What Types of Traits Exist?

In psychology, Gordon Allport identified three types of personality traits: cardinal traits, central traits and secondary traits. While Allport's theory provides an open framework for psychoanalysis, other researchers, such as Raymond Cattell and Hans Eysenck, divided traits into objective opposites more easily measured in objective tests like the Myers-Briggs.

Allport's trait theory dealt specifically with conscious motives and easily observable patterns because he thought they described a personality better than unconscious motives. Cardinal traits are those that determine what direction a person's life takes and include such things as truth-seeking, religious faith or a thirst for knowledge. Central traits determine typical interactions and include traits such as shyness, anxiousness or honesty. Secondary traits are those that usually appear under specific circumstances, such as prejudices against groups, public speaking anxiety and impatience while driving.

Cattell and Eysenck preferred more objective methods for measuring personality. Cattell used statistical factor analysis to group over 17,000 words used to define personalities and organized them into 16 opposing pairs of traits, such as suspicious versus trusting, practical versus imaginative and conservative versus experimenting. Eysenck described personality types rather than traits, organizing traits into three opposing-pair trait groups: extroversion/introversion, neuroticism/emotional stability and psychoticism/impulse control. Other researchers expanded those types further into five groups: extroversion/introversion, agreeableness/antagonism, conscientiousness/undirectedness, stablity/instability and openness-to-experience/conforming. These five groups track very closely to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the stability/instability pair being the only type left out.