from objective tests.  According to Cattell, questionnaire may seem objective, since their scoring is objective, but the process involves having the individual evaluate themselves.  In truly objective tests the individual’s specific behaviors or thoughts are directly and precisely measured.  It is essential that only closed-ended questions are used, such as multiple choice or Yes-No options.  If open-ended questions are used, such as “How do you feel when you wake up in the morning?” it is possible that two psychologists will interpret the answer quite differently.  If there is a possibility of different interpretations, obviously the test cannot be objective.

            In comparing the three types of data, Cattell made some interesting observations regarding L-data.  Although it occurs naturally, measuring it is artificial and somewhat arbitrary.  Although it is objective in the sense that it is real behavior, it is neither created nor controlled, it is simply observed.  It is also subject to cultural differences much more so than Q-data and T-data.  Of particular concern to Cattell, however, was the commonplace nature of L-data:


            Much of the irresponsible theorizing on personality criticized in Chapter 1 happens to have grown up in the realm of L-data, for this has been the traditional field of observation of the philosopher, the armchair observer, and the clinician, whereas Q- and T-data have been developed by the psychometrist concerned with the more disciplined methods.  L-data is, indeed, the field of behavior that is the common property of everyone…there arises at this point the need for a proper development of measurement techniques particularly as they apply to L-data… (pp. 54-55; Cattell, 1957)


Discussion Question:  Cattell believed that personality assessment worked best when the psychologist understood a person’s entire personality sphere.  To accomplish this, one needs to measure L-data, Q-data, and T-data.  Do these data provide a complete picture of the person?  What data do you think might be the most difficult to obtain, and how might that affect the overall personality picture?

Stages of Development

            Cattell described six principal life stages:  infancy, childhood, adolescence, maturity, middle age, and old age.  Infancy, from birth to 6 years old, is the “great formative period for personality” (pg. 211; Cattell, 1950a).  In relation to its family members, the infant develops its basic social attitudes, sense of security or insecurity, the strength of various defense mechanisms (which determine whether the individual will be prone to neuroses), and the general strength of the ego and super-ego.  Childhood, the period from age six to fourteen years old, is, according to Cattell, a relatively easy period of consolidation.  The child grows toward independence, moving from its family to relationships with peers.  Children are primarily realists, but they may have an active day dream life as they long for the status and privilege of adult life (Cattell, 1950a,b).

            Adolescence is, of course, a period of psychological storm and stress, requiring many adjustments and readjustments in one’s life.  Covering the ages of approximately 14 to 23 years old, Cattell believed that the stress experienced by normal individuals could best be illustrated by its consequences in extreme personalities.  Adolescence is the time when some individuals become delinquents, whereas others show the initial signs of mental illness and neurotic behavior.  While many of the changes occurring during adolescence are due to the physiological changes associated with puberty, external factors are also critical.  All cultures appear to have some ritual associated with the break between childhood and adulthood, and many arrange for an initiation or formal ritual to take place.  Of course, there are also positive changes associated with adolescence, such as increased interest in the arts of emotionality and love:  poetry, religion, and drama (Cattell, 1950a,b).


     Indeed adolescence is the time when even the dullest clod knows that he possesses a soul; and it has been said of the genius that he lives in a perpetual adolescence. (pg. 215; Cattell, 1950a)


            Adulthood brings with it maturity, and the pursuit of a career, a mate, a family, and a home.  From age 23 to 46 years old, personality becomes set, and the chosen habits of adolescence become settled.  Cattell considered it a busy and happy time for most people, but not for those few who failed to resolve their adolescence.  They become, in Cattell’s words, shipwrecked in physical disease, mental illness, and the persistent inability to solve the questions of work and wife (or husband, as the case may be; Cattell, 1950a).  Middle age is characterized by the beginning of certain physical and mental changes that begin the inevitable decline toward old age and death.  Thus, middle age demands a reevaluation of one’s life values, and often leads to the search for some philosophy to make sense of life.  Positive changes include an increase in leisure.  First, the responsibilities for raising children lessen as the children move out on their own, and later, one approaches the age of retirement.

            Old age requires further adjustment, as one begins to question one’s place and value in society.  This can cause the frustration of ego needs and a sense of insecurity, which can lead to a restricted range of interests, “crabbiness,” and constant worry about one’s financial state and physical health.  However, many people retain their general intellectual capacity and positive attitude toward life unimpaired until death.  Even in 1950, Cattell took note of the growing number of people who were living longer and doing so in better health, thus making our understanding of the psychology of old age an increasingly important issue (Cattell, 1950a,b).  That trend not only continues today, but may actually be increasing as our knowledge of medicine and interests in health psychology continue to grow.

National Character and Intelligence

            Cattell was interested in measuring intelligence throughout his career.  Just before coming to the United States, he published A Guide to Mental Testing (Cattell, 1936), which covered topics as diverse as the measurement of intelligence, aptitudes (mechanical, musical, artistic, etc.), scholastic attainment, temperament, interests, and character.  Much later in his career, Cattell confirmed his controversial interest in the relationship between intelligence and national achievement (see Cattell, 1983).  What made this research controversial was the apparent racist overtones of the research.  As noted above, Cattell claimed that his views were taken out of context, and that the most controversial claims were made in the 1930s, before he even came to the United States.  However, consider some of the following statements written by Cattell in 1983!


     In the state of Hawaii, where I happen to be writing, there are at least a dozen ethnic groups of good sample size and differing in racial composition and life style.  The lack of seriousness about education, and lack of concern with conversations on things of the mind, can be well brought into relief by comparing some low groups (which shall be nameless) with say, high groups such as the Japanese, the Chinese, and the Jews, whose literacy, school achievement, and employment rates are high. (pg. 12; Cattell, 1983)

     …a 15 point difference in average tells us nothing immediately about an individual, White or Black.  It does tell us that there will be considerable overlap of the two groups…It also tells us, however, that if we look for persons with I.Q.s of above, say, 130…the chances of finding a Black among 1,000 or of a White among 1,000 to exceed 130 is far higher in the second group. (pg. 41; Cattell, 1983)

     …regarding special educational expenditure.  Should it be on the top, say, 10% of highly gifted children or on the lagging 10% of dull and backward children?...A eugenist is compelled to argue that the social conscience should, in terms of family planning have shifted the higher birth rate in the first place from the I.Q. 70-80 range to the I.Q. 120-130 range. (pg. 59; Cattell, 1983)

     Incidentally one would expect most effect on both productivity and potency of national defense to derive from the magnitude of the supply in the topmost ranges of intelligence, from which, given appropriately more advanced education, resourceful management and beneficial invention result.  The numbers in that range depend both on their birth rates and the assortiveness of mating, and a rise in the latter could admittedly temporarily offset a decline in the former.  Surely everyone will agree that the schools should turn to giving appropriate education to these much brighter individuals, but it will take a more far-sighted public to encourage measures for their greater production. (pp. 14-15; Cattell, 1983)


            Taken together, these suggestions lead to very clear impression of Cattell’s opinions and goals:  there are “low” groups and “high” groups of people, Blacks in America are a “low” group, special education spending should not be wasted on people of low intelligence, the families who produced those children should not have any more children, and “resourceful management” should be used to ensure that “high” groups have more children and “low” groups do not!  What makes these views most disturbing is not that one person has them, but rather, that Cattell has colleagues who agree with him.  Most notorious, in recent times, was the publication of The Bell Curve by Herrnstein & Murray (1994; for a discussion of some of the problems associated with The Bell Curve see Belgrave & Allison, 2006).

            The suggestion of people like Cattell, Herrnstein, & Murray, that society should discard whole groups of people is unconscionable to many people, and should have no place in a psychology that emphasizes the improvement of the human condition.  Another somewhat controversial figure, Arthur Jensen, also argues that general intelligence, or g as it was first described by Spearman, is largely inherited, but at the same time he acknowledges that there is an environmental component to even this most basic aspect of intelligence (Jensen, 1998).  Considering any role for environmental factors in intelligence, we must then take into serious consideration the discriminatory practices that denied adequate education to minorities throughout history, both in America and elsewhere.  When provided with good education, Blacks have demonstrated an equal ability to learn as compared to Whites (see Belgrave & Allison, 2006; Miller & Garran, 2008).  Thus, rather than seeking to exclude people from opportunities to advance within our society, we should be encouraging, as much as possible, equal access to educational support systems.

            In a somewhat related article, Robert McCrae (whose research on the Big Five personality traits will be examined below) and Antonio Terracciano examined whether or not there is a valid basis for determining national character based on personality traits.  People in all cultures have shared perceptions of what people are like in both their own culture and in other cultures, perceptions which form the basis of stereotypes.  After examining data from nearly fifty different countries, McCrae & Terracciano concluded that national character stereotypes are unfounded, even when examining people’s impressions of their own country (McCrae & Terracciano, 2006)!  Clearly, if stereotypes based on personality are not accurate reflections of personality, how can stereotypes based on measures of intelligence have a meaningful bearing on our decisions regarding social programs?

Discussion Question:  Cattell created a great deal of controversy with his views on nationality, race, intelligence, and achievement.  What effect, if any, do you think it has on the field of psychology when one of its leading scientists makes an issue of such controversy?  How much worse, if at all, did it make it when he claimed he was being persecuted for comments made in the 1930s as a young man, when in fact, he had continued to publish these ideas as late as 1983!

Hans Eysenck's Dimension of Personality

            Hans Eysenck offered a theory of personality that was much more concise than that of Cattell, suggesting that there were only three major factors.  He also emphasized the importance a hereditary basis for personality and intelligence, and he applied his research to some important everyday life circumstances.  Accordingly, he was a very popular and widely acknowledged researcher.  In 1997, he was identified as the most widely cited living person, second only to Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx amongst the most cited individuals of all time (Jensen, 1997).  In addition, he was honored with not one, but two Festschriften, the first on his sixty-fifth birthday (Lynn, 1981), and the second in honor of his eightieth birthday (Nyborg, 1997).

            Eysenck was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1916.  His parents divorced when he was 2, and he was raised by his grandmother, seeing his parents only once or twice a year.  He was a star athlete, including being a nationally ranked tennis player.  He left Germany to escape the Nazis in 1934, and spent a brief period of time studying literature and history in France and England.  His grandmother, however, died in a concentration camp around 1941 or 1942.  He eventually began studying psychology at University College in London, under the renowned Cyril Burt.  He earned his Ph.D. in 1940, and during World War II he worked as a research psychologist using factor analysis to study personality.  After the war he became a psychologist at Maudsley Hospital, where he became friends with Philip Vernon (who completed his Ph.D. with Allport; see, e.g., Allport & Vernon, 1933), then helped to form a psychiatry institute at the hospital and affiliated with the University of London.  He spent the rest of his career there, though he spent some time as a visiting professor in the United States (Eysenck, 1982, 1997).  Eysenck received numerous awards during his career, including a Distinguished Scientist Award from the American Psychological Association.  He died in 1997.

The Structure of Personality

            According to Eysenck, the sixteen primary personality factors identified by Cattell in the 16-PF test were unreliable and could not be replicated.  Eysenck chose instead to focus on higher order factor analysis, and he identified three “superfactors:” extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism (Eysenck, 1982).  According to Eysenck, higher order factors are similar to types, and they represent combinations of primary personality traits.  Thus, he considered the sixteen factors that Cattell included in the 16-PF as primary factors, whereas extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism were second-order factors (or types).  Actually, even the primary factors are comprised of lower level responses that result in a hierarchical model of personality:  specific responses, habitual responses, traits (or factors), and finally, types (or superfactors).  Similarly, g, or general intelligence, is a higher order factor than its component intelligences (e.g., verbal, numerical, memory, visuo-spatial, and reasoning).  Thus, Eysenck’s theory does not contradict that of Cattell, but rather looks at a higher level of personality structure (Eysenck, 1952, 1967, 1970).

            An extravert is commonly described as an outgoing, expressive person, but the technical definition described by Eysenck is more complex.  Extraversion is a combination of sociability, impulsiveness, frivolity, general activity, and overt sexuality.  The complex nature of each higher order factor may lead to some of the differences in personality theory.  According to Eysenck, the impulsiveness associated with extraversion is most likely hereditary (a temperamental trait), whereas the sociability aspect of extraversion is more likely to be influenced by one’s environment.  Thus, perhaps, it is not surprising that Eysenck finds support for hereditary influences on personality whereas others, like Cattell, find support for environmental influences.  Depending on how one designs their questions and experiments, the component traits within a higher order factor can support different perspectives (Eysenck, 1982).

            Neuroticism refers to one’s emotional stability, or lack thereof.  It incorporates mood swings, poor emotional adjustment, feelings of inferiority, a lack of social responsibility, a lack of persistence, issues of trust vs. suspiciousness, social shyness, hypochondria, and the lack of relaxed composure.  Neuroticism raises the intensity of emotional reactions.  Since it is a function of the reactivity of the autonomic nervous system, it is an inherited characteristic.  Individuals who measure high in neuroticism are more likely to suffer from neuroses, but high neuroticism is not necessarily less desirable than low levels of neuroticism.  For example, aesthetic appreciation and creativity can benefit from an individual being highly emotional.  On the clearly negative side, high levels of neuroticism have routinely been found in criminals, perhaps because whenever an individual has antisocial tendencies, a high level of neuroticism enhances their fear/anxiety responses and functions as a powerful, albeit dysfunctional, drive (Eysenck, 1977, 1982; Kendrick, 1981).  Cattell also studied neuroticism, and his findings were very similar to those of Eysenck (Cattell & Scheier, 1961).

            Psychoticism was added to Eysenck’s theory well after identifying extraversion and neuroticism, and it is the least clearly defined or heritable of the three superfactors.  It incorporates traits of dominance-leadership, dominance-submission, sensation seeking, and the lack of a superego.  Children who score high on a measure of psychoticism tend to have behavior problems and learning difficulties, they become loners, skip school, commit crimes, and are generally disliked by teachers and peers.  Whether as children or as adults, they do not typically benefit from traditional psychotherapies or counseling, as there tends to be a paranoid, suspicious barrier.  There is some evidence, however, for successful treatment with intensive behavioral techniques.  Interestingly, whether or not these children become criminals as adults seems to depend on how they score on the other two superfactors.  High neuroticism seems to be the factor which makes juvenile delinquency a habit that persists into a life of crime (S. Eysenck, 1997).

Discussion Question:  In contrast to Cattell’s sixteen primary factors, Eysenck proposed just three superfactors.  Can a reasonable evaluation of personality be conducted along just three dimensions?  If not, do you think these are still the three most essential dimensions?

The Role of Heredity in Personality

            Eysenck believed strongly in the inheritance of personality and intelligence.  If it is true that genetics plays a major role in personality, then evolution should provide us with an interesting test:  do other primate species demonstrate the same superfactors that we see in humans?  Eysenck examined this question in conjunction with Harry Harlow.  After conducting factor analysis on the social behavior of rhesus monkeys, they found three clear behavior factors:  affectionate, fearful, and hostile social behavior.  These factors match well with the human factors of extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism, respectively.  Of course, there were marked differences between animals, but those differences were characteristic and reliable for each monkey.  Thus, it would appear that the biological basis for personality superfactors can be confirmed in comparative psychological studies (Chamove, Eysenck, & Harlow, 1972).

            Reviews of Eysenck’s overall contribution to the field of behavior genetics have, however, been the subject of debate.  Whereas some praise Eysenck for identifying the significant role that genetic determinants play in personality factors (see Martin & Jardine, 1986), others argue that Eysenck’s own data provide evidence that he overstated the significance of genetics (see Loehlin, 1986).  Indeed, Loehlin suggests that the data in Eysenck’s own publications can be interpreted to suggest that genetics account for about half of the variance in personality factors, which leaves the other half subject to the environment.  Still, Loehlin acknowledges Eysenck’s primary role in bringing these issues into the realm of science, and he commends Eysenck for providing his data openly, so that others, like Loehlin, might be able to evaluate and debate those results (Loehlin, 1986).  Eysenck, for his part, acknowledged the points made by Loehlin, and expressed hope that continued research in the future would help to better clarify the role of genetics in determining behavior, intelligence, and personality (Eysenck, 1986).

Personality and Real Life Issues

            Although Eysenck’s approach to personality focused on group differences and genetics, he was not without concern for the individual and her or his daily life.  He also challenged the way in which psychologists are pursuing their discipline, and the effect it has on the public’s view of psychology.  In 1972, he published Psychology is About People, which included jokes about psychology and psychiatry, as well as topics as diverse as sex, socialism, education, pornography, and behaviorism (Eysenck, 1972).  In Uses and Abuses of Psychology he challenged the stereotypes associated with views on national character, and urged the learning of facts about other cultures (numerous other topics are covered as well; Eysenck, 1953).  In Sense and Nonsense in Psychology he examined such things as hypnosis, lie detectors, telepathy, interpreting dreams, and politics:


            If it be true that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy, it is surely equally true that things are dreamed of in our philosophy which do not appear in heaven or on earth.  Among these figments of the imagination appear such varied objects as the philosopher’s stone, which was supposed to transmute base metals into gold, the Oedipus complex, which was supposed to transmute a normal person into a gibbering neurotic…and the Jungian archetypes, which are supposed to haunt our modern minds with mystical reminders of the inherited wisdom, or otherwise, of our race. (pg. 71; Eysenck, 1957)


            Eysenck wrote extensively about sex and personality, and the role that violence and the media may play in distorting sexuality (e.g., Eysenck, 1976; Eysenck & Nias, 1978).  He also wrote about the relationship between personality and criminal behavior (e.g., Eysenck, 1964; Eysenck & Gudjonsson, 1989), and the role that personality and stress play in the lives of people who smoke cigarettes (Eysenck, 1991).  Like Cattell, Jensen, and others, Eysenck was very much caught up in the controversy over racial differences in intelligence testing (see, e.g., Eysenck, 1973a,b, 1995; Eysenck & Kamin, 1981; Pearson, 1991).  Eysenck, however, offered something for the average person, two books on how to measure your own I.Q. (Eysenck, 1962, 1966).  Late in his career, Eysenck offered an interesting reflection on his decision to focus most of his career on differences between people, as opposed to the uniqueness of each person:


            Gordon Allport and I did not always see eye to eye on theoretical matters.  I remember very well him telling me that he thought every psychologist should write his autobiography at the end of his life, to see the unities that emerged in his conduct over a lengthy period of time.  This idiographic point of view contrasted very much with my own nomothetic one, and at the time I paid little attention to it.  Now, half a life-time later, I can see what he was driving at, and can also see the possible importance of such consistencies of behaviour in one’s own life. (pg. 375; Eysenck, 1986)

Discussion Question:  Eysenck wrote two books that challenged the field of psychology:  Uses and Abuses of Psychology and Sense and Nonsense in Psychology.  What advantages do you think it has for the field when someone of Eysenck’s stature questions the scientific validity of certain areas of study or certain procedures?

Paul Costa and Robert McCrae and the Five-Factor Model of Personality

            Costa and McCrae followed in the footsteps of Eysenck, but they expanded slightly upon the number of second order factors.  The result of their efforts became one the most widely respected perspectives on personality structure today:  the Five-Factor Model of personality.  Indeed, the Five-Factor Model has been so well researched, research that has supported and expanded the original conception, that Costa and McCrae believe it now deserves to be referred to as the Five-Factor Theory (see McCrae & Costa, 2003).

            Paul Costa earned a Ph.D. in human development from the University of Chicago in 1970.  He taught for 2 years at Harvard University, and then joined the faculty of the University of Massachusetts at Boston.  In 1978 he joined the National Institute on Aging, a branch of the National Institutes of Health.  Since 1985, he has been the Chief of the Laboratory of Personality and Cognition, Gerontology Research Center.  He also holds appointments at the University of Maryland, Duke University Medical Center, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and the Georgetown University School of Medicine.  Among numerous awards, he has been elected as a Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America, the American Psychological Association, and the Society of Behavioral Medicine.  He has published hundreds of research articles, many of them in collaboration with Robert McCrae.  McCrae earned his Ph.D. in personality psychology at Boston University in 1976.  After teaching and conducting research at Boston University, the Veteran’s Administration Outpatient Clinic in Boston, and the University of Massachusetts at Boston, in 1978 he joined the Gerontology Research Center at the National Institute on Aging, where he continues to conduct research today.  He is also a Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America, as well as a Fellow of the American Psychological Society and Division 20 (Adult Development and Aging) of the American Psychological Association (for more information visit the National Institute on Aging website at

The Five-Factor Theory of Personality

            Costa and McCrae acknowledged the important role that Eysenck played when he identified extraversion and neuroticism as second-order personality factors, and for developing the Maudsley Personality Inventory, the Eysenck Personality Inventory, and the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (the latter test, developed with his wife Sybil, was the first to include psychoticism; see S. Eysenck, 1997) as tools for measuring these factors.  However, they disagreed with Eysenck regarding psychoticism.  They initially proposed a different factor called openness.  When they discussed this issue with Eysenck, he felt that openness might be the opposite pole of psychoticism, but McCrae and Costa believed the factors were significantly different (see Costa & McCrae, 1986).  Since that time, Costa and McCrae have moved beyond the third factor of openness, and added two more second-order factors:  agreeableness and conscientiousness (see Costa & McCrae, 1989; Costa & Widiger, 1994; McCrae & Allik, 2002; McCrae & Costa, 2003).  Together, Costa and McCrae developed the NEO Personality Inventory (or NEO-PI) to measure neuroticism, extraversion, and openness, and later they developed the Revised NEO-PI, or NEO-PI-R, which also measures agreeableness and conscientiousness (see McCrae & Costa, 2003).


Table 13.2:  The Five-Factor Model of Personality


Low Score Description

High Score Description


Calm, Even-tempered, Self-satisfied, Comfortable, Unemotional, Hardy

Worrying, Temperamental, Self-pitying, Self-conscious, Emotional, Vulnerable


Reserved, Loner, Quiet, Passive, Sober, Unfeeling

Affectionate, Joiner, Talkative, Active, Fun-loving, Passionate

Openness to Experience

Down-to-earth, Uncreative, Conventional, Prefer routine, Uncurious, Conservative

Imaginative, Creative, Original, Prefer variety, Curious, Liberal


Ruthless, Suspicious, Stingy, Antagonistic, Critical, Irritable

Softhearted, Trusting, Generous, Acquiescent, Lenient, Good-natured


Negligent, Lazy, Disorganized, Late, Aimless, Quitting

Conscientious, Hardworking, Well-organized, Punctual, Ambitious, Persevering

Taken from McCrae and Costa (2003).


            The general descriptions of extraversion, neuroticism, openness, agreeableness, and conscientious are listed in Table 13.2.  It is important to note that these five factors are distinct, and neither low nor high scores are necessarily better or ‘good’ or ‘bad:’


     …all traits have passed the evolutionary test of survival, and from society’s point of view all kinds of people are necessary:  those who work well with others and those who can finish a task on their own; those who come up with creative new ways of doing things and those who maintain the best solutions of the past.  There are probably even advantages to found [sic] in Neuroticism, since a society of extremely easygoing individuals might not compete well with other societies of suspicious and hostile individuals.  Cultures need members fit for war as well as peace, work as well as play… (pp. 51-52; McCrae & Costa, 2003)


            As a basis for studying personality, the Five-Factor Model has proven quite comprehensive.  The five factors stand up well when measured with a variety of other tests and within other theoretical perspectives, including a thorough comparison with the list of human needs proposed by Henry Murray.  Particularly important in psychology today, the Five-Factor Model has also stood up very well when examined across cultures, a topic we will examine in more detail in Connections Across Cultures.


Connections Across Cultures:  The Big Five Across Cultures

     In order to evaluate the cross-cultural application of the Five-Factor Model, Robert McCrae has suggested that we need to address the issue in three ways.  Transcultural analyses look for personality factors that transcend culture.  In other words, personality factors that are universal, or common to all people.  Intracultural analyses look at the specific expression of traits within a culture.  And finally, intercultural analyses compare trait characteristics between cultures (see Allik & McCrae, 2002).  In 2002, McCrae and Allik published The Five-Factor Model of Personality Across Cultures, a collection of research in which a variety of investigators examined the applicability of the Five-Factor Model (FFM) in a wide variety of cultures.  The various studies contained in this book examine personality structure, as well as the validity and generalizability of using the NEO-PI-R to measure personality, in some forty cultures spread across five continents.  McCrae and Allik acknowledge that there is much more to personality than just traits, but the traits identified in the FFM appear to offer a robust cross-cultural foundation for understanding personality worldwide.

     The potential validity of translating the NEO-PI-R and studying the FFM in different cultures is based on the idea that the most important factors in human interaction would be encoded in the languages of most, if not all, cultures (see Pervin, 1999).  Given concerns regarding this lexical hypothesis and the challenges of translation, Peabody (1999) used trait descriptions with contrasting terms to help clarify matters in a study on the judgment of national character.  He had judges from 12 different European countries, plus America, the Philippines, Japan, and China rate one another.  Upon examining the data from a FFM perspective, Peabody found strong support for the utility of this model in cross-cultural studies.  Other investigators have had significant success using the NEO-PI-R in direct translation.  Rolland (2002) collected data from studies in which the NEO-PI-R was administered to people in cultures speaking 16 different languages (including Sino-Tibetan, Indo-European, Uralic, Hamito-Semitic, and Austronesian languages, and one unclassified language [Korean]).  Overall, he confirmed the generalizability of the personality structure identified by the FFM in these varied cultures.  Similar favorable results pertaining to personality structure have been identified with both adults and adolescents in Czeck, Polish, and Slovak groups (Hrebickova, et al., 2002) and amongst the Shona in Zimbabwe (Piedmont, et al., 2002), as well as for the relationship between personality and emotion amongst Canadian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean subjects (Yik, et al., 2002) and the relationship between personality and cultural goals in Americans and Vietnamese (Leininger, 2002).   These studies, as well as numerous others that are not mentioned, provide substantial support for the consistency of the FFM across a wide variety of cultures, at least as far as personality structure is concerned.  However, it remains unclear whether the scores obtained from two different cultural groups are equivalent (see Poortinga, Van de Vijver, & Van Hemert, 2002).  In other words, if Culture A scored higher than Culture B on, say, agreeableness, it may be that the translation used for Culture A is more responsible for the result than an actual difference between Cultures A and B.  Further research will be necessary in order to address issues such as this.

     Despite the numerous studies that support the cross-cultural application of the FFM, there are psychologists, generally favorable to the FFM, who nonetheless emphasize caution.  The fundamental question is whether or not trait descriptions are how people in other cultures describe another person.  While it is true that using abstract trait names is common practice in American culture, in other cultures, such as India and China, it is more common to describe people in terms of context dependent actions.  To fit such data into a FFM requires some manipulation, which leaves the validity of the work open to some debate (see Pervin, 1999).  However, when comparing Chinese and American students, the FFM does provide an adequate measure of each group’s stereotypes regarding one another (Zhang, et al., 1999).  What is clear is the need for continued research on cross-cultural perspectives, as well as a need for cross-cultural training programs.  In that regard, Brislin (1999) has offered ways in which the FFM can be used as one basis for developing such programs, in part by telling us something about each person in a cross-cultural training program and, therefore, which type of program might work best for them (see also McCauley, Draguns, & Lee, 1999).  Whether one favors the FFM or some other model of personality structure, the importance of cross-cultural studies is clear:


     Human nature cannot be independent of culture.  Neither can human personality.  Human beings do share certain social norms or rules within their cultural groups.  More than 2000 years ago, Aristotle held that man is by nature a social animal.  Similarly, Xun Kuang (298-238 B.C.), a Chinese philosopher, pointed out that humans in social groups cannot function without shared guidance or rules.  Therefore, each culture or cultural group establishes its own norms.  Constantly, these norms and rules are connected with the behavior and personality of members within a culture and society. (pg. vii; Lee, McCauley, & Draguns, 1999)


            In proposing a Five-Factor Theory of personality, McCrae and Costa addressed the nature of personality theories themselves:


     A theory of personality is a way of accounting for what people are like and how they act; a good theory explains a wide range of observations and points researchers in the right direction for future research.  Freudian theory pointed researchers toward the study of dreams, but decades of research have yielded very little by way of supportive evidence…Trait theory pointed researchers toward general styles of thinking, feeling, and acting, and has resulted in thousands of interesting and useful findings.  That is why most personality psychologists today prefer trait theory to psychoanalysis…But…there is more to human personality than traits. (pp 184-185; McCrae & Costa, 2003)


            They propose that there are three central components to personality:  basic tendencies (which are the five personality factors), characteristic adaptations, and self-concept (a highly adapted and extensively studied form of characteristic adaptation).  The basic tendencies interact with three peripheral components that mark the interface with systems outside personality.  There are the biological inputs to the basic tendencies, the external environment, and objective biography (all that a person does and experiences).  Connecting all of these components are dynamic processes, such as perception, coping, role playing, reasoning, etc.  Although this theory is newer, it does account for one of the most important issues challenging trait theories in general:  how does one account for the general consistency of traits, yet the potential for, and occasional observation of, change in personality?  Simply, the basic tendencies are consistent, whereas the characteristic adaptations are subject to change, both as a result of dramatic environmental influences and due to changes associated with aging (McCrae & Costa, 2003).

Consistency Across the Lifespan

            In over 25 years of teaching, it has been my experience that most college students want to believe that adult personality can readily change.  Likewise, most psychologists, particularly clinical psychologists helping people to change their dysfunctional lives, want to believe that personality can change.  However, trait theorists have repeatedly shown that traits are highly resistant to change once adulthood has been reached (see, e.g., Costa & McCrae, 1989; McCrae & Costa, 2003).  This is particularly true for Neuroticism, Extraversion, and Openness, for both men and women, and for Blacks and Whites.  While Costa and McCrae acknowledge that individuals sometimes change dramatically, as a general rule, consistency is clearly more important.  They also suggest that this should be an opportunity for optimism.  As individuals age, they should not fear becoming a different person, such as someone isolated or depressed.  If, however, an individual of younger age is isolated, depressed, or suffers from some other psychological malady, they should also realize that time or aging alone is not likely to change them, but rather, psychotherapy may be a desirable and effective course of action.  Once again, Costa & McCrae emphasize the newness of these theories, and suggest the need for systematic prospective studies of the Five-Factor Theory over the entire adult lifespan.  Fortunately, the NEO-PI-R provides the tool necessary to evaluate the Five-Factor Theory throughout life and in different cultures.  Given the steady increase in life expectancy in Western societies, and the growing percentage of elderly people within our society, this research is likely to become a priority in the field of personality.

Marvin Zuckerman and the Sensation Seeking Personality Trait

            Marvin Zuckerman represents the current approach taken by many psychologists who study traits.  He developed an interest in one particular trait, and he has studied that trait in great detail.  He called it sensation seeking, and in order to study it carefully he also developed the Sensation Seeking Scale.  The study of this trait has enjoyed a certain popular appeal, exemplified by the success of the X Games and, more recently, the popularity of televised mixed martial arts competitions.

            Zuckerman was the son of a mechanical engineer who came to America from Russia.  His mother’s father had also come from Russia, and both sides of the family had a tradition of their sons becoming rabbis.  As a boy, Zuckerman enjoyed playing football, but most of his sensation seeking centered on reading adventure books.  He first became interested in psychology when he encountered a book about graphology.  When he entered the University of Kentucky, he experienced the “disinhibitory joys of drinking, sex, and hitchhiking around the country” (pg. 46; Zuckerman, 1993).  He then suffered a period of depression, during which he discovered the work of Sigmund Freud.  He decided to become a psychoanalyst, so, after serving his duty in the army (following World War II), attended New York University.  Unfortunately, a bad grade in chemistry made it impossible to get into the medical school of his choice, so he chose to begin the graduate program in clinical psychology at NYU.

            Zuckerman found it difficult to find an area of psychology that appealed to him, except for a vague interest in experimental studies that suggested an “exploratory drive,” something we might also call curiosity, in a variety of animal species.  Zuckerman also found clinical work unfulfilling, so he began to focus more on conducting research.  He spent a few years at a hospital and then a psychiatric research institute in Indiana, where he began studying sensory deprivation (see, e.g., Zuckerman et al., 1962).  In contrast to sensory deprivation, he also began to study sensation seeking, its apparent counterpart.  After several moves, including the threat of being fired from Adelphi University due to newspaper photos of the college professor arrested and lying in the local jail (following his involvement in a protest against racism), in 1968 he joined the faculty of the University of Delaware.  Since he found it difficult to find continued funding for sensory deprivation research, he began to focus on sensation seeking itself.  In 1975, Zuckerman took a sabbatical to work with Hans Eysenck, leading to the publication of some joint papers, and Zuckerman’s eventual contribution to Eysenck’s second festschrift (see Zuckerman, 1997).  His work on sensation seeking, and his relationship with Eysenck, have led Zuckerman to become one of today’s leading proponents of the biological basis of personality.  He retired in 2002, but has remained busy enjoying life, giving talks, writing, and conducting research (Zuckerman, 1983, 1991, 2006).

The Sensation Seeking Trait

            Sensation seeking is a trait defined by the need for varied, novel, and complex sensations and experiences and the willingness to take physical and social risks for the sake of such experience…The high-sensation seeker is sensitive to his or her internal sensations and chooses external stimuli that maximize them. (pg. 10; Zuckerman, 1979)


            All people seem to seek an optimal level of stimulation and/or arousal.  For some, that level of arousal is quite high, for others, it is rather low.  The concept was not new when Zuckerman began to study sensory deprivation and sensation seeking.  Indeed, the examination of optimal levels of arousal dates back to the very beginning of psychology:  the experimentalist Wilhelm Wundt was studying it as early as 1893 (see Zuckerman, 1979), as were Sigmund Freud and Josef Breuer in 1895 (Freud and Breuer, 1895/2004).  Following the “brainwashing” techniques used by the Chinese during the Korean War, the Canadian government pursued research on sensory deprivation, work led by D. O. Hebb.  Following this early research, Zuckerman began his own investigations.  Generally, sensory deprivation leads to increased anxiety, somatic discomfort, and thinking and concentration difficulties.  In addition, many of the subjects experienced both auditory and visual hallucinations.  None of the effects of sensory deprivation seemed to correlate with any personality variables (Zuckerman et al., 1962).  It was because of these profound effects of sensory deprivation that Zuckerman began to pursue the underlying variable that leads individuals to their optimal level of arousal.

            The Sensation Seeking Scale has been revised a number of times.  The fifth version was developed in collaboration with Hans and Sybil Eysenck, and included comparisons of males to females and American students to English students (see Zuckerman, 1979, 1994).  Using factor analysis, Zuckerman and his colleagues have identified four subscales within the sensation seeking trait:


            Thrill and Adventure Seeking:  Many people enjoy engaging in risky sports and other potentially dangerous experiences that produce unique sensations related to speed or defying gravity, such as rock climbing, BASE jumping, or drag racing.  This factor is exemplified by the sports included in the X Games.

            Experience Seeking:  This factor encompasses novel sensations and experiences, such as arousing music, art, and travel.  It also incorporates social nonconformity, particularly associated with belonging to groups on the fringes of conventional society.

            Disinhibition:  This factor covers sensation seeking that focuses on social activities, such as parties, drinking, illegal drugs, and sex.

            Boredom Susceptibility:  Individuals who score high on this factor cannot tolerate any kind of repetitive experience, including routine work and boring people.


            Sensation seeking should not be confused with being reckless.  For example, individuals who are high sensation seekers are more likely to have varied sexual experiences, but they are not more likely to avoid using condoms.  They may be more inclined to drive fast, but they are not less likely to use their seatbelts.  And rock and ice climbers take full advantage of safety gear, they study self-rescue techniques, and they check their gear carefully before each trip.  However, adolescence may be a particularly risky time, since there is a temporal gap between the onset of puberty, during which adolescents are highly thrill seeking, and the slow maturation of the cognitive-control systems that govern such behavior in adulthood (Steinberg, 2007).  It is also important to note that it is neither good nor bad to score high or low on this scale:


     In this sociobiological sense, the high sensation seeker is a hunter and the low sensation seeker is a farmer.  Hunters are positively excited by change, danger, and the variety and unpredictability of the hunt.  They need a strong capacity to focus attention on the prey while remaining alert to other factors like the direction of the wind and the movements of other hunters.  Farmers, in contrast, depend on stability of the environment (rainfall, sun, and other seasonal regularities of climate).  Plants grow slowly and require patience and tedious kinds of labor to insure their survival. (pp. 384-385; Zuckerman, 1994)


            During the course of his research, Zuckerman found a close relationship between sensation seeking and impulsivity.  If he limited his factor analysis to five factors, as Costa and McCrae had, impulsivity and sensation seeking always combined to form a factor that he called impulsive sensation seeking.  This proved to be rather curious, since impulsivity was a substrate of neuroticism, whereas “excitement seeking” was a substrate of extraversion.  Another problem that Zuckerman expressed with regard to the Five-Factor Model was his belief that words like “conscientiousness” have no meaning in species other than humans.  Since Zuckerman favors a biological/genetic basis for personality, there should be evolutionary correlates of any personality structure in other animals, particularly the closely related apes.  Thus, Zuckerman examined his data, conducted a factor analysis, and offered an alternative to the Five-Factor Model.  His five factors are sociability, neuroticism-anxiety, impulsive sensation seeking, aggression-hostility, and activity (Zuckerman, 2006).  While Zuckerman did not intend for his five factors to match those of Costa and McCrae exactly, it is easy to see a relationship between sociability and agreeableness, activity and extraversion, sensation seeking and openness, and neuroticism and neuroticism.  Aggression-hostility, however, seems to relate more to Eysenck’s factor psychoticism.  Thus, there remains a need for continued research into this field, particularly as it pertains to the evolutionary basis for personality factors, but Eysenck, Costa, McCrae, and Zuckerman have provided an excellent and coherent basis for further research.

Discussion Question:  Which areas of Zuckerman’s sensation seeking trait do you find most interesting, and which subscales do you think you would score high on (they may not be the same)?  If there are any subscales on which you think you would score either low or high, what impression do you have of people who have an opposite score on those same scales?

Grit - Getting Things Done

            Another specific trait that has become somewhat popular recently in higher education has been called grit by Angela Duckworth and her colleagues (see Duckworth et al., 2007).  Grit is defined as the perseverance and passion necessary to accomplish long-term goals.  In particular, it refers to the ability to continue striving toward those goals despite temporary failure, adversity, and plateaus in one's progress.  Although much of the research on grit has focused on academic goals, grit does not correlate well with intelligence.  Rather, it correlates highly with the Big-Five trait of conscientiousness.

            We used to believe that individuals who become experts in a particular area (whether it's math, playing a musical instrument, playing chess, or competing in athletic events, etc.) had some innate ability or talent for their skill.  However, Anders Ericsson proposed and studied a different theoretical framework.  Although an individual may show some early talent in a particular domain, what resulted in their becoming an expert, or a star athlete, was the intensive deliberate practice that followed, often taking many years before the individual truly excelled (Anders Ericsson, 2004; Anders Ericsson et al., 1993).  Working together, Duckworth, Ericsson, and a few of their colleagues showed that deliberate practice is the key to success in an academic competition that tends to fascinate many people because of just how difficult it is:  the National Spelling Bee (Duckworth et al., 2010).

            Whether it's grit, consciousness, or the associated behavior of deliberate practice, those who continue to strive toward their goals tend to succeed not only in school, but also in most aspects of life, including life satisfaction and earning a good income (Duckworth & Carlson, 2013; Duckworth et al., 2012).  But what can, perhaps, interfere with one's ability and/or motivation to continue striving toward one's goals?  It appears that life stress in early adolescence can significantly impair one's ability to strive toward a positive and fruitful future (Duckworth et al., 2013).  It's quite possible that since adolescence is the time of developing one's identity, according to Erik Erikson, and identity associated with negative life events and stress is incompatible with maintaining grit.

            As I mentioned above, this is an area only recently becoming well-known (i.e., popular) in the field of higher education.  It is likely to become an increasingly significant factor in how we work toward helping students achieve their goals, whether academic or in other aspects of their lives.

Final Note:  Moving Toward a New "Big Five?"

            In 2006, Dan McAdams and Jennifer Pals argued that personality psychology has failed to provide a comprehensive framework in which we can understand the whole person.  Since this was a guiding principle of many of the founders of this field, an effort to combine recent research with early principles would help the field of personality psychology move toward maturity.  In a manner similar to Costa and McCrae’s Five-Factor Theory, McAdams and Pals suggest that those who study personality should be guided by five fundamental principles:  evolutionary design, dispositional traits, characteristic adaptations, integrative life narrative, and culture.  Their examination of these principles led them to the following definition of personality:


            Personality is an individual’s unique variation on the general evolutionary design for human nature, expressed as a developing pattern of dispositional traits, characteristic adaptations, and integrative life stories complexly and differentially situated in culture. (pg. 212; McAdams & Pals, 2006)


            If personality psychologists use these principles in their ongoing efforts to understand each individual, they should be able to achieve an understanding of an old paradox offered to explain personality:  every person is like every other person, like some other persons, and like no other person (see McAdams & Pals, 2006).


Personality Theory in Real Life:  Reconceptualizing Personality Disorders
within the Context of the Five-Factor Model

            There remains debate as to exactly how personality disorders should be classified (see the Appendix).  This issue is more than just a matter of curiosity, since our entire conception of personality disorders is an essential factor in how we approach their treatment.  As perhaps the most widely accepted and scientifically validated trait perspective on normal personality, it stands to reason that the Five-Factor Model (FFM) ought to also provide a basis for classifying abnormal personality and, in particular, the personality disorders.  Thus, Costa and Widiger (1994) brought together a group of experts, including Theodore Millon, to address personality disorders within the context of the FFM.

            The DSM-III thru DSM-V use diagnostic categories for the personality disorders, whereas the FFM suggests a dimensional approach.  The categorical approach has several advantages.  It is relatively easier to conceptualize disorders as either having them or not, clinicians are familiar with the current categories, and when clinical decisions are categorical they tend to be consistent.  However, the dimensional approach offers the advantages of not being arbitrary in defining specific symptom cut-off points for a diagnosis, they allow for retaining information on those patients who just miss the cut-off point for a diagnosis (and could, therefore, simply be classified as not having the disorder), and the dimensions are more flexible than a categorical diagnosis.  More importantly than just speculating on advantages and disadvantages, however, is that the majority of empirical data seems to support the dimensional approach (Widiger & Frances, 1994).  For example, borderline personality disorder patients do not show a specific profile on the MMPI, but rather a nonspecific elevation across most scales.  Diagnosis is typically made following a clinical evaluation including an interview.  A similar challenge faces clinicians using the NEO-PI (the assessment tool specifically designed for the FFM), but useful and relevant data are available from looking at the specific trait scores within factors, particularly within the factor neuroticism (Trull & McCrae, 1994).  In addition, factor analysis on the dimensions of personality disorder yielded results that fit very well with the FFM, with several aspects of personality disorder (but not all) again being linked to neuroticism (Schroeder, Wormworth, & Livesley, 1994).  It is important to remember, however, that the very idea of using a dimensional approach is based, in part, on an assumption:


     …If one assumes that disordered personality is qualitatively different from normal personality, then the inclusion of a dimensional model of personality may be insufficient or inappropriate for investigation.  If one assumes that disordered personality reflects quantitative differences in the manifestation or severity of normal personality traits (i.e., a dimensional approach), then the adoption of a personality taxonomy for use as a structural referent becomes a necessary or even fundamental conceptual task. (pp. 73-74; Wiggins & Pincus, 1994)


            What, then, might personality disorders look like in terms of a dimensional description?  Clark, Vorhies, and McEwen (1994) take an integrated approach based on two basic propositions pertaining to traits:  first, that they are continuously distributed and exhibit wide individual variation; and second, that they are not fixed, but rather they are adaptations to the environment that are consistent within one’s individual range.  These two points lead to the notions that a single trait structure can represent both normal and abnormal personality, that within the normal range there is great individual difference in each person’s characteristic and adaptive styles of thinking, feeling, and behaving, and that personality disorders are characterized by extreme and inflexible expressions of the normal personality structure.  When examining data from individuals diagnosed with personality disorder, they have identified symptom clusters that form dimensions, or factors, which once again fit well with the FFM (Clark, et al., 1994).  Widiger and several colleagues have actually offered five-factor translations of the standard categories of DSM-III and DSM-IV personality disorders (see Widiger, et al., 1994).  The purpose of these translations is to take the personality disorder categories that psychologists are familiar with and put them in terms of the FFM.  Consider two examples:


     Paranoid Personality Disorder:  Paranoid personality disorder (PAR) involves interpreting the actions of others as threatening or deliberately demeaning.  These individuals tend to be suspicious, mistrustful, hypervigilant, and argumentative.  According to the FFM, PAR is characterized primarily by excessively low agreeableness, particularly on the suspiciousness facet (a facet is one of the traits that makes up a factor).  They are also characterized by the low agreeableness facets of very low straightforwardness and compliance, which represent the PAR tendencies to be secretive and oppositional.  PAR is also characterized by the angry hostility facet of neuroticism, low extraversion, and low openness.

     Antisocial Personality Disorder:  Antisocial personality disorder (ATS) is characterized by irresponsible and antisocial behavior, and often involves criminal activity and a lack of regard for the rights of others.  Within the FFM, they score excessively low on conscientiousness and agreeableness (particularly low on the facets of straightforwardness, altruism, compliance, and tendermindedness).  They score high on the neuroticism facets of hostility, anxiety, depression, and impulsivity.  However, so-called “successful” psychopaths may be characterized by very low levels of anxiety and self-consciousness.
     (see Widiger, et al., 1994)


            So, given the possibility of reconceptualizing personality disorders within the FFM, is it something we should do?  Millon suggests that we view personality as the psychological equivalent of the body’s biological systems.  Personality is, in this conception, a psychic system of structures and functions that lead to characteristic patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior.  These characteristics cannot be viewed as simply normal or abnormal, since any specific element of the personality might be adaptive in one situation but maladaptive in another.  Thus, the dimensional approach to describing personality provides a comprehensive picture in which little information of potential significance is lost (Millon, 1994).  McCrae questions the very validity of Axis II of the DSM system, which appears to have little empirical support.  He suggests that clinicians include in their diagnosis of patients a global assessment of the five personality factors.  Thus, the diagnostic report would provide the necessary information on personality pertaining to the common symptoms and problems associated with either high or low scores on each factor (McCrae, 1994; Widiger, 1994).  For example:


     High Neuroticism: chronic negative affects, difficulty in inhibiting impulses, irrational beliefs

     Low Neuroticism:  lack of appropriate concern for potential problems in health or social adjustment, emotional blandness

     High Agreeableness:  gullibility, excessive candor and generosity, inability to stand up to others, easily taken advantage of

     Low Agreeableness:  cynicism and paranoid thinking, inability to trust, quarrelsomeness, too ready to pick fights, exploitative and manipulative, lying, rude and inconsiderate
     (see McCrae, 1994)


            Perhaps the most valuable aspect of any model used for classifying the personality disorders is its ability to provide guidelines for conceptualizing a treatment strategy.  Sanderson and Clarkin (1994) have indeed found the NEO-PI useful in differential treatment planning.  For example, the NEO-PI, in conjunction with a clinical interview, helps describe the typical interpersonal patterns of the patient, suggesting areas of difficulty needing treatment regardless of whether the therapy format is individual, family, or a group setting.  In addition, the NEO-PI can help to identify which therapy format might be best suited to each particular patient.  Although Sanderson and Clarkin (1994) caution that such conceptions still await empirical confirmation, they do offer some examples from their own supportive clinical experience.  Likewise, MacKenzie (1994) offers numerous specific examples from cases in which factor scores provided clear target areas for focusing therapy.  For example, a women who scored high in agreeableness acknowledged that she repeatedly got into relationships in which she felt used, a teacher who scored very high on openness was overly stimulated in new situations and felt overwhelmed with creative ideas, and a man who scored low on conscientiousness felt stuck in life, having worked only itinerant construction jobs despite having earned a graduate degree in college.  In each case, the NEO-PI data matched the clinical presentation quite well, suggesting that the FFM would indeed be an effective conceptualization of treatment strategies for personality disorder issues (as well as, presumably, for other psychological and adjustment disorders).

            The diagnosis of personality disorders, whether categorical or dimensional, remains a controversial topic.  Of even greater concern, is the resistance of these disorders to treatment.  However, the FFM appears to offer an advantageous way of describing personality disorder as an extreme extension of normal personality dimensions, and the NEO-PI scales offer practical direction with regard to treatment strategies.  Change, however, may not come easily:


     Some observers have said that what is at issue here is the American Psychiatric Association “versus” the American Psychological Association.  In other words, the potential conflict between psychiatric/categorical and psychological/dimensional models could stall progress in this field.  It has been suggested that the American Psychological Association should issue a rival DSM that uses a dimensional approach.  We believe a far better solution would be cooperation between the two approaches, which would lead to more coordinated research and shared clinical experience. (pg. 325; Costa & Widiger, 1994).

Review of Key Points

  • Allport’s approach to the study of personality emphasized the individual above all else.
  • In defining personality, Allport proposed a dynamic interaction between traits and how they affect the individual’s adjustment to his or her environment.
  • Allport defined traits as neuropsychic systems that had the effect of rendering different aspects of the environment as the same, thus guiding behavior in consistent ways (in keeping with the traits, not the environment per se).
  • Individual traits provide the basis for an idiographic approach to personality, whereas common traits relate more to the nomothetic approach.
  • Each person’s unique personality is influenced by their dispositions.  An individual can be influenced by cardinal, central, or secondary dispositions.
  • As the various stages of development influence one’s personality, the unique sense of “me” or “I” that develops should be referred to as the proprium, according to Allport.
  • An adult’s motives are independent of their development, something Allport referred to as functional autonomy.
  • Allport proposed six aspects of a mature personality:  an extended sense of self, personal warmth, emotional security, realistic perceptions, insight and humor, and a unifying philosophy of life.
  • In addition to personality tests, Allport valued the observation of expressive behavior and the review of personal documents (when available).
  • Allport was a deeply spiritual man, emphasizing the positive role that religion can play in peoples’ lives.
  • Allport’s personal faith, and his lifelong commitment to social ethics, led him to write one of the most significant works on prejudice ever published.
  • Cattell distinguished between traits and types, the latter being a broader term.  Similarly, he distinguished between source traits and surface traits, respectively.
  • Using factor analysis, Cattell settled on sixteen factors, or source traits.  He developed the 16-PF Questionnaire to measure these factors in individuals.
  • Cattell helped to establish the field of psychometry, emphasizing the need for L-data, Q-data, and T-data.
  • About the same time as Erikson, Cattell offered a lifespan theory of personality development.  He proposed six stages:  infancy, childhood, adolescence, maturity, middle age, and old age.
  • Eysenck used a second-order factor analysis to identify three superfactors:  extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism.
  • In support of his belief in the biological/evolutionary basis for personality, Eysenck joined Harry Harlow in demonstrating that monkeys appear to have three similar factors underlying their “personalities.”
  • Some authors have suggested that Eysenck overstated the role of genetics, even based on his own data.  Eysenck acknowledged such concerns, and hopefully anticipated future research that might help clarify the issue.
  • Eysenck, like Allport, was interested in practical applications of personality research.  He also addressed a wide variety of controversial topics that have, at best, highly questionable evidence supporting them.
  • Costa and McCrae expanded on Eysenck’s theory, and proposed five superfactors: extraversion, neuroticism, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.
  • They also developed the NEO-PI-R to measure these factors.  The NEO-PI-R has proven robust across cultures, and research using the NEO-PI-R has supported the universality of the Five-Factor Model.
  • Despite arguments to the contrary, the majority of research shows that personality, as measured by trait theories, is highly consistent throughout adulthood.
  • Zuckerman identified a sensation seeking trait, comprised of four aspects:  thrill and adventure seeking, experience seeking, disinhibition, and boredom susceptibility.
  • Zuckerman offered an alternative to the Five-Factor Model, which is quite similar, but more applicable to a wider variety of species.  Once again, this supports a genetic/evolutionary perspective on the development of personality.
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