Nov 19, 2020 in Personal

Comparison of Trait Theory and Personal Construct Theory


Psychological research of personal differences conventionally has inclined on the clinical, psychometric and experimental perspectives. Trait Theory focuses on the experimental approach. In the recent studies done on individual differences, the phenomenological point of view came into picture through the personal construct theory. In this discussion, the first concern will be a detailed description of the two theories, focusing mainly on the significant differences between the two perspectives. The next section will assess strengths and weaknesses of the theories. This mainly looks at personal ability to change and whether this is caused by personal agency or socio-biological paradigms.



Trait Theory was proponed by Eysenck and Rachman. The theory belongs to the field of experimental perspective to individual differences. The purpose of this theory is to offer a general principle as to why human beings behave differently in diverse circumstances. Questionnaires, for instance Eysencks Personality Inventory, were utilized to provide psychometric inventories that are a measure of personality characteristics. This facilitates prediction of how specific people react in particular situations. This is as opposed to other theorists who considered characteristic traits to be categorical. According to them, each person could be assigned to one specific category; there was no room for a person to exist in more than one level. However, Eysenck used criterion analysis that discredited this point of view in categorization. As a result, the trait theory suggested a continuum of traits. Eysencks point of view was that individual beings could be measured along two continuums: extraversion-introversion and neuroticism-stability. He asserted that an individuals score on these levels allows prediction of the way they react in particular situations.

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According to the Trait Theory, traits are biologically established and genetically inherited. The proponent carried out a study on soldiers in battle, which helped him to his multifaceted dimensions of extraversion-introversion and neuroticism. According to Eysenck, these two points of view were behavioral expressions of differences in biologically-inclined temperament. Traits are hence, taken to be fairly stable differences between people that are unlikely to transform over a period of time or within diverse circumstances. Eysenck believed that the category of extraversion and neuroticism shown by people is a result of differences in cortical and autonomic arousal.

On the contrary, Personal Construct Theory (PCT), proponed by Kelly, is overtly a different perspective to individual differences. This theory focuses on the phenomenology, and therefore emphasizes on how each person perceives the same thing differently. The main aim is to gain a deeper understanding of lived experiences, individual meaning attachment and the diverse world perspective held by individuals. This approach sees people making sense of the world by establishing a set of individual constructions, with regard to their personal experiences. Kelly overlooked the interest in the manner in which people measured on personality categories. Instead, the concern of this theory is on identifying the value of diverse world views.

As opposed to the Traits theorists assertion that characters are fixed, PCT perceives constructs as being flexible. This does not imply that constructs can be altered easily. Indeed, the proponent of the PCT approach believed since persons invest a lot in their constructions, they most of the time resist change, and as a result it can prove hard to alter constructions. Based on the methodology used, Kelly designed the repertory grid that assisted in evaluating person constructions. Much construing takes place unconsciously, but the repertory grid functions as a tool allowing people to convey and evaluate individual meanings, which would otherwise be out of their reach. A number of researchers who acknowledged the PCT approach say that schools should acknowledge learners existing constructs and use these to encourage individual growth. For this to succeed, learners must be aware of their personal constructs. As a result, methods like Kellys repertory grid are critical in this context.

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Weaknesses and Strengths

Trait Theory has been around for a while, almost a century, and has been exposed to a wide range of criticism. This is unlike the PCT which came into place recently, hence, giving little room for criticism so far. The Trait Theory is universally perceived due to its similarities to how people evaluate others on daily basis. Furthermore, measurement tools like the EPI are objective predictors of personality, which allows for comparisons to be drawn among big number of people. Findings established through the Trait Theory can serve to benefit the government and retail organizations that want to establish general trends. Although the theory has been highly criticized, dimensional perspectives in terms of traits are crucial in certain situations, like researching attitudes to smoking to promote behavioral change.

The major weakness of the Trait Theory according to critiques is the fact that traits merely identify trends in behavior without explaining the behavior. It is believed that measuring traits simply re-describes characteristics, which is not useful as such. However, the approach has such strengths that most people have alluded to the fact that many individuals react differently within the same circumstance, and in most cases indicate consistency across situations. On the contrary, other scholars argue that there is no evidence for this consistency in characters as proposed by Eysenck. It is argued that there is a clear level which indicates that people can change with experience. Furthermore, it is suggested that instead of waiting to discover behavior psychometrically, they can be constructed by the rater. As a result, much inclination is on the approach that personality characteristics mirror the world perspective, society and culture of the rater.

Although objectivity can be perceived as strength of the Trait Theory, taken from a different perspective it can portray a weakness. Objective knowledge is taken from its context. As such, there is neither acknowledgement of the power of the experimenter nor that of society. The principles of this theory do not recognize potential transformation since traits are biologically controlled. This has a limitation on the approachs ability to be utilized in helping change, so this is a less practical approach as compared to PCT.

On the other hand, PCT has some weaknesses as pointed out by critics. It is argued that without the kind of categorization proposed by the Trait Theory, those people with serious conditions, for instance autism, may not get the necessary help. The proponent of the personal construct theory suggests that researchers have to put themselves in the situations of participants to help them convey their constructs and eventually affect their change. However, this would be impossible when working with, for instance, a psychopath. In addition, the PCT is less influential since its findings cannot be used to generalize a wider population.


As discussed in this paper, Trait Theory developed by Eysenck and Rachman focuses on experimental convention and concentrates on psychometric trials to measure individual personality traits on a category. The perspective considers personality as a biologically established giving no room for change. It is, however, evident that the findings of this perspective can help the government and other organizations to establish trends in behavior transformation. On the other hand, Kellys PCT is rooted in phenomenological perspective. The theory focuses on unveiling detailed accounts of individual personalities. As opposed to the Trait Theory, this perspective acknowledges the capability to transform throughout life. The theory does not only recognize change, but also has been useful is designing tools like the repertory grid and Salmon line to assist people to change their constructions.



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