WAPLT? Trait Domains

While the evolutionary polarities model the underlying structure of personality, they aren’t very useful for identifying someone’s personality. The trait domains are a set of eight kinds of characteristics. Millon’s model includes fifteen possible characteristics for each domain, each corresponding to a different personality spectrum. While some of the characteristics can be identified by oneself, this identification tool was developed for someone else to observe the individual and make judgements about which characteristics best fit their observations. The tool originated in a clinical diagnostic tool for diagnosing the personality disorders. However, given how the model extends the personality disorder taxonomy with normal and abnormal personalities, they can be used to figure out what non-disordered personality someone has. How well the characteristics fit seems to be unaffected by whether the observer is a clinician or not, though as usual one should be wary of bias inherent in observing someone you know.

Each of the posts describing an individual personality spectrum includes a section on the trait domains. So while this isn’t the most exciting post, the others are difficult to understand without it. At the end I include another handy reference table. I suggest saving the image so you can look back at it when you read the personality posts.

Functional Domains

The concept of functional characteristics refers to the dynamic processes that occur within an individual’s intrapsychic world and their interaction with the psychosocial environment. These processes take place through functional domains, which can be defined as modes of regulatory action. These domains include behaviors, social conduct, cognitive processes, and unconscious mechanisms that manage, adjust, transform, coordinate, balance, discharge, and control the inner and outer life of an individual. In the context of personality spectra, four functional domains are particularly relevant, (Millon 2011 277-278) and I will now describe each.

Emotional expression: These attributes are observed through an individual’s overt behavior and provide insight into their inner emotional state. Whether it be communicating personal anxiety or exhibiting self-control, emotional expression is a diverse and informative aspect of personality assessment. Characteristics such as impassivity, fretfulness, impetuousness, and resentfulness are just a few examples of the range of emotional expressions that can be observed. This domain of emotional data is particularly valuable in distinguishing between individuals on all three polarities of Millon’s theoretical model. (278)

Interpersonal conduct: The way in which a person interacts with others can reveal a lot about their personality, and this is often observed at the level of behavior. This can include the impact their actions have on others, their underlying attitudes, the methods they use to meet their needs, and how they cope with social tensions and conflicts. Additionally, their ability to understand and appreciate the emotions and intentions of others, form affiliative relationships, consider multiple points of view, and maintain mutually rewarding relationships can provide further insight into their personality. By examining these behaviors, it is possible to construct an image of how the person functions in relation to others, whether this is through antagonism, respect, avoidance, or other means. Understanding a person’s style of relating to others can be invaluable in differentiating individuals across the personality spectra. (278)

Cognitive style: At the phenomenological level of data, the focus is on how the individual experiences and makes sense of the world around them. This includes how they allocate attention, process information, organize thoughts, make attributions, and communicate their reactions and ideas to others. These indicators can provide valuable insights into a person’s unique way of functioning. By analyzing these signs, one can identify specific cognitive styles, such as an impoverished style, cognitive flightiness, or constricted thought. (278)

Intrapsychic dynamics: The intrapsychic dynamics trait domain encompasses the complex internal processes of self-protection, need gratification, and conflict resolution. These defense mechanisms are often difficult to observe and describe, as they are primarily rooted in the individual’s inner world. They cannot be directly assessed through self-reflection, but rather through derivatives that are potentially many layers removed from their core conflicts and dynamic regulation. These regulatory mechanisms transform both internal and external realities before they can enter conscious awareness in an unaltered form. When chronically enacted, they can exacerbate the very problems they were intended to solve. Although there is no established taxonomy or periodic table to comprehensively classify these dynamic mechanisms, identifying them and their extent of use is a crucial aspect of a comprehensive personality assessment.(279)

Structural Domains

Compared to functional traits, structural traits are deeply ingrained and long-lasting patterns of memories, attitudes, needs, fears, conflicts, and other psychological aspects that shape experience and alter the nature of ongoing life events. These structures have a preemptive effect, modifying the character of action and the impact of subsequent experiences in line with pre-existing inclinations and expectations. Structural domains are “substrates and action dispositions of a quasi-permanent nature” that contain internalized residues of the past in the form of memories and affects that are associated with self and others. They limit the possibilities of expression to those that have already become dominant, and their preemptive and channeling character plays an important role in perpetuating maladaptive behavior and vicious circles of personality pathology. The four structural domains relevant to personality will be briefly described.(279-280)

Self-image: As children develop, they gain mastery over the inner world of symbols, and the chaotic events around them begin to make sense. One significant milestone is the emergence of self-as-object, which establishes a sense of self-identity that is distinct, ever-present, and identifiable. This self-conception is crucial as it provides a stable reference point that guides and gives continuity to changing experiences. While most people have an implicit sense of who they are, the clarity, accuracy, and complexity of their self-introspections vary significantly. Individuals differ in their ability to reflect on their internal experiences and may have distorted self-appraisals that depend on others rather than their own values. Some people’s self-sense may lack authenticity, be poorly regulated and unstable, simplistic, impoverished, fragile, concrete, contradictory, and so on. It is also essential to note specific self-characteristics, such as viewing oneself as estranged, admirable, combative, discontented, or conscientious. However, many people struggle to articulate the psychic elements that make up their self-image, such as whether they primarily see themselves as alienated, inept, complacent, conscientious, or other qualities. Currently, only a few instruments are available to aid in identifying differences in self-image. (280)

Intrapsychic content: Early experiences with significant others leave a lasting imprint on the psyche, creating a residue of memories, attitudes, and affects that shape our dispositions for perceiving and reacting to ongoing life events. These internalized representations of past figures and relationships can be differentiated and analyzed for clinical purposes, similar to the various organ systems of the body. Differences in the nature and content of this inner world can be associated with particular personality traits, leading to descriptive terms such as shallow, contrived, vexatious, debased, undifferentiated, concealed, fluctuating, and irreconcilable. (280)

Intrapsychic architecture: The overall architecture of an individual’s psyche serves as a framework for their mental interior. It can display either strength or weakness in its structural cohesion, coordination among its components, and mechanisms to maintain balance and harmony, regulate internal conflicts, or mediate external pressures. The term “organization of the mind” is typically inferred at the intrapsychic level of analysis, and is often used in conjunction with psychoanalytic concepts such as borderline and psychotic levels. However, this usage is limited to quantitative degrees of integrative pathology, rather than qualitative variations in either integrative structure or configuration. “Stylistic” variants of this structural attribute may be used to describe personality prototypes, with distinctive organizational attributes represented by descriptors such as inchoate, fragile, spurious, unruly, depleted, disjoined, and compartmentalized. (280)

Mood/temperament: The predominant character of an individual’s affect and the intensity and frequency with which it is expressed are clinically relevant observables in the mood/temperament trait domain. Momentary extreme emotions are easily decipherable, but the more subtle moods and feelings that pervade ongoing relationships and experiences require closer examination. Expressive features of mood and drive, such as apathy, mood swings, sadness, irritability, distress, emotional instability, fickleness, and hostility, can be conveyed through self-report and indirectly through the person’s level of activity, speech quality, and physical appearance. This attribute is particularly useful for evaluating pleasure-pain and active-passive polarities. (283)

On a completely different topic

I’m making a lot of tables in the process of writing this, and I’m forgoing parallelism this go around for the sake of allowing myself to experiment. If you have any opinions on any of them, please feel free to share them. Also, if you have any ideas for tables or other non-tabular presentations of information you’d like to see, share those, too.

7 responses to “WAPLT? Trait Domains”

  1. […] or an abbreviation of the third personality included for ease of reading. The top row lists the trait domains. The middle cells indicate all of the trait domain characteristics associated with each personality […]


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