Central traits

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Central traits refer to the key characteristics or qualities that define a person, group, or thing. These traits are considered to be core elements that shape an individual's personality, behavior, or identity. Examples of central traits include honesty, intelligence, and kindness. In psychology, central traits are often used in personality assessments to understand an individual's behavior and predict future behavior.

Central traits, cardinal features and secondary traits

Central traits are those that dominate an individual's personality to the point that the individual becomes known for them. Cetral traits refers to general characteristics that form the foundation, or most descriptive trait of an individual's personality. Don Juan, for example, was so renowned for his sexual exploits that his name became a synonym for heartbreaker and libertine. The young Narcissus of Greek mythology was so enamored with his own reflection that his name became the root of the term narcissism or excessive self-obsession. Trait theorists are primarily interested in the measurement of traits, which can be defined as habitual patterns of behavior, thought, and emotion. Psychologists Allport and Odbert have identified nearly 18,000 English personality-related terms (G.Matthews,I.J.Deary,M.C.Whiteman 2003,p.14.). Allport discovered that in the English dictionary there are more than 4000 words describing personality traits of a human being. After careful analysis, he divided them into three categories, to which each person could belong:

Fig.1. The Five-Factor Theory of Personality (source: based on Privado et al. 2017)
  • Cardinal features,
  • Central traits,
  • Secondary traits.

Exmaples of cardinal features

Cardinal features - are the most dominant and occur most rarely. They are so closely connected with the personality of an individual, that it becomes almost a synonym for these attributes. Characters that reflect cardinal traits are e. g. :

  • Mother Teresa is strongly associated with goodness and mercy,
  • Adolf Hitler, whose character is associated with evil and ruthlessness,
  • Eistein known for his genius. His name today is synonymous with brilliance,
  • Abraham Lincoln is associated with sincerity.

Examples of central traits

Central Traits - Allport believed that central traits are much more common and serve as the basic building blocks of most people's personality. If you think of the major terms you might use to describe your overall character; then those are probably your central traits.He thought that most people have between 5 and 10 central features, which means they can define themselves. Such features are:

  • Positive Attitude
  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Dependability
  • Loyalty
  • Creativity
  • Intelligence
  • Perseverance
  • Compassion
  • Humility

Examples of secondary traits

The secondary traits - The last category according to Allport are the features that appear in a person under the influence of a given situation. For example, someone who is very self-confident on a daily basis can become shy under the influence of stress or a large audience. Secondary traits are:

Applications of central traits

Central traits are an essential part of psychological assessments and research. They are used to identify, assess, and predict an individual's personality, behavior, and attitudes. In psychological assessments, central traits are often measured using self-report questionnaires, interviews, and objective tests to identify an individual's key characteristics. The Five Factor Model, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2), the NEO Personality Inventory, and the Hogan Development Survey are all examples of psychological assessments that measure central traits.

In psychotherapy, central traits can help clients better understand themselves and their behavior. By exploring these traits, clients can gain insight into their core characteristics and develop strategies to manage their behavior in different contexts. Additionally, central traits can be used in research to explore how personality traits are associated with physical, mental, and social outcomes. For example, research has found that greater levels of neuroticism and openness to experience are associated with increases in mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. By studying central traits, researchers can gain a better understanding of how personality traits influence health and wellbeing.

Advantages of using central traits in psychology

  • Central traits help to provide a clear picture of an individual's personality.
  • They can be used to make predictions about future behavior.
  • They can be used to identify areas of strength and weakness in an individual.
  • They can be used to develop tailored treatment plans for individuals with mental health issues.
  • They can be used to make decisions about hiring, promotions, and other personnel decisions.

Disadvantages of using central traits in psychology

  • Central traits are subjective, meaning they are open to interpretation and can be difficult to measure.
  • There is a risk of oversimplifying an individual's personality when relying on central traits.
  • Some traits may be less useful than others in predicting future behavior.
  • Some traits may be more relevant to certain situations than others.
  • Central traits can be used to make judgments and assumptions that may not be accurate.

Theories related to central traits

The theory of central traits is only one of many on the subject of personality traits. Others theories (G.Matthews,I.J.Deary,M.C.Whiteman 2003,p.29.):

  • Raymond Cattell's Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire: Trait theorist Raymond Cattell reduced the number of main personality traits from Allport's initial list of over 4,000 down to 171. He did so primarily by eliminating uncommon traits and combining common characteristics.Next, Cattell rated a large sample of individuals for these 171 different traits. Then, using a statistical technique known as factor analysis, he identified closely related terms and eventually reduced his list to just 16 key personality traits.According to Cattell, these 16 traits are the source of all human personality. He also developed one of the most widely used personality assessments known as the "Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire."
  • Eysenck's Three Dimensions of Personality: British psychologist Hans Eysenck developed a model of personality based upon just three universal trails : Introversion/Extraversion, Neuroticism/Emotional Stability, Psychoticism (G.Matthews,I.J.Deary,M.C.Whiteman 2003,p.33.)
  • The Five-Factor Theory of Personality: According to many researchers, Catell focused on too many traits, while Eysnack focused on too little. For this reason, another theory called Big Five theory was developed. The personality model represents five basic characteristics that interact with each other to form a human personality. The most frequently mentioned are :Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism, Openness.

What is most important to understand is that everyone has different personality traits. We each have certain traits that dominate our personality with a myriad of traits that can arise in different situations. Also, our traits can change over time and can be shaped by our experiences.

Other theories related to the topic

There are several theories related to central traits in psychology, including:

  • Trait theory: This theory proposes that individuals possess certain traits, or characteristics, that remain relatively stable across different situations and contexts. Trait theorists believe that these traits are relatively stable across time and that they play a significant role in determining an individual's behavior.
  • Five Factor Model (FFM) or "The Big Five" theory: This theory proposes that there are five broad dimensions of personality, which are: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. These dimensions are believed to be relatively stable across time and are thought to be universal across cultures.
  • The HEXACO model: It is a six-factor personality model, which includes Honesty-Humility, Emotionality, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness to Experience.
  • The Big Three: This theory suggests that there are three broad dimensions of personality that are responsible for most of the variation in personality: extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism
  • The Big Four: This theory suggests that there are four broad dimensions of personality that are responsible for most of the variation in personality: extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.

All these theories propose that individuals possess certain traits that remain relatively stable across different situations and contexts, and these traits play a significant role in determining an individual's behavior.

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Author: Zofia Rey