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There are thought to be many personality variables that effect our behaviour. Some have a very small and specific effect on behaviour, while others are broad, encompassing many different variables within them. There is a hierarchy of traits, whereby specific traits are grouped together into broader traits. This is because there appears to be patterns in the presence of the low-level traits, which mean we can be predict them from just knowing the broader trait values.

One such trait is extroversion. This refers in general to the outgoingness of the person in question and more specifically, to the amount that an individual enjoys the company of others. The varying amounts of this trait determine whether someone is extroverted or introverted in their behaviour, and there is thought to be a continuum between these two types of personality. Also, as with all traits, while a person’s general behaviour may be categorised as one or the other, even an extreme extrovert will sometimes act in introverted ways. Since the variable is continuous, naturally the majority of people will be neither and will act introverted half of the time and extroverted the other half of the time. Only a few will behave at one of the extremes all of the time.

An extrovert is primarily interested in activities that involve other people such as parties or other social gatherings. They are thought to thrive in these types of situations, while being easily bored when left alone. They also feel most rewarded when they are praised by others and are believed to be more attracted to the values of fame and power than introverts.

Introverts are more interested in spending time alone or with just a few very close friends. They find working with others harder and this is thought to be due to trust issues. Introverts tend to be more driven by their own feelings of success and targets. Controversies lie around which trait is more ‘positive’, since traditionally it was considered to be extroversion as social people are viewed more positively, but now increasing work is going into the benefits of introversion. Many great artists, inventors and musicians are introverts, suggesting that these, more creative disciplines may come more easily from introversion. Also, it is now believed that it is a good thing to looker for inner rewards for achievements, rather than the acceptance of other people, since it is likely to give people the drive to continue at something they are not initially good at and improve. It is therefore possible that this trait may be in some ways linked to the trait of conscientiousness. Also, highly introverted people may focus better and be less easily distracted.

While these terms are very good at describing broad personality types, it may be the case that with all of the levels in the hierarchy of traits, it is actually very hard to predict specific traits with any reliability from the broad trait values. Also, people usually change their behaviour based upon the situation that they are in, which the trait system do not explain. It can’t be denied that the idea of traits is nice in theory, but some psychologists suggest that in the actual prediction of behaviour it is useless since human behaviour just isn’t that simple. It’s most productive use is perhaps in understanding long term changes in general behaviour over time, and so does seem to work well in longitudinal studies which look at change through development and across the life-span. 


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