Posts tagged Big Five personality traits

Research Summaries: The Economics and Psychology of Personality Traits

Today’s research summary is about a paper co-authored by Angela Duckworth, that is at the intersection of psychology and economics. Though I have been following behavioral economics a bit, I still found the paper a bit challenging to read and comprehend and don’t claim to understand all the attached jargon, functions and mathematical formulations. The fact that the paper is 88 pages long wasn’t of help either 🙂 (the saving grace being that 20 or more pages were filled with references alone), so read the rest of the summary at your own peril!

An illustration of Spearman's two-factor intel...

An illustration of Spearman’s two-factor intelligence theory. Each small oval is a hypothetical mental test. The blue areas show the variance attributed to s, and the purple areas the variance attributed to g. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1. The paper aims to throw light on how personality affects (socio)economic outcomes and how concepts from personality psychology can be used in economic equations and modeling.
  2. To start with, an important socioeconomic outcome is success in life. IQ or cognitive ability is well established as a predictor of success in life/job,  and slowly but surely, a case is building up for the predictive power of personality traits like conscientiousness to predict success in life/job.
  3. Its useful to distinguish cognitive factors like Intelligence/IQ from other ‘non-cognitive’ factors like personality traits and motivation.
  4. Perry Preschool study which enriched the environment (an intervention aimed at increasing IQ) of disadvantaged kids with subnormal IQ, found that IQ gains for treatment group (which shot up initially) and control group became equal at age 10 , though the treatment group continued to be much more successful on many socioeconomic outcomes over their life cycle. This can be only explained if we admit that something other than IQ, maybe personality factors, were changed by the intervention.
  5. Psychologists use personality, motivation and cognitive factors to explain behavior and success of an agent. Economists however use concepts like preferences, constraints, incentives etc to explain choice/decision/ behavior and ultimately success in life.
  6. Cognitive factors are defined as ‘‘ability to understand complex ideas,to adapt effectively to the environment, to learn from experience, to engage in various forms of reasoning, to overcome obstacles by taking thought’’. The various tests like IQ tests that measure cognitive ability have led to identification of a general factor ‘g’ of intelligence. The factor structure of Intelligence is hierarchical;  as per one conceptualization, the second-order factors are ‘fluid intelligence’ and ‘crystallized intelligence“.
  7. IQ test are not a pure measure of maximal intellectual performance; for those getting low scores, appropriate incentives can increase their scores. Similarly test anxiety may affect performance; thus IQ measure is affected by factors like motivation and personality.
  8. Personality factors also have a hierarchical structure; the most common level contains the Big Five factors, below them are specific facets  and above them two super factors of plasticity and stability.
  9. The personality traits of Big Five have been arrived at using factor analysis and are more descriptive in nature, based around clustering of together of traits, adjectives or behaviors. The same can be said of ‘g’ which is again more descriptively arrived at. In contrast, economists prefer measures that have been built based around their predictive power in the real word. MMPI, Hogan personality inventory etc were on the other hand built with the specific aim of predicting real world outcomes.
  10. Economists, try to estimate preferences of agents and thus predict/explain their behavior etc. Some of the typical preferences studied are time preference, risk aversion, preference for leisure and altruism/ social preferences. Estimating these preferences help explain and predict behavior that deviates from a purely self-interested rational agent.
  11. Time preference is the preference for immediate reward over future reward. This is measured by the phenomenon of time discounting while making decisions.  For example, what would you choose 1 $ today or 2 $ tomorrow? 500 $ this week or 1000 $ next month? based on answers to questions like these (and maybe real world behaviors/ decisions too) economists can infer what is the rate at which you discount future utility for present utility. That function is hyperbolic in nature.
  12. Its seems “time preference is tri-dimensional, comprising three separate underlying motives: impulsivity, the tendency to act spontaneously and without planning; compulsivity, the tendency to stick with plans; and inhibition, the ability to override automatic responses to urges or emotions”. Its easy to see how the three components of time preference can be related to personality factors. Also important is to note that a person with low future vision or imagination may be constrained on this time preference dimension.
  13. Risk aversion is the phenomenon, whereby a sure or less uncertain outcome is preferred over an uncertain outcome.  For example, what would you choose  1 $ for sure or a 50 % chance of winning 2.2 $? Based on analyzing such decisions, one can again calculate, how risk averse a person is. This paradigm is however prone to framing effects.
  14. Those who show little risk aversion, also have poor outcomes like indulging in smoking, stealing and not wearing seat belts. The personality trait of sensation seeking, as developed by Zuckerman, is related to this construct.
  15. Preference for leisure is the preference to use time for relaxation etc over indulging in work or economic activity. Some people are driven to work hard and personality traits like Conscientiousness are really relevant here.
  16. Social preferences are preferences like inequality aversion where a monkey would not accept cucumber pieces for the same work, if another monkey is getting grapes instead. Doesn’t  make sense rationally, but economists can use social preference to get out of this hole!
  17. The big five as well as IQ are predictive of various life outcomes like leadership, grades, longevity etc
  18. Most personality traits as well as intelligence measures change with age- they are malleable and follow a pattern. For eg, fluid intelligence decreases while crystallized intelligence increases over the lifespan.
  19. Environmental factors like parental investment and social roles can be the mechanisms that lead to changes and stability in these traits.
  20. Preference factors, which are studied by economists, however are not clear as to whether they are stable or change with age and more research needs to be done there.
  21. The real contribution of this paper is in conceiving psychological traits as constraints under which economic decisions are being made.  For eg. low cognitive ability will constrain a person to figure out and get clarity about the issue at hand and he will be forced to choose in uncertainty and his risk aversion maybe causing him to make sub-optimal decisions.  The intelligent person has a richer choice set and intelligence is a constrain having real world implications; same is true for personality factors.
  22. Thus personality traits may be a form of constraints/ preferences and research in either psychology or economics around this shroud inform each other.
  23. Overall, despite its challenging economics jargon, I found this really useful; as someone interested in personality psychology, this provided a new perspective.

As always, do check out the original paper here.

The Evolution of Altruism And Its Relationship to Personality

Altruism, put simply, is helping others or cooperating with others, even if it is costly to self. Of course, something like that cannot evolve, unless there are benefits too, associated with such acts of apparent selflessness.

Evolutionary theory mandates that there be some genetic payoffs in terms of either inclusive fitness or future benefits to self (reciprocity) for any kind of altruism/ cooperation to evolve.

I recommend reading Wikipedia articles on reciprocity, kin selection, and evolution of cooperation if they are not familiar to you or you need a refresher.

Cooperation, to start with, can evolve based on three forms of reciprocity: direct, indirect and network. All are based on the fact that there re repeated interactions between group of people- dyads, triads or many more. Reciprocity can typically be measured in the lab using the repeated Dictator/ Trust game.

Direct reciprocity was proposed by Robert Trivers as a mechanism for the evolution of cooperation. If there are repeated encounters between the same two players in an evolutionary game in which each of them can choose either to “cooperate” or “defect”, then a strategy of mutual cooperation may be favoured even if it pays each player, in the short term, to defect when the other cooperates.

Here, in direct reciprocity A trusts/helps B and hopes that when time comes B will reciprocate/help A. The top-of-the-mind factor is whether or not to trust somebody and whether or not to reciprocate someone’s trust. Trust and exploitation may be relevant issues here. In the Dictator/ Trust game this trust/exploitation manifests as the amount that is split and given to the other person vs kept with oneself.

In the standard framework of indirect reciprocity, there are randomly chosen pairwise encounters between members of a population; the same two individuals need not meet again. One individual acts as donor, the other as recipient. The donor can decide whether or not to cooperate. The interaction is observed by a subset of the population who might inform others. Reputation allows evolution of cooperation by indirect reciprocity.

This is partially correct that reputation for being trustworthy helps in indirect reciprocity; however that is only true for the downstream version; for the upstream version feelings of gratitude/happiness/awe/elevation in persons receiving the help/ witnessing the act also lead to more pro-social behavior by those receiving help/ witnessing. Thus feelings of gratitude/ awe/elevation mediate this kind of upstream indirect reciprocity. See below for upstream and downstream variants.

Individual acts of indirect reciprocity may be classified as “upstream” or “downstream”:

  • Upstream reciprocity occurs when an act of altruism causes the recipient to perform a later act of altruism in the benefit of a third party. In other words: A helps B, which then motivates B to help C.

  • Downstream reciprocity occurs when the performer of an act of altruism is more likely to be the recipient of a later act of altruism. In other words: A helps B, making it more likely that C will later help A.

Before touching upon network reciprocity, I will take a quick detour about kin selection. I believe kin selection or inclusive fitness is also a type of reciprocity (that between related individuals sharing genes) and may be rechristened genetic reciprocity. After all if A is likely to help B because they share x % of genes, the reverse is equally true and applicable. And of course this is mediated by emotional attachment to the kid/kin.

As per one definition of kin selection:

A biological theory stating that a gene that causes an organism to exhibit behavior detrimental to its survival will increase in frequency in a population if that behavior benefits the organism’s relatives, which will pass the gene on to subsequent generations.

If I slightly change words form above definition, I can now define a neighbor selection process as a cultural theory stating that a meme that causes an organism to exhibit behavior detrimental to its survival will increase in frequency in a population if that behavior benefits the organism’s neighbors, which will pass the meme on to subsequent neighbors.

We are now ready to look at network reciprocity:

Real populations are not well mixed, but have spatial structures or social networks which imply that some individuals interact more often than others. One approach of capturing this effect is evolutionary graph theory, in which individuals occupy the vertices of a graph. The edges determine who interacts with whom. If a cooperator pays a cost, c, for each neighbor to receive a benefit, b, and defectors have no costs, and their neighbors receive no benefits, network reciprocity can favor cooperation.

Basically, what I understand from the above is that if you help your neighbors sometimes such that the cost is not too high but benefits to neighbors are high and if  cost to benefit compares favorably with average number of neighbors/ neighborly interactions you have, then in the long run you will benefit and this form of cooperation can evolve.  To me the effects are mediated by the number of neighbors or sociability of a person.

Of course, even if you have all these mechanisms in place, cooperation may not evolve, as you may have free-riders. One important mechanism that has evolved to keep the free-riders in check is that of punishment. And once punishment is part of the picture you don’t even need repeated interactions, one-off games may be sufficient. I call this phenomenon Direct Punishment. One way it has been measured is with the Ultimatum game.

In the Ultimatum game, the second player can inflict costly punishment on first player by refusing to accept the division; this costly punishment is dyadic in nature and the aggression/hostility/vengefulness of the second player ensures that cooperation in even one-off encounters happens.

Basically instead of trusting and helping B, A starts by exploiting B and B retaliates by punishing A at cost to oneself.

Of course one can then surmise that there can be a phenomena of indirect punishment. This again may happen in two ways:

  1. Indirect punishment upstream: A is exploitative in nature; A exploits B; B punishes A, who then feels guilt/ gets reformed and stops exploiting C or even starts helping C.
  2. Indirect punishment downstream: A is exploitative in nature: A exploits B, B punishes A; B gets a reputation for being tough/competent and stops getting exploited by others say C or C may now even help B.

The Indirect reciprocity effects can be seen in Public goods/ trust game.

I will now take a detour and introduce the HEXACO model of personality which set me thinking about this in the first place.

HEXACO is an alternate personality model that is based on the same principles as the Big Five/FFM; i.e. it uses factor analysis of lexical terms in various languages to arrive at major personality traits.

The six factors are generally named Honesty-Humility (H), Emotionality (E), Extraversion (X), Agreeableness (A), Conscientiousness (C), and Openness to Experience (O). The personality-descriptive adjectives that typically belong to these six groups are as follows:

  • Honesty-Humility (H): sincere, honest, faithful, loyal, modest/unassuming versus sly, deceitful, greedy, pretentious, hypocritical, boastful, pompous

  • Emotionality (E): emotional, oversensitive, sentimental, fearful, anxious, vulnerable versus brave, tough, independent, self-assured, stable

  • Extraversion (X): outgoing, lively, extraverted, sociable, talkative, cheerful, active versus shy, passive, withdrawn, introverted, quiet, reserved

  • Agreeableness (A): patient, tolerant, peaceful, mild, agreeable, lenient, gentle versus ill-tempered, quarrelsome, stubborn, choleric

  • Conscientiousness (C): organized, disciplined, diligent, careful, thorough, precise versus sloppy, negligent, reckless, lazy, irresponsible, absent-minded

  • Openness to Experience (O): intellectual, creative, unconventional, innovative, ironic versus shallow, unimaginative, conventional

The factor H is a new factor not present in Big Five/FFM. The E though looking similar to N of big Five, is conceptually different; it no longer contains anger/hostility which are instead present in HEXACO A. similalrly there are important differences between HEXACO A and Big Five A. the other 3, C, O and X (extarversion) are similarly conceptualized and defined in both systems and have same loadings when tested together.

Ashton and Lee, the proponents of the HEXACO model, have themselves related evolution of altruism to these traits [pdf] and I am building on their work.

Basically as per them,

To begin, we have proposed that the Honesty- Humility and Agreeableness factors represent two complementary aspects of the construct of reciprocal altruism (Trivers, 1971). Honesty-Humility represents the tendency to be fair and genuine in dealing with others, in the sense of cooperating with others even when one might exploit them without suffering retaliation. Agreeableness represents the tendency to be forgiving and tolerant of others, in the sense of cooperating with others even when one might be suffering exploitation by them. (For a discussion of two broadly similar, although not identical, constructs, see Perugini, Gallucci, Presaghi, & Ercolani, 2003.) Presumably, high levels of Honesty- Humility are associated with decreased opportunities for personal gains from the exploitation of others but also with decreased risks of losses from withdrawal of cooperation by others. In a similar manner, high levels of Agreeableness are associated with increased opportunities for personal gains from long-run reciprocal cooperation with others, as well as with increased risks of losses from exploitation by others. (Note that we use the term altruism in terms of a dimension of altruistic versus antagonistic tendency, which involves both a willingness to help or provide benefits to others and an unwillingness to harm or impose costs on others.)
In addition, we have proposed that Emotionality represents tendencies relevant to the construct of kin altruism (Hamilton, 1964), including not only empathic concern and emotional attachment toward close others (who tend to be one’s kin) but also the harm-avoidant and help-seeking behaviors that are associated with investment in kin (see also Lee & Ashton, 2004). Presumably, high levels of Emotionality are associated with increased likelihood of personal and kin survival, as well as with decreased opportunities for gains that are often associated with risks to personal and kin survival.
To me, this looks like equating direct reciprocity with H and direct punishment with A.  With this in mind I now list the personality trait (HEXACO)/ evolution of altruism linkages.
1. Kin Selection/ Genetic Reciprocity : mediated by emotional attachments etc and related to Emotioanlity.
2. Neighbor Selection / Network Reciprocity: mediated by sociability and related to sociability aspects of Extrarversion.
3. Direct Reciprocity : mediated by trusting others and being honest and related to Honesty-humility.
4. Direct Punishment:  mediated by punishing others and being aggressive/ hostile when needed and related to Agreeablness.
5. Indirect Reciprocity upstream:  mediated by feelings of gratitude/ awe/ elevation and possibly related to Openness to Experience
6. Indirect Punishment upstream: mediated by feelings of guilt/responsibility and related to Conscientiousness.
 7. Indirect Reciprocity downstream: mediated by signaling and being trustworthy; need a new personality dimension for this.
8. Indirect Punishment downstream: mediated by signaling and being competent/ tough and possibly related to Surgency dimension of Extarversion.
I am more and more convinced, looking at the above model that we evolved to be cooperative/ altruistic rather than otherwise.

2 factor theories of personality

Simple emoticons of the four temperaments cita...

Image via Wikipedia

While most people are generally aware of the five factor model of personality (that is the FFM or OCEAN model that is revealed by factor analysis), the two factor models of personality may not be that readily apparent, though most readers will be familiar with some form or the other of the 2 factor models of personalities like the four humors/temperaments of the Greeks or the enneagrams or the temperaments used in Kiersey personality sorter.

In brief, two factor models of personality posit that individuals differ on two bipolar dimensions and that one’s personality type or temperament can be determined based on whether one is high or low on these 2 dimensions. for eg consider factor 1 and factor 2 as the 2 underlying personality factors; then there would be 4 typical temperaments : high factor 1, high factor 2; high factor 1, low factor 2; low factor 1, high factor 2; and low factor 1, low factor 2. Typically the extremes of the bipolar factors would be named such that low factor 1 corresponds to some trait and high factor 1 to opposed trait and similarly for factor 2.

The scheme becomes sometimes more complex by not mandating that a personality type lies on extremes, but positing that the balanced or middle value of these factors is also relevant; in these cases up to 9 personality types can be created by using the 3 typical values (high, mid, low) of the two factors. Enneagrams uses this schema.

To clarify by way of an example, the ancient Greeks posited 2 underlying personality factors – a hot-cold factor that coded the response-delay as to whether response was quick or slow to follow an event; and a dry-wet factor that coded whether the response was sustained or subsided quickly. This resulted in 4 temperaments: sanguine ( Air i.e. hot and wet; quick onset and quick offset; the happy-go-luck personality ) ; choleric (Fire i.e. hot and dry ; quick onset but prolonged offset; the energized or angry personality) ; Phlegmatic ( Water i.e. cold and wet; prolonged build-up but quick offset; the hard-to-provoke calm personality) and finally melancholic (Earth i.e. cold and dry; prolonged onset and prolonged offset ; the classical brooding personality) .

As one can see from the Wikipedia page on 2 factor models of personality, there are a lot of theories that define their personality types on the basis of 2 underlying factors one of which is factor 1 (the Wikipedia page cites that as extroversion scale) and teh second is factor 2 (which the Wikipedia labels people-task orientation scale, a nomenclature to which I am more sympathetic).

There is a table listed at the end of the Wikipedia article and form a cursory look at the table one can see that the interpretation of the two factors have changed from time to time; it began as affect/emotion based interpretation; got morphed into behavioral terminology; briefly flirted with motivational constructs that lead to character types(refer Fromm) and finally also had some recent cognitive interpretations. I am a big proponent of the ABCD model of psychology and the eight stage models of personality; I have formerly reconciled the ABCD model with eight personality factors/stages by following Theodore Millons approach whereby each Affect, Behavior, Desire (Motivation) and Cognition is split in 2 underlying polarities viz, pleasure/pain; active/passive; self/other and broad/narrow respectively.

While reconciling the above I have also been acutely aware that I am more focused on the person side of personality rather than the situation side of personality. Those who are aware of the person-situation debate in personality psychology will be aware that any analysis that focuses on person to the exclusion of environment/situation is not doing full justice to the study of personality or psychology. To remedy that I propose that while factor 1 in each ABCD domain can be used as a proxy for the splitting of Affect, Behavior, Desire or Cognition under the 2 polarities and in internal focused , the factor 2 is more in relation to the environmental/ situational effects and is more external.

If you have lost me till now, please bear patience. Let me clarify by way of an example. consider the DiSC theory and assessment produced by William Martson. He proposed 2 factors ; Factor 1 is Active/passive with reference to behavior of person and Factor 2 is open/controlled or favorable/antagonistic with reference to the environment one chooses to operate in/ finds oneself in. Thus, his definition of DISC as follows:

Dominance, which produces activity in an antagonistic environment; with a feeling of unpleasantness until stimulus is acted upon
Compliance, which produces produces passivity in an antagonistic environment; with a feeling of unpleasantness until stimulus is reconciled
Inducement, which produces activity in a favorable environment; with a feeling of pleasantness increasing as interaction increases
Submission, which produces passivity in a favorable environment; with a feeling of pleasantness increasing as yielding increases

Of course he is working on 2 levels – the Affect level where he discusses feelings and emotional tone and stimuli and the Behavioral level where he discusses active/passive behavior in a appropriate environment. With this I am all set to propose my new 16 factors theory of personality that may also bridge the gap between ABCD model of personality/psychology, the eight stages /factors theory of personality and the 16 personality factors or the 16 MBTi types.

To recall, Affect is the first stage/domain where pleasure/pain polarity is operational; I propose we also take in account a second polarity/factor as to whether the stimuli causing pleasure(pleasantness)/ pain(pleasantness) is present/being introduced or being recalled/ is absent. Let us call this factor Stimuli present/stimuli absent.

Behavior is the second stage/domain where active/passive polarity is operational; here the effect of environment can be subsumed under the polarity of whether the environment is favorable or antagonistic. Let us call this factor env favorable/antagonistic .

Desire is the third stage /domain where the motivational impetus can be either Self /Other focused. Here the environment/situational factors to consider are the significant others or the desirable objects – be it things or peoples . I call this polarity of being concerned with objects the things/ people factor.

Cognition is the final fourth stage/domain where the operational polarity is that of Broad/narrow – or put another way abstract(generalized) and concrete (specialized) ; here I posit that the system which is being cognized can be either chaotic/ orderly and that view of how the system is conceived results in factor of system chaotic/orderly.

Let me now elaborate all the 16 different types that emerge once one takes all these 2 factors (diff for each domain) and the 4 domains (ABCD) under consideration.

Affect driven combinations/types :

  1. generally feels pleasant due to presence of stimuli (a happy-g-lucky sanguine person; predominant emotion : joy; ‘reward’ driving factor in terms of reinforcement theory)
  2. generally feels pleasant due to absence of stimuli ( a lazy , lethargic., contended phlegmatic personality; ‘relief’ in terms of reinforcement theory) .
  3. generally feels unpleasant due to presence of stimuli ( an angry person energized to remove that stimuli; choleric with predominant emotion anger and ‘punishment’ driven in terms of reinforcement theory;)
  4. generally  feels unpleasant due to absence of stimuli (a sad person grieving loss of a beloved object ;melancholic with  predominant emotion sadness and ‘penalty’ is the reinforcement principle in use)

Behavior driven combinations/types

  1. Actively strives in favorable environments. (Influence/Inducement in DiSC terminology)
  2. Actively strives in even antagonistic environments (  dominant in DiSC terminology)
  3. Passively accommodates in even favorable environments (Submission/ steadfastness in DisC terminology)
  4. Passively accommodates in unfavorable environments ( Compliance in DiSC)

Desire /Motivation driven combinations/types leads to Fromm’s Character orientations

  1. Accommodating others with a focus on people – Marketing Character orientation as per Fromm
  2. Accommodating others with a focus on things – Receptive orientation-Fromm
  3. Assimilating in self the other people – Manipulative orientation-Fromm
  4. Assimilating in self with a focus on things- hoarding orientation-Fromm

Cognition driven combinations can be correlated with Hermann Brian dominance Instrument

  1. Broad/generalized synthesis of chaotic patterns ( Imaginative thinking style)
  2. Broad/generalized synthesis of ordered  patterns (Interpersonal thinking style)
  3. Narrow/specialized analysis of chaotic patterns ( Sequential thinking style)
  4. Narrow/specialized analysis of orderly patterns  ( Logical thinking style)

Of course I would love to correlate the cognitive factors with the Beauty and sublime factors of Kant but am unable to paint a coherent picture at this time. Maybe one day I will.

How do you find the above marriage of ABCD theory with 2 factor models of personality? do let me know via comments.



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Personality and Motivation

Agreeableness by state
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I have blogged extensively about personality and how it may be related to emotions. A common theme underlying my discussion of personality and emotion has been these traits/states arising as a result of adaptation to basic evolutionary tasks or problems that each living organism/species has to solve. Where there are problems to be solved or tasks to be accomplished or goals to be achieved,  there is also going to be motivations and drive to achieve them and underlying needs that drive that pursuit. Thus motivation and Personality/ emotion are also intricately linked and associated when one uses the underlying basic adaptive problems paradigm.

In my last post I had mentioned that Personality can be discussed in just descriptive terms as in trait theories, the most famous of which is the five factor model of personality or one could look at the underlying processes and mechanism and come up with theories that are grounded in motivational or cognitive terms as to what actually drives the behavior in consistence with the observable traits and behaviors.

I have recently come across an important paper in my view which tried to bridge this gap by explaining the motivational systems (or reaction norms as they call it) underlying the five factor model of personality.

To recall, the five factor model or OCEAN model posits the following five factors:

  1. Neuroticism or sensitivity to negative affect
  2. Conscientiousness or ability to delay gratification and persist with task at hand
  3. Extraversion: propensity to socialize and be more outgoing
  4. Agreeableness: empathetic and cooperativeness
  5. Openness to Experience: Intellect and curiosity etc.

Now, I have elaborated or tried to explain the OCEAN  traits as per my understanding, but Dennissen and Penke looked at how prominent personality researchers have interpreted the traits to arrive at a common motivational framework that is grounded in theory and then they developed a scale in accordance with theory to measure  these motivational  reaction norms – the important difference from tradition FFM message scales being that all statements referred to underlying motivations/ propensities etc and did not refer to specific behaviors in specific situations.  They then subjected their scale to factor analysis that came with a five factor structure that was consistent with FFM and also had predictive validity of similar sorts. They thus conclude that their theoretical framework is on the right track.

There are of course problems with such can interpretation, but I found some of their motivational reaction norms pretty consistent with my basic adaptive problems and basic developmental life tasks paradigm, while some I could find were slightly different or more nuanced interpretations.

Looking at the original data set of 9 personalty researchers from where they derived this framework, some of these I could resolve to my satisfaction.

Neuroticism is interpreted as sensitivity to social rejection/exclusion. I have problems with this interpretation in that focuses too much on social dimension, while to me it is general sensitivity to threat/stress.  In their paper they do discuss this:

As can be seen in Table 1, almost all theorists link neuroticism to individual differences in affect regulation, conceptualizing this factor as differences in the ability to handle stress (Buss, 1991), facilitation of performance under pressure (Hogan, 1996), affect regulation (McAdams, 1992; van Lieshout, 2000), and affect intensity. These conceptualizations all regard neuroticism as the sensitivity of a domain-general system to respond to environmental threats. Various studies have also linked neuroticism to individual differences in general differential reactivity to negative events or stressors.
I like the above interpretation of Neuroticism as it is consistent with the adaptive problem of avoiding Foes. However, the authors  chose this interpretation over the above:

By comparison, other conceptualizations treat neuroticismas a trait that is especially activated in situations in which people’s social relationships are threatened. For example, Matthews (2004) pointed out that ‘‘individual differences in human anxiety revolve primarily around social fears such as being criticized or rejected, rather than physical threats” (p. 260, italics added). Support for this conceptualization comes from research by Bolger and colleagues (1989), who found that interpersonal stressors were more important in causing negative mood than non-social ones, such as transportation problems or work overload. Similarly, Denissen and Penke (in press) found that neuroticism was particularly correlated with the intensity of people’s negative reactions to social threats.

Conscientiousness did not have many interpretations:

All theorists listed in Table 1 agree that conscientiousness is involved in task-related behaviors. Speci?cally, McAdams (1992) conceptualizes this factor as involved in work-related behaviors, MacDonald (1995) as the monitoring of non-attainment of goals, van Lieshout (2000) as executive regulation in the performance domain, Ashton and Lee (2001) as the intensity of engagement in task-related behaviors, Buss (1991) as the capacity for reliable work and enduring commitment, and Hogan (1996) as trustworthiness and dependability. Holmes (2002) and Nettle (2006) are arguably most successful in capturing the positive aspects of both poles of the conscientiousness continuum by describing it as the promotion of immediate vs. distant goal striving. This conceptualization nicely maps onto lifespan-theoretical insights regarding individual differences in the tenacity of goal pursuit  (Brandtstädter,Wentura, & Rothermund, 1999). In the current paper, we adopt the view of these various authors that conscientiousness can be plausibly conceptualized as differences in the tenacity of goal pursuit.

To me the goal pursuit tenacity bodes well for adaptive problem of finding Food or exploring.

Extraversion seems to have multiple interpretations, all to my eyes equally valid.:

In Table 1, three clusters of conceptualizations of extraversion emerge. First, van Lieshout (2000) conceptualizes this factor as re?ecting a person’s activation vs. inhibition of impulses, which is somewhat similar to MacDonald’s (1995, 1998) notion of extraversion as re?ecting individual differences in behavioral approach. Both views are consistent with Lucas, Diener, Grob, Suh, and Shao (2000), who hypothesized that extraversion is positively associated with the sensitivity of individuals’ reward system. Because these authors view positive affect as a proxy of the activity of the general reward system, this hypothesis can also account for the high correlations between extraversion and individual differences in positive affect (Watson & Clark, 1997), even when controlling for social activity (Watson, Clark, McIntyre, & Hamaker, 1992).
A second cluster of explanations of the extraversion factor is the notion that this trait is involved in people’s hierarchical proclivity (Buss, 1991), leadership potential (Hogan, 1996), or disposition to wield power (McAdams, 1992). In addition, the disposition for dominance vs. submission in accessing resources is one of the two social dimensions that can be mapped onto extraversion in Holmes’ (2002) model. However, a problem with this account is that differences in dominance seem to be confounded by differences in competitive resources such as physical prowess, mental ability, material wealth, and social alliances, which depend not only on extraversion but also on other personality factors, such as general problem-solving ability and persistence in reaching goals.
Third, extraversion has been linked to the motivational predisposition to experience social interactions as rewarding (Ashton & Lee, 2001; McCrae & Costa, 1987). Insofar as this predisposition motivates people to seek out the company of others, this view is consistent with Holmes’ (2002) second possible conceptualization of extraversion as tapping into people’s level of assertiveness vs. passivity in initiating social contacts. In an empirical study, Ashton, Lee, and Paunonen (2002) presented evidence for this position, showing that a ‘‘tendency to engage and enjoy social attention” (p. 246) correlates very highly (.74) with traditional extraversion measures. Ashton et al. (2002) reasoned that extraversion can be adaptive because it is correlated with people’s ‘‘social attention-holding power” (Gilbert, 1989), allowing for the exertion of group in?uence and the attraction of possible mates (Campbell, Simpson, Stewart, & Manning, 2003; Nettle, 2005, 2006). In the current paper, we take this latter explanation as a plausible conceptualization of extraversion, though other explanations (e.g., as differences in general reward sensitivity) might also be consistent with the empirical evidence.

I am most sympathetic to second and third interpretations as they directly relate to the problem of Making Friends and Alliances.

Agreeableness is interpreted in two ways:

In Table 1, two clusters of conceptual interpretations for agreeableness can be discerned (the conceptualization by Ashton & Lee, 2001, is directed at a rotational variant of this factor and will not be considered here). First of all, several theorists regard agreeableness as fostering intimate relationships, conceptualizing it as enjoyment of other people’s company (Hogan, 1996), facilitation of intimate family relationships and parental investment (MacDonald, 1995), or dispositional love (McAdams, 1992). This conceptualization is consistent with the hypothesized social nature of personality traits. However, Hogan’s (1996) notion of enjoyment of other people’s company is dif?cult to differentiate from sociability, a key feature of extraversion. In addition, MacDonald’s (1995) emphasis on the facilitation of intimate family relationships and parental investment is not consistent with ?ndings by Graziano, Jensen-Campbell, and Hair (1996) that the effects of agreeableness on reactions to interpersonal con?ict with non-kin individuals do not consistently differ from reactions to con?icts with kin.
A second cluster of conceptualizations of agreeableness focuses on this factor’s role in human cooperative behavior, with Buss (1991) relating it to people’s willingness to cooperate, Holmes (2002) to acting cooperative vs. competitive, Nettle (2006) to empathy and trust vs. self-interest, and van Lieshout (2000) to the coordination vs. opposition of joint interests. This conceptualization is consistent with game-theoretical research on reputations of cooperation vs. competition in resource dilemma’s (Rasmusen, 2006) and with research by van Lange and colleagues (van Lange, 1999; van Lange, De Bruin, Otten, & Joireman, 1997) regarding the existence of individual differences in social value orientation. Finally, Koole, Jager, van den Berg, Vlek, and Hofstee (2001) showed that agreeableness is related to altruistic behavior when playing a variant of the public goods game. Consistent with this evidence, we propose that agreeableness can be plausibly conceptualized as individual differences in this tendency to display altruistic behavior.

To me the first interpretation of empathy and prenatal investment and intimate family relations is consistent with the adaptive problems of having and caring for Kids. The second interpretation of altruistic behavior and cooperativenes is equally acceptable as presumably this builds on primitive kin-non-kin concerns and parental investment propensities.

The last factor Openness to Experience I have elsewhere reinterpreted as conformity/rebelliousness. The authors find following interpretations:

As can be seen in Table 1, several clusters of conceptualizations exist for the openness to experience factor. All conceptualizations converge in their conceptualization of this trait as involving a high level of cognitive activity, as indicated by having a broad, deep, and permeable consciousness (McCrae & Costa, 1997), a high propensity for innovation and solving problems (Buss, 1991; Hogan, 1996), engagement in the intellectual and creative domain (McAdams & Pals, 2006; Nettle, 2006; van Lieshout, 2000), processing incomplete information (Holmes, 2002), and intrinsically motivated curiosity facilitating the development of cognitive competence (MacDonald, 1995). In trying to make sense of this factor, however, openness should be distinguished from psychometric intelligence, which is correlated with openness but not identical to it (McCrae & Costa, 1987; also see Penke et al., 2007a).
A parallel distinction was made by Ackerman (1996), who noted the difference between maximum and typical levels of intelligence: whereas the former is identical to operationalizations of psychometric intelligence, the latter has been shown to correlate very highly with openness to experience (Goff & Ackerman, 1992). This conceptualization is almost identical to Cacioppo and colleagues’ (1996) construct of need for cognition, which they de?ned as ‘‘a stable individual difference in people’s tendency to engage in and enjoy effortful cognitive activity” (p. 198). Empirically, this view is supported by Berzonsky and Sullivan (1992), who found a correlation of .78 between need for cognition and the NEO-PI-R openness to ideas scale (though the correlation with other openness facets was lower). Accordingly, we propose that openness can be plausibly conceptualized as differences in the reward value of engaging in cognitive activity.

The need for cognition may be driven by the evolutionary task of identifying kin from non-kin.
To me this looks promising and in the expected direction. I’ll be watching research from this group more keenly henceforth and keep you guys posted.

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DENISSEN, J., & PENKE, L. (2008). Motivational individual reaction norms underlying the Five-Factor model of personality: First steps towards a theory-based conceptual framework Journal of Research in Personality, 42 (5), 1285-1302 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2008.04.002

Personality and Behavioural Ecology

Behaving at the library [07/05/07 033]
Image by The Happy Robot via Flickr

I am an avid personality researcher and most recently have posted a series on personality and emotion. I have also talked a bit about life-history theories and thus am aware of  the broad filed of behavioral ecology. A recent paper by Nettle and Penke brings the two fields of human personality psychology research (HPP) and behavioral ecology (BE) together.

They argue that there is much that the HPP researchers can learn from BE researchers especially where it comes to measuring behaviors and situations.

In this review they focus on 5 broad areas and approaches within the HPP and I was reminded of my ABCD model of psychology whereby A stands for Affective or evolutionarily guided explanations/ phenomenon; B stands for behavioral ot situational guided phenomenon; C  stands for Cognitive or information-processing phenomenon, while D stands for dynamics or motivational salient phenomenon.

The five areas they focus on is

1) Descriptive five factor or other trait based models : these focus on describing the enduring personality characteristics that are common across situations and are best though of as behavior reaction norms when one takes into account the BE literature too.  This is clearly related to the B in ABCD with the focus being on describing common behaviors that can be subsumed under traits.

2) Proximate mechanisms: here research is focused on identifying the underlying motivational/cognitive underpinnings of behavior and  is the ‘personality process’ paradigm within HPP. They point to recent research that has tried to relate the five factor model to underlying differences in cognition/motivation for ex Agreeableness as a result of differences in availability of theory-of mind ability.  thisis clearly C or D as per ABCD model.

3) Genetic and environmental etiology: Behavior genetic research trying to nail down genetic and environmental effects and failing to take into account Gene X environment interactions.  This clearly is developmentally oriented dynamics and falls under D of ABCD.

4) Fitness consequences: anew generation of personality psychologists have started focusing on evolutionary explanations and the ultimate explanations of why such and such traits exist. this research is in A part of ABCD  focusing on evolutionarily guided explanations/phenomenon.

5) Comparative personality research: Looking for continuity in personality traits and underlying mechanisms like genes, across species.

Nettle and Penke argue that there is much that BE can inform HPP with regards to definitions of traits, the factor analytic method based on ratings and the importance of traits for long term life outcomes. This is  a good paper worth reading for psychologists studying personality.

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Nettle, D., & Penke, L. (2010). Personality: bridging the literatures from human psychology and behavioural ecology Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 365 (1560), 4043-4050 DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2010.0061

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