!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: The Five-Factor Model of Personality

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Five-Factor Model of Personality

Most people involved with business training are more or less familiar with the Myers-Briggs model of personality. Based on Jungian theory, the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator assesses a person using four dichotomies:
  • Extroversion (E) – Introversion (I)
    Focus on the outer world vs. Focus on one's own inner world.

  • Sensing (S) – Intuition (N)
    Focus on the basic information one takes in vs. Focus on interpreting and adding meaning.

  • Thinking (T) – Feeling (F)
    When making decisions, first look at logic and consistency vs. First look at the people and special circumstances.

  • Judging (J) – Perceiving (P)
    In dealing with the outside world, aim to get things decided vs. Stay open to new information and options.
These dichotomies yield sixteen personality types — ISTJ, ISFJ, INFJ, INTJ, ISTP, ISFP, INFP, INTP, ESTP, ESFP, ENFP, ENTP, ESTJ, ESFJ, ENFJ, ENTJ.

It is important to know that psychologists have been migrating to an alternate model of personality over the last twenty-five years or so. This "Five-Factor Model" (aka the "Big Five" model) assesses personality in terms of five research-based (as opposed to theory-based) dimensions (or traits):1
  • Extroversion
    Measures cheerfulness, initiative and communicativeness. Those who score high are companionable, sociable, and able to accomplish what they set out to do. Those who score low are introverted, reserved, and more submissive to authority.
    Facets: Warmth, Gregariousness, Assertiveness, Activity, Excitement Seeking, and Positive Emotions

  • Agreeableness
    Describes how a person deals with others. Those who score high are friendly, empathetic, and warm. Those who score low tend to be shy, suspicious, and egocentric.
    Facets: Trust, Straightforwardness, Altruism, Compliance, Modesty, and Tendermindedness

  • Conscientiousness
    Measures a person's degree of organization. Those who score high are motivated, disciplined, and trustworthy. Those who score low tend to be irresponsible and easily distracted.
    Facets: Competence, Order, Dutifulness, Achievement Striving, Self-Discipline, and Deliberation

  • Openness
    Measures a person's receptiveness to new information and experiences. Those who score high relish novelty and are generally creative. Those who score low are more conventional in their thinking, prefer routines, and have a pronounced sense of right and wrong.
    Facets: Fantasy, Aesthetics, Feelings, Actions, Ideas, and Values

  • Neuroticism
    Measures emotional stabiity. Those who score low are calm, confident, and contented. Those who score high are anxious, inhibited, moody, and less self-assured.
    Facets: Anxiety, Hostility, Depression, Self-Consciousness, Impulsiveness, and Vulnerability to Stress
Pierce and Jane Howard, business consultants, provide a business-oriented overview of the Five-Factor Model (FFM) that, among other things, outlines the differences between the Myers-Briggs model, which they used to use in their work, and the Five-Factor model, which they adopted in 1991. Drawing on a 1989 article by two of the developers of the Five-Factor model2 the Howards list these points concerning how the two models compare (presented here in edited form):
  • The Myers-Briggs Thinking vs. Feeling dimension is unstable because it does not separate Neuroticism from Agreeableness. The concept of thinking vs. feeling does not map precisely to the FFM; in order to measure the thinking/feeling trait, one would need to piece together several different facet scores from among the thirty facets of the FFM.

  • Because the distribution of scores is normal and not bimodal (binary), the practice of dichotomizing respondents is unjustified. For example, dealing with just the two categories Extrovert and Introvert is not appropriate; better to follow the FFM practice of measuring degrees of extroversion.

  • The Judging vs. Perceiving preference does not identify one's "primary function," i.e., does not identify the approach — sensing, intuiting, thinking, or feeling — that a person uses most often and most proficiently. One should be able to assume that a person's primary function would be the function with the highest score, but it turns out that the J/P preference picks the highest function score at a rate no better than chance.

  • The "type" concept is invalid. Assuming the integrity of the sixteen four-letter Myers-Briggs types, one would expect to find consistent correlations among the types and other behavioral measures, but this is not the case. Rather than reporting a five-letter type, the FFM simply reports five trait scores, while recognizing that many behaviors are explained by the combined effect of two or more FFM traits. For example, authoritarian behavior is generally associated with high Neuroticism, low Openness, and low Agreeableness.

  • Introspection, or reflection, is not associated with introversion, but rather with the trait called Intuition by the MBTI, and Openness by the FFM.

  • The Judgment/Perception scale does not measure one's decisiveness, but rather appears to measure one's need for structure.

  • The definitional problems with the Thinking/Feeling dimension are many, but they are resolved by adopting the two FFM dimensions, Neuroticism and Agreeableness. A preference for reason and logic belongs to the low end of the Neuroticism trait, while a preference for harmony belongs to the high end of the Agreeableness trait.
You can take a version of the FFM test here. A shorter version is available here.

1 The definitions given here are adapted from those in "Set in Our Ways: Why Change is So Hard," by Nikolas Westerhoff, Scientific American Mind, December 2008/January 2009, p. 48.

The facets for each dimension are taken from a summary published by the Association for Assessment in Counseling and Education.

2 "Reinterpreting the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator From the Perspective of the Five-Factor Model of Personality," by Robert R. McCrae and Paul T. Costa, Jr., Journal of Personality, Vol. 57, No. 1 (March 1989), pp. 17-40.


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