Humanistic Approaches to Positive Growth and Self-Acceptance

Cattell’s Structure-Based Systems Theory


Approach to Theory Building:cattell 16fp

Structure-based systems theory: set of traits that guide behavior, but can be modified by complex interactions with the culture and situations

Inductive-hypothetico-deductive spiral: approach to theory construction and validation in which facts are collected first and then generalized into hypotheses, which lead to deductions that can be tested empirically

  • Excessive reliance on bivariate experiments can led to oversimplified interpretations of the way events operate in reality
  • Only multivariate experiments allow investigators to analyze and interpret complex behavior adequately

Methodology: Factor Analysis:

Factor analysis: technique designed to simplify a complex set of data by accounting for them in terms of underlying factors

  • R technique: form of factor analysis used to infer underlying source traits in large subject populations
  • P technique: form of factor analysis that permits assessment of the unique trait structure of an individual

Classifying Traits:

Traits: relatively permanent and broad reaction tendencies that serve as the building blocks of personality; traits initiate and guide behavior

  • Constitutional traits: determined by biology
  • Environmental-mold traits: determined by experience
  • Ability traits: skills that enable individuals to cope effectively with problems posed by the environment
  • Temperament traits: innate tendencies to react to the environment in particular ways; includes such variables as the person’s moodiness, excitability, and activity level
  • Dynamic traits: characteristics that embrace people’s motives and interests
  • Surface traits: observable trait that is controlled by an underlying source trait
  • Source traits: underlying characteristic inferred from the intercorrelations among a number of measured variables, or surface traits

Major Source Traits or Primary Factors:

Attempts to discover the major source traits or primary factors of personality must begin with an adequate inventory of all the personality traits

  • Personality sphere: listing of all the traits used to describe behavior in a culture
  • Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16 PF): factor-analytically derived questionnaire designed to measure the primary or basic underlying traits of personality

The Major Abnormal Traits:

Clinical Analysis Questionnaire: test designed to measure normal and deviant personality traits; includes the 16 PF traits and 12 other psychopathological traits

Dynamic Traits and the Dynamic Lattice:

  • Dynamic lattice: organized system of traits within human personality
  • Subsidiation: process involving the interrelatedness of traits within the dynamic lattice or organizational structure of personality; attitudes are dependent on sentiments; sentiments are dependent on ergs

Econetic Model:

Model that postulates a complex interaction between traits and the physical, social, and cultural environments in the prediction of behavior

  • Environmental sphere: listing of all the terms used in a culture to designate situations

Dynamic Calculus:

Set of mathematical formulas (specification equations) that integrate traits, environment, and motivational factors in the prediction of behavior

  • Specification equations: formulas that specify the ways in which traits are weighted in relation to given situations and then combined to predict behavior

Personality Development:

Role of heredity and environment: both biology and learning affect the development of traits

  • Classical conditioning: type of learning in which a stimulus that is originally incapable of evoking a response becomes capable of evoking it after continued pairing of this stimulus with one that naturally produces the response
  • Instrumental conditioning: type of learning in which the presentation of a rewarding or punishing stimulus is made contingent on the occurrence of a response or behavior; also known as operant conditioning
  • Integration learning: type of learning in which people utilize their reasoning abilities and value systems to maximize the attainment of long-range goals

Abnormal development:

  • Neurosis: disorder in which person is highly anxious and emotionally unstable
  • Psychosis: very severe disorder in which person often loses contact with reality and may be a threat to himself or others

Assessment Techniques:

  • L-data: information about a person’s life based on the actual observance of the person’s behavior or on records of the person’s behavior
  • Q-data: information about a person’s behavior obtained through self- ratings on a questionnaire
  • T-data: information based on observers judgments of how a person reacts to the environment; the data are collected in situations that do not permit the person to know what aspect of his or her behavior is being evaluated

Theory’s Implications for Therapy:

  • Relies heavily on the use of psychometric instruments in the diagnosis of the disorder and to gauge effectiveness of treatment
  • Cattell was eclectic in his attitude toward the kinds of treatment to be used in therapy, but he was single-minded in his determination that all therapy should be based on solid measurement procedures

Beyondism: A New Morality Based on Science:

Beyondism: new morality based on scientific research and data; Cattell believed this new set of ethics would help society progress beyond its current state of instability, confusion, and crisis

  • Restrictive eugenics: program to reduce the birth rate of the mentally handicapped; Cattell advocated this program in the belief that such individuals are a costly burden to society and slow its evolutionary growth
  • Creative eugenics: program designed to increase the birth rate of more intelligent people in the belief that such individuals will develop sounder ethical values and contribute more to society’s well being

Evaluative Comments:

  • Comprehensiveness: broad in scope
  • Precision and testability: precise and testable
  • Parsimony: high in parsimony
  • Empirical validity: empirical support for the predictive validity of the 16 PF test is good in the area of occupational psychology, but little support for the economic model
  • Heuristic value: theory has not proved very stimulating to mainstream researchers, but some of Castell’s pioneering ideas about the role of traits have had an impact on contemporary personality psychologists, especially those interested in the Big Five factors
  • Applied value: considerable influence in the clinical diagnosis of psychopathology and tremendous impact on occupational psychology


Bernstein, D.A. & Nash, P.W. (2008). Essentials of psychology (4th ed.) Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Feldman, R. (2013). Essentials of understanding psychology (11th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Friedman, H.S. & Schustack, M.W. (2012), Personality: classic theories and modern research (5th ed). Boston: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.
McGraw-Hill.McGraw Hill Higher Education (2013), The McGraw Hill Companies, Inc.
Ryckman, R. M. (2013). Theories of personality (10th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

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