O. Joseph Bienvenu, M.D., Ph.D., Joseph Andrews, M.D., David Edwin, Ph.D.


  • State – An emotion or behavior of an individual at any given moment. For example, an otherwise even-tempered patient becomes anxious and worried while experiencing the crushing chest pain of a myocardial infarction. This is an appropriate response (state) to an extreme situation; that patient is not necessarily an anxious person or "worrier" by nature.
  • Trait – A characteristic disposition of a person that is stable over time and across situations. For example, a patient who rushes to the emergency department for every ache, pain, or unusual bodily sensation regardless of the real danger may have high trait anxiety. Traits typically become relatively stable (unchanging) in adulthood.
  • Personality – The collection of all psychological traits of an individual. Gradations of traits are used to compare one person to another. That is, traits are dimensional and occur along a bell curve, with most people having average traits and a smaller number of people having extreme traits. Unlike physical traits (e.g., height), psychological traits may have to be provoked (e.g., by life events) in order to be observed.
  • Personality disorder (PD) – A personality disorder is "an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual’s culture, is pervasive and inflexible, has an onset in adolescence or early adulthood, is stable over time, and leads to distress or impairment"[1].
    • A personality that contains one or more traits that fall on an extreme of a dimension, such that it significantly interferes with multiple areas of functioning, may be considered disordered. Extreme traits are not always problematic. Just like being very tall has disadvantages (e.g., sitting coach on an airplane) and advantages (playing basketball), extremes of personality have their own weaknesses and strengths.

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Last updated: May 13, 2022