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The Personality-Behavior Connection: What Your Traits Can Tell You About Your Actions

Does Who You Are Predict What You Do?

By Donna L. Roberts, PhD (Psych Pstuff)Published about a year ago 7 min read
The Personality-Behavior Connection: What Your Traits Can Tell You About Your Actions
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Personality traits have long been studied in the field of psychology as predictors of behavior. Researchers as well as practitioners have sought to understand the extent to which a person’s unique combination of traits can be used to predict their behavior in various situations.

Personality represents enduring patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior that are relatively stable across an individual’s lifespan (Costa & McCrae, 1992). These traits can be used to predict an individual’s behavior in a variety of situations, including how they will respond to stress, how they will interact with others, and how they will make decisions.

One of the most well-known personality trait models is the Five Factor Model (FFM), which includes the traits of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (Goldberg, 1993). Each of these traits consists of a set of more specific characteristics that can be used to describe an individual’s personality. For example, individuals who score high in openness are curious, imaginative, and open to new experiences, while those who score low in openness tend to be more closed-minded and traditional (McCrae & Costa, 1997). An alternative configuration is the HEXACO model — honesty-humility, emotionality, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experience (Ashton, et al., 2004). These models have been widely researched and are considered to provide a comprehensive understanding of personality.

Studies have consistently shown that personality traits are related to behavior in predictable ways. For example, individuals who score high in extraversion tend to be more social and assertive, while those who score high in neuroticism tend to be more anxious and sensitive to stress. Similarly, individuals who score high in agreeableness tend to be more cooperative and empathetic, while those who score high in conscientiousness tend to be more responsible and organized.

Similarly, research has shown that personality traits are related to a wide range of behaviors, including work performance (Barrick & Mount, 1991), leadership effectiveness (Bass & Riggio, 2006), and health-related behaviors such as smoking and exercise (Mathieu, et al., 2019). One study found that conscientiousness was a strong predictor of job performance, with individuals who scored high in conscientiousness being more reliable, organized, and hardworking (Barrick & Mount, 1991). Another study found that extraversion was related to leadership effectiveness, with extraverted leaders being more assertive and confident (Bass & Riggio, 2006).

In terms of health-related behaviors, neuroticism has been found to be related to an increased risk for developing physical health problems such as heart disease. Agreeableness, on the other hand, has been linked to healthier behaviors such as regular exercise and a healthy diet (Mathieu, et al., 2019). A meta-analysis of over 800 studies found that individuals who score high in conscientiousness are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors, such as exercising regularly and avoiding risky behaviors like smoking and drinking (Ozer & Benet-Martinez, 2006).

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Personality traits can also be used to predict social behavior and relationships. For example, research has shown that individuals who score high in agreeableness are more likely to form positive relationships and experience less conflict with others (Barrick & Mount, 1991). Extraversion has also been linked to an individual’s tendency to engage in social activities and seek out the company of others (McCrae & Costa, 1997).

Regarding romantic relationships, the trait of openness has been found to be positively correlated with relationship satisfaction (Saucier & Goldberg, 2001). Conscientiousness has also been linked to relationship stability, with individuals who score high in conscientiousness being more dependable and committed in their relationships (Roccas, et al., 2002).

Personality traits can also influence decision-making and problem-solving abilities. Those who score high in conscientiousness tend to be more careful and thorough in their decision-making, while those who score high in openness are more open to new ideas and willing to take risks (Barrick & Mount, 1991). Another study found that individuals who score high in openness to experience tend to be more creative and innovative in their thinking and behavior (Costa & McCrae, 1992).

While these findings suggest that personality traits can predict behavior, it is important to note that the relationship is not perfect. Other elements, such as context, can also play a role. External factors such as cultural norms and situational variables routinely influence an individual’s actions. For example, a person who is typically assertive and confident may become shy and withdrawn in certain social situations. Similarly, a person who is typically responsible and organized may become disorganized and irresponsible under stress. Additionally, individuals may behave differently in diverse settings or roles. For instance, an individual who is high in extraversion may express this characteristic differently in a social setting with their friends compared to a formal work meeting (Mischel & Shoda, 1995).

Thus, while personality traits can provide a useful framework for understanding behavior, they should not be used to make deterministic predictions about individuals or makes assumptions about behavior in all situations. Instead, personality traits should be viewed as one of many factors that can influence behavior, along with situational context, individual differences, and cultural and social factors. Personal values, goals, and life experiences also play a significant role in shaping an individual’s behavior (Haidt, 2003).

As such, there are several limitations to consider when using personality traits to predict behavior. First, personality traits are relatively stable over time, but they may change in response to life experiences and personal growth (Costa & McCrae, 1992). This means that an individual’s behavior may not be consistently predicted by their personality traits alone.

Second, personality traits are often measured using self-report measures, which may be subject to biases such as social desirability (Podsakoff et al., 2003). This means that an individual’s responses may not accurately reflect their true personality traits and behaviors.

Third, the relationship between personality traits and behavior is often complex and influenced by many variables all coming together in the specific situation and context (Mischel & Shoda, 1995). This makes it difficult to accurately predict an individual’s behavior in all situations based on their personality traits alone.

Finally, personality traits should not be used to make judgments or assumptions about an individual’s behavior or character. Each individual is unique and may behave differently in different situations, regardless of their personality traits (Haidt, 2003). Furthermore, it is important to consider the potential for cultural and demographic differences in personality and behavior.

Despite these limitations, the study of personality traits and their relationship to behavior continues to be an important and active area of research in psychology. As our understanding of personality and behavior continues to evolve, new insights will likely emerge that will improve our ability to predict and understand behavior. The role of personality traits in predicting behavior is a complex and multi-faceted area of study. Further research is needed to better understand the relationship between personality traits and behavior and to develop more accurate and comprehensive models for predicting behavior.

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About the Creator

Donna L. Roberts, PhD (Psych Pstuff)

Writer, psychologist and university professor researching media psych, generational studies, human and animal rights, and industrial/organizational psychology

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