While trait theories are useful in categorizing behavior, they have been criticized by a number of psychologists.
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Key Points While trait theories provide information about how individuals may behave, they do not explain why they may behave this way.
Strengths of the Trait Perspectives
One strength of the trait perspectives is their ability to categorize observable behaviors. Researchers have found that examining the aggregate behaviors of individuals provides a strong correlation with traits; in other words, observing the behaviors of an individual over time and in varying circumstances provides evidence for the personality traits categorized in trait theories.
Another strength is that trait theories use objective criteria for categorizing and measuring behavior. One possible proof of this is that several trait theories were developed independently of each other when factor analysis was used to conclude a specific set of traits. While developing their theories independently of each other, trait theorists often arrived at a similar set of traits.Limitations of the Trait Perspectives
Trait perspectives are often criticized for their predictive value: critics argue that traits do a poor job of predicting behavior in every situation. Some psychologists argue that the situational variables (i.e., environmental factors) are more influential in determining behavior than traits are; other psychologists argue that a combination of traits and situational variables influences behavior.
Such critics argue that the patterns of variability over different situations are crucial to determining personality, and that averaging over such situations to find an overarching "trait" in fact masks critical differences among individuals. For example, Brian is teased a lot but he rarely responds aggressively, while Josie is teased very rarely but responds aggressively every time. These two children might be acting aggressively the same number of times, so trait theorists would suggest that their behavior patterns—or even their personalities—are equivalent. However, psychologists who criticize the trait approach would argue that Brian and Josie are very different children.
Another limitation of trait theories is that they require personal observations or subjective self-reports to measure. Self-report measures require that an individual be introspective enough to understand their own behavior. Personal observation measures require that an individual spend enough time observing someone else in a number of situations to be able to provide an accurate assessment of their behaviors. Both of these measures are subjective and can fall prey to observer bias and other forms of inaccuracy.
Another criticism is that trait theories do not explain why an individual behaves in a certain way. Trait theories provide information about people and about which traits cause which behaviors; however, there is no indication as to why these traits interact in the way that they do. For example, an extroverted individual is energized by social interactions and seeks out social situations, but trait theory does not offer any explanation for why this might occur or why an introvert would avoid such situations.
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Limitations of the Trait Theories
While trait theories provide information about which traits an individual has and how they may behave, they do not explain why they will behave this way.