5 Factor Model Of Personality Definition Essay

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The �Five Factor Model� is a model of personality that uses five separate factors to describe an individual�s character. Refined by Goldberg (1990) and developed into the widely used 300 item NEO-PI R personality inventory by Costa & McCrae (1985), according to this theory when an individual is scored on these factors they will produce a complete picture of that person�s personality. This essay will look at whether five fundamental traits can in fact comprehensively explain human personality on their own.

Trait theories of personality rely on factor analysis of commonly used adjectives relating to personality traits which are then grouped together under smaller headings. The first trait theory was the work of Allport (1936) who found 4,504 descriptive personality terms in the then most comprehensive English dictionary. Cattell (1946) then reduced these terms to 171 by eliminating synonyms, before using factor analysis to discover 16 key traits forming the 16PF. Subsequent research has whittled these factors down to fewer more fundamental characteristics and generated a variety of models, with Eysenck�s three (previously two) factor personality questionnaire (1975) being a particularly successful candidate. The general consensus however eventually settled on human personality being best described by five dimensions (Goldberg, 1990; Costa & McCrae, 1985). The five in question, also known as �The Big Five�, are: Openness (AKA Intellect), Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (AKA Emotional Stability), or �OCEAN� for memorability. While these five traits (if effective) should be sufficient on their own to describe all facets of a personality, there also should be no correlation between the main factors as this would mean they too could possibly be combined under a larger heading. The Five Factor Model is now perhaps the most widely use trait theory of personality and has achieved the closest thing to a consensus in personality research.

One area of support comes from twin studies, which have demonstrated that scores on the five factors are at least partially heritable with genes accounting for around 50% of the variance (with environment accounting for the other 50% (Jang et al., 1996)). This is roughly what would be expected and is similar to findings regarding psychological disorders such as anorexia, giving the Five Factor Model further credibility. Sex differences have also been demonstrated across the traits with females scoring higher on neuroticism and agreeableness and males scoring higher on extraversion and conscientiousness, which seems to concur with casual observation. Additionally the Five Factor Model has been shown to be reliable across cultures, Trull and Geary (1997) for example found that the five traits could be replicated in China, while Ostendorf (1990) found the same in Germany. All this suggests that the Five Factor Model can be used reliably in a variety of contexts and has real-world validity and at least seems to be as capable of explaining personality in other cultures as it is in our own.

There is also a lot of empirical evidence supporting the Five Factor Model and it has been shown to be predictive of behaviour in a variety of contexts. In one study by Saulsman and Page (2004), the relationship between the five dimensions and the 10 personality disorder categories in the DSM-IV was examined revealing that each disorder had its own unique five-factor profile across 15 independent samples. The Five Factor Model has also been shown to be useful in the context of job performance and in a review of 117 studies (cumulatively using 162 samples or 23,994 participants in total) it was found that the Five Factor Model was significantly predictive with the most relevant traits being conscientiousness, extraversion and openness to experience (Mount & Barick, 1998). Similarly, conscientiousness, agreeableness and openness have been shown to correlate significantly with academic performance (Poropat, 2009). In particular conscientiousness was shown to be as accurate a predictor as IQ. Many other studies have been conducted showing stress to be involved in everything from health behaviours (Korotkov, 2008), to technological acceptance and use (Devaraj et al., 2008), to substance abuse (Ruiz et al., 2008; Victor et al., 1973).

Such statistical evidence demonstrates that the Five Factor Model is high in validity and useful as a predictive tool, but whether this means it can fully explain personality is another matter. It should be considered that perhaps behaviour itself might not reflect personality exactly either. For example, two very different personalities can engage in the same behaviours but with different motives. Additionally some people might behave in a way that is not �true� to their personality, if perhaps they are trying to project a different fa�ade. So to take one of the above examples; one worker might appear to be conscientious as a way to climb the ladder and get a promotion while another might genuinely be conscientious. This view is supported by McAdams (1995) who described the big five as a �psychology of the stranger�, in that it describes only the observable behaviours we could discern from watching a stranger rather than the more private psychological functions. Therefore to say that the Five Factor Model offers a complete explanation of human personality because it offers an explanation of behaviour may be an illogical leap. Studies looking into correlations between these traits and individuals� beliefs however could be one way to test for a more direct relation to personality. Taylor & Macdonald (1999) among others found that the Five Factor Model significantly correlated with religious beliefs, which suggests at least some correlation at a deeper level than just observable behaviour.

This obviously is only relevant if five factors are enough to truly offer a comprehensive predictor of personality or behaviour. Many critics of the Five Factor Model accuse the five factors to be insufficient in capturing a comprehensive character profile. There are many alternate theories that use larger numbers of factors such as Cattell�s 16 Personality Factors (1946) (although Cattell also found there to be five �global� traits that could offer headings for the sixteen), the Seven-Factor Psychobiological Model of Temperament and Character (Brown et al., 1993); and the 18-factor model of personality pathology (Livesley, 1986). At the opposite end of the spectrum is Eysenck�s P-E-N theory. The �Five Factor Model� itself grew out of Eysenck�s early work using factor analysis that resulted in a three factor model featuring Extraversion, Neuroticism and Psychoticism. Eysenck argued that the additional two traits were in fact excessive and demonstrated overlap (Eysench, 1991), and that only three were really required. All these trait models have been shown to have their own strengths and weaknesses and the large number of different models demonstrates the subjective nature of using statistical analysis; essentially the resultant factors will be the product of the data used in the factor analysis and here is where the scope for subjectivity and error (Block, 1995) exists. Further, the selection of the factors from the data set again is left to the analyst�s discretion with no universal guidelines. In one recent analysis of English adjectives Saucier and Goldberg (1998) attempted to discover if there was indeed anything not explained by the Five Factor Model and found that the big five were adequate as is. However, in another study that analysed the same data, Paunonen and Jackson (2000; 2001) came to the opposite conclusion stating there was �plenty� beyond the big five, at least 10 traits that are not described by the big five. This sheds doubt on the Five Factor Models comprehensiveness and also illustrates the subjectivity inherent in factor analysis. One study by Bagby et al. (2005) found that the Five Factor Model was in no way superior to either the seven or eighteen factor models when looking at relationships between personality traits and DSM-III disorders, though each had unique advantages. This suggests that there is nothing �special� about the Five Factor Model above other similar suggestions.

Offering more serious opposition to the Big Five is the recent HEXACO model (Lee & Ashton, 2004) that is supported by lexical studies across several languages (Ashton & Lee, 2001; Ashton et al., 2004; Ashton, Lee, & Son, 2000) and finds personality to be better described using six traits: Honesty-humility, Emotionality, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness and Openness to Experience. The HEXACO Personality Inventory has thus been developed as a potential successor to the NEO PI R and at least one study has shown it to have significant predictive validity advantages (Ashton & Lee, 2008). When Ashton and Lee then added the Honest-humility dimension to the NEO PI R it was shown to improve though still not to the level of the HEXACO PI.

This then would seem to suggest that no, five factors are not sufficient to fully explain human personality and that at least one more is required. However, as demonstrated by the variety of trait models that exist, more or fewer may be necessary and it is likely only a matter of time before another improved selection of factors becomes the accepted model. Theoretically, while different factor models use more or fewer �global� dimensions, these should be made up of similarly descriptive sub-traits. In a sense the difference then is more in the presentation, meaning that arguably a Five Factor Model could be no more and no less adequate in explaining human personality as long as you examine the underlying facets. It could be argued that a Five Factor Model is adequate in explaining personality, but that it could be explained just as well with a three or eighteen factor model.

However support for any of the factor models of personality all rely on the assumption that personality and/or behaviour can be determined using a trait theory at all. This underlying assumption is challenged by situationism which states that personality is in fact an �illusion� and that individuals do not act consistently across different situations. Here it is the social context, rather than any intrinsic personality, that determines our behaviour (Krahe, 1993). Studies such as Milgram�s famous obedience experiment (1963) demonstrate that seemingly anyone can be coerced into acting in unusual ways under the right circumstances. However an extreme situationist stance can not explain variance in the voltage that participants were willing to administer, and in neither this nor similar studies was an attempt to measure personality traits made (perhaps an interesting area for future research).

While it is unlikely that personality is completely a construct of the situation (otherwise why do we observe the individual differences we do?), situational factors are still likely to play a role. This is something that the Five Factor Model does not address and so again we see that it is not able on its own to explain human personality. Another more fundamental aspect that is lacking in the Five Factor Model is a description of how individuals develop their personalities. As it is it is a descriptive model that offers no real explanation for human personality. For that reason alone it is insufficient in explaining the phenomenon. There are however explanatory accounts of the Five Factor Model such as the �Social Investment Theory� (Brent et al., 2004), which uses an interactionist approach explaining the factors as arising through a combination of environmental and biological influences (as supported by the aforementioned twin studies).

In conclusion then, the Five Factor Model is a useful tool for predicting behaviour and explaining why certain individuals act the way they do. It seems that on their own these five factors may not be sufficient for giving a complete character profile, but are more useful in providing a �snapshot� of sorts. It certainly does not on its own �completely� explain human personality, particularly when you consider environmental factors, or the fact that it offers no explanation for how personality develops among other issues. Furthermore, it is not the only useful tool for predicting behaviour and the decision to use five factors, rather than say three or sixteen, seems to be largely subjective.

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Five-Factor-Model of Personality

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. 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.

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. 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 to determine 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. 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. 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 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, cited in Atkinson 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 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 less than 16 factors. Eyesenck' major factors are introversion, extroversion and neuroticism. These are believed to be ordinal factors and as such, scores on each dimension are independent of one another. The majority of future studies concluded that the actual number of personality factors for which there is significant evidence is between Eyesencks' two and Cattells' 16.

Since Cattells' study, many researchers have conducted similar studies or re-analysis of Cattells' original data. Most of the researchers, such as Norman found support for far less than 16 personality factors. At most, it was generally concluded that there are between three and seven factors of personality. As a compromise, many researchers agree that there are five personality factors, as suggested by Norman's original work. Support for the Five-Factor model comes from current researchers such as McCrae and Costa and Goldberg and Saucier. Opposition to the theory is also abundant such as the work of Jack Block.

All trait theorists agree that there are a finite number of traits on which people have a score. The exact number of traits is still currently a point of contention amongst theorists. However, today we believe it is more fruitful to adopt the working hypothesis that the five-factor model of personality is essentially correct. There is also still disagreement among analysts as to factor titles. Many writers have adopted the names used by Norman which are extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability and culture. For simplicity, this is the version of the five factor model that shall be adopted for this essay.

The best known limitations of the five factor model of personality relate to the problems of trait theory in general. Trait approaches are directed primarily at specifying the variables of personality. There is little dealing with the dynamic processes of personality functioning. Traits are static entities and more complete theories of personality, such as those of Eyesenck, come from a combination of trait theory with another psychological theory. For example, Eyesenck adopted a learning theory to combine with trait theory. As such, trait theory and therefore the five factor model, do not deal with a large aspect of personality change.

Mischel is perhaps the best known critic of the trait theorists. Basically Mischel states that the underlying assumption of the approach may be untrue. People may have such dynamic personalities that they do not possess trait-like characteristics. Mischel also claims that there should be a high correlation between scores on a trait measure for a subject and performance in a situation where that trait is evoked. However, according to Mischel, the correlation is extremely low. Mischel further argues that knowing a person' traits does not help predict their behaviour and measures of the same trait do not correlate highly with one another. Although this criticism seems almost perfect, there are still a large number of trait theorists. Their responses to Mischel's criticism shall be evaluated.

The main defence of the trait approach comes in two forms. Firstly a conceptual form in which Mischel's understanding of what makes up a trait is questioned. The second form of defence comes from a methodological perspective, where the measurement of trait behaviour is examined.

To be able to appropriately comment on trait theory, it is important to understand exactly what a trait is. McCrae and Costa suggest that not every person has every trait. Therefore it is possible to confuse descriptors of behaviour with traits. There needs to be consistencies of behaviour to evidence a trait. Also traits can be of either a conjunctive or disjunctive type. It has been suggested that the evidence suggested by Mischel is invalid because aggression was seen as conjunctive when it is actually disjunctive. Correcting this mistake could significantly increase the correlation between different measures of the same trait. As such, one criticism of Mischel may be answered.

The second defence of trait theory examines the research method used by Mischel. It is proposed that it is necessary to have many more than one observation of behaviour, before comparing behaviour to trait scores. The reasoning behind this argument is that each trait test has at least 20 to 40 items. As such, there should be at least half as many observations. A single question test would be unacceptable and therefore a single observation of behaviour should also be unacceptable. Another possible experimental error may have occurred due to moderator variables.

Moderator variables such as sex of subject may change the correlation between behaviour and trait scores. If these variables are controlled for, the correlation may significantly increase and Mischels' criticism may need to be reevaluated. Cattell's theory, the predecessor of the five factor model, also had a significant limitation. The Cattell’s theory had a low predictive power of performance of a subject on a given test when used alone.

However, the personality profiles which can be created using the Cattell's theory are reasonably effective in an applied situation in predicting adjustment of an individual entering a particular group. Also, the performance predicting power of the Cattell's theory can be improved by giving the Cattell’s theory and correlating it to some measure of the person's performance. Multiple regressions can then be used to weight each of the Cattell's theory factors so that correlation between the 16pf score and performance is at maximum. This gives a more satisfactory prediction of performance using the Cattell's theory, yet its predictive power is still quite low. The 16pf is still used in many applied situations because no other psychological tool is available with better predictive power. Since the five-factor-model is based on the Cattell's theory, this limitation is also applicable to the five factor model.

It is possible to suggest that the limitations pertaining to the trait approach and Cattell’s theory are insignificant or not applicable to the big five model of personality. However, there are limitations that specifically relate to this model. Jack Block and Dan McAdams are the main theorists to evaluate the five factor model specifically and examine its limitations. Block's criticisms are answered by theorists such as McCrae and Costa and Goldberg and Saucier. The basis of Block's argument is that it is uncertain that all important trait-descriptive terms are representatively distributed in language. For instance, collectively suppressed traits might be unrepresented. Another major point is that the Big Five are very broad and might not differentiate accurately enough for practical applications. For example, assigning people too high, middle and low on each of the factors gives 243 personality types, which may be enough types but doesn't solve the broadness problem. Block suggests a few changes to procedure should be adopted but admits my suggestions are mild, obvious and entail scientific sobriety coupled with slow, hard work aiming to reduce order from the present jumbled empiricism characterising personality psychology. Both Costa and McCrae and Goldberg and Saucier suggest that Block has lost sight of why the five factor model was developed. Block criticises the model for not being applicable to practical situations when its purpose is to describe the full range of personality traits. Block's criticism also does not distinguish between the Big Five model ... from alternative models of the causal underpinnings of personality differences. A large amount of crucial evidence supporting the Big Five model is also left out of the criticism. Each reply also suggests that Block's closing suggestions provide few specific proposals of alternative models. McAdams' critical appraisal of the five-factor model outlines several major limitations. McAdams views the five-factor model as essentially a psychology of the stranger, providing information about persons that one would need to know when one knows nothing about them. It is argues that because of inherent limitations, the Big Five may be viewed as one important model in personality studies but not the integrative model of personality. Some of the limitations described are those applicable to all trait theories and one applies to the Cattell's theory and any theories based on the Cattell's theory.

However, two limitations specific to the five factor model are discussed. The main limitation specific to the five factor model of personality are firstly a failure to offer a program for studying personality organisation and integration and secondly a reliance on statements about individuals by other individuals. The extent to which the five factor model is a major advance in personality study therefore depends on what is hoped to be gained in the field. If personality study is interested in the study of observer's trait ratings, the big five model is extremely useful. If the purpose of the field is also to investigate observers' attributions about individual differences the five factor model is less significant. If the study of personality aims to emphasise the whole person and the dynamic nature of personality, the model seems to be only of minor concern. As such, from the view of multifaceted personology, the five-factor model is one model in personality... not the model of personality.

In conclusion, the support and criticisms of the five factor model are not as black and white as would be hoped. Each argument has logical reasoning and can provide evidence to support itself. Each view also has a large number of supporters. Neither one is necessarily correct, as it is possible for the model to be applicable at some stages, and not applicable at others. As a result, it is probable and acceptable to conclude that the five factor theory may or may not be an appropriate model of personality. Perhaps a comparison of how much supporting literature there is for each argument is a useful method for deciding which theory an individual may choose to support.

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