Personality Traits

By Gerald Matthews; Ian J. Deary et al. | Go to book overview

3
Personality across the life span

The previous two chapters introduced the idea of traits and discussed interactions between situations and behaviour, and that behaviour, when aggregated across situations, provides evidence for the existence of traits. In addition, we saw that the basic structure of traits in different cultures (a special kind of situation) is, by and large, reliable and replicable. In this chapter, we discuss how personality develops over the life span, particularly with regard to traits. How stable are our personalities as we go from childhood to adulthood, and during adulthood? In this chapter, first, we discuss traits and their stability in adulthood. Second, we introduce the concept of temperament and its relationship to personality traits. Finally, we look at the evidence that childhood temperaments are related to adult personality traits.


Trait stability

For a trait to be valid, it must have a degree of stability over time. A quality that is shifting, or that depends on the situation at hand, cannot accurately predict behaviour during a future event (i.e., it cannot account for reliable variance in that event), nor can it have a stable biological basis in the individual. Without some stability of individual differences, the theory of traits fails in its entirety. As with other aspects of trait theory, the problem of demonstrating stability is a bit like pulling yourself up by your shoelaces: the demonstration of stability is best done using validated trait assessments. However, stability is one of the key properties we wish to know before stating that a trait is valid.

Before examining stability data, a few definitions are necessary. First, stability is not the same as reliability, although it is necessary to have reliability in order to have stability. Reliability is, effectively, the internal consistency of the trait assessment over a short time period, whereas stability is measured in terms of years or decades. Second, there are two types of stability. One type is stability of mean trait levels; groups of people as a whole may or may not show changes in mean score on a trait without reference to individual differences. That is, if we conducted a study to compare a group of older people and a group of younger people on the trait of extraversion, we might find that the older people have a lower mean level of extraversion than the younger people. However, this does not tell us anything about how stable extraversion is in any given individual in that sample.

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Personality Traits
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents vii
  • Figures x
  • Tables xiii
  • Boxes xvi
  • Preface to the First Edition xix
  • Preface to the Second Edition xxiii
  • I - The Nature of Personality Traits 1
  • 1 - The Trait Concept and Personality Theory 3
  • 2 - Persons, Situations and Interactionism 39
  • 3 - Personality Across the Life Span 58
  • 4 - Stable Traits and Transient States 77
  • 5 - Alternatives to Trait Theory 112
  • II - Causes of Personality Traits 133
  • 6 - Genes, Environments and Personality Traits 135
  • 7 - The Psychophysiology of Traits 166
  • 8 - The Social Psychology of Traits 204
  • III - Consequences and Applications 239
  • 9 - Stress 241
  • 10 - Traits and Health 273
  • 11 - Abnormal Personality Traits? 294
  • 12 - Personality, Performance and Information-Processing 325
  • 13 - Applications of Personality Assessment 357
  • 14 - Conclusions 391
  • References 411
  • Author Index 482
  • Subject Index 487
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