Personality and Intelligence Theories


Research into spheres of intelligence, personality and their interplay is often built on discussing various traits or capabilities that unite people. For example, theories regarding personality traits separate people into groups according to their relatability to certain behaviours and feelings (Pérez-González & Sanchez-Ruiz 2014). Similarly, the information processing approach argues that while persons’ development and maturity are fluid, each individual has certain bases and activities that guide the process forward (Lachman, Lachman & Butterfield 2015). As a result, combining these ideas leads to an in-depth discussion of which individual differences may affect a person’s intelligence and personality as well as which of them are derived from these two notions. Such questions as to whether a combination of particular traits can influence the individual’s cognitive development can also be reviewed in this case. By looking at people’s cognitive abilities through the lens of the theories of information processing and personality traits, it is possible to argue that people’s future situations largely depend on their individual differences.

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Trait Theories of Personality and Information Processing

The ideas expressed in different trait theories are united by the notion that people’s common behaviour can be separated into particular patterns (traits) that presuppose their actions, beliefs and future issues or achievements. Nonetheless, multiple approaches to attribute distinction have been considered in psychology over the years. The first principal theory considers two major characteristic pairs introduced by Eysenck – introversion/extraversion and stability/instability (Fadda & Scalas 2016). Thus, people can divide themselves into four categories: stable introvert, unstable introvert, stable extravert and unstable extravert. It is vital to note that individuals can have more- or less-defined qualities and may fall in between some characteristics since both trait pairs resemble a spectrum rather than a two-point scale. The classification of each area, however, is linked to some specific personality descriptors. Unstable extroverts may be aggressive, while unstable introverts may be prone to loneliness and passivity (Fadda & Scalas 2016). Here, the main concepts depend on the person’s sociability and behaviour in society as well as his or her emotional response to various situations.

The second trait theory is based on five personality characteristics, often called the Big Five. These include openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism (easily abbreviated as OCEAN; Judge & Zapata 2015). Each trait is present in a person in some way; in addition, some of the characteristics are less defined, while others may dominate the whole personality. The first descriptor, openness, consider an individual’s response to new experiences. People may be more inventive, curious, adventurous and imaginative if their openness is high. By comparison, those who have a low rating for this trait are cautious and have a tendency to prefer consistency and lack of surprises. The second trait is conscientiousness, which contrasts rigidity and carelessness. On the one side, it is possible to possess such characteristics as efficiency, self-discipline, inflexibility and a preference for planning. By comparison, people may be flexible, spontaneous and easy-going but also unreliable and ineffective.

The third trait is extraversion, discussed above in the two-point theory. Thus, it is conceivable that this characteristic is valued highly by researchers since it presents how people interact with their surroundings rather than themselves. Similar to the previous definition, extroverts are described as outgoing, sociable, assertive and energetic, while introverts are reserved, reflective and solitary. The fourth concept is agreeableness, which presents a range from compassion to detachment. Cooperative people who are friendly, helpful and trusting lie towards one end of the spectrum, and individuals who challenge others, express doubt or suspicion towards people and are highly competitive lie to the other end (Fleeson & Jayawickreme 2015). Finally, the Big Five approach considers neuroticism as a trait that can be used to assess people’s personalities. Here, the ideas of self-confidence and security are juxtaposed with sensitivity and nervousness. Overall, people’s temperaments may have moderate or extreme characteristics, and these traits are believed to affect an individual’s choices, beliefs and values.

Finally, it is enlightening to consider another dominant trait theory often used in business. The Myers-Briggs approach introduces four pairs of personality characteristics – Introversion/Extraversion, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling and Judgment/Perception (Kim & Han 2014). As an outcome, people can identify themselves as belonging to one of 16 categories, each defined by the four dominant traits in these dichotomies. The pair representing extraversion and introversion is the same as that discussed earlier. Seeing and intuition are traits that control information-gathering; in other words, sensing people prefer factual data, while intuitive people often rely on a broader context and possibilities. Thinking and feeling are characteristics of the decision-making process where thinking is grounded in theory and reasoning and feeling are based on emotional attachments and personal values. Finally, judging and perceiving are rooted in flexibility and rigidity: judging refers to completion, organisation, planning and control while perceiving is linked to spontaneity, openness, searching for options and lateness (Kim & Han 2014). This trait theory resembles others in considering how people act in society and make decisions for themselves.

After presenting major trait theories and evaluating their similarities, it may be helpful to address how they are connected to research on personality and intelligence. According to Downey et al. (2014), a link exists between certain personality traits and the ability to improve or manage both cognitive capabilities and emotional intelligence. For instance, conscientiousness is often considered to be the most influential trait in a person’s acquisition and processing of knowledge. Self-disciplined individuals with well-developed organisational skills have been shown to perform better academically than their spontaneous peers (Downey et al. 2014). On a related note, some of these traits also affect cognitive abilities due to the fact that they encourage learning. Emotional intelligence and better academic performance have been linked to lower levels of extraversion, which may be explained by introverts’ active self-reflection and focus on individual activities (Downey et al. 2014). Thus, it is possible to see how individual characteristics may affect scholarly achievements. In this case, the individual’s behaviour, analysed on the basis of traits, is reflected in the choice of hobbies, interests and plans.

Self-beliefs and academic performance is also tied to gender differences. Diseth, Meland and Breidablik (2014), investigating students’ perceptions about personal efficacy and academic performance, find that girls, while often having better grades and scores, displayed lower levels of self-esteem than boys. At the same time, the researchers reveal a correlation between self-esteem and perception of intelligence. Students with higher rates of self-esteem were more likely to believe that intelligence is not inherently limited and can be improved through effort (Diseth, Meland & Breidablik 2014). Here, it is possible to consider that individuals’ view of not only their present qualifications but also their future abilities may impact intelligence and opportunities for growth. It is possible that people with stable self-esteem will actively seek ways to enhance their intelligence, thus further using their personality as a factor in personal growth. Here, although the connection between achievements and self-esteem is not direct, the latter influences the former through the factor of provided opportunity.

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Self-assessed abilities and personality traits may be dependent on each other as well. The influence of individual differences on a person’s life is reviewed in connection to academic performance and future prospects by Deary and Maltby (2013). The scholars argue that it is possible to examine an individual’s personality and predict performance later in life. Their findings differ from those offered by the previously discussed studies, showing a link between low conscientiousness and fluid intelligence. Therefore, in discussing traits and intelligence, it is necessary to separate academic achievements and a person’s overall ability to solve problems. Some people may be organised enough to complete tasks that require persistence and patience, while others may use creative approaches and have a better capability to apply flexibility to tasks.

The authors also discuss how previous achievements and children’s personalities affect students’ future performance. They show that previous problems in school can have a detrimental effect on future grades, especially if those issues have caused the students to rethink their self-efficacy (Deary & Maltby 2013). The same link can be shown in the trait of neuroticism. People who are focused on analysing their behaviour and performance and centring on its negative effects may be more likely to limit their efforts in improving their intelligence (Diseth, Meland & Breidablik 2014). As a result, it is evident that certain characteristics have a crucial effect on intelligence. However, Hogan and Foster (2016) criticise this notion, believing that by relying on personality traits, scholars make generalised predictions rather than assessing present information. It is possible to note that personality characteristics group people into certain categories, putting their potential results in a framework and limiting the outcomes that they may achieve. Thus, this criticism is not without merit since it highlights the need to consider individual growth and change.

The ideas described in the articles presented above should also be reviewed through the lens of the information processing theory. According to this approach, people process information in a way similar to that of computers, taking data and using their systems (memory, perception, attention) to arrive at a conclusion (Lachman, Lachman & Butterfield 2015). However, people differ from machines because they also have emotional factors that influence their thinking and potentially disrupt information processing in various ways. Here, the idea of individual differences and the link between personality and intelligence arise once more. A person’s pattern of neuroticism may act as an opposing force that interferes with the system’s effective functioning, resulting in misinterpreted data. A focus on one idea, as is attributable to highly organised persons with developed conscientiousness, can limit the ability to see the big picture or use creative thinking for tying multiple issues in one framework. The process of analysing emotions may be impacted by similar personal differences and lead to different levels of emotional intelligence.


Research exploring the connections between intelligence and personality relies on numerous descriptions of human processes. A number of prominent trait theories exist, each offering a unique interpretation of behaviours that people express every day. Nonetheless, some common features are present, especially in relation to such dichotomies as introversion/extraversion and self-discipline/spontaneity. These two factors are presented in all approaches, although their precise definitions may vary. The place of these traits in examining intelligence is also substantial since they can impede or improve the acquisition of cognitive abilities. It is also crucial to consider how the theory of information processing may contribute to the debate. People’s brains, although often compared to computers, operate not only by processing information and using memory to recall previous facts but also by employing personal characteristics, emotions and values in each case. As a result, one piece of data may be interpreted differently by multiple people due to each one’s unique view of the world.

Case Study

The concept of intelligence is an important part of family studies because it tackles problems and their solutions related to people’s education, work and daily living. Intelligence can be described as a general cognitive ability to learn and solve problems through reasoning (Plomin & von Stumm 2018). The debate surrounding this topic centres on the question of whether intelligence is heritable or malleable. Some studies examine links between genetics and cognitive abilities in childhood and adulthood. Other research pays increased attention to the changes in intelligence caused by the external environment – education, nutrition, socioeconomic status, living conditions and similar factors. The latest findings consider both connections, simultaneously reporting on the influence they have on the individual.

The idea that intelligence is heritable is not new in the scientific world. However, the understanding of this notion continues to change as researchers try to establish a particular link between specific genes and an individual’s capabilities. Many studies seem to agree that some degree of heritability in intelligence cannot be denied. Plomin and Deary (2015) argue that all traits can be discussed through this lens since they are all impacted by genetics. This does not mean that each person will display traits that are completely similar to those of their parents. Plomin and Deary (2015) also underline that each characteristic or ability of a person may be equally influenced by the environment as well.

Another interesting conclusion is that no particular genes can explain high intelligence. Shakeshaft et al. (2015) discuss high intelligence and argue that it is not tied to any specific genetic effects, meaning that particular genes cannot be attributed to the level of intelligence. Plomin and Deary (2015) come to similar conclusions, showing that each person’s genetics can dictate the rate of cognitive ability through the complex combination of various genes. Thus, it is evident that nature plays a role in an individual’s traits, but no unified standard can be derived to compare genes to each other.

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Research surrounding heritability also includes discussions about the environment wherein persons mature and continue to live. As Plomin and Deary (2015) state, no trait, including intelligence, is fully explained by genes. Young children’s capabilities are malleable and can be influenced by a variety of approaches. Sauce and Matzel (2018) introduce the idea of gene-environment interplay, highlighting the combined effect these two factors exert in cognitive development. The scholars show that some level of interaction exists between a person’s genes and surroundings, describing heritability as a foundation upon which the environment can build. As an outcome, people with the same genes but living in different environments may exhibit similarities and differences in cognitive abilities.

Other studies analyse the long-term effects of environmental influence to show that some experiences do not permanently alter an individual’s intelligence. In investigating early childhood learning programs and their impact on children’s future performance, Protzko (2015) finds that these interventions help young people for a period of time. Nonetheless, if a similar environment of continuing education is not extended into adolescence, the effect dissipates, decreasing the benefits of early learning. This finding shows that environmental influence is as strong as an individual’s genetic background. First, if the results of such projects fade away over time, it can be intimated that their initial effect was positive, meaning that the environment affected the child’s intelligence (Protzko 2015). Second, it reveals the dynamic nature of intellectual development, in that people’s change in environment, such as finishing a training intervention, also leads to different outcomes.

The research discussed above presents a number of conclusions that are crucial for family studies. For example, it shows that a combination of nature and nurture affects children’s cognitive development. Thus, it is vital to consider the parents’ intelligence when examining the child’s capabilities. Moreover, the idea of gene-environment interplay also reveals the role of the child’s surroundings in learning success. While improvements in intelligence can be attributed to early educational programs, they may reflect a temporary impact that fades away over time. If the environment of a child or an adult changes, intelligence may be influenced as well.

In conclusion, the ‘nature-nurture debate continues in many scientific circles, including that of family studies. The connection of genes and the environment to intelligence, however, is complex. Both factors play a role in the cognitive abilities of each person, and neither heritability nor environment can be considered in isolation from one another. According to the latest findings in this field, people’s traits are influenced by their genetics to some extent, but they are also malleable and dynamic.


Psychometric testing is often used to measure the intelligence of adults. This practice is popular among recruiters who must select a suitable candidate for a job in a short period of time (Bateson et al. 2014). Thus, management and business can be considered the spheres where such evaluation is typically recognised. Other areas that may use these tests are education and healthcare, where intelligence plays a role in information comprehension (Lachman et al. 2014; Lakanmaa et al. 2014). Key psychometric tests include numerical, verbal, reasoning and personality evaluations. The first type of evaluation requires people to answer questions about numbers. In some cases, calculations are not obligatory, but adults are expected to know which numbers are bigger or smaller than others and how these numbers correlate with the basic concepts of profit, revenue or other notions. In other cases, a number of questions may ask a person to perform a calculation in order to assess whether this individual will be able to do the same if the occupation requires it.

Verbal tests measure the ability to comprehend written material, including ‘true or false statements and questions about an individual’s understanding of the text. These evaluations employ a text that contains some information. The test-taker is then invited to analyse the presented ideas and determine whether the statements that follow this text are true, false or impossible to assess based on the provided data. Here, the purpose of the test is to reveal how the individual takes information and dissects it to find the meaning. Spelling and text editing can also serve as variations of a verbal assessment. In this case, people’s language level, as well as attentiveness, are at the centre of the evaluation.

Inductive reasoning tests look at how individuals process data and whether they can effectively recognise patterns in newly presented ideas. These evaluations usually comprise questions and tasks that determine cognitive ability to connect different pieces of data. For example, a question may require the test-taker to look at a number of shapes put together in a sequence. Then, the individual must review the sequence and decide the rules involved in the placement of shapes. The measure of intelligence lies in the person’s detection of patterns, which is tied to abstract thinking (Hazzan & Kramer 2016). These tests do not require considerable knowledge of mathematics or language, rather relying on problem-solving abilities.

Finally, personality evaluations ask questions that reveal an individual’s beliefs and values. Such tests cannot be failed because they do not have any incorrect answers. However, their implied meaning reveals people’s traits, and employers select candidates based on the personality characteristics that they would prefer to see in their workers. For example, extraversion is one trait assessed in such tests. While this characteristic may not directly rely on intelligence, it is a requirement for many professions, and thus, it is treated as a vital part of psychometric tests (Bateson et al. 2014). It is also helpful to consider emotional intelligence, which reflects people’s abilities to control negative emotions and enhance positive ones (Allen et al., 2015). Because emotional management may be vital to performance and communication, this facet of a person’s capacity is often included in testing.

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Some of the developed frameworks have a narrow theme, while others can be used in a variety of settings. For example, Lakanmaa et al. (2014) introduce a test that measures critical care nurses’ basic competence levels. In this case, the test has a strict purpose and a particular area of use. Wang et al. (2016) describe a math engagement test with application that is less narrow although still limited to scholarly requirements. Bateson et al. (2014), in contrast, provide some tests useful for finding employees in any industry. The authors talk about such qualities in workers as punctuality, responsibility, service orientation and more. Each test is designed to assess intelligence as well as the understating of language and visual cues. Their construction, however, is not based only on the correctness of the answers. These evaluations also review the ability to concentrate and avoid inconsistencies in answers by presenting many questions that are rephrased or repeated.

Overall, the key tests (numerical, verbal, logical and personality) address different areas of measuring intelligence. Numerical and verbal assessments are more reliant on a person’s educational level, meaning that their validity is, therefore, dependent on the learning level of the test-taker and the qualities that employers or researchers are seeking to examine. Logical and personality tests, on the other hand, are less confined to academic education but can be linked to emotional intelligence, environmental factors and other characteristics. However, the results of a personality test can be manipulated, which potentially lowers their validity.

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