Personality Traits: 430 Traits, Definition, Lists, & Examples
What exactly are personality traits? Learn about theories of personality, positive and negative traits, the Big Five theory of personality, and get a list of traits.
*This page may include affiliate links; that means I earn from qualifying purchases of products.
Do you want to learn more about yourself? The science of personality helps teach us about who we really are—that is, how we think, feel, and act. In this article, we'll define personality, explore some of the best-known theories of personality, and help you explore your own positive and negative traits.
Before getting started, we wanted to tell you real quickly about our well-being quiz. If you want to, you can take the quiz to get your free personalized well-being report and tips. And, for our well-being entrepreneurs and coaches, download our Wellness Business Growth eBook to get expert tips, tools, and resources to grow your business fast.
What is Personality And What Are Personality Traits? (A Definition)
The definition of personality is actually a bit murkier than it seems, and various definitions exist. Personality may consist of unconscious structures. It may consist of personal narratives that we build across our lives (Cervone, Shadel, & Jencius, 2001). Or, it may be the observable manifestation of our genetics.
The reason why our definition of personality is important is that it affects how we measure personality. And if we're measuring the wrong things then we might get the wrong ideas about what personality traits are and which ones we have. I don't want to get too into the weeds with a scientific debate over a definition, so here we'll define personality traits as habitual individual differences in behavior, thought, and emotion.
The History & Theory of Personality Traits
Personality is a new line of research. Not too long ago we didn't even know we had personalities. But even back then, we still used adjectives to describe people. For example, we might say someone is responsible, creative, emotional, or outgoing. Now we view these adjectives to be examples of personality traits.
Early statistical analysis of these common adjectives found that they clumped into five categories. These five categories appear to be the same regardless of whether personality is measured with self-ratings, observer ratings, or peer ratings (Goldberg, 1993).
Other early theories proposed more or less than five categories of personality. And still other researchers suggested that there are personality types. For example, you might have heard about the Myers-Briggs Personality measure. Unfortunately, the research does not support the Myers-Briggs test or the idea of personality types (Pittenger, 2005).
After decades of research, statistical techniques have largely led researchers back to the five-factor model of personality. Each of these five factors is on a continuum where each of us has more or less of the five traits. And each of these five factors of personality includes hundreds if not thousands of personality traits—traits that are slight variations on an underlying theme (Goldberg, 1993).
The Big Five Personality Traits
After much research, a general consensus has been reached (at least among the majority of personality psychologists) that there are five higher-order personality traits (Goldberg, 1993). These are:
Personality Traits Test
Although there appear to be only five primary personality traits, we can fall anywhere on the continuum of these traits. Basically, none of us is 100% extrovert or 100% introvert. Rather, we might be mostly extroverted, mostly introverted, or somewhere in the middle.
To see where you fall on these Big Five traits, here is a short personality quiz with some of the questions used in research on the Big Five personality traits (Saucier, 1997; ipip.ori.org).
*Add up your score for each of the five personality factors. The higher your score, the stronger each of these personality traits is for you.
Other Theories of Personality Traits
Although the Big Five theory of personality is strong and rigorously tested, it's worth thinking about another less-talked-about theory: The social-cognitive theory of personality.
This theory reminds us that we are constantly interacting with our social environment. It also states that much of our behavior—what we might consider to be personality—arises as a direct result of social stimuli. While the Big Five theory of personality assumes that personality consists of our essential, unchangeable, innate qualities, the social-cognitive theory of personality argues that personality itself is dynamic (Cervone, Shadel, & Jencius, 2001).
The dynamic personality
More specifically, social-cognitive theory suggests that our personality can be understood as the interaction between our internal qualities and the external environment (Cervone, Shadel, & Jencius, 2001). For example, have you ever noticed that you feel or act differently in different situations? Does that mean that your personality has changed? Or does it just mean that what we think of as personality is something that shifts based on context?
What about if you were going through a really difficult time? For example, imagine you're homeless and completely broke. How might your personality change? Might you think differently (might you be more cynical?), feel differently (might you be less happy?), or act differently (might you steal or cheat to survive?) The social-cognitive theory of personality helps explain why the majority of us do the same things in the same situations. We have individual differences, but those differences can be outweighed by our environment.
Why do theories of personality matter?
It may not seem important to know about how personality is affected by our environment, but I find it's a useful tool for growing well-being. If we see that much of who we are is a response to our environment, we can recognize the importance of changing our environment in ways that help us feel and be better people. Hopefully, we also see that personality is not as stable and fixed as we once thought. At the very least, some parts of it are changeable. And that can give us more hope.
Positive Personality Traits
To get a better sense of all of your personality traits, here is a list of positive personality traits. Ask yourself, which of these tend to describe you the best?
Negative Personality Traits
We all have both positive and negative traits. Knowing what our negative traits are can help us better understand ourselves, gain clarity on how others experience us, and provide opportunities for self-growth. So ask yourself, do any of these negative (or less-than-positive) traits sound like you?
List of Personality Traits
For those of you who would like a printable list of the positive and negative personality traits above, you can download them in a word doc or PDF below.
More Articles to Better Understand Your Personality Traits
Want to keep learning about your personality? Check out these related articles.