The Five Factor Model of Personality

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The Five Factor Model of Personality

The precise definition of personality has been a point of discussion amongst many different theorists within many different disciplines since the beginning of civilisation. Personality can be defined as "the distinctive and characteristic patterns of thought, emotion, and behaviour that define an individual's personal style and influence his or her interactions with the environment" (Atkinson, Atkinson, Smith & Bem, 1993: 525). It can be proposed that personality psychology has two different tasks. "The first involves specifying the variables on which individuals differ from one another. The second involves synthesising the psychological processes of human functioning into an integrated account of the total person" (Atkinson et al., 1993: 532). There are many different theories of personality and many different theorists. The purpose of this essay is to examine the trait approach, specifically the five-factor model. Both the development and limitations of the Five-Factor model of personality shall be discussed.

Trait theory is based on several assumptions. The first assumption is that any difference between people that is seen as significant will have a name. Secondly, these names, known as traits, are conceived of as continuous dimensions. In general, trait theories assume that people vary simultaneously on a number of personality factors. These traits are of both the conjunctive and disjunctive form. Therefore, to understand a trait, it is necessary to understand what a particular trait is and what type of behaviour is evidence of that trait. (Atkinson et al., 1993). Five factor theorists are one set of trait theorists. The claim of five factor theorists is that behaviour can be best predicted and explained by measurement of five dominant personality factors. The five factor theory is a fairly recent proposal and has its basis in earlier work, which shall be discussed.

One of the statistical techniques most commonly used in the study of personality is that of factor analysis:

By identifying groups of highly intercorrelated variables, factor analysis enables us todetermine how many underlying factors are measured by a set of original variables. In other words, factor analysis is used to uncover the factor structure of a set of variables. (Diekhoff, 1992: 333)

A factor analysis will generally show that a smaller number of factors represents the same information as the original number of variables. Once the variables making up the factors have been identified, some of the redundant variables may be removed (Diekhoff, 1992). As such, a large number of traits may be reduced to a number of personality factors. The procedure of factor analysis was a significant part of both the development and criticism of the five personality factor theory, as well as the theories on which it is based.

An experiment conducted by Allport and Oddbert (1936, cited in Goldberg, 1990) was based on the assumption that a dictionary contains a list of every possible trait name. Oddbert and Allport took every word from a dictionary that related to personality descriptors. This list was then revised to remove synonyms and unclear or doubtful words. Another researcher, Raymond Cattell (1945, cited in Atkinson et al, 1993) further revised the Allport-Oddbert list to 171 words. A study was then conducted by Cattell on a group of subjects who were asked to rate people they knew on the 171 traits. The results were factor analysed and 12 personality factors were found. However, 4 additional factors were found by analysing self-ratings. Cattell concluded that, in the adult human, 16 personality factors were dominant.

Eyesenck, (1953, cited in Atkinson et al, 1993) was another major theorist to use factor analysis. Although using the same basic approach as Cattell, Eyesenck used a more discriminatory factor analysis which resulted in far...
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