Theoretical Perspectives: Dispositional Theories
There are many different theories in explaining personality. Dispositional theories explain the relationship between traits and personality. Two of the most well known dispositional theories are Allport’s Psychology of the Individual Theory and Trait and Factor Theories. Gordon Allport, Hans Eysenck, Robert McCrae, and Paul Costa Jr are the more common of the dispositional theorists. The assumptions vary from those of the other theorists. However, just as the other theories, the dispositional theories provide a basis for the study of personality.
Allport's Psychology of the Individual Theory
Gordon Allport developed the Psychology of the Individual Theory. The basis of this theory was the “uniqueness, variety, and continuity of personal growth” (Bertocci, 1940, p.501). Allport accepted some beliefs from other theorists; however he also believed that no one theorist could completely explain personality. While previous theorists emphasized the unconscious, Allport focused more on the conscious. An important assumption of Allport’s theory is that of the psychologically mature personality. Within this personality, there is proactive behavior. Proactive behavior includes the belief that one’s behavior is of conscious acting rather than unconscious. Allport further defined the psychologically mature personality as having a relatively trauma free childhood (Feist & Feist, 2009). Another assumption of this theory is the structure of personality. His primary unit of personality was dispositions. Allport compared personal dispositions to common traits. Common traits are held commonly by a group of people such as a culture; whereas, a personal disposition is unique to the individual. Allport placed dispositions into levels. The highest level is cardinal dispositions. This level is so dominating that it cannot be hidden from others (Feist & Feist, 2009). However, it is Allport’s belief that most people do not have this level of disposition. The next level is central disposition. This level is the five to ten traits that an individual’s life focuses around. The final level of dispositions is secondary. An individual may have many of these dispositions. However, they are not central to an individual. Allport also discussed proprium. Proprium is the concept that individuals see certain characteristics as his or her own and are central and important (Feist & Feist, 2009). However, proprium does not define the whole personality.
Trait and Factor Theories
Trait and Factor Theories emphasize the use of a factor analysis. This method is a mathematical procedure used to reduce a large number of variables to a few (Feist & Feist, 2009). Trait and Factor theorists use this method in order to reduce a large number of traits down to a few to define an individual’s personality. Factors may be unipolar or bipolar. Examples of unipolar traits are height, weight, and intelligence. Examples of bipolar traits are introversion versus extraversion and liberalism versus conservatism. Hans Eysenck rejected psychoanalysis but accepted behaviorism (Rose, 2010). This tended to show through his theory. He devised four criteria for identifying factors. First, the evidence for the factor’s existence should be reliable and replicable. Second, the factor must fit an established genetic model (Feist & Feist, 2009). Third, the factor should make sense from a theoretical view. Last, the factor should be socially relevant. Eysenck also developed the Hierarchy of Behavior Organization. The lowest level is specific behaviors or thoughts. These may be characteristic of the individual. However, they may also be uncharacteristic of the individual. The next level is habitual behaviors and thoughts. These occur under similar situations. The third level is traits. Traits develop from several habitual responses (Feist & Feist, 2009). The fourth level is types, also called superfactors. Types are comprised of several interrelated traits. Eysenck also developed the Dimensions of Personality or the Giant Three. These were the superfactors in Eysenck’s hierarchy. Eysenck’s dimensions were extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism. Eysenck acknowledged that other dimensions could be added later. Based upon his dimensions, Eysenck developed four personality inventories to measure these superfactors. The first was the Maudsley Personality Inventory (MPI). However, the MPI only measured extraversion and neuroticism. Eysenck then developed the Eysenck Personality Inventory (EPI). This inventory assessed extraversion and neuroticism independently where the MPI did not. A third inventory was developed called the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (EPQ).This inventory included the psychoticism factor. The fourth inventory was called the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire – Revised which addressed the criticisms of the EPQ. McCrae and Costa researched further than the Giant Three. They developed the Big Five. McCrae and Costa discovered extraversion and neuroticism just as Eysenck had. They also discovered openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness as superfactors.
Strengths and Limitations
Allport's Psychology of the Individual Theory
All theories have strengths and limitations. One criticism of Allport’s theory is that it was not based on scientific investigations. Instead his theory was based more on speculation (Feist & Feist, 2009). However, Allport’s writings do constitute the theory. His writings did generate hypotheses although unhealthy individuals were not covered. Allport’s writings were a good basis for future personality theorists. Allport’s theory generated research primarily in religion, values, and prejudice. Some of Allport’s findings are not able to be verified or falsified. When it comes to organization of theory, some of known human personality cannot be integrated into the theory (Feist & Feist, 2009). Although Allport acknowledged the unconscious, his theories did not explain behaviors caused by the unconscious. Allport’s theory serves as a good stepping stone for practitioners to use.
Trait and Factor Theories
Trait and Factor theorists organize personality into classifications (Feist & Feist, 2009). These theories have generated a significant amount of research. One important outcome of research is that the Big Five of personality can be found in different cultures thus aiding in the validity of the theory. Eysenck’s research results have not been replicated by other researchers (Feist & Feist, 2009). Some of McCrae and Costa’s findings can be falsified. The Trait and Factor Theories provide a good framework for the organization of human personality. There has been much debate in the consistency of these theories. For example, Eysenck developed the Giant Three and McCrae and Costa developed the Big Five. These are two closely related theories with very noticeable differences. However, the method of factor analysis is precise (Feist & Feist, 2009). The Trait and Factor Theories are comprehensive and structured. However, they are not useful to individuals such as parents, teachers, and counselors. These theories are most useful for researchers.
While many other theories tended to account for the unconscious, the dispositional theories emphasized the conscious. While other theories focused on the behaviors, dispositional theories focused on the individual. Gordon Allport used personal dispositions as the unit of personality. The Trait and Factor theorists used traits as the unit of personality. These theorists attempted to prove the relationship between unique characteristics and behavior in individuals. These theories have strengths and weaknesses. These strengths and weaknesses make these theories as valid as any other theory. While these theories do have some flaws, they are sound beginnings for personality research and theory.
Bertocci, P. A. (1940). A critique of G.W. Allport's theory of motivation. Psychological Review, 47(6), 501-532. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/614266456?accountid=35812
Feist, J., & Feist, G. (2009). Theories of Personality (7th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.
Rose, S. (2010). Hans Eysenck's controversial career. The Lancet, 376(9739), 407-408. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S014067361061207X
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