Hans Eysenck’s Trait Theory of Personality Explained


Have you ever met someone that you thought had a great personality? What does that actually mean from a scientific standpoint?

By definition, a personality is an organization of psychophysical systems which creates characteristics of behavior in a dynamic way. Each characteristic or a blending of characteristics makes each individualized personality unique.

The trait theory of personality suggests that people develop their personality from a series of specific traits instead of having a base personality that is present. This would make it possible to predict what a person’s overall personality could be if you could determine what the individual characteristics, or traits, happened to be.

Many before Hans Eysenck felt that personalities were developed through the fulfillment of needs. Eysenck suggests something else in works that he published from 1952-1982. Instead of trying to fulfill basic needs, such as food, clothing, or sexual contact, he suggested that people had three core dimensions of personality.

What Are the 3 Dimensions of Personality in the Trait Theory?

During the 1940s, Hans Eysenck was working at a psychiatric hospital in London. His job was to make the initial assessment of each patient before a psychiatrist diagnosed the primary mental disorder. To accomplish this task, he created a list of questions that would examine the behavior of each person.

Eysenck found that the answers to these questions seemed to link naturally with each other, which suggested there were different personality traits being reflected with each response. These would become the core dimensions of personality in Eysenck’s trait theory, which he referred to as “First Order Personality Traits.”

These are the three core dimensions of personality that Eysenck discovered.

  • Extraversion.
  • Neuroticism.
  • Psychoticism.

Through the answers, Eysenck also noticed that behavior could also be represented by two different dimensions: introversion and extroversion. Each also had two dimensions of neuroticism, characterized as being stable or unstable. This would then work to define the various personality characteristics that were unique to an individual.

For extroverted personalities, these were the traits that Eysenck identified as being influential in personality development.

  • Stable Extroverted Traits: sociable, outgoing, talkative, respective, easygoing, lively, carefree, and a desire to lead.
  • Unstable Extroverted Traits: active, optimistic, impulsive, changeable, excitable, aggressive, restless, and touchy.

Eysenck also identified specific traits for introverts that were influential with their personality development as well.

  • Stable Introverted Traits: passive, careful, thoughtful, peaceful, controlled, reliable, even-tempered, and calm.
  • Unstable Introverted Traits: quiet, unsociable, reserved, pessimistic, sober, rigid, anxious, and moody.

In the original trait theory of personality, Eysenck noted that people were stable would be emotionally calm, unreactive, and be unworried. Those who were unstable, which would fit into the neurotic dimension, would tend to be moody, anxious, and worry more often. People who were unstable would also be overly emotional and it would be difficult for them to calm down once they were upset.

In 1966, Eysenck made an adjustment to his theory, which is when the third personality trait of psychoticism was added. People with this personality trait tend to lack empathy for others. They take delight in being cruel. They are typically loners, with a focus on aggressiveness and causing trouble.

How Does the Trait Theory of Personality Work?

The series of questions that Eysenck asked has been expanded upon over the decades since they were first introduced, but the purpose of the questionnaire is still the same. By answering the questions honestly in an Eysenck Personality Inventory, you can measure your own personality because the answers will be reflective of the traits that are important to you.

In order for Hans Eysenck’s trait theory of personality to work, an assumption that behavior is determined by relatively stable traits must be made. The traits then become a fundamental unit of personality that will stay present in some way. This means people will always be predisposed to act in a certain way, no matter what the situation might be.

Although some people may place more emphasis on certain traits over time and this may change a portion of their personality, the base traits will always be present. This is because the traits are partially determined by genetic traits.

So what does it mean if you’ve met someone with a great personality? Using the trait theory, it means you are attracted to the specific components that have blended together to create that unique personality. Humans tend to be attracted to the stable traits more than the unstable traits, so when recognizing stability is what we would define as greatness, whether we know the basics of this theory or we do not.