Five-Factor Approach

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Record: 1 Title: Authors: Other Publishers: A contrarian view of the five-factor approach to personality description. Block, Jack, U California, Dept of Psychology, Berkeley, US US: Psychological Review Company US: The Macmillan Company US: The Review Publishing Company PsycARTICLES

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A Contrarian View of the Five-Factor Approach to Personality Description By: Jack Block Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley Acknowledgement: This article benefited greatly from the counsel of a number of colleagues. I must exculpate them regarding its remaining deficiencies. My especial thanks go to Lew Goldberg, David Harrington, Robert Hogan, Oliver John, Robert McCrae, Philip Shaver, and Auke Tellegen, among others. Preparation of this article was supported in part by National Institute of Mental Health Grant MH 16080. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Jack Block, Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720-1650 During the last decade, the “Big-Five” approach has begun to loom large in the field of personality psychology. It is being said that “rapid progress has been made toward a consensus on personality structure” (Costa & McCrae, 1992d, p. 344). Goldberg (1992) has talked of “a quiet revolution occurring in personality psychology. … An age-old scientific problem has recently begun to look tractable. … Gradually, agreement has been growing about the number of orthogonal factors needed to account for the interrelations among Englishlanguage trait descriptors” (p. 26). The contention is that, via the mathematical method of factor analysis, the basic dimensions of personality description have been “discovered”: “Their number is five, and their nature can be summarized by the broad concepts of Surgency, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability versus Neuroticism, and Openness to Experience” (John, 1990, p. 96). Digman (1990) , reviewing the field, also celebrates the “emergence” of “the five robust factors of personality.” Personality psychologists are being asked to accept this specific set of five orthogonal factors and to use these factor dimensions as the conceptual structure for descriptively representing different personalities. Widely, frequently, and enthusiastically promulgated by vigorous, resourceful, talented, ingenious adherents, and with support mustered from many and various studies, the five-factor approach (FFA) has achieved appreciable popularity; a tide seems http://web.ebscohost.com.gate2.library.lse.ac.uk/ehost/delivery?…78621a-4f0b-4c1c-8d8c-48c4c08afdf5%40sessionmgr104&vid=6&hid=107 Page 1 of 64

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underway in the field. Adoption of the FFA as the universal framework for personality description would, of course, fundamentally shape the subsequent course of thinking and research. In the words of advocates of this argument, the five factors “are both necessary and reasonably sufficient for describing at a global level the major features of personality” (McCrae & Costa, 1986, p. 1001); the five-factor approach provides “a universal descriptive framework … for the comprehensive assessment of individuals” (McCrae, 1989, p. 243); “the five-factor model developed in studies of normal personality is fully adequate to account for the dimensions of abnormal personality as well” (Costa & McCrae, 1992d, p. 347). Why are there five and only five factors? “We believe it is an empirical fact, like the fact that there are seven continents on earth or eight American presidents from Virginia” (McCrae & John, 1992, p. 194). The claims of an emerging consensus about the FFA have also, after a lag, prompted some expression of concerns about the FFA (cf., e.g., Ben-Porath & Waller, 1992a , 1992b; Eysenck, 1992; Hough, 1992; McAdams, 1992; Mershon & Gorsuch, 1988; Tellegen, 1993; Waller & Ben-Porath, 1987), about the claims of the approach, its nominal empirical...
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