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Allport’s trait theory

Psychologist Gordon Allport found that the english language dictionary alone holds more than 4000 words that describe different personality traits. He categorised these traits into 3 levels:

  • Cardinal

Cardinal traits usually develop later in life. They are rare and dominate most of the other traits. They tend to define a person, sometimes becoming synonymous with their names. For example, someone who is too self absorbed may be known as Mr. Narcissism.

  • Central

These are the next traits in the hierarchy and are general characteristics found in varying degrees in every person (such as loyalty, kindness, agreeableness, friendliness, sneakiness, wildness, or grouchiness). These are the basic building blocks that shape most of our behavior.

  • Secondary

These traits exist at the bottom of the hierarchy and are not quite as obvious or consistent as central traits. They are plentiful but are only present under specific circumstances; they include things like preferences and attitudes. These traits explain why a person may at times exhibit behaviors that seem incongruent with their usual behaviors.