Emotional Intelligence: Type versus Trait

What kicked off this blog was a request from a British participant in a recent Empathy Styles workshop run by Walter Blackburn similar to the one run here.  The participant had been investigating human behaviour models over most of her working career and wanted to know how the Empathy Styles Model (aka Humm-Wadsworth aka 7MTF) compared to the Big 3: MBTI, DISC and NLP.  I have blogged about the differences with each model but never the Big 3 as a whole so here goes.

The major difference between the Big 3 and the 7MTF is that the Big 3 are Type Models and the 7MTF is a Trait model.

The essential difference between the trait theory and type theory is this: type theory views characteristics of people as discrete categories whereas trait theory views these same characteristics as part of a larger continuum. For example, where a type theorist would claim that introverts and extroverts are two types of people, a trait theorist would claim there is a gradient leading from introversion to extroversion and it is possible for individuals to fall somewhere in the middle (like you and me and 68% of the population who are ambiverts,)

Type theory has its roots in personality scales such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which posits 16 personality types deriving from a set of four fundamental dichotomies: extroversion vs. introversion, thinking vs. feeling, sensing vs. intuitive, and perceiving vs. judging. Proponents of this theory believe that, just as an individual orients toward left or right handedness, one orients toward one of the 16 possible combinations of these dichotomies and that is their “type”.

Over the past 25 years many scientifically trained psychologists have recently shifted away from type theory in favour of trait theory. Much research has revealed that variation in human personality indeed occurs along continuous dimensions and not as discrete categories, and viewing personality in this way allows for more flexible categorization of individuals by eliminating the ‘boxes’ into which type theory tries to fit people. No matter how many dichotomies of traits you choose to look at, a type theory approach will always have some limit to the number of ways a person’s personality could potentially be oriented. With a trait theory approach, there is an infinite number of places on the sliding scales of traits individuals could fall.

The gold standard in Trait models is the Five Factor Model.  Simply put if a personality model does not now incorporate the FFM it is scientifically invalid.  Fortunately, the five most common factors in the 7MTF correspond to the FFM while the other two are the two traits most commonly found in management, namely the corporate bully and the corporate psychopath.

Even more important is that the 7MTF is a model of temperament, your genetic emotional predisposition, and I believe this is the key to lifting your emotional intelligence. However while I am still working to change the direction, it is not the path that most EQ researchers are following. The majority of the courses etc focus about emotions which is impractical.  I agree that Behaviour is a function of Personality and Environment.  However based on the Kings College study of 11,000 identical twins Nature is 2x as important as Nurture but Nurture is still important.

Why are the Big 3 so pervasive even though their scientific validity and reliability is so poor is a good question.  Better marketing and First Mover Advantage are two answers but I think it goes deeper that that.  For most people learning one of the Big 3 models is their first introduction to profiling people and a moment of intense epiphany.  They suddenly realise that deep down we are not all the same.  It is a moment of intense emotional experience so unsurprisingly people lock onto the system; this was certainly the case with me when I learnt the Humm in the mid-1970s.

This blog was first published on LinkedIn on 16 April 2021.




Add Your Comment

Chris Golis - Author


"Put in a sales perspective, I loved your presentation! I got a lot from what you talked about and I will read your book."

Peter Morris, Executive Officer, Lomax Financial Group

Your presentation on 'Lifting your Level of Emotional Intelligence" to 10 CEOs scored an average 8.9 out of 10 for the topic and 8.5 for the presentation which is great. A couple of the attendees gave you a 10 out of 10, and the comments were:

- Great presentation. Very informative.

- Excellent presentation.

- made me think.

Christi Spring CEO Institute. - web www.ceo.com.au.