and Theory of the Five-Factor Model
Get ready, trainers
and consultants! The personality paradigm is shifting. For three decades,
the training community has generally followed the assumptions of the
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) (Myers & McCaulley, 1985). These
- · a four-dimension
- · bimodal
distribution of scores on each dimension,
- · sixteen
- · the
concept of a primary function determined by Judger/Perceiver preference,
- · a grounding
in the personality theory of Carl Jung (1971).
The emerging new
paradigm is not a radical departure from the MBTI, but rather more of
an evolution from it. But, the new paradigm is sufficiently different
from the old one to require a significant shift in thinking. For example,
the new paradigm involves:
- · five
dimensions of personality,
- · a normal
distribution of scores on these dimensions,
- · an emphasis
on individual personality traits (the type concept is gone),
- · preferences
indicated by strength of score, and
- · a model
based on experience, not theory.
THE SEARCH FOR
THE BEST METAPHOR
or models, are metaphors for describing something which is intrinsically
indescribable--the human personality. For example, Robert Ornstein (1993,
pp. 2-3) writes, "Ideas for personality classifications...provide
everyone from small children to clinical psychiatrists with a routine
for classifying people, one that helps us make sense of ourselves and
others. But that's all they do, since one system doesn't map on to the
other.... We need an explanation to get through the day, and that is
what most personality-typing systems provide."
All language, in
fact, is metaphor--it is a process by which we express one thing--the
complex fabric of people and their environments--in terms of another--language.
We shall never know the entire truth--we can only talk about it. All
our language is about what we experience, but it is not the experience
itself. Why, even our scientific instruments can only approximate a
description of the true nature of things. Again, Ornstein says that
even positron emission tomagraphy (PET) scans are not a "window
to the mind, but merely...a metaphor." PET scans and personality
models are both metaphors for describing the person.
metaphors are more vague than others. A PET scan is less vague than
a paper and pencil questionnaire like the MBTI. The history of the study
of personality has been one of minimizing vagueness. Just as the theory
of Carl Jung reduced the vagueness of the theory of humors (which spoke
of phlegmatics, melancholics, sanguines, and cholerics), so Jung's theory
will be replaced by a model of personality which is yet less vague.
In a sense, the history of intellectual activity is the story of our
efforts to find the "source" metaphor from which all other
metaphors are derived. Just as Latin was the parent, or source, language
of all the romance tongues (such as French and Italian), so all of our
personality metaphors (such as Freud's and Jung's) must have a parent,
or source, metaphor that encompasses all the truths of the individually
derived personality metaphors. There is some truth in Jung's theory,
Freud's theory, and others' theories, but the human personality fabric
is woven from a far more complex set of fibers than any one theory contains.
THEORY, IS THE PARENT METAPHOR
Just as all cloths
are woven from fibers, so all theories are composed of language. Language
is the one ingredient that all theories have in common. So, it is from
language itself, and not theories, that we must extract the source metaphor
for describing personality. This was the insight that propelled Tupes
and Christal during the 1950s into the research that led to what
we know today as the Five-Factor Model (FFM), or the Big Five theory.
Allport and Odbert
(1936) were the first researchers to identify the trait-descriptive
words in the English language. Their compendium of 4,500 words has been
the primary starting point of language-based personality trait research
for the last sixty years. Much of the early research, however, was seriously
flawed. Raymond Cattell's work was typical of the serious limitations
of lexical studies done in the 1940's. Using modern computers, subsequent
replications of his original studies done by hand or by early computers
revealed calculation errors and, therefore, invalidated many of his
The first evidence
that flaws existed in Cattell's work was revealed by Fiske (1949), who
suggested that five, not sixteen, factors accounted for the variance
in personality trait descriptors. But Fiske stopped there, making no
big deal of his finding and not himself quite sure what to make of his
results. From 1954-1961, two Air Force personnel researchers, Tupes
and Christal (1961), became the first researchers to make use of Allport
and Odbert's work. Building on Cattell and Fiske, Tupes and Christal
thoroughly established the five factors we know today. Sadly, they published
their results in an obscure Air Force publication that was not read
either by the psychology or academic communities.
Then, in the late
1950s, Warren Norman at the University of Michigan learned of
Tupes and Christals work. Norman (1963) replicated the Tupes and
Christal study and confirmed the five-factor structure for trait taxonomy.
For bringing this discovery into the mainstream academic psychology
community, it became known, understandably but inappropriately, as Norman's
Big Five. Rightly, it should be Tupes and Christal's Big Five.
A flurry of other personality researchers confirmed Norman's findings.
But, even within
the academic bastion of truth, politics prevailed. The influence of
behaviorists, social psychologists and an especially withering attack
by Walter Mischel (1968), led to the suppression of trait theory. During
the 1960's and 1970's traits were out of favor--only behaviors and situational
responses were allowed. However, radical behaviorism began to fall from
its pedestal in the early 1980's with the rise of cognitive science.
Cognitive scientists proclaimed that there was more to the human mind
than stimulus and response (Howard, 1994). Throughout the 1980's and
continuing through the present, a plethora of personality researchers
have established the Five-Factor Model as the basic paradigm for personality
research. Four excellent summaries of this research tradition are Goldberg
(1993), Digman (1990), John, Angleitner, & Ostendorf (1988), and
THE BIG FIVE
Each of the Big
Five dimensions is like a bucket that holds a set of traits that tend
to occur together. The definitions of the five super factors represent
an attempt to describe the common element among the traits, or sub-factors,
within each "bucket." The most commonly accepted buckets of
traits are those developed by Costa and McCrae (1992). Their nomenclature
was developed for an academic and clinical population. Our emphasis
will be on applying their knowledge to the workplace. In 2001, we introduced
the WorkPlace Big Five Profile (Howard & Howard, 2001a), a 107-item
Big Five survey with language oriented towards the world of work that
measures the Big Five and 24 subtraits. We had to abandon such NEO terms
as Neuroticism--imagine an executive being called High
Neuroticism! In this section, we will present our workplace version
for use in professional development activities.
The Need for
Stability Factor (N)
The Need for Stability
refers to the degree to which a person responds to stress. More resiliant
persons tend to handle stressful workplace situations in a calm, steady,
and secure way. More reactive personas tend to respond in an alert,
concerned, attentive, or excitable way, thus creating te opportunity
to experience more workplace stress than others.
We have identified
four main correlated traits which comprise the need for stability bucket.
They are listed and defined in Table 1.
Need for Stability
At one extreme
of the need for stability continuum, we have the Reactive, who experiences
more negative emotions than most people and who reports less satisfaction
with life than most people. That is not meant to place a value judgment
on reactives, however, as the susceptibility to the need for stability
in the workplace provides the basis for shaping extremely important
roles in our sociaty such as social scientists, customer service professionals,
and academicians. However, extreme reactivity (high need for stability)
can interfere with the performance of many jobs.
Table 1. Four Facets of Need for Stability (Howard
& Howard, 2001a) with Anchors for the Two Extremes of the Continuum
the other extreme of the need for stability continuum, we have the Resilients,
who tend to be more rational at work than most people and who appear
rather impervious sometimes to what's going on around them. We think,
for example, of our choir director who didn't miss a beat during a dress
rehearsal when the podium on which he was standing collapsed forward.
He simply placed his feet at angles like a snow plow and kept his baton
moving. Of course, all the singers and instrumentalists broke out laughing
at this classic example of non-reactivity. He's unflappable. And that
extreme is also the foundation for many valuable social roles--from
air traffic controllers and airline pilots to military snipers, finance
managers, and engineers.
Of course, along
the Need for Stability continuum from reactive to resilient is the vast
middle range of what we call Responsives, who are a mixture of qualities
characteristic of resilients and reactives. Responsives are more able
to turn behaviors from both extremes on and off, calling on what seems
appropriate to the situation. A responsive, however, is not typically
able to maintain the calmness of a resilient for as long a period of
time, nor is a responsive typically able to maintain the nervous edge
of alertness of a reactive (as, for example, would be typical of a stock
trader during a session).
The Extraversion Factor
refers to the the degree to which a person can tolerate sensory stimulation
from people and situations. Those who score high on extraversion are
characterized by their preference of being around other people and involved
in many activities. Low extraversion is characterized by ones
preference to work alone and is typically described as serious, skeptical,
quiet, and a private person. Howard and Howard s six main facets
of extraversion are described in Table 2.
2. Six Facets of Extraversion (Howard & Howard, 2001a) with Anchors
for the Two Extremes of the Continuum
On the one
hand, the Extravert tends to exert more leadership, to be more physically
and verbally active, and to be more friendly and outgoing around others
than most people tend to be. This extraverted profile is the foundation
of many important social roles, from sales, to politics, to the arts
and the softer social sciences.
On the other hand,
the Introverts tend to be more independent, reserved, steady, and more
comfortable with being alone than most people are. This introverted
profile is the basis of such varied and important social roles as production
managers and the harder physical and natural sciences.
In between these
two extremes are the Ambiverts, who are able to move comfortably from
outgoing social situations to the isolation of working alone. The stereotypical
ambivert is the Player-Coach, who moves upon demand from the leadership
demands of Coach to the personal production demands of the Player.