According to trait theory, human personality is composed of a number of broad traits or dispositions. Early theories attempted to describe every possible trait. For example, psychologist Gordon Allport identified more than 4,000 words in the English language that could be used to describe personality traits. Later, Raymond Cattell analyzed this list and whittled it down to 171 characteristics, mostly by eliminated terms that were redundant or uncommon. He was then able to use a statistical technique known as factor analysis to identify traits that are related to one another. By doing this, he was able to reduce his list to 16 key personality factors.
According to Cattell, there is a continuum of personality traits. In other words, each person contains all of these 16 traits to a certain degree, but they might be high in some traits and low in others. The following personality trait list describes some of the descriptive terms used for each of the 16 personality dimensions described by Cattell.
- Abstractedness: Imaginative versus practical
- Apprehension: Worried versus confident
- Dominance: Forceful versus submissive
- Emotional Stability: Calm versus high strung
- Liveliness: Spontaneous versus restrained
- Openness to Change: Flexible versus attached to the familiar
- Perfectionism: Controlled versus undisciplined
- Privateness: Discreet versus open
- Reasoning: Abstract versus concrete
- Rule Consciousness: Conforming versus non-conforming
- Self-Reliance: Self-sufficient versus dependent
- Sensitivity: Tender-hearted versus tough-minded.
- Social Boldness: Uninhibited versus shy
- Tension: Impatient versus relaxed
- Vigilance: Suspicious versus trusting
- Warmth: Outgoing versus reserved
Cattell also developed an assessment based on these 16 personality factors. The test is known as the 16 PF Personality Questionnaire and is still frequently used today, especially in business for employee testing and selection, career counseling and marital counseling. The test is composed of forced-choice questions in which the respondent must choose one of three different alternatives. Personality traits are then represented by a range and the individuals score falls somewhere on the continuum between highest and lowest extremes.
Cattell, R. B. (1946). The description and measurement of personality. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace, & World.
Cattell, R. B. (1957). Personality and motivation structure and measurement. New York, NY: World Book.
Conn, S.R., & Rieke, M.L. (1994). The 16PF Fifth Edition technical manual. Champaign, IL: Institute for Personality and Ability Testing, Inc.