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Trait & Dispositional Perspectives

Introduction to the Dispositional Perspective on Personality:

The dispositional perspective is the traditional, classic approach to the psychological

study of personality.

Since at least the early Greek civilization, and probably far longer, it has been
recognized that people are different not just physically, but also in profound
psychological ways.

The dispositional approach creates systems for classification and describing

psychological characteristics for which people differ consistently between situations and
over time. The “trait” approach most clearly emphasizes the dispositional perspective
but another way to approach the concept of dispositions is to consider people as “types”
or alternatively to view people’s dispositions in terms of their enduring motivational
characteristics that vary in strength from person to person (i.e. their needs and motives).

Clarification of the difference between dispositions, traits, & types:

Sometimes you see the terms “dispositions”, “traits" and "types" used interchangeably.
However, personality traits and types are really part of the broader dispositional
perspective on personality, albeit the largest part.

A dispositional approach to personality emphasizes “qualities that people carry around

with them, that are somehow part of them” (Carver & Scheier, 2000, p.54) “a person’s
inherent qualities of mind and character”

Personality traits are:

consistently found (across people and over time) dimensions of thinking, behavior and
feeling allow people individuals to be placed in a continuum with respect to different
traits (e.g, introversion-extraversion, neuroticism-emotional stability)

Personality types refers to:

categoric descriptions of characteristic patterns of thinking, behavior and feeling e.g.,
(Type A personality vs. Type B personality)

Two major, underlying assumptions:

There are two major assumptions underlying a dispositional approach:

1. STABILITY of personality

People display consistency in their actions, thoughts, and feelings BETWEEN situations
and OVER time. In other words, unpredictability is the exception rather than the rule (i.e.
unpredictability doesn’t define the essence of personality).� Note that some
psychologists, such as social psychologists, would argue that too much emphasis is
placed on the stability of personality. The idea behind this assumption is that YOU ARE

2. DIFFERENCES between people:

The composition of dispositions varies from person to person. Each person’s personality
consists of a pattern of dispositional qualities which form a unique combination in each

Major issues & related topics

Major issues and topics related to the dispositional perspective include:

How many personality types are there and what are they?

How many personality traits are there and what are they?

To what extent is the various personality types and traits are heritable?

What is the relative influence of situational influences vs. personality dispositions in

determining thinking, behavior and feeling in specific, real situations?

To what extent do personality dispositions change over time?

Are there personality differences between people of different ages? men and women?
people who work in different types of jobs? across cultures, ethnic groups, nations?

The Four Humors - Ancient Greeks (~2000 BC - 0 AD)

Ancient Greek philosophers such as Hippocrates 400 BC and Galen, 140/150 AD
classified 4 types of "humors" in people. Each type was believed to be due to an
excess of one of four bodily fluids, corresponding to their character. The personalities
were termed "humors".
Character Humor Fluid Corresponding Trait in the Big 5
Irritable Choleric yellow bile Agreeableness
Depressed Melancholic black bile Neuroticism
Optimistic Sanguine blood Openness to experience
Calm Phlegmatic phlegm Neuroticism

Somatotypes - William Sheldon, 1940's

William Sheldon (1940, 1942, cited in Phares, 1991) classified personality according to
body type. He called this a person�ssomatotype.
Sheldon identified three main somatotypes:
Character Shape Picture
relaxed, sociable,
Endomorph plump, buxom, developed
tolerant, comfort-loving,
[viscerotonic] visceral structure

Mesomorph active, assertive,

[somatotonic] vigorous, combative

Ectomorph quiet, fragile, restrained,

lean, delicate, poor muscles
[cerebrotonic] non-assertive, sensitive

Ayurvedic Body Types (Doshas) (India, ~3000 BC to present)

In Ayurvedic medicine (used in India since ~3000 BC), in which there are three main
metabolic body types (doshas) - Vata, Pita, & Kapha.

Character Shape
changeability, unpredictability,
variability - in size, shape, mood,
and action slender with prominent features,
moody, enthusiastic, imaginative, joints, and veins, with cool, dry skin
Vata and impulsive, quick to grasp eat and sleep erratically
(Ectomorph) ideas and good at initiating things prone to anxiety, insomnia,
but poor at finishing them. premenstrual syndrome, and
energy fluctuates, with jagged constipation.
peaks and valleysable, tolerant,
comfort-loving, peaceful
Pita relatively predictable. medium build, strength, and
(Mesomorph) quick, articulate, biting endurance.
intelligence, and can be critical or well-proportioned and easily
passionate with short, explosive maintains a stable weight. Often
tempers. fair haired, red or blond, ruddy
Efficient and moderate in daily complexion.
habits, eats and sleeps regularly tends to perspire heavily and are
warm and often thirsty.
prone to acne, ulcers, hemorrhoids,
and stomach ailments.
relaxed solid, heavy, and strong, with a
slow to anger, slow to eat, slow to tendency to be overweight,
Kapha act. They sleep long and heavily. slow digestion and somewhat oily
(Endomorph) tends to procrastinate and be hair, and cool, damp, pale skin.
obstinate. prone to high cholesterol, obesity,
allergies, and sinus problems.

Jungian Types, Myers-Briggs, & the Four Temperaments:

Jungian psychological types are probably the most widely used and amongst the best-
known in everyday life. Jung's typology emerges from Jung's deep, holistic philosophy
and psychology about the person. Jung's typology is not, unfortunately, always
included in mainstream personality courses, because it wasn't empirically-driven. Jung
viewed the ultimate psychological task as the process of individuation, based on the
strengths and limitations of one's psychological type.

Myers-Briggs developed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a commercially available

questionnaire, which is widely used in business and training, etc. and which provides
information and exercises for better understanding one's own personality type and
others with who the individual interacts and works.

Keirsey has renamed and reconceptualized the Jungian types, but they relate very
closely to the Jungian types. Keirsey refers to "temperaments" rather than personality.

Underlying all these typologies are four personality traits (functions):

Extroversion (E) --- Introversion (I)

Intuition (N) --- Sensing (S)
Thinking (T) --- Feeling (F)
Judgement (J) --- Perception (P)

Type A / B Personalities:
Meyer Friedman, an American cardiologist, noticed in the 1940's that the chairs in his
waiting room got worn out from the edges. They hypothesized that his patients were
driven, impatient people, who sat on the edge of their seats when waiting. They
labelled these people "Type A" personalities. Type A personalities are workaholics,
always busy, driven, somewhat impatient, and so on. Type B personalities, on the other
hand are laid back and easy going. "Type A personality" has found its way into general

Block's Personality Types:

Block (1971) identified 5 personality types among male participants in a study. These
types were found only to exist in mostly white, intelligent and relatively affluent males. A
number of subsequent studies conducted in the 1990s, however seems to bear out
three Blocks.

5 identified types:
Well-adjusted or Resilient person: adaptable, flexible, resourceful, interpersonally

Overcontrolling: this is a maladjusted type; uptight, and difficult to deal with

Undercontrolled: another maladjusted type; impulsive, risky, delinquent or even

criminal behaviour; unsafe sex etc.

Strengths & limitations of personality types:

Type theory in general has been criticized as over-simplistic because it overlooks

the multi-dimensional and continuous nature of personality traits. Also, some would say
that Individual Differences may be qualitative not quantitative. That is that there may be
a difference in the qualities that people possess rather than, as trait theory would have
us believe, we all possess certain traits its just a case of how much or how little we
possess (the quantity).

A key strength of the personality type approach, I think, is its simple applicability and
person-centered relevance. It can be particularly useful to complete personality type
profiles for helping improve how people get along in relationships and at work.

Personality Traits:
What are Personality Traits? Definitions
Traits are distinguishing qualities or characteristics of a person. Traits are a readiness to
think or act in a similar fashion in response to a variety of different stimuli or situations.
In general, trait theory assumes that people differ on variables or dimensions that are
CONTINUOUS. People are seen to differ in the AMOUNTS or QUANTITIES of a characteristic
rather than differ in the QUALITY of their characteristics.
Personality Traits: Idiographic vs. Nomothetic

However the whole issue of whether a trait exists in all people to a greater or lesser
degree is complicated by different views of the trait perspective.

There are two different views as to whether all traits exist in all people:

Idiographic: people have unique personality structures; thus some traits (cardinal traits)
are more important in understanding the structure of some people than others.
Nomothetic: people's unique personalities can be understood as them having relatively
greater or lesser amounts of traits that are consistently across people (e.g., the NEO is

The Idiographic view emphasizes that each person has a unique psychological structure
and that some traits are possessed by only one person; and that there are times when it
is impossible to compare one person with others. This viewpoint also emphasizes that
traits may differ in importance from person to person (cardinal, central and secondary
traits). It tends to use case studies, bibliographical information, diaries etc for
information gathering.

The Nomothetic view, on the other hand, emphasizes comparability among individuals
but sees people as unique in their combination of traits. This viewpoint sees traits as
having the same psychological meaning in everyone. The belief is that people differ only
in the amount of each trait. It is this which constitutes their uniqueness. This approach
tends to use self-report personality questions, factor analysis etc. People differ in their
positions along a continuum in the same set of traits.

The Big Five Personality Factors

A strong consensus has emerged since the mid-1980's about the number
and nature of personality traits. Five superordinate factors have emerged,
often referred to to as the "Big Five" or the 5-factor model. These presence
of these five factors is well supported by a wide variety of research.

Early evidence supporting a 5-factor model was published by Fiske, in

1949. During the 1980s and 1990s a vast array of research combined to
support the five factor model. Not everyone however agrees in the naming
of the five supertraits.

The 5-factor model is commonly measured by the NEO by McCrae and

Costa (2003).

The Big 5 according to the NEO are Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness

to Experience, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness (Remember OCEAN,
or NEOAC):
• Neuroticism (Emotional Stability)
• Extraversion (Introversion)
• Openness to experience (Closedness to experiences)
• Agreeableness (Disagreeableness)
• Conscientiousness (Lack of conscientiousness)

Cattell's 16 Personality Factors

Cattell (1905 - present) viewed language is a useful source of information about personality.
A quality described by many words, he figured, was likely to be a more important part of
personality. Cattell used this lexical criterion in determining his original list of trait names.
Cattell narrowed Allport and Odbert�s (1936) listing of 17,000+ words down to 4,500
words and then narrowed these down further to 171 trait names. Cattell then collected self-
ratings on these words and then conducted factor analysis. He used both observer and
behavioural data. The result was his 16 personality factors (16
• reserved v warm
• concrete reasoning v abstract reasoning
• reactive v emotionally stable
• deferential v dominant
• serious v lively
• expedient v rule-conscious
• shy v socially bold
• utilitarian v sensitive
• trusting v vigilant
• practical v imaginative
• forthright v private
• self-assured v apprehensive
• traditional v open-to-change
• group-oriented v self-reliant
• tolerates disorder v perfectionist
• relaxed v tense
Biological & evolutionary perspectives on personality:
Evolutionary perspectives on human psychology form part of the more general theory of
natural selection. To understand evolutionary psychology, it is necessary to have a basic
understanding of genes, inheritance, and the principles of natural selection (go to the 4
principles of natural selection). Using these basic concepts, more complex explanations can
be constructed about how different aspects of human psychology have come about. Such
insights and understandings can be found in a range of diverse, but related fields, including:
• sociobiology (biological explanations for social behavior)
• evolutionary psychology (evolutionary understandings of human psychology;
some say evolutionary psychology is just a new name for sociobiology, a concept
which has sparked considerable intellectual controversy; for more, go to
the Evolution of Evolutionary Psychology)
• anthropology (the study of human societies)
• paleo-psychology (the psychology of prehistorical human beings)
• ethnobotany (the use of plants in primitive societies)
• behavioral genetics (compare similarities in personality between individuals who
are and are not genetically related, or related to a different degree)
Biological systems and processes in personality

Evolutionary/genetic perspectives do not generally account for the biological mechanisms

between genes and personality. Theorists use biological processes in an attempt to fill in
the gap between personality and genetics by inferring, theorizing and researching biological
links with behaviour
Anatomical approach examine functions of various structures of brain.

The biochemical approach examines hormones & neurotransmitters. This is a complex,

difficult area of personality with no clear and simple answers. At a second year level, the
expectation here is to get your head around the basic principles that have been proposed.
Also, look for places where you can link the theories to each other and to other perspectives
of personality. In this way, the content of the biological perspective is most likely to make
sense and become part of your understanding of human psychology.

Eysenck: Extraversion and Neuroticism

One of the pioneers in attempting to relate personality to biology was the British
psychologist Hans Eysenck (e.g. 1967, 1987). His theory is complex and has evolved over
the years, but one of its basic assumptions is that the human brain has excitatory and
inhibitory neural mechanisms.
A basic assumption is that the human brain has excitatory and inhibitory neural

Excitatory --> individual alert, awake, aroused

Inhibitory mechanisms --> sleepy, drowsy, sluggish

Balance between the two produces level of psychological arousal at any given moment.
Eysenck hypothesised balance regulated by ARAS Ascending Reticular (aka Reticulocortical)
Activating System which is a structure in the brain stem.

Research suggests that function of ARAS is to regulate the amount of information or

stimulation that goes into the brain. It activates and deactivates higher parts of the brain
(cerebral cortex) and is involved in maintaining alertness and concentration and in
controlling the sleep-waking cycle.

The resting level of ARAS activity is higher for introverts than extraverts.

Introverts are:

• naturally more aroused

• prone to over arousal
• stimulus shy
• withdrawing

Extraverts are:

• naturally under aroused

• seek arousal
• stimulus hungry
• approaching

Psychoanalytic & neoanalytic perspectives on personality:

Who was Sigmund Freud?

Sigmund Freud

When psychology emerged as an independent scientific discipline in

Germany during the middle of the 19th century it defined its task as
the analysis of consciousness in the normal, adult human being.

Sigmund Freud however attacked the then traditional psychology. He

likened the mind to an iceberg in which the smaller part showing
above the surface of the water represents the region of
consciousness while the much larger mass below the water
represents the region of unconsciousness.

In this huge domain - the unconscious - Freud believed were the

urges, passions, the repressed ideas and feelings - the great unseen
forces which exercise an control over the conscious thoughts and deeds of the individual.

Freud's aim in life was to "agitate the sleep of mankind". In other words, Freud was
interested in stirring the hornet's nest of human unconscious, which he succeeded in doing
both academically and on a personal level with many patients and colleagues.

Freud was born in Moravia in 1856, attended the medical school of the University of Vienna
for 8 years until 1881. His interest neurology caused him to specialise in the treatment of
nervous disorders. He studied under the French psychiatrist Jean-Martin Charcot for a year,
particularly in the area of hypnosis.

He tried hypnosis with his patients but was not impressed by its efficacy so he tried a new
method of treatment devised by a Viennese physician - Joseph Breuer. This method was
one in which the patient was cured of his or her symptoms simply be talking about them.
Later he turned to the use of free association (instructing patients to say whatever came
into their minds). One of his patients dubbed this therapy the �talking cure�.

For over 40 years Freud explored the unconscious by the method of free association and
developed the first comprehensive theory of personality. He became both extremely influential
and extremely controversial in his day.
Structure of the the mind: Freud's Id, Ego, Superego:

Freud came to see personality as having three aspects, which work together to
produce all of our complex behaviours: the Id, theEgo and the Superego. All 3
components need to be well-balanced in order to have good amount of
psychological energy available and to have reasonable mental health.

However, the Ego has a difficult time dealing with the competing demands of the
Superego and the Id. According to the psychoanalytic view, this psychological
conflict is an intrinsic and pervasive part of human experience. The conflict
between the Id and Superego, negotiated by the Ego, is one of the fundamental
psychological battles all people face. The way in which a person characteristically
resolves the instant gratification vs. longer-term reward dilemma in many ways
comes to reflect on their "character".

THE ID (�It�): functions in the irrational and emotional part of the mind. At
birth a baby�s mind is all Id - want want want. The Id is the primitive mind. It
contains all the basic needs and feelings. It is the source for libido (psychic
energy). And it has only one rule --> the �pleasure principle�: �I want it and I
want it all now�. In transactional analysis, Id equates to "Child".

Id too strong = bound up in self-gratification and uncaring to others

THE EGO: (�I�): functions with the rational part of the mind. The Ego develops
out of growing awareness that you can�t always get what you want. The Ego
relates to the real world and operates via the �reality principle�. The Ego
realises the need for compromise and negotiates between the Id and the
Superego. The Ego's job is to get the Id's pleasures but to be reasonable and bear
the long-term consequences in mind. The Ego denies both instant gratification and
pious delaying of gratification. The term ego-strength is the term used to refer to
how well the ego copes with these conflicting forces. To undertake its work of
planning, thinking and controlling the Id, the Ego uses some of the Id's libidinal
energy. In transactional analysis, Ego equates to "Adult".

Ego too strong = extremely rational and efficient, but cold, boring and distant

THE SUPEREGO (�Over-I�): The Superego is the last part of the mind to
develop. It might be called the moral part of the mind. The Superego becomes an
embodiment of parental and societal values. It stores and enforces rules. It
constantly strives for perfection, even though this perfection ideal may be quite far
from reality or possibility. Its power to enforce rules comes from its ability to
create anxiety.

The Superego has two subsystems: Ego Ideal and Conscience. The Ego Ideal
provides rules for good behaviour, and standards of excellence towards which the
Ego must strive. The Ego ideal is basically what the child�s parents approve of or
value. The Conscience is the rules about what constitutes bad behaviour. The
Conscience is basically all those things that the child feels mum or dad will
disapprove of or punish.

Superego too strong = feels guilty all the time, may even have an insufferably
saintly personality

Defense Mechanisms in Psychodynamic Theory:

Psychological defenses are the way we deal with anxiety:


Denies source of anxiety exists (I didn�t fail my exam, it must be a mistake. Man keeps
setting the table after his wife has left him; denying therefore that she has left. Denial often
shows up in daydreams and fantasies. Daydreaming about how things might have been is a
common way we cope with anxiety by denying that things happened the way they did).


Banishing the memory: banishing old, bad memories, or even current things. (For example,
you might fancy fondling the leg of the person next to you and this could cause you anxiety
so you repress the desire!).


Moving back to an earlier stage (when highly stressed, we abandon adult coping strategies
and move back to the stage at which we are fixated; e.g. stressed: oral personality might
smoke more; anal character may become even more compulsive and obstinate than usual).

Reaction formation

Doing or thinking the opposite (woman who is angry with boss goes out of her way to be
kind and courteous; one of the hallmarks of reaction formation is excessive behaviour)


Ascribing unwanted impulse to someone else (the unfaithful husband who is extremely
jealous of his wife, always suspecting she might be unfaithful; George Pell).


Finding a rational explanation for something you�ve done wrong. (You didn�t fail the
exam because you didn�t study hard enough but because I set bad questions. Your
boyfriend breaks up with you and you rationalize that you never really liked him that much


Turn the feeling into a thought the person who finds his/her partner has cancer, deals with
it by becoming an absolute expert on cancer and focuses on the disease intellectually rather
than dealing with the emotions),


Moving an impulse from one object (target) to another (angry with boss: go home and yell
at your partner or kick the dog)

Transforming impulses into something constructive (Freud saw this as the most adaptive of
the defense mechanisms: go out and chop wood when you�re angry). Freud believed that
the greatest achievements in civilization were due to the effective sublimation of sexual and
aggressive urges.

Humanistic Theory:

The Psychologists who subscribe to the humanistic theory like Abraham

Maslow and Carl Rogers emphasize the individual’s self-concept and striving
for growth, development and self-actualization.

Roger’s theory focus on the self or the self concept. He refers to the image
individuals have themselves, which may or may not correspond to reality as
others see it. Rogers maintains that each human trait is viewed as
constantly striving to maintain and enhance his total being. According to
Rogers, the most basis level of motivation is to strive for actualization. He
called this effort as organismic striving.

As a child grows and acquires greater awareness of the environment around

him, he develops a need for self-regard by people around him. This attitude
is essential for the enhancement and fulfillment of the individual. Individuals
who felt wanted, valued and loved are likely to develop a positive self-
concept and hence become functioning people.


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Francisco M. Zulueta &
Maricel S. Paraso
General Psychology
Navotas Press, Navotas City