Trait explanations in personality psychology

Robert R. McCrae, Paul T. Costa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent debates on the status of contemporary trait psychology (Pervin, 1994) have revived old questions about the role of traits in the explanation of behavior: are traits mere descriptions of behavior, or do they offer one legitimate and useful form of explanation? We review the logic of trait explanation and present a general model of the person in which personality traits are hypothetical constructs regarded as basic dispositions. In interaction with external influences—notably shared meaning systems—traits contribute causally to the development of habits, attitudes, skills, and other characteristic adaptations. In this model, action and experience can be explained directly or proximally in terms of the interaction of the immediate situation with the individual's characteristic adaptations, and indirectly or distally in terms of underlying personality traits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)231-252
Number of pages22
JournalEuropean Journal of Personality
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1995
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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