Three Fundamental Dimensions of Personality
The descriptive taxonomies associated with the proponents of the "Big 5" are in contrast to those theories concerned with developing causal models of individual differences. Much of the recent consensus around the Big 5 has been on the number of dimensions useful in the description of individual differences rather than in any causal basis for these purported structures. Descriptive taxonomists suggest that before it is possible to develop causal explanations it is necessary to agree on the fundamental dimensions to be explained. Causal theorists, on the other hand, have focused on biological explanations of the "Even Bigger 3" and have emphasized the relationships of biological mechanisms of emotional reactivity with dimensions of stable individual differences. These theorists have suggested that problems of taxonomy can best be solved in terms of underlying mechanisms.
Most biologically based theorists have asked what particular structure, neural pathway, transmitter, or hormone is associated with a particular individual difference in affect, cognition, or behavior. Much of this theorizing has been at the level of the conceptual nervous system (cns) rather than actually describing the Central Nervous System (CNS). That is, broad brush behavioral systems have been described and linked, sometimes closely, sometimes loosely to known physiological structures and transmitters. To the biologically oriented radical trait theorists, taxonomies should be developed in terms of cns or CNS biological systems rather than phenotypic behaviors. Individual differences in the functioning of these systems are believed to cause differential sensitivities to environmental cues, leading to differential affective and cognitive states. Traits refer to the probabilities of being in a particular state, or to the latency to achieve a state following a specific environmental elicitor. Although it is not necessary to know the specifics of a neural system to test the implications of a conceptual system, by limiting theorizing to known neural architectures, personality theories become more constrained.
Most experimental and theoretical statements concerning the biological substrates of personality are directly or indirectly related to the theories of Hans Eysenck, whose theory of the biological basis of introversion-extraversion, neuroticism-stability, and socialization-psychoticism (H. Eysenck 1990) has evolved from taxonomic work (H. Eysenck 1947) to a proposed biological model (H. Eysenck 1967) that has been the basis of a variety of suggested modifications (Cloninger 1987; Gray 1972, 1981, 1991, 1994). In broad strokes, Eysenck's theory and subsequent modifications (1990, 1991a) are theories of approach and reward, inhibition and punishment, and aggression and flight. All three constructs have been, of course, fundamental concerns for many years and have been the basis for descriptive as well as non-biological theories of motivation and learning (Atkinson 1960; Dollard & Miller 1950). Approach and withdrawal are behavioral characteristics of amoebae, insects, and human infants (Schneirla 1959). Unifying recent biological work is an emphasis on these three interrelated biological and behavioral systems as sources of individual differences in affective reactions and interpersonal behavior. Although differing in the particular mechanisms proposed at the level of the CNS, these models show striking agreement at the behavioral and conceptual (cns) level.
Adapted from Revelle, W. (1995). Personality Processes, Annual Review of Psychology,46.
|Theorist ||Approach |
Instigation of Behavior
Inhibition of Behavior
Need for achievement
joy of success
|Avoidance Motivation |
Fear of Failure
Pain of Failure
|Cloninger||Behavioral Activation |
|Behavioral Maintenance |
|Dollard and Miller||Approach||Avoidance|
|Eysenck||Activation Extraversion/Positive Affect||Inhibition
|Fowles||Behavioral-Activation Impulsivity/Positive Affect||Aversive Behavioral-Inhibition||Non-specific Arousal|
|Gray|| Behavioral-Activation Impulsivity |
|Behavioral-Inhibition Anxiety |
|Tellegen||Positive Affectivity |
|Watson and Clark||Approach|
|Neuroticism||Psychoticism Impulsivity Sensation Seeking aggresion anger|
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Prepared as part of The Personality Project
Last revised February 18, 2007