What is the Five-Factor Model of Personality?
The Big Five or the Five-Factor Model of Personality is the most current, valid and reliable personality lens framework available today.
Psychologists use it as the primary means for understanding and interpreting personality.
From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, the Five-Factor Model of Personality was tested in academic and research communities worldwide and was found to be a superior model to earlier means of explaining and describing personality.
Language as the differentiator
Language is the one element all theories have in common. Language is the source of the metaphors we use to describe personality. Personality theories, or models, are metaphors for describing something indescribable—the human personality. Some metaphors are more vague than others. For example, a PET brain scan is less vague than a paper and pencil personality questionnaire.
Background of the Five-Factor Model of Personality
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.
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. Tupes and Christal established the five factors we know today. Unfortunately, their results were published in an obscure Air Force publication that was not read by the psychology or academic communities.
In the late 1950s, Warren Norman at the University of Michigan learned of Tupes and Christal’s 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, which we now refer to as the Five-Factor Model.
Throughout the 1980s and continuing through the present, personality researchers have established the Five-Factor Model as the basic paradigm for personality research.
Subsequent exhaustive, digital studies have confirmed the existence of these five factors that account for the variance in personality trait descriptors.
Consensus in the psychological community
Up until thirty years ago, the personality research community was fragmented, with Freud, Erikson, Horney, Jung, Murray, Eysenck, and others all claiming the best model. All were partially right, but only the Five-Factor Model has a scope wide enough to encompass them all.
What is different today versus twenty years ago is the clear trend toward embracing a single model—the Five-Factor Model—as the research paradigm to follow.
The comprehensive analyses in Dutch have provided so far the strongest cross-language evidence for the Five-Factor Model. John, Angleitner, & Ostendorf (1988)
The past decade has witnessed a rapid convergence of views regarding the structure of the concepts of personality. Digman (1990)
The major aim of this article has been to provide sufficient evidence to alleviate any qualms about the generality of the Five-Factor Model structure. Goldberg (1990)
We believe that the robustness of the Five-Factor Model provides a meaningful framework for formulating and testing hypotheses relating individual differences in personality to a wide range of criteria in personnel psychology, especially in the subfields of personnel selection, performance appraisal, and training and development. Barrick & Mount (1991)
I again, anticipate more extensive use by tomorrow's practitioners of new generations of inventories, for example, the NEO Personality Inventory developed by Costa and McCrae (1988) for the assessment in healthy individuals of something akin to today's five basic dimensions of character and personality that have evolved empirically from a line of inquiry first suggested by Galton a century ago. Matarazzo (1992)
The past decade has witnessed an electrifying burst of interest in the most fundamental problem of the field-- the search for a scientifically compelling taxonomy of personality traits. More importantly, the beginning of a consensus is emerging about the general framework of such a taxonomic representation. Goldberg (1993)
The [Five-Factor] model is considered to be the most comprehensive empirical or data-driven enquiry into personality. Wikipedia (200
Key components of the Five-Factor Model
- Personality has five dimensions
- Scores on dimensions will fall along a normal distribution (bell curve)
- Personality is best described by individual traits rather than type groupings
- Strength of individual scores indicates personality preferences
- People scoring in the midrange prefer a balance of the two extremes for that trait
Would you like to learn more about the Five-Factor Model of Personality?
Contact us to receive an electronic copy of our whitepaper, The Big Five Introduction, by Pierce J. Howard, Ph.D. and Jane M. Howard, M.B.A.
"There are a variety of different perspectives in the field of personality, including psychoanalytic and cognitive interpretations. However, the most commonly used and accepted is the Five-Factor descriptive model."
Piers Steel, Joseph Schmidt and Jonas Shultz (2008)