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Personality & Development: Trait Theory and Behaviourism Approach Essay

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Updated: Oct 25th, 2021

Introduction

The study of trait theories is a branch of psychology that essentially is the study of human behaviour. The point of focus is the ascertainment or the measurement of human traits. By traits, it is meant the emotional predisposition of a person, the thought processes of the same, and his or her habitual patterns. From this, there has been the emergence of different schools of thought that have tried categorizing and explaining people according to their types of behaviour by the adoption of scientific approaches. One of the most common scientific methodologies is the use of statistics in the field of psychology to classify behaviours. Examples of the schools of thought that have come up include the Three-Factor Model that was put across by Eysenck. Eysenck lists the three main factors in human traits and behaviour as extroversion, neuroticism and psychoticism (Coleman, 1994 pp. 99).

Alongside the Eysenck school of thought is the Five-Factor Model which lists and explains the factors that determine human behaviours as being; openness, agreeableness, extroversion, neuroticism and conscientiousness. However, in the field of the study of human traits and behaviour, all these factors must be used to distinguish and predict human patterns of behaviour.

There is also the Trait theory and other approaches that have been developed and accepted as the conventional ways of analyzing human traits and behavioural patterns. Some of these approaches include phenomenology, personal contract, psychodynamics, person-centred, and behaviourism. This paper will however streamline its scope of analysis to Trait theory and behaviourism approach in order to; assess personality, account for the extent to which these approaches can be said to truly guide the development of the human person from the primordial state of childhood to that of adulthood, in relation to what can be considered as normal or abnormal behaviour.

Trait theory

The trait theory is mainly an approach that is normally common to the professional world than to the psychological analysts. Although this theory was developed earlier, its development and fame actualized in 1947, following the work of Stogdill who took to elaborating and refining the concept, in that same year. The theory posits that people inherit traits or characteristics, this theory having been built on extensive researches on leadership, with the aspect of psychology heavily in view. To this effect, the theory postulates that there are particular traits that are suited for leadership, while others are not. Therefore, individuals who display good leadership do so because they have a combination of the required traits in their repository. Much focus is placed on the assumption that if the traces of these leadership qualities are identifiable in an individual, then this individual could also make a good leader (Hastie and Dawes, 2001 pp. 109).

Some of the traits that are portrayed by the person with leadership qualities are discussed forthwith. First and foremost, the individual displays ability to adapt to situations. This enables the individual to be able to perform under any given circumstances and under varying degrees of pressure. The individual also possesses consciousness to the social surroundings, a high-level ambition and an innate goal-oriented composure. Apart from being assertive and domineering, the individual in mind is also cooperative and able to accommodate other people’s views and opinions. The trait theory also distinguishes the naturally born leader as one with a high propensity to being decisive when it comes to decision making. More to these qualities, the naturally born leader individual is always dependable, and trustworthy. The Trait theory divulges that the natural-born leader is inherently born with huge activity levels and a very strong virtue of resilience (or persistence).

Conversely, the naturally born leader individual displays naturally, the ability to tolerate stress and the willingness to take on the responsibility without being cajoled. A naturally born leader completes this rubric by exhibiting a striking balance between self-confidence and modesty.

As far as the skills are concerned, the naturally born leader must be intelligent, creative and imaginative, conceptually gifted, tactful, knowledgeable, a great team player, persuasive, social, highly cultured, and fluent. Next to these examples of skills, the naturally born leader must have fluency in speech and sound administrative skills which can be evidently spotted by the individual being organized (Pervin, 1990 pp. 76).

Trait theory on childhood development and adulthood

Trait theory posits that these traits are encoded within the DNA structure of the individual, and therefore, children are born with these traits embedded in them, as opposed to being acquired for instance, through learning (Gergen and Gergen, 1992 pp. 120). It is the skills that can be inculcated or enhanced within an individual, and not the traits. It is on this premise that the traits are expected by the trait theorist not to atrophy with age. On the contrary, these traits are expected to be stable, starting from childhood right through into adulthood.

Trait theory continues that because of the above premise, children exhibit leadership traits at an early age, especially in the classroom situation. Children with these traits will often demand that there be silence in a noisy classroom on the teacher being absent. While this is taken by the trait theory proponents as the epitome of the ability to stand alone against the majority, yet the theorists admit that this is the ingredient that catalyzes an attenuation of social life to the naturally born leader. This is further compounded by the fact that the natural-born leader is always goal-oriented (Hilgard and Atkinson, 1997 pp 56).

The proponents of this theory such as Stogdill postulate that naturally born leaders become less reliant on parents or guardians at an early age, compared to their counterparts who do not have these leadership qualities. A high level of participatory ability in the child is easily identifiable in the child at an early age in the classroom setting. Trait theorists maintain that naturally born leaders do not only heavily participate in academic matters, but also interact freely with both the lecturer and the student fraternity.

Strengths of Traits theory

This theory gets its strength from the fact that not all people can be leaders. While on the one hand, this is partly because leadership positions are scarce, the same is chiefly true on the other hand that these leadership qualities are not universal ( not everyone possesses them ). This is why some individuals make it in an interview while others do not (Messerman, 1996 pp.203).

A close analysis of leadership and leadership studies also reveal the fact that almost all leaders possess some form of uniqueness in the sense that they, exhibit some personality traits, unlike their counterparts who do not have these qualities. This further vindicates this theory. Another strength of this theory is shown in the fact that there are individuals who have made good leaders without having gone to school. This bolsters the claim by this body of theorists that leadership traits are genetically inherited and not acquired through artificial impartation.

Weaknesses of the Traits theory

This theory negated from the beginning, the interaction factor. The interaction factor refers to the relation between an individual’s personality and the context of the situation within which the individual is being examined for the traits. For instance, an orphaned child who is seldom late for school cannot be dismissed as not having leadership qualities in comparison to a child with all the privileges at his or her disposal. In a nutshell, people, irrespective of the essence of their personality behave differently under specific circumstances. It is only in the second half of the 20th century that upon noticing this pitfall, that the trait theorists integrated this theory with the Interactionist model.

The trait theory also negates the fact that different communities have different leadership protocols and expectations. For instance, the pre-colonial African societies entertained authoritarian ( in a domineering sense ) types of leadership and not the consultative type. Additionally, anthropologists say that it is highly debatable if an individual can be in possession of all these traits.

Behaviourism

As a theory, behaviourism which was also known as classical conditioning was put across by John Watson and B. F. Skinner. The theory is mainly concerned with the analysis of reflexes and stimulus-response associations. Skinner and John Watson postulated that an individual’s mental state could be analyzed by looking at his or her behaviour, or by analyzing a predictable way in which a person acts(McConnell, 1996 pp. 100).

Behaviourism as a theory continues that specific types of stimuli will elicit responses that are specific, and that a greater number of responses are triggered by the degree of the preponderance of the stimuli. If the stimuli are less preponderant, then, likewise, the number of responses that will be produced will be less. However, to be able to accrue more specific predictions on an individual’s behaviour or traits, then the stimuli must be those that have a specific association attached to them. For instance, if there is a situation whereby, two people are presented in the streets as having been stranded and therefore, needing help from a group of people who have already attained old age, varying responses will be realized depending on the perceptions about the two. One person is presented as wearing priestly vestments whereas his counterparts are presented as spotting dreadlocks. The former is likely to elicit public sympathy compared to his counterpart in dreadlocks.

Should the degree or number of stimuli be enhanced so that the supposed priest is presented in the priestly garments as before, only that this time, he is bare feet, with his clothes tattered and smeared with blood stains, the same is likely to obtain far much sympathy in comparison to his counterpart spotting dreadlocks.

Behaviourists explain the above phenomenon by stating that this type of observation is realized due to the fact that the general public, especially the old aged, highly associate the priest with the office of the priesthood and the punctilious code of ethics that go with the priesthood. For instance, the priest will normally have been taken as being honest, holy, spiritually pious, and therefore telling the truth. On the other hand, his counterpart spotting dreadlocks will have his requests being deemed as not being lucid. The above situation will be due to association. The public can associate the stimuli with holiness, ( as touching on the priest), or hooliganism (as touching on the dreadlocked man).

This type of situation is further propelled by the fact that this type of group is old age. Elderly people generally are more reserved and apprehensive towards new trends such as the spotting of dreadlocks. In addition to this, this type of group is also religious and therefore can easily associate the supposed priest with spirituality. Again, the addition in the number of stimuli ( for instance, by further presenting the priest as barefooted and bloodstained ) elicited more predictable responses.

All the above situations exist to underscore the proposition of the behaviourists that stimuli with highly supporting facts elicit responses that have increased agreements. The overall standpoint of behaviourism theory is that all forms of behaviours are predictable, based on the triggering of specific stimuli, due to the concise logic of a given situation (Rodgers and McIntyre, 1993 pp. 105).

Behaviourism, childhood development and adulthood

Many changes in an individual’s life occur during childhood and adolescence- of which the latter remains as the most dramatic. All the same, behaviourists posit that all the developments that take place in a child’s life ( for instance, when the child begins to sit, crawl, stand, walk and talk) are induced by the stimuli around them. The stimuli could be the environmental developments around them, which they seek to the ape. The aping of these codes of human behaviours are taken by behaviourists as a response. It is on this premise that behaviourists maintain that all childhood developments like all human behaviour are predictable. The same case is taken to be true by this school of thought concerning the developments in adolescence.

To bolster their claim, behaviourists divulge that the prospects of an individual such as intelligence, strength or weakness, shyness, among others are factors that have been induced (and therefore considered as stimuli) since no one can predict them at birth, and also because they can also be rectified through the application of other forms of stimuli (Scheffler, 1989 pp. 75). To this effect, any action to reverse an undesired situation, for instance through extra learning, exercising and self-development are all forms of response. Therefore, behaviourists see adulthood as a summation of the stimuli-response processes throughout one’s life.

Strengths of behaviourism

Behaviourism as a theory finds strength in the fact that all areas of life are characterized by change (responses) as the dominant theme. All changes on the other hand are also triggered by antecedent factors (stimuli). All people can decide to change for the better (or even worse ) depending on the type of stimuli. It is on this backdrop that motivational talks are found to be effective and lucid.

Weaknesses of behaviourism as a theory

Behaviourism as a theory fails to take into account the fact that not all forms of responses can be predicted due to the fact that they can be suppressed, to suit certain occasions. For instance, an adolescent subject to intense pain may not necessarily cry out to ward off embarrassment. Seasoned criminals also know how to modify their behaviour to escape police detection.

As far as the development of a person is concerned, especially during childhood, not all changes (responses) can be realized due to the fact that some stimuli are gene enabled. Therefore, gene enabled factors of stimuli cannot be extirpated by the application of corrective measures (response). For instance, there is no way dwarfism or haemophilia can be reversed if one has been born with either of these.

Conclusion

The study of psychology to predict human behaviour has given out a lot of benefits to humankind. For instance, psychology is now being used to carry out criminology, and speech therapy. In addition to this, psychology has enabled teachers and parents to deal with children of different types (for instance, the exceptionally gifted, the normal, the slow learners, and the retarded). This means that psychology is helping brighten the world’s future prospects since disabled children can now be assisted, while those that are exceptionally gifted can have their talents nurtured.

References

Coleman, C. J. (1994). Modern life and abnormal psychology. Michigan: Scott, Foresman.

Gergen, J. K. and Gergen, M. M. (1992). A look into social psychology. Michigan: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Hastie, R. and Dawes, M. R. (2001). Psychology and judgment: rational choices. New York: SAGE.

Hilgard, R. E. and Atkinson, C. R. (1997). An introduction to psychology. Michigan: Harcourt, Brace and World.

Messerman, J. H. (1996). The principles of dynamic psychiatry: an integrative approach. Michigan: WB Sanders.

McConnell, J.V. (1996). A guide to understanding human behavior. Nevada: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Pervin, L. (1990). Assessment and research of personality theory. Michigan: Wiley Press.

Rodgers, E. R. and Mcintire, H. R. (1993). Traits: organization and management theory. Michigan: Wiley Press.

Scheffler, I. (1989). Teaching and reason. New York: Hockett Publishing.

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