Big Five as Universals

Finding similar factors across many cultures has provided support for the universality of of the FFM personality trait structure. The five dimensions (Big Five) also seem to emerge in similar developmental stages (McCrae & Costa, 1997; McCrae et al., 1999) which provides additional support for universal traits. Longitudinal studies have found consistency in personality changes that occur across the lifetime, in both adults and adolescents (McCrae, et al., 1999; McCrae et al., 2000). Big Five research conducted with American and Flemish teens showed similar changes in personality from ages 12 to 18 (McCrae, et al., 2000) In addition, the period from young adulthood to middle adulthood is associated with increases in Conscientiousness and Agreeableness (Donnellan & Lucas, 2008) and decreases in Neuroticism, Openness, and Extraversion in several countries, including the United States, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Croatia, and South Korea (McCrae, et al.,1999; Terracciano, McCrae, Brant, & Costa, 2005).

Big Five or More

Although support for the Big Five across cultures is strong, it is unclear whether or not the Big Five personality traits are the best possible measure of personality for all cultures. Some researchers suggest that important aspects of some cultures are not captured by the Five Factor Model (Funder, 2010; Ashton, et al., 2004; Ashton & Lee, 2007). Results from several European and Asian studies have found overlapping dimensions with the Five Factor Model, as well as additional, culturally unique dimensions (Church, 2002). Several cross-cultural studies have identified other dimensions of personality not captured by the Big Five including traits unique to China, Denmark, Bolivia and the Philippines.

Chinese psychologists created an indigenous personality test named the Chinese Personality Assessment Inventory (CPAI) which identified several traits that were not part of the Big Five that have been labelled Interpersonal Relatedness (Cheung, Leung, Fan, Song, Zhang, & Zhang, 1996; Cheung, et al., 2001). Support for this model was originally developed in studies conducted in mainland China and Hong Kong, China, but the existence of the Interpersonal Relatedness dimension of personality has also been found in samples from Singapore, Hawaii, and the Midwestern United States.


Chinese flag waving in the breeze.
A sixth dimension, Interpersonal Relatedness was identified using the Chinese Personality Assessment Inventory (CPAI) [Image By Daderot, Public domain, from Wikimedia Commons]

A distinct Filipino personality structure was also identified when an indigenous personality test was used in conjunction with a Western developed personality test. Church and colleagues (1998, 2002) used indigenous Filipino personality scales and the revised NEO-PI and found that there was overlap between the Filipino scales and the Five Factor Model. Researchers also found several unique indigenous factors such as Pagkamadaldal (Social Curiosity) and Pagkamapagsapalaran (Risk-Taking) that had predictive power greater than the Five Factor Model alone (Katigbak, Church, Guanzon-Lapeña, Carlota, & del Pilar, 2002). These new indigenous factors are highly predictive of smoking, gambling, praying and tolerance of behaviors outside of social norms (Matsumoto & Luang, 2013).


Five Filipino boys are grouped together smiling. They are in a forested area.
Personality researchers several unique indigenous factors such as Pagkamadaldal (Social Curiosity) and Pagkamapagsapalaran (Risk-Taking). [Image By Ed_Davad, CC0,]

Studies conducted in Denmark and the Netherlands found an authoritarian personality structure. Hofstede and colleagues (1993) analyzed data from 1,300 Danes and found a sixth dimension not related to the five-factor model which they labelled Authoritarianism. This is an interesting finding because dominance and authoritarianism is connected to animal studies and animal personality (Hofstede, Bond & Luk, 1993).

Tsimane, a horticultural group living in the Bolivian Amazon were administered a modified version of the FFM and there was little support for the five factors – two factors emerged that were not part of the Big Five. This is an example of research that used a non-industrial, non- WEIRDO sample and raises questions about whether FFM can generalize to non-industrial cultures (Gurven et al., 2013).

Ashton and Lee (2007) identified Honesty-Humility as a sixth dimension of personality when using English and Asian based adjectives to describe traits. People high in this trait are sincere, fair, and modest; whereas those low in the trait are manipulative, narcissistic, and self-centered. The HEXACO model is often used when traits of agreeableness or emotions are of particular interest in research. It should be clear that although there is strong support for the Big Five across cultures, some research suggests the existence of other traits besides simply the Big Five, which may ultimately improve our understanding of personality across different cultures.


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Culture and Psychology Copyright © 2020 by L D Worthy; T Lavigne; and F Romero is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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