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Modern Personality Measurement

Personality is fascinating for most people. It is what differentiates us; it is what makes us unique. Personality encompasses our traits, goals, beliefs et cetera, or as coiled concisely by Encyclopedia of Psychology; personality refers to individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving (Encyclopedia of Psychology, 2000.) Since Ancient Greece, scholars have been trying to categorise people into different traits as can be seen in Hippocrates theories of the four temperaments (Ekstrand, D. W.  2012.) as well as list of 4,000 personality traits by Gordon Allport, 16 personality factors by Raymond Cattell, and three-factor theory by Hans Eysenck to name a few. As the time progress so does personality psychology. In this essay, the modern personality psychology’s model known as The Big Five personalities trait (or Five Factor Model (FFM)) will be discussed, as well as the practically of measuring people’s personality.

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Despite the many theories proposed by psychologists, many researchers felt that most theories are insufficient in describing one’s personality. Due to this, the big five factors of personality is introduced as a core of personality traits which multiple similar traits are categorised under. This theory has been built upon by years of evidence starting with the research of D. W. Fiske (1949) and then continue to be built up by the researches from Norman (1967), Smith (1967), Goldberg (1981), and McCrae & Costa (1987) accordingly.

The Big Five model proposed that personalities can be coiled into five traits: Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Openness to experience, Neuroticism, and Extroversion (CANOE as an acronym) (John OP & Srivastava S. 1999). Also, it is important to note that each of category represents a range between two extremes and one can lie within the range between two extremes.

Conscientiousness refers to the ability to control oneself against impulses, exhibiting behaviour that reflects thoughtfulness and in-line with one’s goal. The traits under conscientiousness include, but not limited to, self-disciplined, Orderly, Responsible and Dependable. Individuals with a high rating in conscientiousness are likely to stick to plan and prefer orderliness while individuals with low-rating are more spontaneous.

Agreeableness refers to how much one’s are cooperative towards other people and ability to work with other people. The traits under Agreeableness include good-natured, cooperative, and trustful. People with a high rating in this factor are likely to exhibit empathy towards other people, cares about and attempt to solve other people problems, while those with low rating do not care about others.

Neuroticism refers to emotional stability or sensitiveness to negative emotions stimuli. The traits under Neuroticism include moody, insecure, unstable, anxious. People with a high rating in Neuroticism often experience mood swing and unable to handle stress. Minor negatives experiences can easily trigger negative emotion which often persists for a period. Hence, they are generally unhappy. People with a low rating on neuroticism are more emotionally-stable and are less likely affected by negative experiences. However, while they are not often affected by negative experiences, this does not suggest that they are constantly happy since happiness and sadness can be argued that are laid on different scale (George M., 1995)

Openness to experience refers to how individuals are receptive to new ideas, feelings and experiences. The traits under openness to experiences include creative, imaginative, original-minded. Individuals with high ratings on this trait are more open-minded, curious, and likely to subscribe to unconventional ideas.

Extroversion refers to how social interaction affects individuals. This is similar to the popular concept of introverts and extroverts. The traits under Extroversion include talkative, sociable, and energetic. People with a high rating in extroversion (extroverts) draws energy from external sources, such as social interaction while people with low rating (introvert) are more independent of external sources and rely on themselves more.

 

Validity of Personality Test

There have been many critiques on whether is it possible to measure one’s personalities as all humans are inherently unique and no one is exactly the same. This essay argues that it is possible to come up with metrics to describe personalities accurately enough to use in future prediction of individuals behaviour and performance. However, this is not to say that personality can be measured objectively, this will be explored in this essay as well.   

First, it is important to define what measuring is. In the interest of this essay, measuring behaviour will refer to the ability to come up with accurate quantifiable value(s) to describe one’s personality. Since there is no inherent benefit of measurement unless it can be used to calculate and predict something. The values are said to be accurate when it is able to predict individual’s behaviour in a specific situation or predict the performance of individuals in specific metric in some areas.

There have been many published research papers showing a correlation between personality traits and performance in certain areas. If it is impossible to measure the personality, the current method would not have been able to show a significant correlation but instead, show a random distribution. For instance, in academic areas, GPA has shown high relation to Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness. With Conscientiousness being the most significant factor. (Anna V., 2014) This result can be reproduced across 21 studies. Moreover, in studies which use alternative metrics other than GPA in order to assess academic success also show a similar result. One of which is Kappe, R & Flier, H. V. (2010) where they also attempt to show the correlation however instead use multiples metrics such as exam after a lecture, skills training, team project, on-the-job training and Thesis to measure academic success. Similarly, Conscientiousness was shown to be the most significant factor in all metrics. Also, other interesting findings are also shown. The differences in academic performance between gender can also be accounted for by the differences in conscientiousness scores between male and female. Additionally, when skills training was used as one of the metrics, it is shown that Neuroticism and academic abilities have a positive and significant correlation as the students have earlier rated skills training as the least stressful form of assessment. The fact that the multiple pieces of research have shown a correlation between measured personalities and behaviours has sufficiently shown that, at least in the academic area, it is somewhat possible to measure someone’s personality.

However, according to popular opinions, personality tests today seem somewhat limited as there have been impressive evidence showing that individuals interact with the external world as well as internally to themselves consciously and unconsciously, known as explicit mode and implicit mode accordingly (Strack & Deutsch, 2004). Nonetheless, in above researches cited, the measurement relied on surveys answered by themselves or by others, both explicitly. Many questions, therefore, arises whether is it possible to measure personality in the implicit mode when even the participants are not aware of it themselves. These questions are answered by research done by Schmukle et al in 2008 that it is indeed possible to measure implicit personality using The Big Five model. Their results have shown internal consistency between IAT (Implicit Association Test) and The Big Five, hence showing that both explicit and implicit personality can be measured.

However, it is difficult to measure one’s personality as it is not static, it can be changed as a person grows older or face new experiences (Arnett, 2000). Hence, while it is possible to know someone’s personality at the time of measurement, there is no guarantee that it will be the same in the future, therefore, it might not be useful in prediction of future behaviours.  For example, during the change from childhood to middle age, there is a positive correlation between age and rating of Conscientiousness and Agreeableness while there is a negative correlation between extraversion and openness to experience (Donnellan, M. B., & Lucas, R. E. (2008.) This data is not unexpected as when one interacts more with society outside their immediate family and friends (which one often does when one grows up), they tend to be more polite (Agreeable). Also, with increasing responsibilities as an adult, one is forced to be more responsible (Conscientiousness). This shows that personality can change as one grows up hence the measurement might not be useful in predicting the future. A kid with low conscientious might do well in college if their score in conscientious increases after one attends school, for instance.  Hence, it clearly illustrates that while it is possible to measure personality at one moment, it is impossible to measure personality across time; hence might not be useful in predicting future. It is therefore hard to say whether the measurement is accurate or not.

Also, many personalities tests are measured through a survey with rating questionnaire. This causes the results to differ from person to person as to how one views certain traits to be present strongly might not seem so to another person. The can be shown clearly by the study of Mount M., 1994 study which concludes that observers’ ratings show a significant difference in values of relevant personalities trait from self-ratings. This showed that the personalities rating scale are subjective to individuals and hence might not be useful on its own or when using to compare between groups.

In conclusion, the modern model of personality traits such as The Big Five is able to measure someone personality despite some limitations. There have been multiple papers suggesting an addition of traits in The Big Five, with careful consideration, it should make the Big Five even more accurate in predicting behaviours than it already is.  

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