When people describe themselves and others, they tend to use trait descriptors. A trait is marked by the tendency to act, think, and feel in a certain way—over time and across situations. Terms such as disposition, construct, dimension, and personality variable have very similar meanings and psychologists often use them interchangeably.

Traits indicate that the probability of certain behavior is high, but they are not to be understood in a deterministic sense. Even the cruelest person will have moments of tenderness. Strictly speaking, traits describe behavior but do not explain it. Socialization or genetic factors can be used to explain how traits develop in a person. Some authors have regarded traits as fictions that do not exist outside the mind of observers; others have searched for ...

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