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What Are Traits?

A trait is a characteristic element of an individual or a group. Social scientists have applied the trait concept to studies of personality and culture. A personality trait can be identified by observation, testing, or statistical analysis of test results. A distinction is made among cognitive traits, or abilities; temperament traits, such as ego strength; and dynamic traits, or interests and motivations. Another distinction is between surface traits and source traits.

A surface trait is a readily observable, repeated pattern of behavior. A source trait is the underlying factor accounting for the surface trait. For example, a person's score on a test can be accounted for by his intelligence and the extent of his education. A trait profile is a significant part of an individual's personality description.

In anthropology, culture traits such as a style of pottery, a tribal myth, or a religious custom are the basic units of a culture. Traits arise through invention within one group or assimilation from another group.

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