What is Allport’s trait approach of personality?

Allport’s Trait Approach:

Allport, one of the most important personality theorists has used to lexical approach to define personality trait. It is called lexical because Allport looked up the dictionary and found 17,953 words that can be used to describe the characteristics of people. Though the list is quite long, it was possible and an effort was made to suggest characteristics like dominance, friendliness, self-esteem, etc.

Trait suggested that people possess traits or characteristics, some of which are very unique, found only in that person while some characteristics are common with other people. This forms a combination of traits, which exist but are invisible and are located somewhere in the nervous system.

How do we conclude that a person has a particular trait?

When the person is exposed to different situations (stimuli) which, and he gives responses according to a characteristic aroused in him (trait readiness), the responses are similar in the sense that the same trait is expressed through them. For example, in different situations if the responses of the individual exhibit fear, then fear is consistent in his behaviour. Similarly, if say a professor is shy of people, it is exhibited in different situations, when he avoids parties, when he does not accompany tours, when he has lunch away from colleagues, when he does not participate in seminars and discussions, etc.

Common and Individual Traits:

  1. Common Traits and
  2. Individual Traits:

Characteristics like respect for the elderly, not speaking against them, spouses maintaining a distance in public, etc. are certain characteristics of our culture and shared by all people in common, so these are known as common traits.

Individual traits are specially found in the person concerned, and they have been regarded as more important by Allport. They are also called personal disposition.

Allport mentions three types of individual traits.

Cardinal Traits:

This refers to a trait which is so strong and dominant in a person that all his actions are influenced by it and he may even become well-known by that trait. For example, Gandhiji’s personality characteristic of non-violence and lover of peace was so predominant in his life that he began to be known for it. Cardinal Traits are not commonly found in people.

Central Traits:

Central Traits are those characteristics which are found to be quite obvious in a person. They are certain qualities which may define the nature of a person and his behaviour and actions are mostly influenced by them. For example, if a person is friendly, outgoing, cheerful, adjusting, non-self-centred, etc. these would be considered his central traits which would normally rule the behaviour of a person most often. Every person is found to have some central traits.

Secondary Traits:

These are the traits which are not-so-obvious in a person. They are less prominent and do not define the personality of a person as such. For example, the dressing habits, food habits, hair style, these are less important secondary. traits.

The characteristics mentioned above are motivating factors in an individual’s life. Those traits that are very strong in the person are more motivational, whereas some traits are less strong though they do motivate the person, they are known as stylistic traits. Some of both would be central to a person’s personality and, would define his nature while others would be on the borderline, i.e. just the tip of his personality.

The individual traits make up the basic framework of a person’s personality determining his behaviour. According to this theory, we can understand a person’s personality by studying his unique qualities. Allport also says that a person’s personality is not just a bundle of unrelated traits, but there is a unity, consistency and combination of traits. The self or proprium of the individual builds up the individual’s personality in a continuous fashion over his lifetime and the individual moves from one stage to another.

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