The Five Factor Model of Personality Essay

This essay has a total of 2122 words and 11 pages.


The Five Factor Model of Personality



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 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. (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 less than 16 factors. Eyesencks' 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 (1967, cited in Merenda, 1993) found support for far less


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