Type versus Trait Theory

Article author
Rachel Scriven
  • Updated

Type theory views characteristics as discrete categories –  of which you have one type or another  - while trait theory views characteristics along continuous dimensions.

For example, type theory would say that introverts and extroverts are two different types of people and you are either one or the other. Trait theory would say there is a single scale. While introversion and extroversion are at opposite ends, it is possible for individuals to score anywhere along this, including the middle.


Type-based tools in a nutshell

  • A type theory approach will always have a limited number of “boxes” into which people are matched. For example, in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator model you are assigned one of 16 types, based on whether someone is either extroverted OR introverted, thinking OR feeling, sensing OR intuitive, and perceiving OR judging.
  • This has the benefit of providing a snapshot and shorthand for talking about personality, but often leads to people feeling they don’t quite “fit” their type.
  • Type-based approaches are typically ipsative - the questionnaire forces you to choose one element over another. There is no option to be in the middle or give equal preference to each approach.
  • Type-based approaches are “intra-personal”. They only tell you about yourself and give no context for understanding yourself in relation to others.


We use the Facet5 Families to provide the application and convenience of a “type” based tool, by matching individuals to one of 17 families. But by using these alongside a full report, individuals can still benefit from a richer and fuller view of their individual personality and understand how closely matched they are to a summary profile. 



Trait-based tools in a nutshell:

Trait-based models are considered both more robust and reflective of the complexity of personality.

  • Trait-based measures are normative – rather than choosing one response or another, you select responses along a continuum, giving a greater amount of freedom to answer for your individual preferences.
  • Statistics show us that the majority of individuals fall around the middle of a personality dimension. For those people with more equally balanced preferences, a trait-based tool will feel far more accurate and representative of their approach.
  • Trait-based tools are inter-personal - a person’s responses to the questionnaire are compared to a representative norm group. This contextualises a person’s score and helps them understand how similar and different they are in relation to others.
  • With a trait theory approach, individuals can score anywhere along a continuous scale, in the case of Facet5 from 1 to 10 in increments of 0.1, giving significantly greater nuance and possible score combinations.

In fact, for a Personal Profile report, there are over 29 million billion billion possible combinations of factor and subfactor scores - and more than 1.6 million combinations of report statements!

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