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Personality Traits

Personality traits are characteristics that describe our behaviors, emotions, and reactions. When we describe someone, we often describe an outstanding or particular trait, as in "he's easy-going." and "she's funny."

Some traits are stable throughout our lives while others change over time. For example we may be shy as a young person, but as we mature we become more outgoing. Certain traits are central to us while others are peripheral and less common. For example, someone may be "anxious" much of the time, though on occasion she may express this in amusing ways and is "humorous." The more stable and central traits comprise what we call our personality.

personality traits

Research confirms that we do indeed inherit some traits from our parents. Other traits are a result of our brain chemistry and the structure of our brains. All of these traits are influenced by our environment and events, and they may also modify as we grow and develop. From a very early age we learn from our family and the culture about the acceptable and unacceptable expressions of traits. Sometimes a young person may have a trait that is not useful, even dangerous, for him to reveal. He may then develop another trait to cover it up, as when someone learns to act tough to cover up their feelings of vulnerability.

There are some traits which are encouraged in a given culture or time period, and discouraged or ignored at other times. Meek may have been a compliment in the past, but it is less so these days. Other traits may be rare regardless of time and culture like wise or zany.

People have been identifying personality traits for thousands of years. They have seen patterns among the traits and categorized these into personality types. For example the ancient Greeks identifies four basic patterns of personality:

  • Choleric (self-reliant and ambitious)
  • Melancholic (sensitive and thoughtful)
  • Sanguine (creative and social)
  • Phlegmatic (content and peaceful)

More recently researchers have used statistical data to identify clusters of traits that are commonly found together in individuals. Some personality theories and tests have been derived from this research, such as the Big Five personality traits which describes five major trait domains:

  • Openness (curious vs. cautious)
  • Conscientiousness (organized vs. easy-going)
  • Extraversion (outgoing vs. reserved)
  • Agreeableness (friendly vs. cold)
  • Neuroticism (confident vs. sensitive)

Interestingly, extraversion and introversion are two traits that are used in almost every personality typing system. This pair represents either end of a continuum, along which everyone's personality is placed as more or less extraverted or introverted. Other examples of pairs of traits that represent continuums include kind and mean, orderly and messy, and relaxed and tense.

It's important to remember that traits represent general tendencies given a variety of situations over time. While they can be helpful descriptors, they are not good predictors of specific behavior in specific situations. In other words she may be kind and generous, but don't count on it every time!

Examples of Personality Traits

Which of these traits best describe you?

   alert                anxious
   blunt               bright
   calm                cheerful
   decisive           dishonest
   emotional        enthusiastic
   forgetful          frugal
   gracious          greedy
   helpful             hostile
   impatient         intense
   lazy                 logical
   messy             moody
   naive               noncommittal
   opinionated      optimistic
   private            proud
   quiet               quirky
   relaxed            rigid
   sarcastic          stubborn
   timid               trusting
   unambitious    unreliable
   vague             vulnerable
   warm              wise
   youthful          yielding
   zany               zealous

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