Types & Traits

What is the difference between Types and Traits?

There are mainly two approaches to the study of personality (Brochs - Haukedal, 2013). One of these is based on the personality as composed of different characteristics, while the other defines the personality as holistic "Types".

  • If we describe a person as outgoing and rational, then we are in the theory of Traits (which is not really a theory but empirically based).

  • If we describe a person as "red", however, we are on Type theory.

Lets have a look at some of the theories that have influenced the development of personality tests. First we take a look at the theory behind the Trait theory, and then we look at the Type theory.

Trait theory

Sir Francis Galton: In the late 1800’s the English polymath (psychologist, statistician, sociologist, anthropologist and many more fields of study) plunged into the English encyclopedia to find and count words that described behavior which gave birth to this hypothesis.

Allport and Odbert: In 1936, they presented a study in which they reviewed Webster's New International Dictionary and searched 400,000 words; they found approximately 18,000 words that described personality or behavior (Oliver P, Angleitner, & Ostendorf, 1988).

Raymond Cattell took Alport and Odbert's work as a starting point and reduced these to 16 basic traits that can be used to describe normal personality.

Paul T. Costa, Jr., and Robert R. (Jeff) McCrae developed the five-factor model as we know it today in the late 70's, early 80's; the five factors are: Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness, Compassion and Planning (Iversen, 2016).

Type theories

In 444 B.C., Empodocles came up with the theory of the four elements: fire, earth, air and water. Empodocles believed that people seemed to work in four different ways, and that it was external environmental factors that influenced the way we acted.

In 400 B.C., Hippocrates came up with his theory that it was internal factors that influenced our behavior. He called these factors the four temperaments.

In 1921, the Swiss psychotherapist Carl G. Jung published the book Psychological Types; he refers to observations where he arrives at three pairs of preferences he believes are central in understanding behavior.

In 1928, William Moulton Marston published the book Emotions of Normal People; he argues for four main types (DISC) which is known as the DISC system.

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