The Big Five Research Paper

Abstract

Today most of the employers prefer to conduct personality trait test before taking the decision about each potential employee. The aim of this testing is to make predictions about possible success and academic performance of an individual in various settings. There is a great number of academic theories, which try to conceptualize and generalize the ideas about individuals’ similarities and differences, for example these are psychoanalytic theory, cognitive theory or psychodynamic theory. Each of these theories is meaningful for understanding of human individual differences. Irrespective of the concrete theory, chosen by the investigator, the main aim of investigator is to create a structured model with the help of which he would be able to explain personality traits.  Starting from 1980s trait-oriented researchers worked out a consensus, regarding the description mode of personality. They have pointed out five main personality traits, which were later called the Big Five Personality Trait model. This model was unique because it was not based upon any of the previously developed theories, instead the categories for this model were obtained from the daily common words, used by usual people, when they are to make characterization of themselves or other people around. This is the reason, why the Big Five Personality Trait model does not displace any of the already existing theories of personality traits, rather it unites the studies of these theories into one single framework. During the last decade the Big Five personality trait model was supported by various research studies, which reinforced its progress and thus at the moment it is considered to be the best personality model.

Discussion

Before a new theory or model is established, the researchers tend to consider the degree of its compatibility with other already existing theories. “Eysenck derived his PEN model from Cattell’s 16-factor model and within the same factor analytic psychological model however, they are not contradicted, McMartin proposed “the structure of personality is best conceptualized as consisting of five major traits, rather than Eysenck’s 3 types” (Poropat, 2009). Thus it is possible to assume that the Big Five Personality Trait model could be applied to other factor-analytical models without conflicts. Some researchers prefer to assess the Big Five Personality Trait model with the help of the Trait Descriptive Adjectives and assumed that there are reliabilities and internal consistency between them. The recent research has proved that the five-factor model could be considered compatible with a number of other psychological personality models. There is even some correlation found between this model and Freud’s psychoanalysis theories. Certainly this could be said only about some elements of these theories and some elements from the Big Five Personality Traits model, still this is another proof of its adaptability and compatibility. One more important characteristic feature of any successful psychological theory is its ability to relate to both organizational field and clinical field and at the same time remain of the high degree of consistency. McAdams (1992) assumed that the Big Five Personality Traits model is close to a list of five dimensions, being helpful for specification and classification of personality traits and not just a psychological theory. When applied into academic field this model could provide views about broad dimensions, related to human individual peculiarities. “These dimensions can be measured with high level of reliability and impressive validity.” (Poropat, 2009). According to Poropat (2009) the Big Five Personality Traits model is good for providing the personality traits structure.

Despite the critical remarks of the Big Five Personality Traits model, it does have its benefits. First of all it could provide an integrated theory framework, which is simple enough and at the same time is consistent with economic principles. “Since the research carried out about the correlation relationship between the Big Five Personality Traits model and the job performance, there is an agreed conclusion that this personality traits model can predict job performance, especially contextual performance.” (Poropat, 2009). Advantages of the model were discussed by many researchers. They consider the Big Five Personality Traits to be an established model for creating a description of personality traits. Researchers have actually paid a lot of attention towards calculating of the actual number of the main personality traits. Catell has suggested 16 factors, whereas Eysenck – only 3, the first one seemed to be a too long list, whereas the second one failed to include all the important factors. Those five factors, offered by this model, turned out to be optimal number of factors to provide detailed but not too profound description. Such position caused some criticism, as only five factors for identification of human personality traits were said to be not enough to create a well established descriptive model. In addition the advocates of the Big Five stated that all these five variables are independent towards each other. In reality it could not always be in this way. A number of problems were found, when transmitting of the meaning of these five variables to different language systems, which turned out to be a challenge for the compatibility of the model. “Fourth, many different ideas on how many should we number for the factors appears, there are 3, 4, 6, 7 factors separately. And finally, the Big Five Personality Traits is not capable and suitable for all cultural backgrounds; apart from the United States, researchers should carry out their own local studies.”  (Poropat, 2009) Concerning the ways of measuring of the five personality traits, Costa and McCrae had worked out the questionnaire for measuring of the Big Five Personality Traits. Later they offered their updated version, which made the personality model more measurable. The practical problem here is that a reliable result could be gained only under the condition that the respondents are ready to provide their voluntary answers, when they are ready to reveal truthful descriptions of themselves and not in the situation, when they are interested in hiding of their negative features and informing only about the positive ones, as they could do, when looking for job for example.  Mount and Barrick (1998) have conducted the study of the relation of the Big Five personality dimensions (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness to experience, emotional stability) to several job criteria, namely job proficiency, personnel data and training proficiency. They concluded that some dimensions of personality really revealed consistent relations with job performance criteria, whereas other dimensions remained dependant upon the type of occupational group and criterion type.

One of the important disadvantages of the Big Five Personality Traits model is the fact that these five factors are not completely “orthogonal” to each other. It was already mentioned that these factors are not independent. There are often negative correlations between Extroversion and Neuroticism, it could be proved with simple example from real life, as those individuals, who are more inclined towards experiencing negative emotions, are also less outgoing and talkative. One more weak side of the Big Five is that this model fails to explain the complete human personality. For example some of the researchers criticized this model for lack of consideration of such personality traits as manipulativeness, honesty, conservativeness, snobbishness, sense of humor and so on. Correlations between different factors are not really explained by the Five Factors model. According to Hochwarter et. al. (2000) there are situational factors, which might be influential upon the correlation between for example conscientiousness and job performance. Organizational politics, which is worked out for the concrete organization, could have serious impart upon the relationship between job performance and conscientiousness. The methodology, which was used for investigating of these phenomena, lacks universally-accepted scientific and statistical basis for making the choice between the solutions with various factors and numbers. In other words the five factor solution could be a choice of the analyst to some extent. “A larger number of factors may, in fact, underlie these five factors and a dataset of these variables may be factored into simpler models. This has lead to disputes about the “true” number of factors. Many researchers and practitioners have criticisized these five factors as being far too broad for applied work.” (Poropat, 2009).

Self report questionnaires are considered to be a weakness of the Big Five Personality Traits model, as such approach provides enough space for falsification of responses, especially in the situations, when the respondents are aware of the real aim of this questionnaire and of actual expectations of those, who conduct this research. Finally the last weakness of the Big Five is the lack of any underlying theory as the basis for it. Actually this is an empirical finding, which is collected together by some descriptors, doing factor analysis. It does not mean to say that the five factors do not exist in reality, the problem is that nobody knows exactly about their underlying factors. “There is no theoretical justification for why sensation seeking and gregariousness are predictive of general Extroversion, for instance; this is an area for future research to investigate.” (Poropat, 2009). Talking about life examples, I could remember of the situation, when a person wanted to get a job and filled in the questionnaire proposed. There he responded “yes” to being extravert as he knew that the job position of a manager demanded a lot of communication with customers and team workers. In reality it turned out that he could hardly communicate and was too shy to talk on the phone with unknown people.

Future suggestions

Nowadays the research in this sphere is focused mainly on the three aspects. First of all it is important to conclude, whether these five factors, which were chosen, are really the correct ones. It was already mentioned that there were even problems with replicating of the Big Five in various countries, whereas in a number of countries the process was successful. For example Hungarians do not have openness to experience, actually they do in fact, but it is hard to find the corresponding term in their language to describe this factor exactly. Researchers have found several factors instead in order to transmit the idea precisely. Secondly, it is important to identify the area of predictions for each of the factors. Often all the predictions are related to job outcomes, as employees want to measure the personalities of their employees with the aim to take decisions about their job potential. At the same time there are a lot of other life outcomes, which could be meaningful and be affected by human personality, these could be various habits or interest and other occupations of individuals. Finally these two suggestions should lead towards creating of a model of personality. Mostly the Big Five personality traits refer to empirical observations and not a concrete theory. There is a need to make explanations to the observations of personality research. Ideally the theory should be so strong that it would explain the personality from the cradle to the grave.

Overall, the Big Five personality traits model is also known as the five factor model and it is based upon common language descriptors of human personality. Most people use the same aspects of personality, when they are to provide a descriptive analysis of it. The Big Five has a number of advantages, as well as is criticized for its drawbacks. There is space for further research in this sphere, which could turn the model into a strong and universal theory.

References:

DeYoung, Colin, G. (2006). Higher-Order Factors of the Big Five in a Multi-Informant Sample. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Hochwarter, Wayne, A., Witt, L.A., Kacmar, Michele, K. (2000). Perceptions of organizational politics as a moderator of the relationship between conscientiousness and job performance.   Journal of Applied Psychology.

Judge, Timothy, A., Higgins, Chad, A., Thoresen, Carl, J., Barrick, Murray, R. (1999). The Big Five Personality Traits, general mental ability, and career success across the life span. Personnel Psychology

Mount, Michael, K., Barrick, Murrey, R. (1998). Five reasons why the “Big Five” article has been frequently cited. Personnel Psychology

Poropat, A. E. (2009). A meta-analysis of the five-factor model of personality and academic performance”. Psychological Bulletin.

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