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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