Affective Traits

The Concept of Affective Traits

Trait affect is defined as a tendency to respond to specific classes of stimuli in a predetermined, affect-based manner. Therefore, an affective trait is considered a relatively stable characteristic of personality. There are two general bipolar dimensions of affective responding: trait positive affect (TPA) and trait negative affect (TNA). High TPA is characterized by the tendency to experience positively activated emotions in general, such as excitement, high energy, joy, enthusiasm, and exhilaration. Persons with low TPA have a general tendency to be lethargic, apathetic, and listless, but they do not necessarily experience negative affect. High TNA is defined as the tendency to experience feelings of anger, guilt, fear, annoyance, and nervousness. Low TNA is the other pole of the TNA dimension, characterized by being placid, calm, and contented. The two dimensions, TPA and TNA, are conceptualized as orthogonal or at least separable dimensions, and they show zero to moderate negative correlations with each other. This implies that it is possible to be simultaneously high or low in both TPA and TNA, high in TPA and low in TNA, and vice versa. Combinations between the extremes are possible, too. The term affective traits refers to a person’s average level or typical amount of a given emotion, whereas affective states are more temporal, situation-bound experiences of moods and emotions.

Both TPA and TNA can be interpreted as the diagonal coordinates in a circumplex model of affect that is built on the orthogonal dimensions of activation and pleasantness. High TPA in this model is a combination of high activation and high pleasantness, and high TNA is a combination of high activation and high unpleasantness.

Whereas TPA has been shown to be robustly related with extraversion, TNA has been similarly linked with neuroticism, two personality factors from the five-factor model of personality (Big Five), although the fit is not perfect. As an explanation, Timothy A. Judge and Randy J. Larsen have developed a model for integrating affect with personality, referring to these relationships. They present evidence that certain personality traits dispose people to be more or less reactive to hedonic stimuli, and they demonstrate that other personality traits indirectly dispose people to modulate their emotional reactions. Extraversion and neuroticism are considered to represent differential sensitivity to typical TPA and TNA stimuli. High-neuroticism individuals are mainly motivated to avoid punishment (negative stimuli), whereas high-extraversion individuals are mainly motivated to gain rewards (positive stimuli).

Affective traits are genuinely individual-level concepts. In a group work context, individual affective traits may combine into a group-level affective tone that in turn is related to experiences and behaviors in the work group.

Measurement of Affective Traits

Several instruments are available for measuring affective traits. The instrument that is most often used is the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS), developed by David Watson and his coworkers. It comprises two 10-item scales, one for assessing positive and one for assessing negative affect. The items refer to the high-activation aspect of negative and positive affectivity, respectively. Because the PANAS scales lack low-activation markers of negative and positive affect, they sample only a limited part of the affect circumplex. The PANAS shows good reliability and high discriminant validity with low intercorrelations between the positive and negative affectivity scales.

In addition to direct measures of affective traits such as the PANAS, researchers use personality measures, particularly neuroticism and extraversion scales, for assessing TNA and TPA, respectively.

Affective Traits and Job Satisfaction

Affective dispositions influence the extent to which people are satisfied with their jobs. A recent meta-analysis conducted by Carl J. Thoresen and his associates extracted an estimated mean population correlation of p = .33 between TPA and job satisfaction and of p = -.37 between TNA and job satisfaction. Those correlations indicate a rather modest but nevertheless substantial relationship between trait affectivity and job satisfaction. There is also evidence from longitudinal studies for a predictive value of TPA and TNA for several aspects of job satisfaction up to 2 years later, as well as correlations of dispositional affect in younger years with job satisfaction in older years.

The underlying processes through which trait affectivity influences job satisfaction are not well understood. Most studies concerned with trait affectivity and job satisfaction are correlation studies and do not allow one to test for causality. Research has concentrated on TNA rather than TPA. Because high-TNA individuals are more sensitive to negative stimuli, they are likely to react more negatively when experiencing negative job events, which consequently lowers job satisfaction. Furthermore, it is possible that high-TNA individuals have a higher threshold for positive stimuli and therefore react with a lower magnitude to positive events. They may experience the effects of positive mood-inducing events to a lower extent or for shorter periods of time than do low-TNA individuals. There is some evidence for the assumption that TPA represents reward-signal sensitivity and TNA represents punishment-signal sensitivity. For example, TPA is related to pay satisfaction (i.e., a salient reward), but TNA is not. Additionally, TNA individuals may dwell on their failures and those of others, thus causing negative interpersonal interactions with their peers and superiors and lower job satisfaction.

Affective Traits and Job Performance

Potential relationships between affective traits and job performance have been discussed in the context of the happy-productive worker hypothesis and the power of being positive. By drawing on expectancy theory, some researches have argued that individuals high on TPA should show higher task performance because of their positive expectations about the relationship between effort and performance and between performance and positive outcomes. In addition, it has been suggested that TPA should lead to higher goals and more persistence in the face of obstacles. Moreover, researchers have proposed that TPA is associated with extra-role and citizenship behaviors, whereas TNA impedes supportive social interactions.

Although there are many studies on the relationship between trait affect and job satisfaction, far fewer empirical studies have examined the relationship between affective traits and job performance. Studies that used rather broad well-being measures as indicators for affective traits found positive relationships between an individual’s tendency to experience and show positive affect at work and supervisory rating of job performance, also when using longitudinal designs. Managers experiencing higher levels of well-being and positive affect showed higher decision-making accuracy, higher interpersonal performance, and higher managerial performance. In contrast, most studies that used the PANAS to assess trait affect failed to find significant bivariate relationships between TNA or TPA and task performance. Trait affect has been shown to be empirically related to extra-role performance at the individual level (e.g., coworker support and work facilitation) and to prosocial behavior and cooperativeness at the group level.

It has been suggested that individual core self-evaluations play an important role for organizational behavior. Core self-evaluations comprise self-esteem, generalized self-efficacy, emotional stability (i.e., low neuroticism), and locus of control. Although these core self-evaluations are not affective traits in a narrow sense, findings on the relationship between emotional stability and job performance are relevant here, because the emotional stability construct largely overlaps with TNA. Meta-analytical evidence suggests that emotional stability as an aspect of core self-evaluations shows a weak positive correlation with job performance.

In addition, meta-analyses on the relationship between personality factors and job performance shed some light on the relationship between affective traits and job performance. Neuroticism shows a negative relationship with various facets of job performance, with most true-score correlations not exceeding p = -.20. Extraversion is positively related to job performance, with most true-score correlations staying in the range between p = .10 and p = .20.

Affective Traits and The Stressor-Strain Relationship

Affective traits, particularly TNA, are related to perceptions of job stressors and strains, with individuals high on TNA reporting higher levels of job stressors and strains. These relationship simply that the observed correlation between self-reported job stressors and strains may be partially caused by TNA. Therefore, it has been suggested that researchers should statistically control for TNA when analyzing relationships between self-reported job stressors and strain. However, this view has been challenged in a lively debate in which it has been argued that TNA plays a substantive role in the stressor-stain relationship.

Affective Traits Conclusion

There is broad empirical evidence that affective traits are related to job satisfaction. However, the processes underlying this relationship need further research attention. Although well-being measures were found to be related to job performance, the empirical relationships between affective traits and related personality concepts, on the one hand, and task performance, on the other hand, are weak. Affective traits, however, seem to be more relevant for contextual performance. Therefore, one might assume that group or organizational performance benefits more from TPA than does individual job performance.


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