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    The Five Factor Model of Personality Essay

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    The Five Factor Model of PersonalityThe precise definition of personality has been a point of discussionamongst many different theorists within many different disciplines since thebeginning of civilisation. Personality can be defined as “the distinctive andcharacteristic patterns of thought, emotion, and behaviour that define anindividual’s personal style and influence his or her interactions with theenvironment” (Atkinson, Atkinson, Smith & Bem, 1993: 525). It can be proposedthat personality psychology has two different tasks. “The first involvesspecifying the variables on which individuals differ from one another.

    Thesecond involves synthesising the psychological processes of human functioninginto 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 thefive-factor model. Both the development and limitations of the Five-Factor modelof personality shall be discussed.

    Trait theory is based on several assumptions. The first assumption isthat any difference between people that is seen as significant will have a name. Secondly, these names, known as traits, are conceived of as continuousdimensions. In general, trait theories assume that people vary simultaneously ona number of personality factors. These traits are of both the conjunctive anddisjunctive form.

    Therefore, to understand a trait, it is necessary tounderstand what a particular trait is and what type of behaviour is evidence ofthat trait. (Atkinson et al. , 1993). Five factor theorists are one set of traittheorists. The claim of five factor theorists is that behaviour can be bestpredicted and explained by measurement of five dominant personality factors. Thefive 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 ofpersonality 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 numberof factors represents the same information as the original number of variables. Once the variables making up the factors have been identified, some of theredundant variables may be removed (Diekhoff, 1992). As such, a large number oftraits may be reduced to a number of personality factors. The procedure offactor analysis was a significant part of both the development and criticism ofthe 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 everypossible trait name. Oddbert and Allport took every word from a dictionary thatrelated to personality descriptors. This list was then revised to removesynonyms and unclear or doubtful words. Another researcher, Raymond Cattell(1945, cited in Atkinson et al, 1993) further revised the Allport-Oddbert listto 171 words. A study was then conducted by Cattell on a group of subjects whowere asked to rate people they knew on the 171 traits. The results were factoranalysed and 12 personality factors were found.

    However, 4 additional factorswere 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 majortheorist to use factor analysis. Although using the same basic approach asCattell, Eyesenck used a more discriminatory factor analysis which resulted infar less than 16 factors.

    Eyesencks’ major factors are introversion-extroversion and neuroticism. These are believed to be ordinal factors and assuch, scores on each dimension are independent of one another. The majority offuture studies concluded that the actual number of personality factors, forwhich 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 asNorman (1967, cited in Merenda, 1993) found support for far less than 16personality factors. At most, it was generally concluded that there are betweenthree and seven factors of personality.

    As a compromise, many researchers agreethat there are five personality factors, as suggested by Norman’s original work(1963, cited in Goldberg, 1990). Support for the Five-Factor model comes fromcurrent researchers such as McCrae and Costa (1985) and Goldberg and Saucier(1995). Opposition to the theory is also abundant, such as the work of JackBlock (1995). All trait theorists agree that there is a finite number of traits onwhich people have a “score”. The exact number of traits is still currently apoint of contention amongst theorists. However, “today we believe it is morefruitful to adopt the working hypothesis that the five-factor model ofpersonality is essentially correct.

    ” (McCrae & John, 1992: 175). There is alsostill “disagreement among analysts as to factor titles” (John, 1990: 96). Manywriters have adopted the names used by Norman (1963, cited in Goldberg, 1990)which are; extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stabilityand culture. For simplicity, this is the version of the five factor model thatshall be adopted for this essay. The best known limitations of the five factor model of personalityrelate to the problems of trait theory in general. Trait approaches are directedprimarily at specifying the variables of personality.

    There is little dealingwith the dynamic processes of personality functioning. Traits are staticentities and more complete theories of personality, such as those of Eyesenck,come from a combination of trait theory with another psychological theory. Forexample, Eyesenck adopted a learning theory to combine with trait theory. Assuch, trait theory, and therefore the five factor model, do not deal with alarge aspect of personality: change. Mischel (1968, cited in Atkinson et al. 1993) is perhaps the best knowncritic of the trait theorists.

    Basically Mischel states that the underlyingassumption of the approach may be untrue: people may have such dynamicpersonalities that they do not possess trait-like characteristics. Mischel alsoclaims that there should be a high correlation between scores on a trait measurefor a subject and performance in a situation where that trait is evoked. However,according to Mischel, the correlation is extremely low. Mischel further arguesthat knowing a persons’ “traits” does not help predict their behaviour andmeasures of the same trait do not correlate highly with one another. Althoughthis criticism seems almost perfect, there is still a large number of traittheorists.

    Their responses to Mischel’s criticism shall be evaluated. The main defence of the trait approach comes in two forms. Firstly aconceptual form in which Mischel’s understanding of what makes up a trait isquestioned. The second form of defence comes from a methodological perspective,where the measurement of “trait” behaviour is examined.

    To be able toappropriately comment on trait theory, it is important to understand exactlywhat a trait is. McCrae and Costa (1995) suggest that not every person has everytrait. Therefore it is possible to confuse descriptors of behaviour with traits. There needs to be consistencies of behaviour to evidence a trait. Also traitscan be of either a conjunctive or disjunctive type.

    It has been suggested thatthe evidence suggested by Mischel is invalid because aggression was seen asconjunctive when it is actually disjunctive. Correcting this mistake couldsignificantly increase the correlation between different measures of the sametrait. As such, one criticism of Mischel may be answered. The second defence of trait theory examines the research method used byMischel. It is proposed that it is necessary to have many more than oneobservation of behaviour, before comparing behaviour to trait scores. Thereasoning behind this argument is that each trait test has at least 20 to 40items.

    As such, there should be at least half as many observations. A singlequestion test would be unacceptable and therefore a single observation ofbehaviour should also be unacceptable. Another possible experimental error mayhave occurred due to moderator variables. Moderator variables such as sex ofsubject may change the correlation between behaviour and trait scores. If thesevariables are controlled for, the correlation may significantly increase andMischels’ criticism may need to be re-evaluated.

    Cattell’s 16pf, the predecessor of the five factor model, also had asignificant limitation. The 16 pf had a low predictive power of performance ofa subject on a given test, when used alone. However, the personality profileswhich can be created using the 16pf are reasonably effective in an appliedsituation in predicting adjustment of an individual entering a particular group. Also, the performance predicting power of the 16 pf can be improved by givingthe 16pf and correlating it to some measure of the person’s performance.

    Multiple regression can then be used to weight each of the 16pf factors so thatcorrelation between the 16pf score and performance is at maximum. This gives amore satisfactory prediction of performance using the 16pf, yet it’s predictivepower is still quite low. The 16pf is still used in many applied situationsbecause no other psychological tool is available with better predictive power. Since the five factor model is based on the 16pf, this limitation is alsoapplicable to the five factor model.

    It is possible to suggest that the limitations pertaining to the traitapproach and 16pf are insignificant or not applicable to the big five model ofpersonality. However, there are limitations that specifically relate to thismodel. Jack Block (1995) and Dan McAdams (1992) are the main theorists toevaluate the five factor model specifically and examine it’s limitations. Block’s criticisms are answered by theorists such as McCrae and Costa (1995) andGoldberg and Saucier (1995). The basis of Block’s argument is that it is uncertain that all importanttrait-descriptive terms are representatively distributed in language. Forinstance, collectively suppressed traits might be unrepresented.

    Another majorpoint is that the Big Five are very broad and might not differentiate accuratelyenough for practical applications. For example, assigning people to high, middleand low on each of the factors gives 243 personality types, which may be enoughtypes but doesn’t solve the broadness problem. Block suggests a few changes toprocedure should be adopted but admits “my suggestions are mild, obvious andentail scientific sobriety coupled with slow, hard work aiming to educe orderfrom the present jumbled empiricism characterising personality psychology”. (Block, 1995: 209). Both Costa and McCrae (1995) and Goldberg and Saucier (1995) suggestthat Block has lost sight of why the five factor model was developed. Blockcriticises the model for not being applicable to practical situations when it’spurpose is to describe the full range of personality traits.

    Block’s criticismalso “does not distinguish between the Big Five model . . . from alternativemodels of the causal underpinnings of personality differences” (Goldberg &Saucier, 1995: 221). A large amount of crucial evidence supporting the Big Fivemodel is also left out of the criticism. Each reply also suggests that Block’sclosing suggestions provide few specific proposals of alternative models.

    McAdams’ (1992) critical appraisal of the five-factor model outlinesseveral major limitations. McAdams views the five-factor model as “essentially a’psychology of the stranger’, providing information about persons that one wouldneed to know when one knows nothing about them. It is argues that because ofinherent limitations, the Big Five may be viewed as one important model inpersonality studies but not the integrative model of personality”. Some of thelimitations described are those applicable to all trait theories and one appliesto the 16pf and any theories based on the 16pf. However, two limitationsspecific to the five factor model are discussed. The main limitation specific to the five factor model of personality arefirstly a failure to offer a program for studying personality organisation andintegration and secondly a reliance on statements about individuals by otherindividuals.

    The extent to which the five-factor model is a major advance inpersonality 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, thebig five model is extremely useful. If the purpose of the field is also toinvestigate observers’ attributions about individual differences the five-factor model is less significant. If the study of personality aims to emphasisethe whole person and the dynamic nature of personality, the model seems to beonly of minor concern.

    As such, from the view of “multifaceted personology, thefive-factor model is one model in personality. . . not the model of personality”(McAdams, 1992: 355). In conclusion, the support and criticisms of the five factor model arenot as black and white as would be hoped. Each argument has logical reasoningand can provide evidence to support itself.

    Each view also has a large number ofsupporters. Neither one is necessarily correct, as it is possible for the modelto be applicable at some stages, and not applicable at others. As a result, itis probable and acceptable to conclude that the five factor theory may or maynot be an appropriate model of personality. Perhaps a comparison of how muchsupporting literature there is for each argument is a useful method for decidingwhich theory an individual may choose to support.Philosophy

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