Correlation structure of the big 5, huge 2, and general 1

Here’s a picture from van der Linden, D., et al. (in press)  [The General Factor of Personality: A meta-analysis of Big Five intercorrelations and a criterion-related validity study. Journal of Research in Personality.]:

(α is also more memorably called “Stability” and β is “Plasticity”; GFP is the General Factor in Personality.)

This suggests that, on self-reported questionnaire responses, openness and extraversion tend to go together, and that conscientiousness, agreeableness, and emotional stability tend to go together.  Furthermore, all five tend to go together, e.g., pick a bunch of random extraverted people and, more likely than not, they’ll be agreeable and emotionally stable.  Or at least they’ll report that they are so.

The authors allude to possible statistical artefacts causing the correlations, or factors of general social desirability.

The evidence for a “substantive” interpretation of the correlations comes from studies showing heritability of the general factor and correlations with other measures.  The latter tend to be low, e.g., on average rs around .15, peaking at .3, between the factor scores and boss-reports of various factors of job performance.

What’s missing: explanations from the perspective of social and neural process theories.

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3 comments

  1. Jeromy Anglim

    Thanks for letting me know about this one.

    In a series of studies I’ve done using the IPIP within the context of participants role playing going for jobs, the correlation between the Big 5 measures was directly related to the degree to which they were motivated or instructed to fake.

    I’ve also found that some measures, the IPIP, in particular, seem to present a somewhat one-sided picture of the Big 5, whereby items are included that portray one end (O, C, E, A, and -N) to be more socially desirable than the other.

    I wonder whether the degree to which a general factor emerges is related to the social desirability involved in both the chosen measurement instrument and in the context of measurement.

  2. Jeromy Anglim

    Thanks for the interest.
    Writing up the studies is high on my to-do list.

    There are a few other studies that have discussed how the correlation between personality scales increases in job applicant settings.
    If you’re interested you might want to check out:

    Ellingson, Jill E.; Sackett, Paul R.; Connelly, Brian S.
    Personality assessment across selection and development contexts: Insights into response distortion.
    Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 92(2), Mar 2007, 386-395.
    doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.92.2.386

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