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Cognitive‐Adaptive Trait Theory: A Shift in Perspective on Personality

Journal of Personality

Published online on


Traditional, biologically based trait theories have deservedly gained broad acceptance, but some long‐standing core issues of personality research remain unresolved. Recent research questions whether (a) there can be a single universal structural model of personality superfactors, (b) current theory adequately specifies the processes that mediate behavioral and emotional expressions of traits, and (c) brain‐based accounts of traits adequately explain their role in real‐world functioning and adaptation. This article reviews the perspective on these issues provided by cognitive‐adaptive trait theory. This theory rejects the view that personality dimensions directly reflect brain systems. Instead, traits correspond to variation in strategies for managing key adaptive challenges. Thus, each trait is expressed in environments that pose those challenges, and each trait corresponds to skills and self‐knowledge that facilitate adaptation to those environments. The cognitive‐adaptive theory affords novel perspectives on trait psychometrics, theoretical accounts of mediating processes, and real‐world adaptation.