Posts tagged personality

Research Summaries: Empirical identification of the major facets of Conscientiousness

This research summary looks at a paper co-authored by Angela Duckworth, that tries to carve conscientiousness at it joints.

English: perfectionist measuring and cutting grass

English: perfectionist measuring and cutting grass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1. Conscientiousness is a personality trait that is present in most personality theories and measured by most personality inventories, the most famous of these being the Big Five or OCEAN model and as measured by Big Five Inventory (BFI)/ NEO-PI-R.
  2. Personality traits structure is supposed to be hierarchical with traits like Conscientiousness comprising of many finer aspects or facets. The NEO-PI-R is structured around 6 facets of conscientiousness, they being competence, order, dutifulness, achievement-striving, self-discipline and deliberation.
  3. Conscientiousness predicts a number of important life outcomes, however the relationship of different facets with different outcomes is not well established; nor are the number of facets of Conscientiousness agreed upon.
  4. Thus Angela and colleagues set forth to find out what was the underlying facet level structure of Conscientiousness and which facets predicted which outcomes. For this they used exploratory factor analysis and confirmatory factor analysis on data obtained from 291 adolescents. Conscientiousness was measured using items present in multiple scales from IPIP (international personality item pool).
  5. Exploratory factor analysis yielded an eight factor structure which was confirmed with confirmatory factor analysis.
  6. The eight factors were best described by the following construct labels: (a) Industriousness (“I make an effort”, “I am always prepared”); (b) Perfectionism (“I want to be the very best”, “I demand quality”); (c) Tidiness (“I like to tidy up”, “I leave a mess in my room” [reverse-keyed]); (d) Procrastination Refrainment (“I get to work at once”, “I am easily distracted” [reverse-keyed]); (e) Control (“I rush into things” [reverse-keyed], “I do unexpected things” [reverse-keyed]); (f) Cautiousness (“I think before I speak”, “I make careful choices”); (g) Task Planning (“I follow a schedule”, “I work according to a routine”); and (h) Perseverance (“I give up easily” [reverse-keyed], “I am easily discouraged” [reverse-keyed]).

  7.   Multiple outcomes of interest for the students were measured, these included absenteeism, CGPA, high stakes achievement results and teacher ratings of social behavior. All facets except tidiness predicted these outcomes. Perfectionism predicted scores in high stakes test even stronger than Conscientiousness as a whole. Industriousness predicted less absenteeism even strongly than Conscientiousness as a whole.
  8. Based on when the factors emerged and drawing a parallel with other lesser factor solutions, its apparent that following pairings can be done (my interpretation!) :
    1. Task planning (ordering tasks and time) and Tidiness (ordering possessions) make one group that can be called organization/orderliness. Task planning seems to be the dutifulness facet of NEO-PI-R.
    2. Cautiousness (prudence in VIA) and Control of impulses (self-regulation in VIA) make one group that is related to in-the-moment exercise of control, willpower and judgement. Cautiousness seems to be related to deliberation facet of NEO-PI-R.
    3. Industriousness (hard work {driven by harmonious passion?} where focus is on achieving quantity) and Perfectionism ( drive towards perfection {driven by obsessive passion?} where focus is on achieving quality) seem to make one group that is related to long term focus/ passion. Industriousness looks the same as Achievement-striving as per NEO-PI-R.
    4. Procrastination refrainment (decisiveness or starting things without waiting)  and perseverance (or finishing things that have been started, no matter what) seem to make the final group that is task-oriented. While procrastination refrainment seems like self-discipline of NEO-PI-R, Perseverance is more close to competence.
  9. To me the above eight factor structure of conscientiousness fits beautifully with my own ABCD model whereby I can see parallels with the Orderliness/organization related to Affect dimension and so forth.
  10. This research has real world implications. Given the limited time, if at all,  allotted by schools for positive education interventions, if one wants to increase odds of better outcomes, its wiser to focus on particular facets of Conscientiousness like industriousness, that are known to be associated with good outcomes, rather than poor predictor facets like tidiness, or even Conscientiousness as a whole.
  11. Bottom-line appears to be that teaching children tidy habits may be totally irrelevant,, in terms of valued life outcomes,  but making them appreciate the value of hard work and effort may really pay off!

if intrigued, here is the original paper.

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.

Goals and Depression

Striving towards meaningful goals is good for your well-being; even just having goals by themselves are indicative of well-being. This is an established dogma of positive psychology, so how can one argue that goals may be at the root of the experience called depression.

A framework that aims to throw some light on this is the dual-process Tenacious Goal Pursuit (TGP) and Flexible Goal Adjustment (FGA) theory as proposed by Brandstatdter and colleagues.

As per this framework, we all strive towards goals, but only goals that are meaningful (say goals which align with our self-identity) and attainable (we have self-efficacy beliefs and can figure out strategies to achieve the goals) lead to well-being. A goal that we find meaningful and are highly committed to, but which becomes unattainable due to either external circumstances or our internal capacities, may lead to depression.The depression, and the helplessness and rumination that accompany it, may paradoxically have the function of decreasing our commitment to the goal and releasing ourselves from that unattainable goal.

And here is where the TGP and FGA theory comes to the rescue. In view of internal or external obstacles, that is when you are not able to make progress towards meaningful goals, you may either try to change the situations or your actions to ensure that they are congruent to the goals and would thus be demonstrating an adaptive process of assimilation (not to be confused with Piaget’s use of assimilation) also known as Tenacious Goal Pursuit (TGP), or you may adjust your goals and ambitions to reflect the situations / your capacities using the process of accommodation also known as Flexible Goal Adjustment (FGA).

Now, lets backtrack a little and reflect on the many routes to happiness: some say its all in your head- that you just need to change your mindset/ perception of events and you can be happier;  others say that happiness is dependent on your situations and the actions that you take- you can and should cultivate happiness by activities and by changing your circumstances. Like all debates, like Nature-Nurture, the answer probably lies in the interaction and in-between. Haidt has famously claimed that happiness lies in-between, and I concur.

Similarly, sadness or depression may lie in your flexibility and tenacity of goal pursuits – while showing rigidity to a goal and not giving up may lead to sadness and depression, giving up too early or not being tenacious when circumstances could have been changed, may also lead to regret and sadness.

Bring Back My Happiness

Bring Back My Happiness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Its important to note that changing circumstances/ TGP etc are active processes; meanwhile changing mindset/ FGA are relatively passive processes, in that they happen in the background and not so much consciously.

That brings me to my major thesis: Depression is a disorder characterized by inability to use the adaptive process of FGA optimally. To me, Depression is a disorder of Behavior related to the Passive polarity of the ABCD Behavioral dimension. When one has a goal, to which one is committed, but is no longer attainable (and this may include an irreparable loss like bereavement ) then most people will use Flexible Goal Adjustment to come out of that state. However, the people with depression may be less able to use FGA and may remain committed to unattainable goals.

One of the evidence that comes to mind is, and for this you have to refer to my previous post about personality disorders and emotions,  that the passive pole of Behavior dimension in ABCD model is also associated with Dysthemic and borderline personalities and hypothesized to be associated with the Conscentiousness trait. Now, It does seem that there is some evidence that highly conscientious people who have high commitment to goals, also are more likely to get depressed following setbacks or adverse life events. This makes immense theoretical sense too.

One can also examine the Active pole of the Behavior dimension in ABCD model to gain equivalent insights. As I had mentioned in my last post, that is associated with personality disorders of Histroinic and Hypomanic personality disorders and likely associated with the trait Impulsive Sensation Seeking. Extending this joy/ happiness related dimension, all these are also likely to be associated with the active process of Tenacious Goal Pursuit; here it is instructive to note that a high score on Impulsive Sensation Seeking may prevent TGP from happening as the person may keep moving from one activity to the other; and extremes of this may lead to manic behavior. The high scores on Impulsive Sensation seeking leading to less TGP leading to full-blown mania, is similar in nature to high scores on Conscientiousness leading to less FGA leading to full-blown depression.

To me, this seems a novel and fruitful approach to think about and conceptualize depression- as an inability to give up goals that are no loner feasible. If we focus more on this aspect, perhaps we need to augment our talking therapies of CBT etc that focus on negative self-talk and also introduce safe spaces and experiences whereby people can indulge in Flexible Goal Adjustment and give up on goals that are no longer feasible and replace them with other more meaningful and attainable goals.

Emotions and Personality: Take 8

I am currently reading ‘Emotions in the practice of psychotherapy‘ by Robert Plutchik and have been finding it a good read. In it Plutchik elaborates on his famous psycho-evolutionary theory of emotions that led to the circumplex and the Plutchik wheel of emotions. Basically, Plutchik argues that emotions can be classified on three dimensions- intensity, similarity and polarity (complementarity) and if one were to focus on similarity and polarity one can find eight basic or primary emotions, with other emotions either being a blend of the primary emotions or differing in intensity.

Cover of "Emotions in the Practice of Psy...

Cover via Amazon

An example will help clarify: if one takes anger as a basic emotion then emotions like rage, fury or irritation, annoyance differ in their intensity from anger; likewise when two emotions like disgust and anger are co-present, then one may feel the emotion of hatred/hostility, which is a secondary emotion.

Long-term readers of this blog will know that I am sympathetic towards the basic emotions concept and also believe that their are eight basic emotions; the eight basic emotions identified by me are same as those by Plutchik though the polarity aspect varies slightly.  For e.g., I believe the right polarity combinations are Fear-Interest; Sadness- Joy; Anger – Love; and Disgust- Surprise. Note that Plutchik considers Anger-Fear to be opposites and believes that Love is not basic but a blend of Joy and Acceptance.

Plutchik believes, and I have been arguing in my series of posts on emotions and personality, that emotions and personality are intimately connected and that regular/ habitual emotional experiences/ states lead to enduring related personality traits. Also having a particular personality trait likewise increases the probability of experiencing a particular emotion predominately. Thus there is a string bidirectional linkages between the emotional states one finds oneself in and personality traits one has.

Emotions evolved because they helped us survive and thrive. They are related to particular contingencies or features of the situation and help prime action tendencies that effectively deal with those situations to restore one towards homeostatic state (in case of negative emotions) or move towards flourishing and growth (in case of positive emotions). Personality or stable differences in emotional, behavioral, cognitive and motivational responding evolved as it enabled different persons to adapt to different niches of the (social) environment. Personality disorders evolved when things were taken to an extreme or their were unresolved conflicts related to the corresponding emotions.

English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

English: Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We will look at emotions and corresponding personality disorders to delineate the relationship between personality and emotions.

Examples will make this clear.

Consider Fear. Fear evolved whenever Danger was present and primed the action tendency to Escape/ withdraw/ protect. Or consider Sadness that evolved in relation to a significant Loss and primed the action tendencies towards Reintegrating or gaining social support or renegotiating. Anger evolved in situations where Obstacles impeded progress or goal achievement and primed the action tendencies of Destruction of that obstacle or aggressiveness in social situations. Disgust evolved when faced with Unpalatable or harmful object priming the action tendency to Reject that object, be it physical or social.

Positive emotions have similar situational triggers and similar action tendencies.

Now, Plutchik also looked at personality disorders, their co-morbidity in patients and the similarity ratings by experts for personality disorders, that were factor analyzed, to lead to a circumplex structure of personality disorders. This structure could clearly delineate which personality disorders were similar and clustered together. Remember this clustering is based on actual empirical data and not arbitrary like the clusters defined by DSM.

Plutchik listed three clusters; but I could make out four clusters based on theoretical rationale as well as inspection of the circumplex.

The four clusters of personality disorders are :

  • Cluster A: Avoidant, Self-Defeating and Dependent personality disorders.
  • Cluster B: Dysthemic, Borderline, Histrionic and Hypomanic (this is not there in Plutchik circumplex)
  • Cluster D: Antisocial, Narcissistic, Sadistic and Passive-aggressive
  • Cluster C: Schizoid, Schizotypal, Paranoid and Obsessive-compulsive.

This brings me to my ABCD model, especially as applied to personality. To extend it to above relationship between emotions and personality disorders, I will make a point that Fear-Interest emotional dimension is related to Cluster A (Affect based) personality disorders, Sadness-Joy to cluster B (Behavioral), Anger-Love to cluster D (Dynamic/Social) and Disgust-Surprise to Cluster C (Cognitive).

Consider Avoidant and Self-defeating personality disorders – they are clearly related to (social) withdrawal, escape etc. and thus to Fear;  Dependent can be related to lack of Interest.

Dysthemic and Borderline are clearly related to reintegration/ renegotiation etc and thus to sadness; Histrionic and Hypomanic are clearly related to problems with Joy/ Activity.

Sadistic and Passive-aggressive are related to destructiveness (either overt or covert) and related to anger; Narcissistic (too much self love) and Anti-Social (no love for society)  are problems with Love/compassion.   Taken together the four personality traits related to above like Sadism, Machiavellianism,  Psychopathy and Narcissism make the Dark Tetrad.

Lastly, Paranoid and Obsessive-compulsive are related to getting rid of something undesirable (external conspirators or internal thoughts) and possibly related to disgust.  Schizoid and Schizotypal may on the other hand be related to Surprise.

If one were to continue extending the circumplex and extrapolate from emotions and personality disorders circumplex, one would arrive at the same ABCD structure of personality that I arrived from other considerations.

In essence, Fear is related to Neuroticism personality trait which is related to Avoidant and self-defeating personality disorders. Interest is related to eXtraversion trait and Dependent personality disorder.

Sadness is related to Conscientiousness trait and Dsythemic and Borderline disorders. Joy with Impulsive Sensation Seeking trait and Histrionic and Hypomanic disorder.

Anger is related to Agreeableness trait and Sadistic and Passive-aggressive disorders while Love is related to Honesty/Humility trait and Antisocial and Narcissistic disorders.

Finally, Disgust is related to Imagination trait and Paranoid and obsessive -compulsive disorders; while surprise is related to Openness to Experience trait and Schizoid and Schizotypal disorders.

To me, the above seems conclusive and makes immense sense. The cluster A disorders (as I have defined them, not the DSM ones) are primarily disorders of Affect; Cluster B of Behavior , Cluster C of cognition while cluster D of motives or are interpersonal in nature. This to me is an important theoretical advancement and should be followed up with empirical work.

The ABCD of Personality Structure

Regular readers of The Mouse Trap would be aware of my ABCD model of psychology whereby all psychological phenomena are explained in terms of Affective, Behavioral, Cognitive and Dynamic/Desire dimensions.

Personality Traits from

Personality Traits from (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The affective dimensions is also related to sensory processes; the behavioral dimension to motor processes; the cognitive dimension to associative processes and the desire/dynamic/motives dimension to social processes.

We are increasingly focusing on brain as a means to study psychological phenomena and thus four major divisions of neurosciences are affective neurosciences, behavioral neurosciences, social neurosciences and cognitive neurosciences.

Now, I have written extensively about personality, especially in relation to emotions, and have written a series of posts about the structure of personality traits and the underlying basic emotions. I have also tangentially touched upon or used ABCD and the fundamental four model while coming up with those previous posts; but today’s post is exclusively focused on the ABCD model and its utility for delineating personality traits.

Before we move onto personality traits, lets refresh our knowledge of brain structure. As per a controversial theory of brain structure, by Paul McLean, brain can be divided into a reptilian brain,a paleomammalian brain/ limbic brain and a neomammilain brain/neocortex; for our purpose the details of the model need not be true. However, one thing that McLean postulated was that older brain regions are in control of newer regions and if newer brain regions malfunction/ do not exercise control the behavior due to older system may get activated. Hughlings Jackson had surmised the same earlier and this is the part I will be focusing on.

Consider an earlier brain part that controls movement; (this may be mostly instinctual responding or impulsive initiation) ; a later brain part may inhibit and lead to better response/ proactive action that is well considered/ planned. I will call these two instances bottom-up effects and top-down effects on movement respectively.

With this in mind lets start a deeper look at the ABCD.

  1. Affective/sensory: This would be related to detecting unexpected stimuli or looking out for expected stimuli.
    1. The bottom up process of detecting incoming stimuli is enhanced by level of arousal. High arousal leads to better detection and low arousal to lesser detection; people may differ in their natural arousal levels and I guess you know where I am going with this-the introversion- eXtraversion dimension.
    2. The top down process of looking out for (potentially harmful) stimuli may lead to worry or anxiety. High Anxiety may help in vigilant detection, while lower anxiety to lapses in detecting harmful stimuli; the natural variation in this may be the trait Emotionally stable-Neuroticism( Emotionality). Anxiety remember was one of the dimensions discovered by Gray as relevant to personality.
  2. Behavioral/Motor:   This would be related to initiating action or responding to stimuli.
    1. The bottom up process here would lead to Impulsivity , another dimension elaborated on by Gray. The personality trait relevant here would be Impulsive Sensation Seeking as defined by Zuckerman.
    2. The top down process here would lead to Inhibition; when that process does not work, the low pole would be disinhibition (which is distinct from impulsivity). In FFM/HEXACO , this trait may be labeled as Conscientiousness and is related to strength of self-regulation.
  3. Drives/Social:  This would be related to interactions with others and the motives behind them – either to help others or the reciprocate a previous help.
    1. The bottom up process here is reactive reciprocation; or aggression in case of deception/defection by the other. The one end of this pole will be characterized by Aggression and hostility while the other pole by nice and reciprocal behavior and this leads us right on to Agreeableness dimension.
    2. The top down or expectation driven process here would be trusting and helping others on the one pole (in hope of reciprocation) and manipulating, hurting or exploiting people on the other. this naturally leads us to Honesty-humility dimension of HEXACO and the opposite pole that I believe is the dark tetrad of sadism, Machiavellianism, narcissism and sadism.
  4. Cognitive/ associative : This would be related to the tendency to make and use broad vis–vis narrow associations while doing information processing.
    1. The bottom up process here could be related to distractibility vis-a-vis focus. Some people may be easily distracted/ form loose associations and this may lead to Openness to experience in them; others may be more closed to new information. I think of this as the encoding process.
    2. The top down process here could be related to imagining novel associations between concepts etc. I would say this is a new dimension called Imagination dimension (Scott Barry Kaufman would be happy to hear:-)) .  At one end would be daydreamers and creative folks , at the other end more pragmatic/ reality oriented folks. I relate this to retrieval process. As this trait may still be evolving, we see psychosis related to this- imaginations/ top down processes overpowering reality orientation. this may also explain the association of creativity and mental illness.


I am happy with this personality structure organization with eight traits, instead of the usual five, that I have come up with. It has a solid theoretical rationale and a lot of thinking has gone into it; of course empirical work will prove whether its true or not and whether it stands the test of time!!

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