Core and Surface Characteristics for the Description and Theory of Personality Differences and Development

Christian Kandler*, Julia Zimmermann, Dan P. Mcadams

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


Individual differences in personality are often described on the basis of a small set of dimensional core characteristics that are commonly defined as largely consistent patterns of thoughts, feelings and actions across time and situations. Some theoretical approaches even consider them to provide the biologically founded basis for individual differences in so-called surface characteristics such as self-related evaluations, social attitudes, values, goals or interests, which are commonly hypothesized to be less stable or more environmentally malleable than core characteristics. We examine these hypotheses by reviewing findings about potential core and surface characteristics on the basis of four criteria: (i) level of stability in individual differences; (ii) level of heritability; (iii) direction of causation; and (iv) shared genetic variance. The results from our review call into serious question the labelling of some sets of constructs as either core or surface characteristics of personality. Although certain dimensions-often labelled as basic traits (e.g. extraversion)-are systematically linked to more specific characteristics (e.g. social attitudes and interests), the so-called basic traits do not appear to provide an essential basis (i.e. the more stable and genetically anchored source) for these characteristics. We argue for more integrative models of personality in adulthood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)231-243
Number of pages13
JournalEuropean Journal of Personality
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2014


  • Attitudes
  • Big Five
  • Interests
  • Motives
  • Self-related schemata
  • Traits
  • Values

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology

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