Trait and Factor Theories & Cattell


Overview of Factor and Trait Theories

Hans Eysenck and others have used factor analysis to identify traits, that is, relatively permanent dispositions of people. Whereas Eysenck extracted only three general factors, Robert McCrae and Paul Costa have insisted that the proper number of personality factors is five—no more and no fewer.

Biography of Hans J. Eysenck

Hans J. Eysenck was born in Berlin in 1916, but as a teenager, he moved to London to escape Nazi tyranny. Eysenck was trained in the psychometrically oriented psychology department of the University of London, from which he received a bachelor’s degree in 1938 and a PhD in 1940. Eysenck was perhaps the most prolific writer of any psychologist in the world, and his books and articles often stirred worldwide controversy. He died in September of 1997.

The Pioneering Work of Raymond B. Cattell

In Chapter 13, we saw that Gordon Allport used common sense to identify both common and unique personality traits. In comparison, Raymond Cattell used factor analysis to identify a large number of traits, including personality traits. Included in personality traits were temperament traits, which are concerned with how a person behaves. Temperament traits include both normal and abnormal traits. Of the 23 normal traits, 16 are measured by Cattell’s famous PF scale.

Basics of Factor Analysis

Factor analysis is a mathematical procedure for reducing a large number of scores to a few more general variables or factors. Correlations of the original, specific scores with the factors are called factor loadings. Traits generated through factor analysis may be either unipolar (scaled from zero to some large amount) or bipolar (having two opposing poles, such as introversion and extraversion). For factors to have psychological meaning, the analyst must rotate the axes on which the scores are plotted. Eysenck used an orthogonal rotation whereas Cattell favored an oblique rotation. The oblique rotation procedure ordinarily results in more traits than the orthogonal method.

Eysenck’s Factor Theory

Compared to Cattell, Hans Eysenck (1) was more likely to theorize before collecting and analyzing data; (2) extracted fewer factors; (3) used a wider variety of approaches to gather data.

  • Criteria for Identifying Factors
    • Eysenck insisted that personality factors must (1) be based on strong psychometric evidence, (2) fit an acceptable genetic model, (3) make sense theoretically, and (4) possess social relevance.
  • Hierarchy of Behavior Organization
    • Eysenck recognized a four-level hierarchy of behavior organization: (1) specific behaviors or cognitions; (2) habitual acts or cognitions; (3) traits, or personal dispositions, and (4) types or superfactors.

Dimensions of Personality

Although many triads exist, Eysenck’s methods of measuring personality limited the number bipolar personality types to only three—extraversion/introversion, neuroticism/stability, and psychoticism/superego function. Each of three bipolar factors has a strong genetic component.

  • Extraversion
    • Extraverts are characterized by sociability, impulsiveness, jocularity, liveliness, optimism, and quick-wittedness, whereas introverts are quiet, passive, unsociable, careful, reserved, thoughtful, pessimistic, peaceful, sober, and controlled. Eysenck, however, believed that the principal difference between extraverts and introverts is one of cortical arousal level.
  • Neuroticism
    • Like extraversion/introversion, neuroticism/stability is largely influenced by genetic factors. People high in neuroticism have such traits as anxiety, hysteria, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. They frequently have a tendency to overreact emotionally and to have difficulty returning to a normal state after emotional arousal. They often complain of physical symptoms such as headache and backache, but they also may be free from psychological symptoms.
  • Psychoticism
    • The latest and weakest of Eysenck’s personality factors is psychoticism/superego. High psychotic scores may indicate anxiety, hysteria, egocentricism, nonconformance, aggression, impulsiveness, hostility, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Both normal and abnormal individuals may score high on the neuroticism scale.

Measuring Personality

Eysenck and his colleagues developed four personality inventory to measure superfactors, or types The two most frequently used by current researchers is the Eysenck Personality Inventory (which measures only E and N) and the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (which also measures all three factors).

Biological Bases of Personality

Eysenck believed that P, E, and N all have a powerful biological components, and he cited as evidence the existence of these three types in a wide variety of cultures and languages.

Personality as a Predictor

Eysenck’s complex model of personality suggests that the psychometric traits of P, E, and N can combine with one another and with genetic determinants, biological intermediates, and experimental studies to predict a variety of social behaviors, including those that contribute to disease.

  • Personality and Behavior
    • According to Eysenck’s model, P, E, and N should predict both proximal and distal consequences (see Figure 14.7), and he and his colleagues cited studies that predicted behavior in both laboratory studies and studies of social behavior. They found a relationship between superfactors and a large number of behaviors and processes, such as academic performance, creativity, antisocial behavior, as well as behaviors that may lead to disease.
  • Personality and Disease
    • For many years, Eysenck researched the relationship between personality factors and disease. He teamed with Ronald Grossarth-Maticek to study the connection between personality characteristics and both cancer and cardiovascular disease. According to this research, people with a helpless/hopeless attitude are more likely to die from cancer, whereas people who react to frustration with anger and emotional arousal are more much more likely to die from cardiovascular disease.
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Eysenck's Complex Chart About Personality Traits

The Big Five: Taxonomy or Theory?

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Trait Theory Approaches

A large number of researchers, including Robert McCrae and Paul Costa, Jr., have insisted that all personality structure can be subsumed under five, and only five, major factors.

Biographies of Robert McCrae and Paul T. Costa, Jr.

Robert Roger McCrae was born April 28, 1949 in Maryville, Missouri, the youngest of three children. After completing an undergraduate degree in philosophy from Michigan State University, he earned a PhD in psychology from Boston University. Following the lead of Raymond Cattell, he began using factor analysis as a means of measuring the structure of human traits. After completing his academic work, McCrae began working with Paul Costa at the National Institute of Health, where he is still employed. Paul T. Costa Jr. was born September 16 in Franklin, New Hampshire. He earned his undergraduate degree in psychology from Clark University and a PhD from the University of Chicago. In 1978 he began working with Robert McCrae at the National Institute of Aging, where he continues to conduct research on human development and aging. The collaboration between Costa and McCrae has been unusually fruitful, with well over 200 co-authored research articles and chapters, and several books.

In Search of the Big Five

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Costa and McCrae, like most other factor researchers, were building elaborate taxonomies of personality traits, which they were using to examine the stability and structure of personality. As with many other factor theorists, they quickly discovered the traits of extraversion (E), neuroticism (N), and openness to experience (O).

  • Five Factors Found
    • As late as 1983, McCrae and Costa were arguing for a three-factor model of personality, but by 1985 they begin to report work on the five factors of personality, having added agreeableness (A) and conscientiousness (C). Costa and McCrae did not fully develop the A and C scales until the revised NEO-PI personality inventory appeared in 1992. Recently, the five factors have been found across a variety of cultures and using a number of languages. In addition, the five factors show some permanence with age; that is, adults tend to maintain a consistent personality structure as they grow older.
  • Description of the Five Factors
    • McCrae and Costa agreed with Eysenck that personality traits are basically bipolar, with some people scoring high on one factor and low on its counterpart. For example, people who score high on N tend to be anxious, temperamental, self-pitying, self-conscious, emotional, and vulnerable to stress-related disorders, whereas people with low scores on N tend to have opposite characteristics. People who score high on E tend to be affectionate, jovial, talkative, a joiner, and fun-loving, whereas low E scorers tend to have opposing traits. High O scorers prefer variety in their life and are contrasted to low O scorers who have a need for closure and who gain comfort in their association with familiar people and things. People who score high on A tend to be trusting, generous, yielding, acceptant, and good natured. Low A scorers are generally suspicious, stingy, unfriendly, irritable, and critical of other people. Finally, people high on the C scale tend to be ordered, controlled, organized, ambitious, achievement-focused, and self-disciplined. Together these dimensions make up the personality traits of the five factor model, often referred to as the “Big-Five.”

Evolution of the Five-Factor Theory

Originally, the five factors were simply a taxonomy, a classification of personality traits. By the late 1980s, Costa and McCrae were confident that they had found a stable structure of personality. In shaping a theory from the remnants of a taxonomy, McCrae and Costa were insisting that their personality structure was able to incorporate change and growth into its tenets and to stimulate empirical research as well as organize research findings. In other words, their Five-Factor taxonomy was being transformed into a Five-Factor Theory (FFT).

  • Units of the Five-Factor Theory
    • McCrae and Costa predict behavior through an understanding of three central or core components and three peripheral ones. The three core components include: (1) basic tendencies, (2) characteristic adaptations, and (3) self-concept. Basic tendencies are the universal raw material of personality. Characteristic adaptations are acquired personality structures that develop as people adapt to their environment. Self-concept refers to knowledge and attitudes about oneself. Peripheral components include (1) biological bases, which are the sole cause of basic tendencies; (2) objective biography, which is everything a person does or thinks over a lifetime; and (3) external influence, or knowledge, views, and evaluations of the self.
  • Basic Postulates
    • The two most important core postulates are basic tendencies and characteristic adaptations. Basic tendencies have four postulates—individuality, origin, development, and structure. The individuality postulate stipulates that every adult has a unique pattern of traits. The origin postulate assumes that all personality traits originate solely from biological factors, such as genetics, hormones, and brain structures. The development postulate assumes that traits develop and change through childhood, adolescence, and mid-adulthood. The structure postulate states that traits are organized hierarchically from narrow and specific to broad and general.

Critique of Trait and Factor Theories

The factor theories of Eysenck and of McCrae and Costa rate high on parsimony, on their ability to generate research, and on their usefulness in organizing data; they are about average on falsifiability, usefulness to the practitioner, and internal consistency.

Concept of Humanity

Factor theories generally assume that human personality is largely the product of genetics and not the environment. Thus, we rate these two theories very high on biological influences and very low on social factors. In addition, we rate both about average on conscious versus unconscious influences and high on the uniqueness of individuals. The concepts of free choice, optimism versus pessimism, and causality versus teleology are not clearly addressed by these theories.

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