Why do we study personality?
The NEO that you have just completed looks at 5 personality traits, known as the Big Five. We will briefly look at what traits are, how these personality factors were determined, what the traits mean, what the Big Five predict about our behaviour, and how these factors might relate to motivation. What are traits?
Traits are consistent patterns of thoughts, feelings, or actions that distinguish people from one another. Traits are basis tendencies that remain stable across the life span, but characteristic behaviour can change considerably through adaptive pr ocesses. A trait is an internal characteristic that corresponds to an extreme position on a behavioural dimension. There have been different theoretical perspectives in the field of personality psychology over the years including human motivation, the whole person, and individual differences. The Big Five falls under the perspective of individual differences. How were these personality factors determined?
The Big Five represents a taxonomy (classification system) of traits that some personality psychologists suggest capture the essence of individual differences in personality. These traits were arrived at through factor analysis studies. Factor anal ysis is a technique generally done with the use of computers to determine meaningful relationships and patterns in behavioural data. You begin with a large number of behavioural variables. The computer finds relationships or natural connections where vari ables are maximally correlated with one another and minimally correlated with other variables, and then groups the data accordingly. After this process has been done many times a pattern appears of relationships or certain factors that capture the essence of all of the data. Such a process was used to determine the Big Five Personality factors. Many researchers tested factors other than the Big Five and found the Big Five to be the only consistently reliable factors. Strict trait personality psychologists go so far as to say our behaviour is really determined by these internal traits, giving the situation a small role in determining behaviour. In other words, these traits lead to an individual acting a certain way in a given situation. Allport, Norman and Cattell were influential in formulating this taxonomy which was later refined. Allport compiled a list of 4500 traits. Cattell reduced this list to 35 traits. Others continued to analyze these factors and found congruence with self- ratings, ratings by peers and ratings by psychological staff, that eventually became the Big Five factors. The Big Five factors are: I – extraversion vs introversion II – agreeableness vs antagonism
III – conscientiousness vs undirectedness
IV – neuroticism vs emotional stability
V – openness to experience vs not open to experience
Cross-cultural studies looking at the replicability of the Big Five have been less extensive due to the costs and difficulties involved. One reason for looking at cross cultural consistency is that it could provide an evolutionary interpretation of the way individual differences have been processed or encoded as personality categories in language. A Dutch analysis found 5 factors as well, the first 4 being similar to 4 of the Big Five, and the 5th being closer to unconventionality and rebell iousness. A German factor analysis replicated the Big Five factors. A problem with interpreting cross-cultural data is language translation. Some mistranslation may result in underestimating cross-cultural generalizability. Work has been done to reduce th is problem and higher congruence has been found with correlational analysis. Overall, the Big Five have been studied in 7 languages. The 5th factor (openness to experience) has the weakest replicability. There was a need for an integrative framework for measuring these factors. The NEO Personality Inventory was created by Costa and McCrae and originally measured...