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Research examining personality, gender and culture has shown that links between these concepts are complex. To what extent does psychological evidence suggest that personality trait structure is universal

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Research examining personality, gender and culture has shown that links between these concepts are complex. To what extent does psychological evidence suggest that personality trait structure is universal?


 Personality is composed of “the individual’s characteristic patterns of thoughts, emotions and behaviors” (Funder, 2004) that reflect the individual differences and similarities and remains fairly consistent throughout life(Costa, McCrae& Arenberg ,1980; Helson &Wink,1993), study in personality (i.e. Personality psychology) is constantly updated and improved for understanding and predicting human’s behaviours and actions. With the development of personality study, the personality theories has develop from the early psychoanalytic theory which is mainly emphasizing in the effect of the unconscious on personality to the now on that behaviorism and social learning theories, biological and evolutionary theories, type theories and traits theories.

And the traits theories are the block of the personality trait structure including many trait approach, single trait approach and essential trait approach. Currently, a number of trait psychologists believed that personality traits structure was well represented by the 5 Big Traits known as “Big Five”model (Goldberg, 1993; Costa & McCrae, 1985).In this case, traits were defined as inherited and distinguishing characteristics (Costa & McCrae, 1985) to “render many stimuli functionally equivalent and to initiate and guide consistent forms of adaptive and expressive behavior” (Allport, 193f7, p. 295).The Big Five theory consist of 5 essential traits, namely, “extraversion(E), neuroticism(N),Agreeableness(A) conscientiousness(C), and openness(O).” (Costa & McCrae, 1997.p.509).And each of traits is a continuum or bipolar dimension. For example, extraversion represents a continuum from extreme extraversion to extreme introversion. In the real world, most people lie somewhere in between the two polar ends of each dimension. And also each of traits has six facets to identify. For instance,high level of extraversion can be represent as warmth,gregariousness,assertiveness ,excitement-seeking and positive emotion; and high level of neuroticism can be reported in the facets of anxiety,angry hostility,depression.

 This essay will first introduce the history of personality trait theory development and then present the reason for why choosing the Five Factor Model (FFM) as a representation of the personality trait structure. Secondly, the universality of the FFM across culture will be examined and the Universality of Gender difference which will be assessed in order to illustrate the universality of the FFM. The concussion will be showed at the end.

The "Big Five" personality traits model is more representative for personality traits structure

Personality trait theories were developed over a central. It started with Gordon Allport, who believes that the psychoanalytic approach which was always going too deep and a behavioural approach which was not going deep enough, that are both limited for personality study (Allport & Odbert, 1936). He suggested that individual differences is important to examine for personality study and these individual differences which make each individual unique will ultimately become encoded into individuals’ natural language and be possibly expressed as a single word(1936). So Allport and Odbert(1936)discovered 17,935 words in the English language (e.g. shy, kind, phlegmatic, trustworthy, anxious). And then listed four thousand of words as possible personality traits .The later traits theorist Raymond Cattell took Allport’s study and condensed the thousands of traits down to 16 key traits that were considered as the biological basis for all humans by using the statistical technique of factor analysis(reference,1961 or 1966).These 16 personality traits were identified as “source traits”(i.e. underlying factors of overt behaviour)and are considered as dimensions of personality, cognitive capability and motivations rather than categories(Cattell,1965,p. 55). These key traits include factors such as “abstractedness “measuring the degree of imaginative thoughts, that is, people with higher level of “abstractedness “will be seemed more imaginative and less practical with regards to their behaviours and thinking (Cattell,1961;as cited in Burger,2004).And all of the 16 factors together describes and measures the range of individuals ‘intelligence, stability and friendliness.Although the Cattell's 16 personality traits model was simpler to apply than the Allport’s model, it was failed to replicate entirely (Howarth & Brown,1971; Eysenck & Eysenck, 1985) with 12 of 16 primary factors (Noller, Law & Comrey, 1987).This flaw makes Cattell’s model fail to well represent the personality trait structure.

As an improvement, the Hierarchical model of personality was proposed and based on three super-traits(i.e. distinct but intercorrelated traits ,also as second-order factors)derived from thousands of surface traits(i.e. overt behaviours)(refence).These super-traits, namely, Extraversion which is characterized by positive emotion, surgency and sensation seeking; Neuroticism which is a tendency to response excessively and suffer unpleasant emotions easily such as depression, guilty and inferiority (Eysenck,1947;as cited in Eysenck, Barrett, Wilson & Jackson,1992).; and Psychoticism which is a tendency towards psychotic and sociopathic behaviour (Eysenck, 1992a) affecting by dopaminergic system (Eysenck, 1997).Eysenck’s model shows an advancement of the study of personality by using a scientific approach to personality (Revelle, 1997), however,many psychologists suggested that Eysenck's 3 traits theory was too confined in scope and synthesized traits to five essential personality traits (Fiske,1949; Norman ,1967; Smith,1967; Goldberg ,1981; McCrae & Costa ,1987) named as Five Factor Model(FFM)( McCrae & Costa ,1987); or The “Big Five”  (Ewen, 1998, p. 140).This theory adopted Extraversion and Neuroticism from Eysenck’s model and generated “openness”, “conscientiousness” and “Agreeableness” to replace “psychoticism” and replenish the missing items such as competence, trust and dutifulness(1987).the reason for considering FFM as a well representation for personality traits structure is that it is the most practical and applicable model available in the field of personality psychology(Digman, 1990 ;Burger, 1997; Lee & Ashton,2008). In addition, the cross-cultural studies showed the evidence of the replicable factors for FFM(Amelang&Borkenau,1982;Bond,1979; Goldberg ,1990).

The cultural universality for FFM

FFM has been proved as the best representation of personality trait structure. To examine the cultural universality of trait structure, illustrating the cultural universality of FFM is the way. The Revised NEO Personality Inventory (i.e. a questionnaire with 240 items and each of item with 5-point scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree)( McCrae & Costa,1997)is been used to measure to the FFM, it was been translated into an amount of different languages for testing FFM’s cross-cultural replicability.

The early cross-cultural studies provided the inconsistent evidence of university of FFM.FFM was adapted well in the research of German traits (Ostendord,1990;as cited as McCrae & Costa,1997) but the evidences did not present one-to-one correspondence to the Big Five Imagination or Intellect factor from the non-English studies such as the Hungarian study (Szirmak&De Raad,1994), the Italian investigations( Di Blas& Forzi,1998; Di Blas& Forzi ,1999) and the Chinese traits study(Yang & Bond,1990).However,all these findings together may result by languages different,because even translating all personality traits semantically accurate it is impossible that ensure all traits items are completely equal(McCrae & Costa,1997),even a slight shift in phrasing will reduce or increase endorsement of traitsAllik,& McCrae,2004). So such kind of evidences can just report the inaccuracy and imprecision of translation of the NEO-PI-R, but failed to prove that FFM is lack of universality in varied cultures.

Many other cross-cultural studies were conducted with valid translation of the NEO-PI-R forms (The form not only preserving the precise meaning of the item but also paralleling to the specific cultural expression). And evidences that reproducibility of FFM in both samples from shared language family (i.e. languages indigenous to the US) countries and samples from varied language families countries (i.e. not from the Indo-European family) (“Languages of the world”, 1993).Although there are not exactly same as English Big Five,there are somehow more than the five traits(e.g. Dutch)and some of(e.g. Filipino)less than the five traits.

With regard to the cross-cultural studies with countries sharing the similar language family and traditions, the German samples (McCrae & Costa, 1997; John, 1999), the Dutch samples (John, 1999) and Italian sample (De Raad, Di Blas, & Perugini, 1998) were showed high congruence coefficients (.88-.98) of each set of factor loading in the factor of N, E, C and A, evidence that congruence was remarkable for the first four factors. But the congruence of the factor O (Openness) was low in Dutch sample and Italian sample(.50-.53).The reports revealed the various guises of five factors, representing as Unconventionality and Rebelliousness in Dutch and Italian. It seems the Openness scale with the lowest reliability was hard to replicate a finding in a different sample (Benet-Martinez & John, 1998) However, It is because that the factor O in Dutch and Italy is defined dissimilarly than in German and English (De Raad et al., 1998).And when using two indigenous factors which corresponded to one of the Big Five (e.g. Openness), the trait was emerged (De Raad et al., 1998; John, 1999).The above studies as many of the European studies supported that the factor of N,E,C and A were well generated in the European countries and the less replicable factor C also can be found after varimax rotation of some factors to indigenous factors.

    The evidence for the universality of FFM also can be demonstrated in studies with countries differing in the language family and traditions. The replications of FFM were shown in the Filipino sample (McCrae, Costa, Gregorio, Rolland & Parker, 1998), the Japanese and Chinese sample (Bond, 1979, 1983; Bond & Forgas, 1984; McCrae & Costa, 1997), the Hebrew and Korean sample (McCrae & Costa, 1997) when rotating factors all to a common target. But in Bond and his collaborator’s studies (Bond, 1979, 1983; Bond & Forgas, 1984), the Filipino data was failed to show the consistence with the American normative factor structure. In this cases, an emic (culture-specific)strategy were applied (Church and Katigbak, 1989) in descriptors in both Filipino and English languages to prevent the simply translating from the Western language to the non-Western language. And produced a comprehensive list which localizing the description of personality traits (Church, Reyes, Katigbak, & Grimm, 1997) was applied in Filipino sample. The new data illustrated a clear generalization of the FFW (Church et al., 1997).And Church et al(1997) studies also indicated that the structure of the Filipino personality traits is a bit smaller than the English Big Five, the factor C(conscientiousness) was less stable in than other factors showing by congruence coefficients of factors.It can be considered as a permissible error due to the impact of the language difference and other various subjective effects.  

The universality of the FFM was supported by a host of cross-cultures studies above. The evidences were present by more than 6 distinct language families which belongs to numerous countries and spoken by most of the earth’s inhabitants. Although some of countries not show the exactly similarity with the FFM, the culturally unique concepts in either language was allowed (Church & Burke, 1994; Aluja, Garcia, Garcia & Seisdedos, 2005). In general, at a high level of replication, similar structural dimensions of FFM emerge in distinct or similar culture is robust evidence.

The gender difference universality for FFM

Conducted cross-cultural studies in individual differences testing and personality were showed the consistent Gender differences in some of personality traits, investigated by the FFM(e.g. Costa , Terracciano& McCrae,2001).The studies ,for example,conducted by Maccoby and Jacklin (1974;as cited in Costa , Terracciano& McCrae,2001) reported that women are more anxious (Neuroticism) but less assertive(Extr Costa & McCrae. 1992aversion)than man. And this result was reproduced by Feingold(1994 ;as cited in Costa , Terracciano& McCrae,2001)and discovered other gender difference in other personality traits(i.e. Agreeableness& Conscientiousness). That is,women are not just reporting the lower level of assertiveness than man,but also higher on gregariousness (extroversion), anxiety, trust and tender-mindedness(Agreeableness) as well as order(Conscientiousness).However there are 21 traits in the NEO-PI-R were not be examined and the result of factor E in gender difference was showing opposite findings with the data from Lynn and Martin’s study (1997 ;as cited in Costa , Terracciano& McCrae,2001) .In this case, more cross-cultural gender difference studies are needed in order to assess whether gender differences in the Five Traits are consistent crossing culture. And then the universality of the FFM will be examined when the consistency of the gender differences is showed. Because only when the FFM is universal in different gender, the gender difference in the Five Traits can be consistent across the culture.

Later gender difference studies address to assess the consistency of gender difference in 16 countries, 26 cultures, and 55cultures. With the 16 countries sample (U.S. and 15 other cultures), Gender differences in 30 NEO-PI-R facets were tested in adult sample .Data from the U.S. and other countries around the world showed that women presented higher score in Vulnerability, Anxiety, Straightforwardness, and Openness to Aesthetics than men; Whereas, men ranked higher score in Assertiveness, Competence, Excitement Seeking, and Openness to Ideas. These outcomes also emerged in the young sample (college-age) (McCrae&Terracciano, 2005a). Similar results were found in a 26 cultures sample as well. The study(Costa, Terracciano& McCrae ,2001) assessed the consistency of gender differences by using the NEO-PI-R(Costa & McCrae. 1992)to analyze adult and college-age samples of male and female. The results suggested that females reported consistently higher score than males on both N and A, and on some specific aspects of O and E (i.e. Openness to Aesthetics,Feelings, and Actions; Gregariousness, Positive Emotions and Warmth);While males generally reported higher score on other facets of O and E such as Assertiveness and Openness to Ideas. The gender differences in C were not significant. These findings show well consistency of gender difference in traits N and A, and partially consistency in trait C. But a larger dimension of sample studies across 55 notions (N=17,637) were clearly revealed that women score higher in levels of neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness; slightly higher in openness and slightly lower in conscientiousness than did men across most countries (Schmitt, Realo, Voracek & Allik,2008). These findings above together show a robust evidence that gender difference is replicated across cultures and have a consistent differences in N and A (female dominant);O and E(both gender dominant in different facets);and C (male dominant). Indicated that the gender difference was universal across cultures based on the FFM, therefore, FFM is universal was supported.


In conclusion, this essay supported that the personality traits structure is universal. The paper achieved this goal by showing the representative model of personality trait structure (i.e. the Five factors Model) is universal across cultures and fit for different genders. The reason for choosing the Five factors Model as the representation of personality trait structure had been presented in the beginning. And the Five factors were replicated in the most of countries and showed a well generality across cultures. Similarly, based on cross-cultural studies, the consistence of the gender difference was also appeared in 56 notions around the world. The universality of the FFM was then supported by the universality of gender difference. Finally, the personality trait structure has been proved as a universal construct which is representing by FFM.

In addition, it is worth to point out that the traits emerged in some culture are not always exactly same as the Big Five. And the number of traits which presented in some countries was sometime more (e.g. Dutch &Italy) or sometime less (e.g. Filipino) than the actual English Five Factors, but the the culturally unique concepts in their language was allowed and the subtle description error of translation is unavoidable (Church & Burke, 1994; Aluja, Garcia, Garcia & Seisdedos, 2005).Forthermore,in the gender difference testing, The magnitude of gender differences was differed under different cultures(Costa, Terracciano& McCrae ,2001).For example, with the smallest gender differences appeared among Asian and African cultures, and the largest gender differences discovered in Europe. (Schmitt, Allik, McCrae, Benet-Martinez, Alcalay, Ault…& Zupanèiè, 2007).It was resulted by the gender stereotype emphasising. For example, some cultures emphasise the social role difference, the data from these cultures will present a larger gender difference refer to the personality traits.


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