Do traits predict future behaviour? (5 ways)

This blog post aims to answer the question, “Do traits predict future behaviour?” and explore the impact of personality traits on behaviour and their significance in the prediction of future behaviour to help understand the answer. 

Do traits predict future behaviour?

Yes, traits do predict future behaviour. Traits predict future behaviour in the following 5 ways –

  • Trait theory.
  • The greater a predictor a characteristic is, the more specific and limiting it is.
  • The more severe a person’s attribute is, the more accurate it is as a prediction.
  • Single instances of conduct do not predict broader patterns of behaviour over time as well as traits do.
  • Traits are greater indicators in more specific scenarios.

These 5 ways traits predict future behaviour will be discussed in further detail below after taking a look at the meaning of traits and the various types of traits. 

What are traits?

A trait is an organism’s unique property. Genes and the environment, as well as interactions between them, can influence traits. The genotype is the genetic contribution to a characteristic. The phenotype is the outward representation of the genotype.

Individual qualities are defined by genes, which are signals in our DNA. As a result, a phenotype is the manifestation of a gene that is coded for by DNA. The terms “phenotype” and “trait” are occasionally used interchangeably, while “phenotype” can also refer to a collection of traits.

Physical qualities of an organism, such as hair colour, leaf form, size, and so on, as well as behavioural characteristics, such as birds nesting, are examples of traits.

Types of Traits.

An organism can exhibit a wide range of characteristics. All characteristics are either genetic traits (traits determined by an organism’s genes) or behavioural traits (traits determined by the interaction of genes with the environment).

Genetic traits

How do genes influence an organism’s characteristics? The genes that one receives from both parents govern one’s genetic qualities. Individual and independent features are defined by genes, which are encoded by distinct portions of our DNA.

These genes code for our genotype, which is an organism’s genetic make-up. Because the genotype influences the phenotype, phenotypic traits are the physical characteristics that an organism exhibits as a result of the genetic qualities it received.

Behavioural traits

Behavioural characteristics are behaviours that are seen in creatures throughout their species. This is a learned or instinctive feature that is inherited through observation or environment. 

Behavioural characteristics, on the other hand, are a mix of inherited behaviours based on genetics and learnt behaviours based on social cues and the immediate environment.

The environment has a significant impact on how qualities are manifested in the end. Certain features, whether behavioural or genetic, might look one way under normal circumstances but change depending on the organism’s surroundings. 

These environmental influences can be regulated by some motile species, such as animals and people if they are able to move away from them. Others, on the other hand, do not have this option and must submit and adapt to the circumstances. 

This has the potential to alter how physical characteristics are portrayed in future generations. Environment-based features may be extremely beneficial to wild and domestic animals, as well as people.

Predators are less likely to target baby snakes with scale patterns that mix in with their surroundings. Camouflage is an excellent environmental feature that can aid species in surviving. 

Other physical characteristics, such as the beauty and patterns of a peacock’s feathers, might aid in locating a partner.

What are these 5 ways traits predict future behaviour?

Trait theory.

Personality qualities can predict behaviour, but only if we recognise their limitations. Trait theory, which has its roots in the work of Allport and Cattell, has dominated the area of personality psychology for the better part of a century. 

The theory claims that personality is made up of a hierarchy of variable degrees of distinct features, with behavioural inclinations arising from fundamental traits (Schacter, Gilbert, Wegner & Hood, 2016). 

The initial focus of the research was on identifying various features; however, more recently, the focus has turned to researching the predictive value of traits in terms of future behaviour. It has been suggested, for example, that some personality features might anticipate unfavourable job behaviour.

According to much research, agreeableness and conscientiousness both negatively correlate with deviant and unproductive workplace behaviour, suggesting that personality characteristics may be able to anticipate future behaviour; this will be investigated further. 

Using questionnaires to evaluate both personality characteristics and levels of WDB in people, Malaysian research of 212 government employees looked at the association between agreeableness and conscientiousness in workplace deviant behaviour (WDB) (Farhadi, Fatimah, Nasir, & Shahrazad, 2012). 

A substantial relationship was discovered between conscientiousness and agreeableness and WDB, proving their theory. Lower levels of both qualities indicated greater deviant behaviour than higher levels of both attributes. 

These findings have been confirmed in both Eastern and Western cultures (Berry, Ones, & Sackett, 2007; Farhadi, 2012), suggesting strong cultural and contemporaneous validity and bolstering the case for characteristics’ predictive significance. 

When looking into Counterproductive Work Behaviour, similar outcomes might be discovered (CWB). Personality characteristics were measured in participants under the age of 18 and compared to CWBs observable in the same subjects at the age of 26 in 23-year longitudinal research. 

Low agreeableness was found to be a strong predictor of unproductive job behaviours later in life (Roberts, Harms, Caspi, & Moffitt, 2007). A research of 1662 Thai employees found that both conscientiousness and agreeableness were adversely related to CWB, with conscientiousness having the best predictive power (Chang & Smithikrai, 2010). 

Despite this apparent support for characteristics as predictors of CWB, the same study looked at possible moderating variables between personality and CWB.

Perceived distributive justice and interactional justice in the workplace were shown to be important mediators of the link between personality and CWB, suggesting that personality traits alone are insufficient to predict future behaviour (Chang & Smithikrai, 2010). 

This has significant consequences for the trait approach since it emphasises the overemphasis on the predictive value of characteristics alone at the expense of a more integrative approach. 

According to multiple studies, conscientiousness and agreeableness predict similar behavioural outcomes in the workplace; agreeableness has been shown to negatively correlate with counterproductive work behaviour (Kozako, Safin, & Rahim, 2013), and people who are low in conscientiousness are more likely to engage in deviant workplace behaviour (Javed, Amjad, Fageer-Ul-Ummi & Bukhari, 2014).

However, one aspect of this research that is overlooked is the interplay between the features. It has been pointed out that a single character may not be able to predict behaviour, even if substantial correlations between the trait and behaviour have been shown. 

Conscientiousness, for example, was shown to be adversely connected with CWB in research by Smithikrai (2008), although the significance of this association was mitigated by degrees of agreeableness (Smithikrai, 2008).

High levels of agreeableness combined with low conscientiousness were shown to be worse predictors of CWB than high levels of both characteristics, suggesting that there is an interaction between traits; it isn’t enough to assert that high or low levels of any one trait can properly predict behaviour. 

Surprisingly, the influence of ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ conditions on behavioural results was also investigated in this study. Strong situations, according to Smithikrai (2008), provide a clear incentive and guidance for behaviour. 

As a result, it was hypothesised that the relationships between the two traits, agreeableness and conscientiousness, in terms of predicting CWB, would be stronger in weak situations, where behavioural cues are minimal, allowing the individual to behave in the way they are naturally inclined to. 

Conscientiousness had a stronger negative relationship with CWB when agreeableness was low rather than high in weak situations only, confirming the prediction; no such significant difference was found in strong situations, highlighting the importance of situational factors as well as traits when predicting future behaviour.

Tett and Guterman (2000) found that contexts relevant to particular qualities predicted higher trait-linked behaviour compared to scenarios devoid of trait-related signals, providing more evidence for the relevance of external influences in predicting behaviour.

This shows that not only can conditions influence the interplay of characteristics, but that, particular settings also cause the exhibition of more conspicuous, specific trait-related behaviours, implying that behaviour is better anticipated in surroundings with trait-related indicators (Tett & Guterman, 2000).

In this sense, it may be argued that, while there are times when external circumstances have a very strong effect on behavioural results, there are also times when external factors have a particularly strong influence on behavioural outcomes. 

When behaviour is considered as a density distribution across time rather than a reaction in a single scenario, it may be claimed that attributes can more correctly predict behaviour (Fleeson, 2001).

Regardless, the effect of environmental stimuli on the ensuing behaviour will always be a factor, and behaviour will never be solely the product of characteristics.

The greater a predictor a characteristic is, the more specific and limiting it is.

One of the drawbacks of early personality research was that it frequently depended on the measuring of relatively broad qualities like self-esteem, which has little use in predicting specific actions.

Consider forecasting who would volunteer to stand naked in front of art courses in advance when a college’s art department advertises for models. It makes logical sense that a measure of self-esteem may assist me, because individuals who feel good about themselves are more likely to volunteer for something like this.

The issue with self-esteem, on the other hand, is that it is so complex. A person’s self-esteem can be based on a variety of characteristics, including academic or athletic aptitude, social skills, or physical beauty, and a generic measure of self-esteem combines all of these.

A more specialised measure of self-esteem, such as “Body Esteem,” would be a considerably better predictor in this circumstance.

The more severe a person’s attribute is, the more accurate it is as a prediction.

We all have a propensity to talk about personality qualities as if they are categorical in nature, such as when we call someone an introvert or an extrovert. 

In truth, these characteristics are continuous variables, similar to height or age, and we all lie somewhere between a severe introvert and an extreme extrovert. 

One is just old or young (or tall or short) in contrast to someone else, just as one is only introverted or extroverted in comparison to someone else.

According to research, the closer a person is to one of the extremes of a characteristic, the more that feature will influence their conduct. If you score anywhere in the centre of the dimension, it’s probable that other variables are more essential in deciding your behaviour.

Single instances of conduct do not predict broader patterns of behaviour over time as well as traits do.

Another issue with early personality studies was that they frequently examined a personality characteristic and then used it to predict a person’s behaviour in a single trial. 

Personality characteristics, on the other hand, are now known to be better at predicting long-term behaviour patterns. There are just too many other elements at play in a single event for your personality to dictate what happens.

Traits are greater indicators in more specific scenarios.

When it comes to social settings, people frequently respond differently when they are among friends than when they are with relatives or strangers. As a result, if you can position your behaviour forecast in a specific context, it will be more accurate.

In short, the research suggests that personality characteristics may be effective predictors of behaviour if we understand the restrictions they work under.

It will be ideal to predict behaviour over longer time periods and in specific scenarios, especially if we are using highly specific measurements of qualities on which a person scores exceptionally high or low. This means that for various persons, different qualities are stronger predictors. 

A “self-schematic characteristic” is one that is crucial for forecasting your own behaviour, whereas “aschematic qualities” are attributes that are less useful for you.

Even though a personality characteristic has the potential to be a good predictor, it might be overshadowed by other factors in a circumstance.

Conclusion – 

This blog post aimed to answer the question, “Do traits predict future behaviour?” and reviewed the impact of personality traits on behaviour and their significance in the prediction of future behaviour to help determine if traits can predict future behaviour. Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions or comments you may have.

References –

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Wiest, B. 8 Traits That Are Scientifically Proven To Predict Future Success. (2018, April 23). Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/briannawiest/2018/04/23/8-traits-that-are-scientifically-proven-to-predict-future-success/

McAndrew, F. T. When Do Personality Traits Predict Behavior? (2018, October 2). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/out-the-ooze/201810/when-do-personality-traits-predict-behavior

Stachl, C. et al. Predicting personality from patterns of behavior collected with smartphones. (2020, July 14). Retrieved from https://www.pnas.org/content/117/30/17680

Do traits predict future behaviour?  Newcastle University. (2017/2018). Retrieved from https://www.studocu.com/en-gb/document/newcastle-university/personality-and-abnormal-psychology/do-traits-predict-future-behaviour-essay/14452086

Childhood personality traits predict adult behavior: We remain recognizably the same person, study suggests. University of California – Riverside. (2010, August 5). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100804151456.htm

Predict Behavior. ScienceDirect. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/computer-science/predict-behavior

Hampson S. E. (2008). Mechanisms by Which Childhood Personality Traits Influence Adult Well-being. Current directions in psychological science, 17(4), 264–268. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2757085/

INTRODUCTION TO PSYCHOLOGY – 1ST CANADIAN EDITION. BCcampus. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://opentextbc.ca/introductiontopsychology/chapter/11-1-personality-and-behavior-approaches-and-measurement/

Harris, L. et al. Exploring the Generalization Process from Past Behavior to Predicting Future Behavior. (2015). Retrieved from https://sites.duke.edu/rachelkranton/files/2016/09/harris-lee-thompson-kranton-2015-journal-of-behavioral-decision-making.original.pdf

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