More than any other approach to personality , the trait approach relies on self-report questionnaires to measure personality . Although trait psychologists can use other measurement methods (e.g., projective techniques, behavioral observation), questionnaires are the most frequently used method for measuring traits (Craik, 1986). Personality psychologists assume that people dif fer from each other in the amounts of various traits they possess, so the key measurement issue is determining how much of a particular trait a person possesses.
Traits are often represented as dimensions along which people dif fer from each other. Consider the trait of conscientiousness. At one end of the conscientiousness dimension are people who are responsible, dependable, reliable, trustworthy , and scrupulous in their appearance and personal habits. Perhaps you know someone who fits this description. At the other end of the dimension are people who are irresponsible, unconcerned about details, untidy , careless, and perhaps even disorderly and unreliable in their personal af fairs. One of the most ef ficient ways to assess people s standing on this or any other personality trait dimension is simply to ask them about their characteristics—how neat they are, whether they are usually on time for appointments, and so on. If the right questions are asked, as the trait view holds, an accurate assessment of a person's standing on the trait dimension will be obtained.
As compelling as this view of trait assessment is, it assumes that people generally are willing and able to report accurately on their behavior . However, some people may be unwilling to disclose information about themselves or may be motivated for some reason to distort or otherwise falsify their self-reports, such as during an employment interview or a parole hearing. Trait psychologists have long concerned themselves with the circumstances that af fect the accuracy, reliability, validity, and utility of trait measures. We will now consider some important measurement issues in trait research.
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