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Take the free online Big Five Personality Test and screenshot your results.

Download Complete the Career Dispositions Self-Inventory Worksheet.

Submit (upload as an attachment) your completed worksheet in MS Word doc format (not PDF).

PSY/250 v11

Career Dispositions Self-Inventory Worksheet

PSY/250 v11

Page 3 of 3

Career Dispositions Self-Inventory Worksheet

Introduction

Refer to Ch. 13 in your textbook,
Theories of Personality.

McCrae and Costa (Feist et al., 2021) theorized that personality traits can be categorized by five major factors:

· Openness

· Conscientiousness

· Extraversion

· Agreeableness

· Neuroticism

Like Allport, they claim that individuals will score at a specific point along a continuum for each of the five factors. For example, a high score in extraversion may reflect that someone is outgoing, or a low score may reflect that a person is reserved. Most people will score somewhere in the middle, with only a few who score at either of the extremes.

Combined, these factors can give us insight into recognizing and accepting our own dispositional traits, as well as those of others. Such an understanding of personality can help us self-reflect, predict behaviors, and demonstrate empathy in ways that can improve our relationships with colleagues in diverse workplace environments.

Part I: Trait Theories

In 125-175 words,
explain how dispositional trait theories (Allport, McCrae and Costa) are different from biological trait theories (Eysenck and Buss). Why is it important to understand the difference?

Part II: Big Five Personality Test

Take the
Big Five Personality Test to obtain a free basic report of your personality traits. Be honest with your answers so you can improve on your personal and work relationships. The report will display a graph that looks like this:

Provide your results below using one of the following methods:

· Type your results as a percentage for each trait.

· Create a chart or graph of your percentages.

· Take a screenshot of the graph of your results and paste it into this document.

Part III: Personality Trait Scores

Discuss each dimension of your personality based on the Big Five Personality Test report of your trait scores in 175–225 total words.

1. Summarize each dimension of your personality in 2-4 sentences; include examples of your behavior reflected in each dimension.

a) Openness:

b) Conscientiousness:

c) Extraversion:

d) Agreeableness:

e) Neuroticism:

2. How accurate do you believe the Big Five Personality Test is in its description of your personality? Explain your answer.

Part IV: Career Trait Dispositions

Every career requires a different set of skills and aptitudes. While it is important to know the skills required to succeed at a job, it is equally important to know the types of personalities that would best match that career.

Use your test results and
apply your knowledge of dispositional and biological personality trait theories to respond to the following examples in 200-300 total words:

1. You have been invited to interview for a position as a salesperson in a retail store. Explain how well you would fit this role by describing your personality to the hiring manager.

2. You are considering a position as a bookkeeper for a small accounting firm. How well would your personality fare in this environment? Include at least one biological factor in your explanation.

3.
National Geographic magazine is looking for a photographer. Which personality dimensions would require high scores to be successful in this position?

4. Based on the results of the Big Five Personality Test, what might be the ideal career for your personality? Why?

References

Feist, J., Feist, G. J., & Roberts, T. (2021).
Theories of personality (10th ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.

Example Graph of Test Results

Series 1 N A E C O 0.31 0.71 0.65 0.85 0.875

Copyright 2021 by University of Phoenix. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2021 by University of Phoenix. All rights reserved.

image1.png

1187326 – McGraw-Hill Higher Education (US) ©

 

CHAPTER 13

McCrae and Costa’s Five-Factor Trait Theory

Courtesy Robert R. McCrae, PhD

Courtesy Paul T. Costa Jr., PhD

◆ Overview of Trait and Factor Theories

◆ The Pioneering Work of Raymond B. Cattell

◆ Basics of Factor Analysis

◆ The Big Five: Taxonomy or Theory?

◆ Biographies of Robert R. McCrae and Paul T. Costa, Jr.

◆ In Search of the Big Five

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T

Five Factors Found
Description of the Five Factors

◆ Evolution of the Five-Factor Theory

Units of the Five-Factor Theory
Basic Postulates

◆ Related Research

Consistency and Change of Personality over the Lifetime
Measuring the Big Five with Our Digital Footprints

◆ Critique of Trait and Factor Theories

◆ Concept of Humanity

◆ Key Terms and Concepts

◆ References

 

homas was at a local bar with a few long-time friends, but one of them—Samuel—said something that
really upset Thomas, who had one too many to drink. Thomas stood up, pushed Samuel, and started a fight
then and there. Clarisse, a friend of Samuel’s, pulled Thomas off before anyone got seriously hurt. Clarisse

didn’t know Thomas well but was absolutely convinced that he was an aggressive, impulsive jerk and told
Thomas as much as the three went storming out of the bar. Samuel, surprisingly, came to Thomas’s defense and
said “You know, Thomas is really a good guy. That wasn’t like him—he must have been having a rough day. Give
him a break.”

Is Thomas an aggressive jerk or just having a rough day? Can we say Thomas is aggressive and impulsive
without knowing anything else about Thomas’s personality? Is this the way he normally is? What about when he
is not drunk? Does he act aggressively and impulsively in other situations? Does the situation (rough day) explain
best how Thomas acted or is it more accurate to explain his actions by his personality (aggressive jerk)?

These are the kinds of questions that psychologists ask. Social psychologists are likely to explain Thomas’s
behavior by the situation (rough day). Personality psychologists are more likely to attribute Thomas’s behavior to
enduring traits. A trait, as you recall from the opening chapter, makes people unique and contributes to the
consistency of how they behave in different situations and over time. Traits are the focus of study of many
personality psychologists, but historically different psychologists had their own particular list of personality traits
they focused on and there was little consensus as to what the major dimensions of personality were. This was
at least the case until the 1980s when the field converged on an answer: there are five major dimensions of
personality, namely extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience.
These are the so-called “Big Five” traits of personality and their widespread adoption and acceptance owes
much to the research and theory of Robert McCrae and Paul Costa.

Overview of Trait and Factor Theories
How can personality best be measured? By standardized tests? Clinical observation? Judgments of friends and
acquaintances? Factor theorists have used all these methods and more. A second question is: How many traits
or personal dispositions does a single person possess? Two or three? Half a dozen? A couple of hundred? More
than a thousand? During the past 25–45 years, several individuals (Cattell, 1973, 1983; Eysenck, 1981, 1997a)
and several teams of researchers (Costa & McCrae, 1992; McCrae & Costa, 2003; Tupes & Christal, 1961) have
taken a factor analytic approach to answering these questions. Presently, most researchers who study
personality traits agree that five, and only five, and no fewer than five dominant traits continue to emerge from
factor analytic techniques—mathematical procedures capable of sifting personality traits from mountains of test
data.

Whereas many contemporary theorists believe that five is the magic number, earlier theorists such as
Raymond B. Cattell found many more personality traits, and Hans J. Eysenck insisted that only three major
factors can be discerned by a factor analytic approach. In addition, we have seen that Gordon Allport’s (see

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Chapter 12) commonsense approach yielded 5–10 traits that are central to each person’s life. However, Allport’s
major contribution to trait theory may have been his identification of nearly 18,000 trait names in an unabridged
English language dictionary. These trait names were the basis for Cattell’s original work, and they continue to
provide the foundation for recent factor analytic studies.

The Five-Factor Theory (often called the Big Five) includes neuroticism and extraversion; but it adds
openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. These terms differ slightly from research team
to research team, but the underlying traits are quite similar.

The Pioneering Work of Raymond B. Cattell
An important figure in the early years of psychometrics was Raymond B. Cattell (1905–1998), who was born in
England but who spent most of his career in the United States. Cattell had only an indirect influence on McCrae
and Costa. They did, however, share techniques and ideas, even if their approaches also had some real
differences. Because some familiarity with Cattell’s trait theory enhances the understanding of McCrae and
Costa’s five-factor theory, we briefly discuss Cattell’s work and compare and contrast it with that of McCrae and
Costa.

First, Cattell and McCrae and Costa both used an inductive method of gathering data; that is, they began with
no preconceived bias concerning the number or name of traits or types. Other factor theorists, however, have
used the deductive method, that is, they have preconceived hypotheses in mind before they begin to collect data.

Second, Cattell used three different media of observation to examine people from as many angles as
possible. The three sources of data included a person’s life record (L data) derived from observations made by
other people; self-reports (Q data) obtained from questionnaires and other techniques designed to allow people
to make subjective descriptions of themselves; and objective tests (T data), which measure performance such
as intelligence, speed of responding, and other such activities designed to challenge people’s maximum
performance. In contrast, each of McCrae and Costa’s five bipolar factors is limited to responses on
questionnaires. These self-reports confine McCrae and Costa’s procedures to personality factors.

Third, Cattell divided traits into common traits (shared by many) and unique traits (peculiar to one individual).
He also distinguished source traits from trait indicators, or surface traits. Cattell further classified traits into
temperament, motivation, and ability. Traits of temperament are concerned with how a person behaves,
motivation deals with why one behaves, and ability refers to how far or how fast one can perform.

Fourth, Cattell’s multifaceted approach yielded 35 primary, or first-order, traits, which measure mostly the
temperament dimension of personality. Of these factors, 23 characterize the normal population and 12 measure
the pathological dimension. The largest and most frequently studied of the normal traits are the 16 personality
factors found on Cattell’s (1949) Sixteen Personality Factors Questionnaire (16 PF Scale). By comparison, the
NEO Personality Inventory of Costa and McCrae yields scores on only five personality factors.

 

Basics of Factor Analysis
A comprehensive knowledge of the mathematical operations involved in factor analysis is not essential to an
understanding of trait and factor theories of personality, but a general description of this technique should be
helpful.

To use factor analysis, one begins by making specific observations of many individuals. These observations
are then quantified in some manner; for example, height is measured in inches; weight in pounds; aptitude in test
scores; job performance by rating scales; and so on. Assume that we have 1,000 such measures on 5,000
people. Our next step is to determine which of these variables (scores) are related to which other variables and to
what extent. To do this, we calculate the correlation coefficient between each variable and each of the other 999
scores. (A correlation coefficient is a mathematical procedure for expressing the degree of correspondence
between two sets of scores.) To correlate 1,000 variables with the other 999 scores would involve 499,500
individual correlations (1,000 multiplied by 999 divided by 2). Results of these calculations would require a table
of intercorrelations, or a matrix, with 1,000 rows and 1,000 columns. Some of these correlations would be high
and positive, some near zero, and some would be negative. For example, we might observe a high positive
correlation between leg length and height, because one is partially a measure of the other. We may also find a

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positive correlation between a measure of leadership ability and ratings on social poise. This relationship might
exist because they are each part of a more basic underlying trait—self-confidence.

With 1,000 separate variables, our table of intercorrelations would be quite cumbersome. At this point, we turn
to factor analysis, which can account for a large number of variables with a smaller number of more basic
dimensions. These more basic dimensions can be called traits, that is, factors that represent a cluster of closely
related variables. For example, we may find high positive intercorrelations among test scores in algebra,
geometry, trigonometry, and calculus. We have now identified a cluster of scores that we might call Factor M,
which represents mathematical ability. In similar fashion, we can identify a number of other factors, or units of
personality derived through factor analysis. The number of factors, of course, will be smaller than the original
number of observations.

Our next step is to determine the extent to which each individual score contributes to the various factors.
Correlations of scores with factors are called factor loadings. For example, if scores for algebra, geometry,
trigonometry, and calculus contribute highly to Factor M but not to other factors, they will have high factor
loadings on M. Factor loadings give us an indication of the purity of the various factors and enable us to interpret
their meanings.

Traits generated through factor analysis may be either unipolar or bipolar. Unipolar traits are scaled from zero
to some large amount. Height, weight, and intellectual ability are examples of unipolar traits. In contrast, bipolar
traits extend from one pole to an opposite pole, with zero representing a midpoint. Introversion versus
extraversion, liberalism versus conservatism, and social ascendancy versus timidity are examples of bipolar
traits.

In order for mathematically derived factors to have psychological meaning, the axes on which the scores are
plotted are usually turned or rotated into a specific mathematical relationship with each other. This rotation can
be either orthogonal or oblique, but advocates of the Five-Factor Theory favor the orthogonal rotation. Figure 13.1
shows that orthogonally rotated axes are at right angles to each other. As scores on the x variable increase,
scores on the y axis may have any value; that is, they are completely unrelated to scores on the x axis.

 

FIGURE 13.1 Orthogonal Axes.

The oblique method, which was advocated by Cattell, assumes some positive or negative correlation and
refers to an angle of less than or more than 90°. Figure 13.2 depicts a scattergram of scores in which x and y are
positively correlated with one another; that is, as scores on the x variable increase, scores on the y axis also have
a tendency to increase. Note that the correlation is not perfect; some people may score high on the x variable but
relatively low on y and vice versa. A perfect correlation (r = 1.00) would result in x and y occupying the same line.
Psychologically, orthogonal rotation usually results in only a few meaningful traits, whereas oblique methods
ordinarily produce a larger number.

1187326 – McGraw-Hill Higher Education (US) ©

FIGURE 13.2 Oblique Axes.

The Big Five: Taxonomy or Theory?
In Chapter 1, we defined a taxonomy as a classification of things according to their natural relationships. We also
suggested that taxonomies are an essential starting point for the advance of science, but that they are not
theories. Whereas theories generate research, taxonomies merely supply a classification system.

In the following discussion of McCrae and Costa’s Five-Factor Model (FFM), we will see that their work began
as an attempt to identify basic personality traits as revealed by factor analysis. This work soon evolved into a
taxonomy and the Five-Factor Model. After much additional work, this model became a theory, one that can both
predict and explain behavior.

Biographies of Robert R. McCrae and Paul T. Costa, Jr.
Robert Roger McCrae was born on April 28, 1949 in Maryville, Missouri, a town of 13,000 people located about
100 miles north of Kansas City. Maryville is home to Northwest Missouri State, the town’s largest employer.
McCrae, the youngest of three children born to Andrew McCrae and Eloise Elaine McCrae, grew up with an avid
interest in science and mathematics. By the time he entered Michigan State University, he had decided to study
philosophy. A National Merit Scholar, he nevertheless was not completely happy with the open-ended and non-
empirical nature of philosophy. After completing his undergraduate degree, he entered graduate school at Boston
University with a major in psychology. Given his inclination and talent for math and science, McCrae found
himself intrigued by the psychometric work of Raymond Cattell. In particular, he became curious about using
factor analysis to search for a simple method for identifying the structural traits found in the dictionary. At Boston
University, McCrae’s major professor was Henry Weinberg, a clinical psychologist with only a peripheral interest
in personality traits. Hence, McCrae’s interest in traits had to be nourished more internally than externally.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Walter Mischel (see Chapter 18) was questioning the notion that personality
traits are consistent, claiming that the situation is more important than any personality trait. Although Mischel has
since revised his stance on the consistency of personality, his views were accepted by many psychologists
during those years. In a personal communication dated May 4, 1999, McCrae wrote: “I attended graduate school
in the years after Mischel’s (1968) critique of trait psychology. Many psychologists at the time were prepared to
believe that traits were nothing but response sets, stereotypes, or cognitive fictions. That never made any sense
to me, and my early research experience showing remarkable stability in longitudinal studies encouraged the
belief that traits were real and enduring.” Nevertheless, McCrae’s work on traits while in graduate school was a
relatively lonely enterprise, being conducted quietly and without much fanfare. As it turns out, this quiet approach
was well-suited to his own relatively quiet and introverted personality.

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In 1975, 4 years into his PhD program, McCrae’s destiny was about to change. He was sent by his advisor to
work as a research assistant with James Fozard, an adult developmental psychologist at the Normative Aging
Study at the Veterans Administration Outpatient Clinic in Boston. It was Fozard who referred McCrae to another
Boston-based personality psychologist, Paul T. Costa Jr., who was on the faculty at University of Massachusetts
at Boston.

After McCrae completed his PhD in 1976, Costa hired him as project director and co-principal investigator for
his Smoking and Personality Grant. McCrae and Costa worked together on this project for 2 years, until they both
were hired by the National Institute on Aging’s Gerontology Research Center, a division of the National Institutes
of Health (NIH) housed in Baltimore. Costa was hired as the chief of the section on stress and coping, whereas
McCrae took the position as senior staff fellow. Because the Gerontology Research Center already had large,
well-established datasets of adults, it was an ideal place for Costa and McCrae to investigate the question of
how personality is structured. During the 1970s, with the shadow of Mischel’s influence still hanging heavily over
the study of personality and with the concept of traits being nearly a taboo subject, Costa and McCrae conducted
work on traits that ensured them a prominent role in the 40-year history of analyzing the structure of personality.

Paul T. Costa, Jr. was born on September 16, 1942 in Franklin, New Hampshire, the son of Paul T. Costa, Sr.
and Esther Vasil Costa. He earned his undergraduate degree in psychology at Clark University in 1964 and both
his master’s (1968) and PhD (1970) in human development from the University of Chicago. His longstanding
interests in individual differences and the nature of personality increased greatly in the stimulating intellectual
environment at the University of Chicago. While at Chicago, he worked with Salvatore R. Maddi, with whom he
published a book on humanistic personality theory (Maddi & Costa, 1972). After receiving his PhD, he taught for 2
years at Harvard and then from 1973 to 1978 at University of Massachusetts–Boston. In 1978, he began working
at the National Institute of Aging’s Gerontology Research Center, becoming the chief for the Section on Stress
and Coping and then in 1985 chief for the Laboratory of Personality & Cognition. That same year, 1985, he
became president of Division 20 (Adult Development and Aging) of the American Psychological Association.
Among his other list of accomplishments are fellow of American Psychological Association in 1977 and
president of International Society for the Study of Individual Differences in 1995. Costa and his wife, Karol
Sandra Costa, have three children, Nina, Lora, and Nicholas.

The collaboration between Costa and McCrae has been unusually fruitful, with well over 200 co-authored
research articles and chapters, and several books, including Emerging Lives, Enduring Dispositions (McCrae &
Costa, 1984), Personality in Adulthood: A Five-Factor Theory Perspective, 2nd ed. (McCrae & Costa, 2003), and
Revised NEO Personality Inventory (Costa & McCrae, 1992).

In Search of the Big Five
The study of traits was first begun by Allport and Odbert in the 1930s and continued by Cattell in the 1940s and by
Tupes, Christal, and Norman in the 1960s (see John & Srivastava, 1999, for a historical review of the Five-Factor
Model, or the Big-Five).

 

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Costa and McCrae, like most other factor researchers, were building
elaborate taxonomies of personality traits, but they were not using these classifications to generate testable
hypotheses. Instead, they were simply using factor analytic techniques to examine the stability and structure of
personality. During this time, Costa and McCrae focused initially on the two main dimensions of neuroticism and
extraversion.

Almost immediately after they discovered N and E, Costa and McCrae found a third factor, which they called
openness to experience. Most of Costa and McCrae’s early work remained focused on these three dimensions
(see, e.g., Costa & McCrae, 1976; Costa, Fozard, McCrae, & Bosse, 1976). Although Lewis Goldberg had first used
the term “Big Five” in 1981 to describe the consistent findings of factor analyses of personality traits, Costa and
McCrae continued their work on the three factors.

Five Factors Found

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As late as 1983, McCrae and Costa were arguing for a three-factor model of personality. Not until 1985 did they
begin to report work on the five factors of personality. This work culminated in their new five-factor personality
inventory: the NEO-PI (Costa & McCrae, 1985). The NEO-PI was a revision of an earlier unpublished personality
inventory that measured only the first three dimensions: N, E, and O. In the 1985 inventory, the last two
dimensions—agreeableness and conscientiousness—were still the least well-developed scales, having no
subscales associated with them. Costa and McCrae (1992) did not fully develop the A and C scales until the
Revised NEO-PI appeared in 1992.

Throughout the 1980s, McCrae and Costa (1985, 1989) continued their work of factor analyzing almost every
other major personality inventory, including the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (Myers, 1962) and the Eysenck
Personality Inventory (H. Eysenck & S. Eysenck, 1975, 1993). For instance, in a direct comparison of their model
with Eysenck’s inventory, Costa and McCrae reported that Eysenck’s first two factors (N and E) are completely
consistent with their first two factors. Eysenck’s measure of psychoticism mapped onto the low ends of
agreeableness and conscientiousness but did not tap into openness (Costa and McCrae, 1985).

At that time, there were two major and related questions in personality research. First, with the dozens of
different personality inventories and hundreds of different scales, how was a common language to emerge?
Everyone had his or her own somewhat idiosyncratic set of personality variables, making comparisons between
studies and cumulative progress difficult. Indeed, as Eysenck (1991a) wrote:

Where we have literally hundreds of inventories incorporating thousands of traits, largely overlapping but also
containing specific variance, each empirical finding is strictly speaking only relevant to a specific trait. This is
not the way to build a unified scientific discipline. (p. 786)

Second, what is the structure of personality? Cattell argued for 16 factors, Eysenck for three, and many
others were starting to argue for five. The major accomplishment of the Five-Factor Model (FFM) has been to
provide answers to both these questions.

Since the late 1980s and early 1990s, most personality psychologists have opted for the Five-Factor Model
(Digman, 1990; John & Srivastava, 1999). The five factors have been found across a variety of cultures, using a
plethora of languages (McCrae & Allik, 2002). In addition, the five factors show some permanence with age; that
is, adults—in the absence of catastrophic illness such as Alzheimer’s—tend to maintain the same personality
structure as they grow older (McCrae & Costa, 2003). These findings prompted McCrae and Costa (1996) to write
that “the facts about personality are beginning to fall into place” (p. 78). Or as McCrae and Oliver John (1992)
insisted, the existence of five factors “is an empirical fact, like the fact that there are seven continents or eight
American presidents from Virginia” (p. 194). (Incidentally, it is not an empirical fact that this earth has seven
continents: Most geographers count only six.)

Description of the Five Factors
McCrae and Costa agreed with Eysenck that personality traits are bipolar and follow a bell-shaped distribution.
That is, most people score near the middle of each trait, with only a few people scoring at the extremes. How can
people at the extremes be described?

Neuroticism (N) and extraversion (E) are the two strongest and most ubiquitous personality traits, and Costa
and McCrae conceptualize in much the same way as Eysenck defined them. People who score high on
neuroticism tend to be anxious, temperamental, self-pitying, self-conscious, emotional, and vulnerable to stress-
related disorders. Those who score low on N are usually calm, even-tempered, self-satisfied, and unemotional.

People who score high on extraversion tend to be affectionate, jovial, talkative, joiners, and fun-loving. In
contrast, low E scorers are likely to be reserved, quiet, loners, passive, and lacking the ability to express strong
emotion (see Table 13.1).

 

Table 13.1

Costa and McCrae’s Five-Factor Model of Personality

Extraversion High Scores Low Scores

affectionate reserved

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joiner
talkative
fun loving
active
passionate
outgoing

loner
quiet
sober
passive
unfeeling
solitary

Neuroticism anxious
temperamental
self-pitying
self-conscious
emotional
vulnerable
sensitive
nervous

calm
even-tempered
self-satisfied
comfortable
unemotional
hardy
secure
confident

Openness imaginative
creative
original
prefers variety
curious
liberal
inventive

down-to-earth
uncreative
conventional
prefers routine
cautious
conservative
consistent

Agreeableness softhearted
trusting
generous
acquiescent
lenient
good-natured
friendly
compassionate

ruthless
suspicious
stingy
antagonistic
critical
irritable
challenging
detached

Conscientiousness conscientious
hardworking
well-organized
punctual
ambitious
persevering
efficient

negligent
lazy
disorganized
late
aimless
quitting
easy-going

Source: Table adapted from John, Nauman, & Soto, 2008.

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People high in openness to experience can be creative and prefer activities that are socially uncommon.
Liam Bailey/Image Source

 

Openness to experience distinguishes people who prefer variety from those who have a need for closure and
who gain comfort in their association with familiar people and things. People who consistently seek out different
and varied experiences would score high on openness to experience. For example, they enjoy trying new menu
items at a restaurant or they like searching for new and exciting restaurants. In contrast, people who are not open
to experiences will stick with a familiar item, one they know they will enjoy. People high on openness also tend to
question traditional values, whereas those low on openness tend to support traditional values and to preserve a
fixed style of living. In summary, people high on openness are generally creative, imaginative, curious, and liberal
and have a preference for variety. By contrast, those who score low on openness to experience are typically
conventional, down-to-earth, conservative, and lacking in curiosity.

The Agreeableness Scale distinguishes soft hearted people from ruthless ones. People who score in the
direction of agreeableness tend to be trusting, generous, yielding, acceptant, and good-natured. Those who score
in the other direction are generally suspicious, stingy, unfriendly, irritable, and critical of other people.

The fifth factor—conscientiousness—describes people who are ordered, controlled, organized, ambitious,
achievement focused, and self-disciplined. In general, people who score high on C are hardworking,
conscientious, punctual, and persevering. In contrast, people who score low on conscientiousness tend to be
disorganized, negligent, lazy, and aimless and are likely to give up when a project becomes difficult. Together
these dimensions make up the personality traits of the five-factor model, often referred to as the “Big Five”
(Goldberg, 1981).

Evolution of the Five-Factor Theory
Originally, the five factors constituted nothing more than a taxonomy, a classification of basic personality traits.
By the late 1980s, Costa and McCrae became confident that they and other researchers had found a stable
structure of personality. That is, they had answered the first central question of personality: What is the structure
of personality? This advance was an important milestone for personality traits. The field now had a commonly
agreed-on language for describing personality, and it was in five dimensions. Describing personality traits,
however, is not the same as explaining them. For explanation, scientists need theory, and that was the next
project for McCrae and Costa.

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McCrae and Costa (1996) objected to earlier theories as relying too heavily on clinical experiences and on
armchair speculation. By the 1980s, the rift between classical theories and modern research-based theories had
become quite pronounced. It had become clear to them that “the old theories cannot simply be abandoned: They
must be replaced by a new generation of theories that grow out of the conceptual insights of the past and the
empirical findings of contemporary research” (p. 53). Indeed, this tension between the old and new was one of
the driving forces behind Costa and McCrae’s development of an alternative theory, one that went beyond the five-
factor taxonomy.

What then is the alternative? What could a modern trait theory do that was missing from the classic theories?
According to McCrae and Costa, first and foremost, a new theory should be able to incorporate the change and
growth of the field that has occurred over the last 25 years as well as be grounded in the current empirical
principles that have emerged from research.

For 25 years, Costa and McCrae had been at the forefront of contemporary personality research, developing
and elaborating on the Five-Factor Model. According to McCrae and Costa (1999), “neither the model itself nor the
body of research findings with which it is associated constitutes a theory of personality. A theory organizes
findings to tell a coherent story, to bring into focus those issues and phenomena that can and should be
explained” (pp. 139–140). Earlier, McCrae and Costa (1996, p. 78) had stated that “the facts about personality are
beginning to fall into place. Now is the time to begin to make sense of them.” In other words, it was time to turn
the Five-Factor Model (taxonomy) into a Five-Factor Theory (FFT).

Units of the Five-Factor Theory
In the personality theory of McCrae and Costa (1996, 1999, 2003; McCrae & Sutin, 2018), behavior is predicted by
an understanding of two central or core components and three peripheral ones. The two core components
(rectangles) are basic tendencies and characteristic adaptations (including self-concept). The three peripheral
units (ellipses) of the model are biological bases, objective biography, and external influences.

Core Components of Personality
In Figure 13.3, the central or core components are represented by rectangles, whereas the peripheral
components are represented by ellipses. The arrows represent dynamic processes and indicate the direction of
causal influence. For example, objective biography (life experiences) is the outcome of characteristic
adaptations as well as external influences. Also, biological bases are the sole cause of basic tendencies
(personality traits). The personality system can be interpreted either cross-sectionally (how the system operates
at any given point in time) or longitudinally (how we develop over the lifetime). Moreover, each causal influence is
dynamic, meaning that it changes over time.

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FIGURE 13.3 Operation of the Personality System According to FFT. Arrows Indicate the Direction of Causal
Influences, Which Operate Through Dynamic Processes.
Source: From McCrae and Costa (1996).

Basic Tendencies As defined by McCrae and Costa (1996), basic tendencies are one of the central
components of personality, along with characteristic adaptations, self-concept, biological bases, objective
biography, and external influences. McCrae and Costa defined basic tendencies as

the universal raw material of personality capacities and dispositions that are generally inferred rather than
observed. Basic tendencies may be inherited, imprinted by early experience or modified by disease or
psychological intervention, but at any given period in an individual’s life, they define the individual’s potential
and direction. (pp. 66, 68)

In earlier versions of their theory, McCrae and Costa (1996) made it clear that many different elements make up
basic tendencies. In addition to the five stable personality traits, these basic tendencies include cognitive
abilities, artistic talent, sexual orientation, and the psychological processes underlying acquisition of language.

 

In most of their later publications, McCrae and Costa (1999, 2003) focused almost exclusively on the
personality traits: more specifically, the five dimensions (N, E, O, A, and C) described in detail above (see Table
13.1). The essence of basic tendencies is their basis in biology and their stability over time and situation.

Characteristic Adaptations  Core components of Five-Factor Theory include the characteristic adaptations,
that is, acquired personality structures that develop as people adapt to their environment and include habits,
skills, and beliefs (McCrae & Sutin, 2018). The principal difference between basic tendencies and characteristic
adaptations is their flexibility. Whereas basic tendencies are quite stable, characteristic adaptations can be
influenced by external influences, such as acquired skills, habits, attitudes, and relationships that result from the
interaction of individuals with their environment. McCrae and Costa (2003) explained the relationship between
basic tendencies and characteristic adaptations, saying that the heart of their theory “is the distinction between
basic tendencies and characteristic adaptations, precisely the distinction that we need to explain the stability of
personality” (p. 187).

All acquired and specific skills, such as the English language or statistics, are characteristic adaptations.
How quickly we learn (talent, intelligence, aptitude) is a

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