Trait theory and personal construct theory have markedly different approaches to the understanding of individual differences. Outline these approaches and assess the strengths and weaknesses of each. What consequences does each approach have for understanding agency – structure dualism?
This paper commences with a brief overview of two competing influential theories that attempt to account for individual differences within the area of personality and intelligence. These are namely; Eysenck’s and Rachman’s Trait Theory (1965) and Geoerge Kelly’s Personal Construct theory, represented here through Salmon’s Phenomenological reworking of Kelly’s ideas in her approach to learning ( 2003) Following from which is an exploration of the definitive aspects of these theories and the main theoretical perspectives to which each generally ascribe. An evaluative discussion upon the strengths and weaknesses of each approach follows with consideration to the implications each theory may potentially bear upon individuals and wider social practice. I conclude by seeking to reveal the assumptions each perspective hold in regard to the agency- structure dualism and the possible consequences which may result by an overemphasis upon one or the other .
Psychologists have long puzzled over the way in which individuals may act differently in identical situations, resulting in various strands of personality theory to have emerged within the realm of psychology each attempting to explain personality traits at various levels , these being experimental, psychometric and clinical. Butt (2004) notes how Eysenck’s Trait Theory although presented as a clinical approach to understanding individual difference, was fundamentally rooted within the psychometric tradition which emerged from within the mainstream paradigm in the early twentieth century . Most famously to appear from this era was the Likert scale (1932) - a graded style response questionnaire which had been engineered for attitude measurement . For Eysenck however psychometric testing aided the process of assessing and predicting individual levels and likelihood of extroversion or neuroticism by reducing dimensions of personality ranging on a bipolar scale from unstable to stable to either being classified as a typical extrovert or introvert. According to Eysneck the reduction of variables in personality traits to either extroversion or neuroticism could be biologically explained by differences in the cortical and autonomic arousal systems . According to Eysneck’s Personality Inventory (Eysenck and Eysenck 1963) Individuals who were perceived with introspective, quiet ,reserved and generally unsociable traits were classified as having a high N score whilst those who appeared optimistic , talkative , sociable and outgoing were prescribed a high E score . Skinner (1974) however readily critiqued trait theory arguing within a behaviourist perspective that trait measurement was only capable of re-describing behaviour , not actually explaining it . For Skinner , answers to why people act differently could be ascertained by looking toward the environmental stimuli rather than inner mental states or physiological processes. Although Eysenck and Skinner may have differed in their theoretical stance both upheld the reductionist individual-social and agency- structure dualistic approaches characteristic of mainstream experimental psychology . George Kelly’s Personal construct Theory (1955) on the other hand attempts to dissolve the social and individual divide by challenging the notions of static social or biological structures determining traits. Based within the clinical tradition , PCT challenges experimental and biological attempts to explain personality traits by focusing on the personal...
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