The dispositional domain concerns those aspects of personality that are stable over time, relatively consistent over situations, and make people dif ferent from each other. For example, some people are outgoing and talkative; others are introverted and shy. The introverted and shy person tends to be that way most of the time (is stable over time) and tends to be introverted and shy at work, at play , and at school (is consistent over situations). As another example, some people are emotionally reactive and moody; others are calm and cool. Some people are conscientious and reliable; others are unreliable and untrustworthy. There are many ways in which people dif fer from one another , and these differences are often stable and consistent features of a person's behavior.
The study of traits makes up the dis-positional domain. The term disposition is used because it refers to an inherent tendency to behave in a specific wa . The term trait is used interchangeably with the term disposition. The major questions for psychologists working in the dispositional domain are: How many personality traits exist? What is the best taxonomy or classification system for traits? How can w best discover and measure these traits? How do personality traits develop? How do traits interact with situations to produce behaviors?
In this domain, traits are seen as the building blocks of personality. A person's personality is viewed as being built out of a set of common traits. Psychologists have been concerned with identifying the most important traits, the ones out of which all differences between people can be formed. Three traditions have developed to achieve this goal. One is to analyze natural language, especially trait terms, to determine which traits are fundamental. The idea here is that, if some individual dif ference were socially important, such as how reliable a person was, then our ancestors would have developed and added words to the language to describe this difference. A second strategy for identifying personality traits is statistical and relies on various statistical techniques to identify patterns in data that describe fundamental traits. And the final strategy is theoretical, wher some prior theory is used to deduce what traits are fundamental. In practical terms, personality psychologists often blend these three strategies together , or use one to validate the results found in another.
The next step is to develop taxonomies or classification systems. Taxonomies are very useful in all areas of science. Currently, the most popular taxonomy of personality has five fundamental traits extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experience. Other taxonomies have also been proposed, ranging from three important traits to 16 important traits. Moreover , some taxonomies posit a structure, whereby the traits in the taxonomy are related to each other. We will discuss an example of this kind of taxonomy that is called the interpersonal circumplex, because the traits all refer to interpersonal behaviors and they are arranged in a circle.
The dispositional domain emphasizes measurement. More than any other domain of knowledge about personality, the dispositional domain uses quantitative techniques for measuring and studying personality traits. And a lot of work in this domain has gone into developing better measures of personality traits, ones that are not easily faked by persons taking the tests.
This domain also has a very applied side, in that personality traits are often used in selecting people for specific careers, for specific ed cational opportunities, for promotions, or for parole from prison. Personality traits can be useful for prediction. Will a person with this sort of personality like this sort of career? Does this inmate have such a high level of aggressiveness and hostility that he should not be put on parole? Would this person make a good police of ficer? Dispositiona psychologists are thus often involved in selecting or screening people. We will discuss some of the legal issues that are involved when personality tests are used in this manner.
In the dispositional domain there is a unique conception of how people change yet remain stable at the same time. We will discuss how the traits that underlie behavior can remain stable, yet how the traits are expressed in behavior can change over a person's life span. Consider the trait of dominance. Suppose that a girl who is dominant at age 8 grows into a young woman who is dominant at age 20.As an 8-year-old this person might display her high level of dominance by showing a readiness for rough-and-tumble play, referring to her less dominant peers as sissies, and insisting on monopolizing whatever interesting toys are available to the group. By age 20, however , she manifests her dominance in quite different behaviors, perhaps by persuading others to accept her views in political discussions, boldly asking young men out on dates, and deciding on the restaurants they will go to on these dates. Consequently, trait levels can stay the same over long time periods, yet the behaviors expressing those traits change as the person ages.
We will discuss the ways in which personality psychologists have studied the development of dispositions as well as studies of how dispositions can change across the life span.
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