Explanation in personality psychology

"Verbal magic" and the five-factor model

Simon Boag*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

30 Citations (Scopus)


Scientific psychology involves both identifying and classifying phenomena of interest (description) and revealing the causes and mechanisms that contribute towards these phenomena arising (explanation). Within personality psychology, some propose that aspects of behavior and cognition can be explained with reference to personality traits. However, certain conceptual and logical issues cast doubt upon the adequacy of traits as coherent explanatory constructs. This paper discusses "explanation" in psychology and the problems of circularity and reification. An analysis of relations and intrinsic properties is then developed to address the logical requirements necessary for circumventing these problems. An examination of McCrae and Costa's defense of traits as explanatory constructs, in terms of "tendencies" and "dispositions" highlights logical issues that prevent traits, so defined, from explaining trait-like behaviors and cognitions. The logical requirements for a coherent trait-explanatory account are outlined and possible explanatory directions in trait-approaches are discussed. The ongoing tendency towards fallacious reasoning in psychology and suggestions for preventing this are further examined.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-243
Number of pages21
JournalPhilosophical Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2011


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