Central traits

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Central traits
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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 :

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.
Fig.1. The Five-Factor Theory of Personality (source: based on Privado et al. 2017)

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 honesty, kindness, generosity, diligence, etc.

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.

Different theories

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 PersonalityAccording 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.


Author: Zofia Rey