Type-based Vs. Trait-based Personality Assessments

What Are Personality Assessments?

Personality assessments are valuable tools used to provide insights into an individual’s unique traits, preferences, and behaviors.  The assessments are designed to evaluate various aspects of an individual’s personality, such as their communication style, decision-making tendencies and interpersonal skills, which have applications in various contexts such as career development, personnel deployment, team building and personal growth.

By utilizing a combination of questionnaires, interviews and psychological tests, personality assessments provide a comprehensive understanding of an individual’s psychological makeup, behaviors and attitudes. In the workplace, employers may use personality assessments to identify suitable candidates during the hiring process, create more effective teams and enhance employee engagement. In their personal lives, individuals can also leverage personality assessments for self-awareness, guide their personal and professional development, and improve their interpersonal relationships.

The approaches and methods used in personality assessments vary depending on the theory of personality that they are based on. Personality assessments can typically be categorized into two main types: type-based assessments and trait-based assessments. 

Type-Based Personality Assessments

Type-based personality assessments seek to explain individual differences by grouping people into specific personality types. Personality types are collections of traits that influence human behavior in specific situations. Various personality theories have proposed different approaches on the classification of people into distinct types to explain their behavior.  This method was first introduced by Carl Jung in the 19th century and popularized in the 20th century by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

Developed by Isabel Myers and Katharine Briggs, the MBTI categorizes individuals into one of 16 personality types based on four dimensions of personality – introversion/extraversion, sensing/ intuition, thinking/feeling and judging/perceiving.  The DiSC, another popular type-based personality assessment developed by psychologist William Moulton Marston, uses four main personality profiles – (D)ominance, (i)nfluence, (S)teadiness and (C)onscientiousness, to classify people into 12 personality types. 

Trait-Based Personality Assessment

Unlike type-based assessments, which categorize individuals into specific personality types, trait-based assessments focus on measuring the degree or intensity of various personality traits within an individual. This approach provides a more nuanced view of personality by revealing the unique combination and strength of different traits within an individual.

Almost all trait-based personality assessments are based on the Five-Factor Model (FFM), which uses five broad domains to measure personality – Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. The five domains are also known as the Big Five personality traits and by the acronyms OCEAN or CANOE. Some examples of trait-based assessments include the WorkPlace Big Five Profile™ (WPB5) and NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI). In the WPB5, the Big Five personality traits have been renamed as Originality, Consolidation, Extraversion,  Accommodation and Need for Stability to better reflect their relevance in the work environment.  

Comparison of Type-Based and Trait-Based Assessments

Type-based assessments are popular as they are easy to understand and offer definitive descriptions of an individual’s personality. They provide a common language and framework for people to understand and communicate about their personality types. Such personality tests are often used by employers in teambuilding or hiring to find out the working style of individuals and how they might fit into the team or organisation. Due to their simplicity and straightforwardness, they are also widely used by individuals to better understand their own strengths and weaknesses, leading to improved self-awareness and interpersonal skills.

However, one major criticism of type-based assessments is that they seem to stereotype or “pigeonhole” people into particular types and do not capture the full complexity of the person’s personality. Some critics have also pointed out that type-based assessments tend to give inconsistent results over time, resulting in them being labelled as “pseudoscience” due to their low re-test reliability and predictive validity.

On the other hand, trait-based assessments that are based on the FFM have the benefit of being more psychometrically sound, as the FFM is a well researched personality model with numerous studies and empirical evidence to support its reliability and validity.  The Big Five personality traits are also well accepted by contemporary personality psychologists for capturing the most important and basic differences in personality. As trait-based assessments provide comprehensive frameworks for granular examination of personality differences, they are useful tools for identifying individuals suited for specific job roles in the workplace context.

The disadvantage of trait-based assessments is that though they offer a more precise description of one’s personality with greater reliability and validity, they are also complex and time-consuming to understand or explain. Another limitation of trait-based assessments is that personality is dynamic and can change over time or context. Hence, for the personality test to be useful in predicting behavior, the traits that it measures should be relatively stable. However, this is a challenge not only for trait-based assessments but for type-based assessments as well. 


Both type-based and trait-based personality assessments offer different benefits and drawbacks in understanding an individual’s personality.  Type-based assessments may be useful for exploring general patterns and tendencies, while trait-based assessments are valuable tools for measuring and comparing individual traits across different people. Both approaches have their merits and can be utilized depending on the goals and context of the assessment. Ultimately, the choice between type-based and trait-based assessments depends on on the specific needs and context of the situation at hand.

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