What is a Trait in Psychology? Unveiling the Mystery.

A trait in psychology is defined as a stable, enduring personal characteristic that identifies differences in the behavior of individuals. Traits can be used to describe the differences between people and they help in classifying them. They are also useful for predicting future behavior.

Types of Traits

Cardinal Traits

Cardinal traits refer to the single dominant trait that drives a person’s behavior. This trait is rare among individuals and shapes their entire personality. Cardinal traits represent what sets one person apart from others.

Central Traits

Central traits are the most common personal attributes that shape personality. They have a wide-ranging influence on a person’s behavior.

Secondary Traits

Secondary traits are not as important as cardinal and central traits, but they are still significant in defining a person’s personality. They are less apparent in everyday life and less stable than other traits.

Sources of Traits

Biological Factors

Biological factors are the main source of trait development. Genes and hormones play a critical role in determining the personality traits that shape individuals’ behavior.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors, such as upbringing and life experiences, interact with genes to influence trait development. Studies show that childhood experiences can shape one’s personality traits.

Big Five Personality Traits

The big five personality traits refer to a widely used model that describes human personality. They embody five broad dimensions of personality and are used to describe and predict human behavior. Here’s a rundown of the big five personality traits:

  • Openness: This trait is associated with creativity, curiosity, imagination, and a willingness to explore new things. People high in openness tend to enjoy novelty and enjoy intellectual pursuits.
  • Conscientiousness: People high in conscientiousness tend to be more responsible and dependable. This trait is associated with achievement and goal-oriented behavior.
  • Extraversion: Extraversion is a measure of sociability, assertiveness, and outgoingness. People high in extraversion tend to be assertive, energetic, and outgoing.
  • Agreeableness: Agreeableness describes traits such as cooperation, friendliness, and kindness. People with high agreeableness tend to value social harmony and are more likely to help others.
  • Neuroticism: Neuroticism describes the tendency to experience negative emotions such as anxiety, anger, and sadness. People high in neuroticism tend to be more anxious and impulsive.

Trait Theories of Personality

The Psychodynamic Theory

The psychodynamic theory proposes that personality develops over time and is shaped by early life experiences. According to this theory, human behavior is driven by unconscious desires and instinctual conflicts.

Social-Cognitive Theory

The social-cognitive theory proposes that human behavior is shaped by personal, environmental, and behavioral factors. This theory suggests that traits are influenced by cognitive processes such as learning and decision-making.

The Trait Theory

The trait theory posits that behavior is determined by set of distinct traits. This theory suggests that traits are biological and are genetically determined. It also suggests that traits are somewhat stable across the lifespan.

Trait Assessment

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a popular personality test that measures personality based on four scales: extraversion/introversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving. The MBTI is widely used in business and education to help people understand their personality preferences.

The Big Five Inventory (BFI)

The Big Five Inventory is a widely used personality test that measures the big five personality traits mentioned above. The BFI is widely used in scientific research and is considered the most reliable measure of personality traits.


Traits are critical in defining an individual’s personality. They help psychologists and other mental health professionals identify the behavior patterns that distinguish humans from one another. Understanding traits is essential in predicting future behavior and in tailoring individualized treatments.


  • What are traits in psychology? Traits in psychology are defined as a stable, enduring personal characteristic that identifies differences in the behavior of individuals.
  • What are the different types of traits? The different types of traits are cardinal, central, and secondary traits.
  • What are the Big Five Personality Traits? The Big Five Personality traits, Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism, describe human personality widely.
  • What are the sources of traits? Biological and environmental factors are the two main sources of trait development.
  • What are the three major trait theories? The three major trait theories are the psychodynamic theory, social-cognitive theory, and trait theory.


McCrae, R. R., & Costa, P. T. (1989). The structure of interpersonal traits: Wiggins’s circumplex and the five-factor model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56(4), 586–595.

John, O. P., & Srivastava, S. (1999). The Big-Five trait taxonomy: History, measurement, and theoretical perspectives. In L. A. Pervin & O. P. John (Eds.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (2nd ed., pp. 102–138). Guilford Press.

Cattell, R. B. (1957). Personality and motivation structure and measurement. World book encyclopedia, 15, 9–11.

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