Integrative Theories of Personality

I work with Will Fleeson on Whole Trait Theory, an integrative theory of personality. Briefly, to the extend that traits are real descriptions of how people act, they need to be constituted by mechanisms capable of discriminating between situations. Whole Trait Theory (Fleeson & Jayawickreme, 2014; Jayawickreme & Fleeeson, 2016) is the first theory to take up this charge, and integrates both the trait and the social-cognitive approaches of personality together.

Whole Trait Theory is centered on a number of central points. First, the descriptive side of traits is best thought of as density distributions of states. When traits are used to describe what people do, traits are describing individuals’ entire distributions of how the individuals act. Second, it is important to provide an explanatory account of the Big 5 model of traits. The job of the explanatory account is to explain the distributions – that is, to explain why people differ from each other in their distributions (origin of traits) and to explain the within-person variability in states within the distributions (mechanisms constituting traits). Third, adding an explanatory account to the Big 5 creates two parts to traits, an explanatory part and a descriptive part, and these two parts are separate but also are joined into whole traits. The two parts of traits are joined together because one causes the other, and because both are considered legitimate references of the trait term. Fourth, Whole Trait Theory proposes that the explanatory side of traits consists of social-cognitive mechanisms. This is because social-cognitive mechanisms are clearly important in personality, and because density distributions of states make it clear that personality is responsive to situations.