The Concept of Trait


Purpose of Site

Biography of Gordon Allport
Early Life
Growing Up
Late Life

His Work
Pattern and Growth in Personality

His Theories
Concept of Trait

The Propium
Human Nature
The Study of Values

Further Information
Other book titles


Allport believed that traits, in effect, are psychological entities that render many stimuli as well as many responses equivalent.  These stimuli may invoke the same response, or many responses (perceptions, interpretations, feelings, actions) have the same functional meaning in terms of the trait (Hjelle and Zeigler p.177).  The following descriptions are also similar to that of William James and his theory of habit.  They both believed that our behavior is shaped by our traits or habits as James' described them, and that we are made up of all different kinds.  However, they do differ in the fact that Allport believed that trait was more than just habit.  Whereas James believed that humans were just "bundles of habits" (Schultz and Schultz p.187).  There are 8 concepts that one must know about traits.  They are:

1.  A trait has more than nominal existence, which is stating that personality traits are not fictions, they are very real and very vital in a man's existence.

2.  A trait is more generalized than a habit, in that traits tend to cut across situations and thereby account for the more permanent, enduring, and general features of our behavior.

3.  A trait is dynamic or at least determinative in behavior, because they underlie behavior or rather cause behavior.

4.  A trait's existence may be established empirically, because if they are real, then somebody ought to be able to prove that they are.

5.  A trait is only relatively independent of other traits, "no trait is an island" (Allport), They overlap and thus, there is no rigid boundary separating one trait from another.

6.  A trait is not synonymous with moral or social judgment, even though many traits are bound by social meaning, they still represent true traits of a person.

7.  A trait may be viewed either in light of the personality that contains it or in light of its distribution in the population at large, meaning it is like an illustration: it has both unique and universal aspects.

8.  Acts or even habits that are inconsistent with a trait are not proof of the nonexistence of the trait; often times we will be presented with situations that cause us to act indifferently from other times, but that does not mean that is necessarily a reflection of that particular trait.

-Hjelle and Ziegler (p. 179-181)

Above the concept of trait lies the classifications of traits.  They are Cardinal Traits, Central Traits, and Secondary Traits.  Cardinal Traits are those that are so pervasive that almost all of the person's activities can be traced to its influence.  An example of this would be gender.  A man who likes cars may be traced back to being a man.  Likewise for women, if they are drawn towards conversations and listening.  There are also Central Traits, which Allport describes as the "so-called building blocks of personality".  These are traits that we would want to be recognized in a letter of recommendation, such as, outgoing, personable, social, etc. (Hjelle and Ziegler p. 182).  Lastly there are Secondary Traits which are less generalized.  Food preferences, specific attitudes, and other situationally determined factors fall under Secondary Traits (Hjelle and Ziegler p. 182) .  This is another area in which he is similar to James.  He too had three different self's.  The Material Self is similar to the Secondary Traits in the fact that both focus on the physical or things that our outside of us.  James's Social Self is who we are in different situations.  This is similar to that of Central traits in which is what we present to our other social beings.  Lastly, the spiritual self is that of the Cardinal traits, in which it is the most intimate part of ourselves.  All can be traced to its influence.