Type and Trait theories of Personality

Difference between Type and Trait Theories of Personality

A large number of approaches to studying the personality have been put forward by many theorists. One of these is the type and trait theories to Personality.

Type Theories of Personality

One of the earliest Type theory of Personality was proposed in 5th Century B.C by greek physician Hippocrates. He had proposed a typology of personality based on fluid or humour. He classified people into four types:

BlodSanguineCheerful and active
PhelgmPhlegmaticApathetic and Sluggish
Black bileMelancholySad and brooding
Yellow BileChloericIrritable and excitable
The dominance of any one fluid led to a particular personality temperament. For example, dominance of blood produced Sanguine temperament (cheerful and active)

In India also, Charak Samhita, classifies people into the categories of vata, pitta and kapha on the basis of three humoural elements called tridosha. Each refers to a type of temperament, called prakriti (basic nature) of a person.

Apart from this, there is also a typology of personality based on the trigunas, i.e. sattva, rajas, and tamas.

  • Sattva guna includes attributes like cleanliness, truthfulness, dutifulness, detachment, discipline, etc.
  • Rajas guna includes intensive activity, desire for sense gratification, dissatisfaction, envy for others, and a materialistic mentality, etc.
  • Tamas guna characterises anger, arrogance, depression, laziness, feeling of helplessness, etc.

All the three gunas are present in each and every person in different degrees. The dominance of one or the other guna may lead to a particular type of behaviour.

William Sheldom’s Type Theory

American physician William Sheldom (1942) related Physique to temperament. He assigned people to categories based on their some to type or body builds: Sheldon proposed the Endomorphic, Mesomorphic, and Ectomorphic typology.

  • The endomorphs are fat, soft and round. By temperament they are relaxed and sociable.
  • The mesomorphs have strong musculature, are rectangular with a strong body build. They are energetic and courageous.
  • The ectomorphs are thin, long and fragile in body build. They are brainy, artistic and introvert.

The typology specified relationship between the physique or bodily constitutional types and particular personality traits, activities and preferences.

Jung’s theory of Introverts & Extraverts

Jung has proposed an important & widely recognised typology by grouping people into introverts and extraverts. According to this typology:

  • Introverts are people who prefer to be alone, tend to avoid others, withdraw themselves in the face of emotional conflicts, and are shy.
  • Extraverts, on the other hand, are sociable, outgoing, drawn to occupations that allow dealing directly with people, and react to stress by trying to lose themselves among people and social activity.

Friedman and Rosenman

Friedman and Rosenman have classified individuals into Type-A and Type-B personalities.

Type-A personality

Type-A personality seem to possess high motivation, lack patience, feel short of time, be in a great hurry, and feel like being always burdened with work. Such people find it difficult to slow down and relax. People with Type-A personality are more susceptible to problems like hypertension and coronary heart disease (CHD). The risk of developing CHD with Type-A personality is sometimes even greater than the risks caused by high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, or smoking.

Type-B personality

Opposite to Type-A is the Type-B personality, which can be understood as the absence of Type-A traits.

This typology has been further extended.

Type-C personality

Morris has suggested a Type-C personality, which is prone to cancer. Individuals characterised by this personality are cooperative, unassertive and patient. They suppress their negative emotions (e.g., anger), and show compliance to authority.

Type-D personality

More recently, a Type-D personality has been suggested, which is characterised by proneness to depression.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) typology is another typology which is modern one and based upon Carl Jung’s theory of personality types. Using the MBTI, individual’s self-reported preferences are used to assess four dimensions of personality:

  • E or I (Extraversion- Introversion),
  • S or N (Sensing or Intuition),
  • T or F (Thinking-Feeling) and
  • J or P (Judgement-Perception).

The MBTI identifies 16 types of personality based on Jung’s distinctions between E-I, S-N and T-F, as well as upon Isobel Myer’s distinction between J-P. The J-P distinction indicates as to whether an individual’s orientation toward the external world comes from rational (judging) or the irrational (perceiving) function pair.

If a person takes MBTI, he would be assigned to only one pole of each dimension and the combination of dimensions would determine which of the sixteen types best describes him. For example, a person who receives ESFP (Extraverted-Sensing- Feeling-Perception) classification would be characterised as outgoing, easygoing, accepting, friendly and would be considered best in situations that need sound common sense and practical ability with people as well as with things.

The Myers-Briggs is a very good type system because its categories are distinct or discontinuous and people of any one type are supported to be very much like each other that help them to be distinguished from other types. Critics of MBTI state that while the four dimensions are informative, persons should be described according to their actual scores on each dimension rather then being mixed into types.


Personality typologies are usually very appealing, but are too simplistic. Human behaviour is highly complex and variable. Assigning people to a particular personality type is difficult. People do not fit into such simple categorisation schemes so neatly.

Trait Theory of Personality

These approaches explain personality in terms of traits, which are defined as relatively stable and consistent personal characteristics. Basic characteristics of traits include:

  • Traits are relatively stable over time,
  • They are generally consistent across situations, and
  • Their strengths and combinations vary across individuals leading to individual differences in personality.

Allport’s Trait Theory

Gordon Allport is considered the pioneer of trait approach. He proposed that individuals possess a number of traits, which are dynamic in nature. They determine behaviour in such a manner that an individual approaches different situations with similar plans. The traits integrate stimuli and responses which otherwise look dissimilar.

Allport argued that the words people use to describe themselves and others provide a basis for understanding human personality. He analysed the words of English language to look for traits which describe a person. Allport, based on this, categorised traits into cardinal, central, and secondary.

Cardinal traits are highly generalised dispositions. They indicate the goal around which a person’s entire life seems to revolve. Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence and Hitler’s Nazism are examples of cardinal traits. Such traits often get associated with the name of the person so strongly that they derive such identities as the ‘Gandhian’ or ‘Hitlerian’ trait.

Less pervasive in effect, but still quite generalised dispositions, are called central traits. These traits (e.g., warm, sincere, diligent, etc.) are often used in writing a testimonial or job recommendation for a person.

The least generalised characteristics of a person are called secondary traits. Traits such as ‘likes mangoes’ or ‘prefers ethnic clothes’ are examples of secondary traits.

While Allport acknowledged the influence of situations on behaviour, he held that the way a person reacts to given situations depends on her/his traits, although people sharing the same traits might express them in different ways. Allport considered traits more like intervening variables that occur between the stimulus situation and response of the person. This meant that any variation in traits would elicit a different response to the same situation.

Cattell’s Trait Approach

Raymond Cattell believed that there is a common structure on which people differ from each other. This structure could be determined empirically. He tried to identify the primary traits from a huge array of descriptive adjectives found in language.

He applied a statistical technique, called factor analysis, to discover the common structures. He found 16 primary or source traits. The source traits are stable, and are considered as the building blocks of personality. Besides these, there are also a number of surface traits that result out of the interaction of source traits. Cattell described the source traits in terms of opposing tendencies.

He developed a test, called Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF), for the assessment of personality. This test is widely used by psychologists.

Eysenck’s Three Dimension Theory

H.J. Eysenck proposed that personality could be reduced into two broad dimensions. These are biologically and genetically based. Each dimension subsumes a number of specific traits. These dimensions are:

Neuroticism vs. emotional stability: It refers to the degree to which people have control over their feelings. At one extreme of the dimension, we find people who are neurotic. They are anxious, moody, touchy, restless and quickly lose control. At the other extreme lie people who are calm, even- tempered, reliable and remain under control.

Extraversion vs. introversion: It refers to the degree to which people are socially outgoing or socially withdrawn. At one extreme are those who are active, gregarious, impulsive and thrill- seeking. At the other extreme are people who are passive, quiet, cautious and reserved.

In a later work Eysenck proposed a third dimension, called Psychoticism vs. Sociability, which is considered to interact with the other two dimensions mentioned above. A person who scores high on psychoticism dimension tends to be hostile, egocentric, and antisocial.

Eysenck Personality Questionnaire is the test which is used for studying these dimensions of personality.

Five-Factor Theory of Personality

During the recent times, the most talked about trait approach to personality is the Five Factor Model (FFM) also known as the Big Five. According to this model there are five broad personality factors, each of which is composed of constellation of traits. Those Big Five dimensions of personality using the names assigned by MC Crae and Robert Costa are:

  1. Openness to experience: Those who score high on this factor are imaginative, curious, open to new ideas, and interested in cultural pursuits. In contrast, those who score low are rigid.
  2. Extraversion: It characterises people who are socially active, assertive, outgoing, talkative, and fun loving. On its opposite are people who are shy.
  3. Agreeableness: This factor characterises people who are helpful, co-operative, friendly, caring, and nurturing. On the opposite are people who are hostile and self-centered.
  4. Neuroticism: People who score high on this factor are emotionally unstable, anxious, worried, fearful, distressed, irritable and hypertensive. On the opposite side are people who are well adjusted.
  5. Conscientiousness: Those who score high on this factor are achievement-oriented, dependable, responsible, prudent, hardworking and self-controlled. On the opposite are people who are impulsive.

This five factor model represents an important theoretical development in the field of personality. It has been found useful in understanding the personality profile of people across cultures. While it is consistent with the analysis of personality traits found in different languages, it is also supported by the studies of personality carried out through different methods. Hence, it is now considered to be the most promising empirical approach to the study of personality.

Difference between Type and Trait Theories of Personality

Type ApproachTrait Approach
The type approaches attempts to comprehend human personality by examining certain broad patterns in the observed behavioural characteristics of individuals.The trait approach focuses on the specific psychological attributes along which individuals tend to differ in consistent and stable ways.
Type and Type approaches to personality

Type and Trait Theories of Personality | Type and Trait Theories of Personality | Type and Trait Theories of Personality | Type and Trait Theories of Personality

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