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Personality traits are the enduring characteristics of a person's personality, that can be used to explain and predict the observed regularities and consistencies in peoples behavior and to explain the differences between individuals. Traits are hypothesised constructs such as neuroticism or extraversion.

Traits are permanent characterisitcs; states are temporary. However, traits can be changed; doing so, however, does not come naturally and requires much more work than changing states, which may be involuntary (e.g. feeling sad because you lost your money). Trait theory offers ideas as to how traits arise and are maintained.

There are a large number of traits that have been described and studied by psychologists. See List of personality traits.

Personality traits

These are permanent characteristics. They are classified into three types:

Cardinal trait

This is a huge trait around which a person organises his/her entire life. People generally do not have more than one cardinal trait, if they have one at all.

Primary traits

These are smaller traits that most people would identify as 'what a person is like' in a non-psychology context. Examples would include affectionateness or loyalty.

Secondary traits

These have the smallest influence on a person's life and include minor traits like preferences.

Personality states

These are temporary characteristics; being in a 'bad mood' would be one, as a 'bad mood' is not a permanent characteristic.


States can sometimes eclipse traits; for example, a person who is normally cheerful might behave the opposite if he/she is in a 'bad mood'.

Also, traits can sometimes resemble states. For example, tendency to hold a grudge, a trait, would be increased if the person is in a bad mood (a state). The increased tendency to hold a grudge is a state as it will not stay on permanently after the person is out of his/her bad-mood state.

Trait-state assessment

State-Trait Personality Inventory (STPI)

See also

References & Bibliography

Key texts – Books

Mischel, W (1996) Personality and Assessment. LEA, ISBN 0805823301

Additional material – Books

Key texts – Papers

Steyer, R. Schmitt, M. Eid, M.(1999). Latent State-Trait Theory and Research in Personality and Individual Differences. European Journal of Personality, Vol 13; 5, p 389-408. ISSN 0890-2070

Additional material - Papers

External links