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Aims and methods of Trait Theory

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Traits: a moderately, stable characteristic, that distinguishes one individual from another. Or the individual differences between individuals. Personal Constructs: an individual is seen as creating their own private structures of the world, centred on their own individual experiences, this is fundamental to making sense of the world and how to behave in it. These are the foundations of both approaches, which their aims, rationale and methods are based. This essay will explore the strengths and weaknesses of the two theories, with reference to their aims rationale and methods. I will also assess how these theories differentiate or correlate. This will be accomplished by critical evaluation. I will also be using the interrogative themes Power relations, situatedness of knowledge and individual-society dualism to strengthen my evaluation. Trait theory is based within the Cognitive social perspective, which uses measurements of personality as a way of defining individual differences.

Personal construct theory is a form of phenomenology and situated in the clinical tradition, therefore personality is seen as something idiosyncratic to the individual, individual differences here “centres on the individual and the sometimes subtle differences between them”p.63.Butt (2012). Here I will give some background of the perspectives in which the two theories are situated. The Phenomenological perspective: a qualitative subjective perspective that views individuals as, experiencing objects in the world and in close relations with others. The methods used are to collect rich personal data from individuals’ experiences in the world through interviews and written texts. Personal Construct Theory uses a phenomenological interpretation of data collected on Kelly’s repertory grid or the Salmon line which is used in this theory to assess individuals.

The Cognitive social perspective: a quantitative objective, perspective sees individuals as an information processing being in the social world. The methods used are experimental and social psychometrics, here the methods used are quantitative measurements, and use questionnaires to elicit information regarding social factors in controlled social conditions. The methodological data collected is statistical. Trait theory employs the use of measurements in their approach to personality. Here I will be using the psychometric test as a method to critically evaluate the two theories of personality. P. 63 Holloway (2012) p.14-19 Glossary DD307 (2012). I will begin by looking at the aims and of both theories, which use “personality” in their endeavour to explain individual differences of behaviour between individuals, and to critically compare and contrast the two.

Trait theory’s ontology is to view individuals as information processing units; consequently the aims and purpose are to measure the individual differences from an objective point of view. Situated in the experimental tradition the knowledge produced is centred solely on traits that are measured there is no reference to environment or individual experiences. P 63 Holloway (2012). Glossary DD307 (2012) p.19 By contrast the Personal construct theory employs a more subjective view, in their aims and purpose, the focus of which is on is individual experiences and how we use these experiences to form our personal constructs and in doing so, how individuals interpret the world and how to behave in it. Positioned within the clinical tradition Personal construct theory has no use for experimental interpretations of variables and statistic.

The only interest here is the individual’s experiences. P 63 Holloway (2012) Glossary DD307 (2012) p14. I will now explore the methods of the two theories The two theories being evaluated have contrasting methods as their aims are similar, in the effect that they both employ personality as means of viewing individual differences. However as I will demonstrate here, the methods used by the trait theorist and Personal construct theorists are in contrast with each other. I will begin by examining the method used by Personal construct theorists. A technique the repertory grid was developed by Kelly (1955) in the clinical tradition of personality psychology, where the focus is on the idiosyncratic features of the individual and in how they perceive and act in the world in reference to their personal constructs and experiences.

The technique created by Kelly with a view to measure personal constructs, was constructed after intensive interviews with clients. The client is asked to identify certain elements they consider essential pertaining to a certain aspect of their lives an example could be their job negative elements could be long hours and early starts versus positive elements may consist of good pay thus allowing for a better life, this creates a negative/positive construct which is exclusive to this individual. Strength of the repertory grid is the focus on understanding and that individuals are a product of the society in which they inhabit. Glossary DD307 p16 (2012). The Interrogative theme Power relations can be seen here, the power is laid directly with the therapist to formulate questions to extract personal experiences from the client and to interpret these and to create a grid that is exclusive to the client. Also the theme of individual-society dualism, as the individual is viewed through their experiences and the being part of the social world. Holloway (2012) p.50-52.

Also based on the personal construct theory is the Salmon line which I will evaluate next The Salmon line was developed by Phillida Salmon for use in education, for use with both teachers and pupils. As the title suggests a line was given to the pupil and asked in reference to their current curriculum to plot on the line their ability of achievement marked either end low ability to high at reverse, and then asked to discuss why they had placed themselves in certain areas and what they thought would be required to achieve a move further towards the higher end. Teachers were also requested to assess the pupil and also asked why they had given their assessment and what the pupil could do to attain a better assessment. Interrogative theme Power relations here again is the power the researcher has in devising the line and the questions to present to the participants and their interpretation and meanings of the answers given in respect of what the next steps could be.

Glossary DD307 (2012) p16. In complete contrast to both the repertory grid and the Salmon line both techniques developed within the Personal construct theory, I will evaluate the method employed by Trait theorists Trait theorists employ measurements to assess individual differences. To accomplish this Trait theorist use psychometric tests which are designed to assess traits of individuals such as “personality traits” which are the focus, and are administered in the form of questionnaires, observations and or “personality inventories”. Personality inventories are results from samples where one individual has rated another using specific attributes in rating characteristics/traits to another to describe their personality/behaviour.

However Mischel (1968) cited in Butt (2012) p.53 suggests that this is not so as to apply consistent and stable personality traits rests on the suppositions that these traits are in fact legitimate traits of the ratees. Mischel also suggests that theses suppositions are the rater biases, taken from their own social perceptions. These traits are the result of the rater assigning them to the ratee; they are in fact their own personal constructs of the rater. This is a fundamental attribute error FAE, this is where the raters attribute traits to ratees and these are unfounded. Nevertheless these tests form the basis of Eysenck and other trait theories. The psychometrics tests using these questionnaires/ observations was once seen as strength now can be viewed as an error! Mischel goes on to propose all you really obtain from a personality test from an individual is their own personal subjective account of themselves.

To Eysenck and other trait theorist the purpose was to measure individual differences and to chart these differences, which they assert reveal the casual biological basis of personality. Individual differences to Eysenck and others is that biological temperament explains behaviour. There is no interest in the individual’s experiences in the world; their only interest is in objectivity and measurement. Butt (2012) p.62-63 The interrogative themes of power relations and situated knowledges are present in Trait theory. As seen in the questionnaires the researcher has influence over the design of the questions and can manipulate this design, whose relevance seeks only objectivity there is no endeavour to capture the essence of human subjectivity. The theme of situatedness of knowledges are displayed also as the results from the questionnaires are situation-specific and are not necessarily generalizable as the theory being evaluated her should be taken in the historical situation it was conducted.

This essay has critically evaluated two theories of personality in their pursuit of defining individual differences. Trait theories use an objective quantitative approach; the method of choice is psychometric tests, reducing the individual to numbers and biological traits to explain individual differences, through the use of observations and questionnaires. By contrast the Personal construct theory utilizes a subjective methodology through the Repertory grid and Salmon line, individuals are viewed very differently as the Personal construct theory uses a Phenomenological interpretation to understanding individual differences. Here individuals are not diminished; they are seen as experiencing individuals in close relations with others.

Consequently a qualitative approach is taken. Through the use of the interrogative themes, it was possible to evaluate the respective methods. Power relations were portrayed in both and used power to interpret the results produced. Situatedness of knowledge in trait theory, where results were situation specific and an over generalization of the results that should be taken in the context they were situated. Individual-society dualism in Personal construct theory as the results display that individuals are viewed through their personal constructs based on individual experiences with the society in which they occupy.

Butt, T., (2012) p. 62-63 second edition, Chapter three Individual differences in Social Psychology Matters. The Open University Walton Hall Milton Keynes DD307 Critical Perspective on Self and Others Online Glossary p.14-19 (2012) Holloway, W., (2012) Chapter two Social psychology: past and present in Social Psychology Matters .The Open University Walton Hall Milton Keynes Holloway, W., (2012) p. 63 Chapter three Methods and knowledge in social psychology second edition Chapter two Social Psychology Past and Present in Social Psychology Matters .The Open University Walton Hall Milton Keynes Mischel (1968) cited in Butt (2012) p.53 Chapter three Individual differences in Social Psychology Matters .The Open University Walton Hall Milton Keynes

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