Trait Theories of Personality

Our personality encompasses all that we are. All our little quirks, characteristics, behaviours, and thoughts which make each one of us unique. Personality plays a huge part in individual differences research and over the years many different theories have emerged.

One of the sectors of these theories are trait theories. These are also known as psychometric theories due to their measurements of personality traits through psychometric tests. Trait theories argue that every individual has certain unique traits resulting from our genes which predispose us to act a certain way in a variety of situations. These are thought to be consistent across situations and time. There are lots of trait theories of personality but here are a few of the most influential:

Eysenck’s Personality Model

Eysenck conducted factor analyses on personality questionnaires and found three dimensions of personality:

  • Extraversion (extraversion/introversion)
  • Neuroticism (stable/unstable)
  • Psychoticism (added in 1966)

According to Eysenck, extraverts are sociable and impulsive; introverts are reserved and serious; neurotics are anxious and worrying; and stables are emotionally calm and unworried. Those which fall under psychoticism tend to be lacking in empathy and more aggressive.

He also related a person’s personality to the functioning of the Autonomic Nervous System, in that someone’s personality is dependent upon the balance between excitatory and inhibitory processes within the nervous system (explained in more detail as a biological model in further posts).

The measures of these personality dimensions have been developed through many different psychometric tests, but the most recent is the Revised Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (EPQ-IR).

eysenck's neuroticism and extraversion model

The Five Factor Model (The Big Five)

This is also one of the most accepted models of personality. It shares some similarity with Eysenck’s model as it also features Extraversion/Neuroticism. However it is known as the Big Five due to the five factors of personality it puts forward. These can be remembered easily by the popular acronym OCEAN:

  • Openness: high levels = love of learning, low levels = more likely to stick with what you know
  • Conscientiousness: high = excellent leader, low = more likely to procrastinate
  • Extraversion: high = sociable, low = reserved and introspective
  • Agreeableness: high = sympathetic, low = sarcastic and callous
  • Neuroticism: high = anxious and unsure of self, low = more confidence and brave

These traits are measured by the Big Five Inventory (BFI – Goldberg, 1993) and the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO PI-R – Costa and McCrae, 1978). The Five Factor Model has been greatly praised as it has been found that these five traits hold up across the world in multiple countries and cultures – meaning very valid and reliable assessments!

Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

The MBTI is based on Carl Jung’s theory that people engage in one or two mental functions: perceiving and judging (taking in information, and reaching conclusions). People also have preferences, in which they prefer to perform these functions in different ways and to varying degrees. He thought that people are also either more prone to extraversion or introversion. The MBTI however aimed to allow people to identify their psychological types more easily. These types were made up of four categories:

  • Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I)
  • Sensing (S) or Intuition (N)
  • Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
  • Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)

The above preferences interact and are expressed as a four-letter code to make up your personality type (16 possible combinations).

Evaluating Trait Theories

Although many of the trait theories of personality have been highly influential and some of quite robust assessments, they are not without their criticisms. For instance, trait theories argue that personality traits are consistently held throughout time and across a variety of situations. But research has found that traits may not actually be as stable as we once believed. For example, children can utilise honesty in different ways in different situations). These kinds of theories also have a biological undertone to them – but studies on whether personality is genetic (specifically twin studies) have been found to be contradictory and inconclusive with questionable research methods. Therefore, the idea that we have a biological propensity to certain personality traits is problematic. What’s more is, we are complex beings whose experiences and attitudes are shaped by an interplay between nature and nurture. Defining ourselves solely on the basis of certain congenital traits does not seem to make sense. What’s needed is an integrated approach towards the development of personality (which will be discussed in future posts).

So these are a few of the more prominent trait theories out there with a brief evaluation of trait theories as a whole. There are many more such as Allport’s Trait Theory (1937), Cattell’s 16 Personality Factors Trait Theory, and Adorno et al.’s (1950) theory of Authoritarian Personality. In further posts, I will discuss other theories on personality such as biological, cognitive, and humanistic approaches. So watch this space!

You can take some (unofficial and just-for-fun) tests that are based on the ones I’ve mentioned in this post: 

  1. Eysenck Personality Test: 

I scored 38% Extraversion, 52% Neuroticism, and 35% Psychoticism:

Eysenck’s Test Results
Extraversion (38%) moderately low which suggests you are reclusive, quiet, unassertive, and private.
Neuroticism (52%) medium which suggests you are moderately worrying, insecure, emotional, and anxious.
Psychoticism (35%) moderately low which suggests you are, at times, overly kind natured, trusting, and helpful at the expense of your own individual development (martyr complex).

2.  The Big Five Test: 

I scored:

big five my results

How interesting to see I got 38% on Extraversion for Eysenck’s Personality Test, but 33% for the Big Five test! Could this be due to the wording of the questions I wonder…?

3. MBTI:

I am an INFJ-T (The Advocate), a personality type that makes up less than 1% of the population, wow!

Let me know what personality types you received!
Thanks for reading,



17 thoughts on “Trait Theories of Personality

  1. Great post!.. I look forward to reading more of your blogs. That’s so interesting that Eysenck uses the terms sanguine, choleric, melancholic and phlegmatic to describe the different personality types. These terms originate from ancient Greek medicine/ philosophy and humoral medicine.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! Yes a lot of psychology comes from philosophy – so interesting to know people have been thinking about what personality is for centuries – and how the concept has evolved! I hope to write about some biological models of personality too. Eysenck of course will be included again! Love his ideas.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m a real fan of personality profiling.
    When I studied counselling, I felt that conducting some form of personality profiling at the beginning of the process would help both parties to gain a better understanding of how the help seeker sees the world and also ensure that the counsellor used a tailored approach in the helping process.
    I always see personality profiles as like a mirror that we hold up to ourselves and others we help. They provide a language for a discourse about personality which many people today don’t have.
    Have you heard of the enneagram? I’ve found that helpful too, particularly in the way it also provides scales of health/illness across nine stages and describes how each of its nine types experiences these changes in psychic health.
    But don’t real psychologists just see them as quackery?
    Oh, and I’m an ENFP, also 1% of the population. Except that I’m actually on the cusp between an E and an I.

    Liked by 1 person

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