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date: 15 December 2018

Universal and Specific in the Five Factor Model of Personality

Abstract and Keywords

Personality psychologists—perhaps even more than in some other disciplines—are deeply interested in what is common to personality descriptions in all cultures and societies. The purpose of this chapter is to discuss the potential universality of the Five Factor Model (FFM) of general personality structure. The chapter begins with a discussion of what is meant, or should be meant, by a universal. Discussed then is the empirical support, as well as the conceptual and empirical difficulty, in establishing universality in personality structure, for the FFM as well as other dimensional models. The chapter then considers different levels of analysis (including cultural and intraindividual analyses), higher-order invariants (including sex differences, age differences, and differences in perspective), and whether mean levels are universal. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the basis for personality universals, as well as addressing the common challenges to universality.

Keywords: Five-Factor Model, universal, culture, personality structure, differences in perspective

There are many endemic diseases such as monkey fever or Russian encephalitis. One of them, Kyasanur forest disease, is specific only to some forested parts of India and the tick-borne encephalitis is widely distributed across Eurasia. In spite of their endemic character they both have an independent category in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10). Although these two diseases are encountered in only very specific places they are still universal in the sense that every human who contracts these infections develops the same Kyasanur forest disease or tick-borne encephalitis, each with their typical symptoms. Their symptoms look very similar because different human organisms react to these viruses in a highly similar, if not to say in a universal, manner.

Although sometimes challenged (Patel & Winston, 1994), mental disorders are comparable to physical disorders (as their inclusion in the ICD-10 implies) because their neurological and psychological substrates are likewise universal. Personality traits provide the substrate of personality disorders (PDs), so the question of their pan-cultural invariance is crucial. This chapter continues to elaborate our previous arguments that in many respects personality traits are indeed universal, clearly dominating over specific aspects (Allik, Realo, & McCrae, 2013).

Personality Universals

When people describe their own personality or that of someone they know well, many of the descriptors typically go hand-in-hand. For example, individuals who are described by themselves or by their close acquaintances as talkative are also believed to experience positive emotions frequently, and those who are reported to be modest often describe themselves as willing to assist others in need of help. These covariations tend to group around the same five basic themes—Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness—(Goldberg, 1993; McCrae & (p. 174) Costa, 1997), which seem to transcend languages and cultures, giving a good reason to suggest that this structure of covariation may be a human universal (McCrae & Costa, 1997).

Strictly speaking, universal means that something is characteristic to all members of a certain class, without any limits or exceptions. Very little in nature and even less in culture meet this absolute criterion, but many characteristics appear to be relatively invariant. Psychologists are interested in universals at the level of both the individuals (e.g., “all people are mortal”) and the group (e.g., “women are more agreeable”), but these levels must be distinguished. The claim that gender differences in personality are universal does not mean that every female on earth scores higher (or lower) than every male on a certain trait; rather it means that in all groups of people, the same degree or direction of gender-related trait differences is found on average. Because only very few things exist without exceptions, the observed regularities are expected to hold not in all groups of people but in most of them. In this case it is more appropriate to talk about near-universals. Most of the properties of personality traits discussed in this chapter are (potentially) universal at the group level and consequently are near-universals. Thus, we are adopting a theoretical position according to which the concept of psychological universals is not a dichotomous distinction between universals and nonuniversals. Between these two polarities there is a gradation of near-universals with various degrees of generality (Norenzayan & Heine, 2005).

The metric system, with its base of 10 units, was devised mainly because humans started to use their fingers for counting. If pigs could have developed their own counting system, they would probably have preferred an octal system because they have only four digits per hoof (Leroi, 2005). However, readers may be very surprised to learn that five digits per limb is an anatomical near-universal, not something that is characteristic of all humans. Surprisingly many people are born with extra digits. About 1 in 3,000 Europeans and about 1 in 300 Africans are born with extra fingers or toes (or both) (Leroi, 2005). Like many human traits, polydactyly represents a substantial genetic heterogeneity that varies across different populations and ethnic groups (Malik, 2014). So, if even fundamental anatomical features such as the number of fingers—which has influenced the whole history of civilization—are only near-universals, then it is more than expected that the majority of psychological universals simply cannot belong to the absolute category of universals.

Linguists were probably among the first who faced the problem of universality. Currently, the list of the world’s languages, called Ethnologue, contains 7,106 living languages (Lewis, Simons, & Fennig, 2014). Most of these languages are distinctive so that without proper learning they are incomprehensible to speakers of other languages, sometimes living only a few miles away. In spite of this enormous variety, languages have features that occur systematically across all of them. For example, if a language is spoken, it has consonants and vowels. Even further, all known languages seem to have minimally three vowels including/i/,/a/, and/u/and most languages, not all, contain nasals (Burquest & Payne, 1993). Thus, in addition to absolute universals—true for all languages, living or extinct—there are general tendencies that hold for most languages and that can pretend to have the status of near-universals in most. Noam Chomsky (1965) has famously argued that there is a universal grammar—general generative and combinatorial mechanisms that have an innate biological basis—used by all spoken languages. But even this one of the strongest universalist claims may has been violated since at least one of the world’s living languages, Pirahã (spoken by about 300 Pirahãs living in Brazil’s Amazonas state), arguably lacks some of the features of universal grammar (Everett, 2005).

In response to a dominant paradigm of the social sciences—cultural relativism—Donald Brown, a professor of anthropology at the University of California, started to compose a list of human universals (Brown, 1991). As it turned out, ethnographers have noticed many features common to all known human societies studied so far. For example, everywhere people live they have baby talk, jokes, magic, and a preference for sweet tastes, to say nothing, of course, about language. In the long list of universals or near-universals, many are associated with what we can call personality dispositions. For example, according to this list, in all human societies people have childhood fears, classification of behavioral propensities and inner states, and facial expression of anger; and in all known human populations males are more aggressive than females. Steven Pinker (2002) extended this list by adding, among other features, fear of death, tickling, and a desire to have a positive self-image.

The status of many of these and other putative human universals is still uncertain. For example, anger—mentioned in the above list of universals—is one of the fundamental human emotions that (p. 175) has emerged consistently across time and culture (Chon, 2002), and there are equivalents for the word anger in all major languages of the world (Mesquita, Frijda, & Scherer, 1997). Yet, there is one society—the Utkuhikhalingmiut (“Utku”) Eskimos—that does not have a special word for anger. Over 40 years ago, anthropologist Jean Briggs described the Utku society (which at the time of her research consisted of 35 individuals—the only inhabitants in an arctic area of more than 35,000 square miles) in her book expressively titled Never in Anger (Briggs, 1970). If these ethnographic observations are valid, the experience and expression of anger may be disqualified from the rank of the absolute universals and degraded to the rank of the near-universals. Similar fates, however, could happen to even more fundamental constituents of the human society: contrary to what Claude Lévi-Struss (1969/1949) has claimed, there is at least one society in which there is no concept of fathers or husbands (Hua, 2001).

A Universal Structure of Personality

When it comes to personality dispositions it is not a trivial task to determine the rank of their universality. Even linguists acknowledge that there are still a large number of unidentified languages, and among the above-mentioned 7,106 living languages only a minority is thoroughly described. Psychological research rooted in Western culture—sometimes called WASP (Western Academic Scientific Psychology)—is believed by some scholars to be of little relevance to the majority of the world (Berry, Poortinga, Segall, & Dasen, 2002), reflecting only a small minority of WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) people (Henrich, Heine, & Norenzayan, 2010a, 2010b; Jones, 2010). A recent survey of the top psychological journals found that 96% of all research participants were from Western industrialized countries (Henrich et al., 2010b). However, unlike many fields in psychology, personality research has been a truly international enterprise for a number of years (Allik, 2012). Even if questionnaires were mainly devised by WASP or WEIRD researchers, they were soon translated into many different languages. For example, Indian researchers translated the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO PI-R; McCrae & Costa, 2010), developed in Baltimore, the United States, into Telugu and Marathi (Lodhi, Deo, & Belhekar, 2002; McCrae, 2002). This is a major advance, because there are 74 and 90 million Telugu and Marathi speakers, respectively, occupying the sixteenth and fifteenth positions in the list of the most spoken languages (Lewis et al., 2014).

Based on what was said above, it is unrealistic to expect that any aspect of personality dispositions would be absolutely universal or even very strongly near-universal. When McCrae and Costa (1997) proposed the bold hypothesis that the pattern of covariation among personality traits is a human universal they were able to rely on only six translations of the NEO PI-R, into the German, Portuguese, Hebrew, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese languages. Nevertheless, data from these diverse cultures with languages from five distinct language families were persuasive enough to suggest that the observed regularity in the pattern of covariation among personality traits will be not violated when more and more new cultures and languages are subjected to a critical examination (McCrae & Allik, 2002).

In addition to occasional failures to reproduce the basic five factor structure in certain cultures (Cheung, van de Vijver, & Leong, 2011; Panayiotou, Kokkinos, & Spanoudis, 2004; Zecca et al., 2013), there was a highly acclaimed study of Tsimane forager-horticulturalist men and women of Bolivia (Gurven, von Rueden, Massenkoff, Kaplan, & Lero Vie, 2013). The authors of this paper suggested that the Five Factor Model (FFM) may not be a human universal. At variance from a typical five factor structure, Tsimane personality variation—both for the self-ratings and observer-ratings—displays only two principal factors that may reflect socioecological characteristics common to small-scale societies (Gurven et al., 2013). No doubt, this is an admirable study of a large (N = 632) illiterate, indigenous population and there must be a good reason why a habitual five factors did not emerge either in self-ratings or in informant-ratings. The same 44-item Big Five Inventory (BFI; Benet-Martinez & John, 1998) was successfully used for the study of 56 nations or territories and in each case the same relatively invariant factor structure was identified (Schmitt et al., 2007). Against this massive evidence of universality it is obviously too early to declare the FFM dead. Before the final verdict is pronounced it is necessary to eliminate all simpler or even “technical” explanations. For example, perhaps the five factors failed to emerge due to translation problems. Similarly, the BFI is not balanced in terms of positively and negatively worded items and it is characteristic of less educated samples to respond more to wording than to the content of items (Schmitt et al., 2007). Thus, before declaring that the structure of personality is not invariant (p. 176) across human societies it is more productive to use informants who are not subjected to the same literacy and educational constraints (Allik & McCrae, 2004a). It is not excluded that Tsimanes also have a rather conventional personality structure but they simply do not have enough skill to describe and report details of this structure.

However, there is no need to visit exotic cultures to find exceptions from universality. For example, Toomela (2003) proposed that those individuals who primarily use everyday concepts in thinking do not reveal a coherent Big Five personality structure. In this sense the FFM is a product of cultural development that can be achieved only when thinking in scientific concepts is accomplished. Participants who predominantly think in everyday concepts have a tendency to produce a pattern of covariation in which, similar to Tsimanes, not all five factors have been equally represented. However, a reanalysis of Toomela’s data demonstrated that a targeted rotation may be a remedy for most structural problems (Allik & McCrae, 2004a). Although people usually manage to make personality judgments that are accurate enough for navigation of the complex social world, the accuracy is achieved when relevant behavioral information is available to and detected by a judge who then utilizes that information correctly (Funder, 2012). As we suggested above, the problem may be in the available personality information and how this information is used.

At least formally, universality of the FFM seems to signify that the same pattern of covariation between personality traits is observed in all age groups without exceptions. Even if personality appears to be preserved more or less intact through very old age (Martin, Long, & Poon, 2002; Mõttus, Johnson, & Deary, 2012) many researchers are sceptical about personality in very young age. Analogous to cognitive abilities, it is tempting to believe that personality traits emerge somehow in the process of development and it may take a considerable time to mature before they finally become identical to the adult personality structure. However, when well-informed adults were asked to rate kindergarten children (aged 4–6 years) four of the five personality factors were easily recovered from these ratings (Mervielde, Buyst, & De Fruyt, 1995). When children approach school age they became able to describe their own personality and their ratings in many countries group around the typical five themes (Bleidorn & Ostendorf, 2009; De Fruyt, Mervielde, & Van Leeuwen, 2002; Rossier, Quartier, Enescu, & Iselin, 2007). Twelve-years-old children are almost ready to answer adult personality questionnaires and the common five factor structure of personality is clearly recognizable in their self-ratings (Allik, Laidra, Realo, & Pullmann, 2004; McCrae et al., 2002). Nevertheless, the personality structure of 12-year-old children demonstrates only an approximate congruence with the adult structure, suggesting that not all children of that age have developed the abilities required for observing their own personality dispositions and for giving reliable self-reports on the basis of these observations (see also the chapter by De Pauw). The self-reported personality trait structure matures and becomes sufficiently differentiated around age 14–15 years and grows to be practically indistinguishable from adult personality by the age of 16 years (Allik et al., 2004). Thus, on the basis of self-reports alone it is not possible to maintain that younger children have a personality structure that is dramatically different from that of adults.

Large-Scale Cross-Cultural Studies

Although it is not entirely clear how to establish universality, it is inevitable that large-scale cross-cultural studies are necessary to provide evidence that something is indeed characteristic of all or nearly all human beings. On the basis of data collected in three or four cultures it is impossible even to guess what is universal and what is specific in personality. However, the collection of personality data from many cultures is even more expensive than gathering data about all spoken languages. There are only a few ways to collect personality data from a sufficient number of countries. The first is to develop a popular inventory that will be translated into a large number of languages by enthusiastic colleagues. The Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (EPQ; Eysenck & Eysenck, 1975) and the NEO PI-R (McCrae & Costa, 2010) are good examples of this relatively slow and complicated method of collecting data (Lynn & Martin, 1995; McCrae, 2002; van Hemert, van de Vijver, Poortinga, & Georgas, 2002). Another way is to form an international research syndicate that is held together by the promise that the first two or three papers are co-authored by all those who participate in collecting data. For instance, David Schmitt, one of the most successful elaborators of this research mechanism, was able to obtain personality data from 56 countries or territories using the above mentioned BFI (Schmitt et al., 2007). In this study the BFI was translated from English into 28 languages and (p. 177) administered to 17,837 individuals from 56 nations (Schmitt et al., 2007). Although the differences in personality mean values and structure were small, their geographic pattern was replicable to what was previously established by more sophisticated measurement instruments (cf. Allik & McCrae, 2004b). Exploiting the same principle, with the help of a large number of collaborators McCrae and Terracciano gathered observer-reported personality data and national character ratings from 50 cultures (McCrae, Terracciano, & 78 Members of the Personality Profiles of Cultures Project, 2005; McCrae, Terracciano, & 79 Members of the Personality Profiles of Cultures Project, 2005).

Another important development in research technology is, of course, the widespread use of the Internet, which allows the collection of huge samples during a relatively short period of time. Perhaps one of the best examples is the BBC Internet study, which examined sex differences on three personality traits—Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism—for over 200,000 participants from 53 nations (Lippa, 2010). In another impressive study data were collected from more than a half million participants using the BFI (Rentfrow, 2010; Rentfrow et al., 2013; Rentfrow, Gosling, & Potter, 2008). Participants in this study were distributed very closely to the percentage of the total U.S. population for each state. Not only do worldwide distributions of personality traits demonstrate a meaningful pattern (Allik & McCrae, 2004b) but statewide personality differences across the United States are also linked to a variety of important social indicators. Although it has been argued that Internet findings are consistent with results from traditional methods (Gosling, Vazire, Srivastava, & John, 2004), there is indisputable evidence that self-recruited Internet data may sometimes be biased compared to random sampling (Pullmann, Allik, & Realo, 2009), which may constrain their potential value.

Perhaps the most important lesson from all these large-scale comparative studies is the ease with which personality instruments can transcend language and culture barriers. The same basic pattern of covariations—the FFM—has been replicated, more or less accurately, in almost every language and culture studied so far (Kallasmaa, Allik, Realo, & McCrae, 2000; Rolland, 2002; Schmitt et al., 2007). Essentially the same factor structure was recovered from self-ratings (McCrae, 2002) and from observer ratings (McCrae, Terracciano, & 78 Members of the Personality Profiles of Cultures Project, 2005; McCrae, Terracciano, & 79 Members of the Personality Profiles of Cultures Project, 2005). Thus, the FFM appears to be reasonably invariant across methods of measurement.

There are only a few studies of personality in which geographic representativeness inside one country was achieved (Rentfrow, 2010; Rentfrow et al., 2013; Rentfrow, Mellander, & Florida, 2009). Perhaps it is not so urgent to achieve a sufficient geographic coverage for a small country such as Estonia (Allik et al., 2004), but it is desirable, if not imperative, for large countries such as the United States, China, or Russia. Recently, 7,065 participants from 39 samples in 33 administrative areas of the Russian Federation identified an ethnically Russian adult or college-aged man or woman whom they knew well and rated the target using the Russian observer rating paper-and-pencil version of the NEO PI-R (Allik, Realo, et al., 2009). The expected FFM structure was clearly replicated in the full sample, with factor congruence coefficients of .95–.96 for all five factors. When these analyses were repeated within the 39 samples, all showed reasonable to good replications of the FFM, with average factor congruence coefficients ranging from .90 to .98. In the first few studies published two other geographic giants—the United States and the People’s Republic of China—are treated as consisting of different subregions (Rentfrow, 2010; Rentfrow et al., 2009, 2013; Van de Vliert, Yang, Wang, & Ren, 2013).

Although the five factor structure is clearly recognizable in nearly every language into which the NEO PI-R or BFI has been translated (for an exception see Gurven et al., 2013), in less developed countries the data seem to fit the FFM less perfectly than in industrialized, less agrarian countries (Piedmont, Bain, McCrae, & Costa, 2002; Zecca et al., 2013). Research suggests that the degree of fit to the FFM depends primarily on the quality of the data (McCrae, Terracciano, & 78 Members of the Personality Profiles of Cultures Project, 2005). For example, one indicator of data quality is negative item bias (Schmitt & Allik, 2005). In less developed countries in which people live in economic need and access to education is limited, respondents are inclined to answer negatively worded items slightly differently than they answer directly formulated statements. The fit of the FFM may also depend on the cultural relevance of specific items. In several cultures the Openness factor has proved to be the weakest, especially in African countries (Piedmont et al., 2002). It seems that NEO PI-R items such as “Poetry has little or no effect on me” or “I often try new and foreign foods” may represent (p. 178) the Openness concept less clearly in Burkina Faso and Zimbabwe than they do in Western countries (Rossier, Dahourou, & McCrae, 2005; Zecca et al., 2013). This implies that a more appropriate selection of items is needed to optimize the translation of the FFM into more exotic languages and cultures.

Alternatives to the FFM

However, the universality of the FFM does not rule out the possibility that some other covariance patterns, with smaller or larger numbers of factors, may also be replicable across many languages and cultures. For example, Eysenck’s three-factor (van Hemert et al., 2002) and psycholexical six-factor (Ashton, Lee, & de Vries, 2014; Lee & Ashton, 2008) structures have also been replicated in many cultures. The compatibility of structures with different numbers of factors becomes understandable within a structural framework based on a hierarchy of personality traits (Markon, Krueger, & Watson, 2005). The hierarchy of traits can be cut on different levels of generalization and as a result has three, five, or six relatively stable factors.

It has been argued that imposing a factor structure derived from Western samples on non-Western cultures may leave unnoticed unique personality factors specific to these cultures alone, called emic dimensions of personality (Cheung et al., 2011). For example, it was noted that the FFM ignores an Interpersonal Relatedness factor that is unique to the Chinese (or more generally Asian) personality (Cheung, Cheung, Wada, & Zhang, 2003; Cheung et al., 2001). Because ren qing—friendly person—is believed to be deeply rooted in the Chinese mentality, European concepts are not sufficient to describe this specific aspect of Chinese culture. However, it was soon discovered that this supposedly specific Chinese or Asian personality trait could be reproduced fairly well in a European-American sample, indicating that the Interpersonal Relatedness factor in not unique to Asian populations (Lin & Church, 2004).

Travelers were probably the first to notice cross-cultural differences. Those who were raised with the Protestant working spirit may feel confused in their first encounter with the mañana cultures (House, Hanges, Javidan, Dorfman, & Gupta, 2004). Friendliness, politeness, and sympathy are highly valued in the Spanish culture in which there is even a special word for it—simpatico (Ramirez-Esparza, Gosling, & Pennebaker, 2008; Triandis, Lisansky, Marin, & Betancourt, 1984). It is also believed that Portuguese saudade—a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that is loved—has no appropriate translation into English or any other language (Bułat Silva, 2012). In spite of a premature optimism that amae—the pattern of attachment and dependence between mother and child—is unique to Japanese culture alone (Behrens, 2004), it is more realistic to assume universal mechanisms behind this concept (Cheung et al., 2011). Although it may not be easy to translate German Schadenfreude into English, nobody really doubts that feeling gloating pleasure, Dutch comfort, or mischief-joy is totally alien to Anglo-American culture (Leach, Spears, Branscombe, & Doosje, 2003; Smith et al., 1996).

In a similar vein, many domestic and foreign observers have claimed that Russians have a unique constellation of personality traits that mirrors their distinctive historical and cultural experience. In contrasting themselves with the industrialized and materialistic cultures of the West, Russians in the nineteenth century began to define themselves in terms of their spiritual qualities, their distinctive “Russian soul” or dusha (Allik et al., 2011). To capture distinctive, emic aspects of Russian personality beyond the familiar Big Five dimensions, a set of emic personality items was developed. For instance, the widely perceived inclination of Russians toward fatalism was measured by items such as “Believes that he/she cannot escape his/her fate” and “Believes that he/she is an architect of one’s own fortunes” (reversed). As it turned out, most of the variance in the emic items could be explained by the known Big Five factors (Allik et al., 2011). There is no question that cultures may have their unique traits such as ren qing or simpatico. The problem is always about the exact proportions between specific and universal. If personality traits are understood as enduring tendencies to feel, think, and act in a characteristic way then universal aspects are clearly dominant over specific aspects in their worldwide distribution. It was observed, for example, that the mean differences between cultures or geographic regions are typically 10 times smaller than an average interindividual variance within those cultures or regions (Allik, 2005). Individual differences we encounter in our everyday experience are by an order of magnitude larger than typical differences between the mean values on personality traits of a group of people occupying a large geographic territory.

The FFM Structure at Different Levels of Analysis

The pattern of covariation in the FFM was established by means of factor analyses based on (p. 179) interindividual differences. From that level it is possible to move either higher to the level of cultures or lower to the level of single individuals.

Culture-Level Analysis

Collecting NEO PI-R self-report data from 36 cultures or territories was difficult (McCrae, 2002). However, it was still too small a dataset to subject the mean, culture-level, values on 30 facet scales to a factor analysis. A solution was to split each culture into four subgroups according to sex and age (females versus males; college age people versus adults), increasing subsamples to 114. With minor variations, the culture-level analysis of the means of these 114 samples replicated the five factor individual level factor structure (see McCrae, 2002, Table 2). These findings were subsequently replicated in culture-level analyses of observer ratings of college-age and adult targets from 51 cultures (McCrae, Terracciano, & 78 Members of the Personality Profiles of Cultures Project, 2005), and of adolescents from 24 cultures (McCrae et al., 2010).

Initially this replication of the FFM structure was interpreted as an empirical finding about the structure of personality on the culture level, but it soon became clear that is a statistical necessity. Assigning individuals randomly to an arbitrary 114 subsamples would have resulted in an even better replication of the individual level factor structure (McCrae, Terracciano, & 78 Members of the Personality Profiles of Cultures Project, 2005). Thus, only deviations, not resemblance, between individual and group-level factor structures are indicative of the possible involvement of culture. When culture-level factor structure replicates the individual-level structure it means that the influence of culture on personality traits (and their assessment) is negligible. Existing data show that culture contributes consistently but rather modestly to the pattern of covariances (McCrae & Terracciano, 2008).

Intraindividual Level of Analysis

Another direction of generalizability is to move from the level of the group to that of the individual. According to some researchers, personality trait covariation models such as the FFM provide information that holds true at the level of groups or populations but may not apply to the level of the individual (Borsboom, 2005). For example, it was demonstrated that if a latent factor model fits a given population, this does not guarantee the fit of the same model for each or even any individual subjects from that group, assuming that intraindividual variation is measured by repeated administration of the same instrument (Borsboom, Mellenbergh, & Van Heerden, 2003; Molenaar & Campbell, 2009): The structure of traits across individuals is not necessarily the same as the structure of states within the individual. Borsboom and colleagues concluded from this that models derived from between-subject variation cannot provide causal explanations for the behavior of the individual—a conclusion that has been challenged by others (McCrae & Costa, 2008). However, this work raises the question of whether, and in what sense, the FFM can be said to characterize individuals.

Allik et al. (2012) argued that the FFM characterizes an individual if scores on each of the indicators of a factor (e.g., the six facets that define each factor in the NEO PI-R) are at similar levels (especially in contrast to variations in levels of facets across different factors). A person who is high on Anxiety and Angry Hostility and Depression and Self-Consciousness and Impulsiveness and Vulnerability can meaningfully be said to be characterized by the Neuroticism factor, whereas an individual who is high on the first three facets and low on the last three does not show a coherent Neuroticism factor. Allik and colleagues (2012) operationalized this concept using the intraclass correlation and concluded that most individuals are reasonably well characterized by the FFM structure.

Although the common pattern of covariations was dominant (e.g., individuals who are described as talkative are also believed to experience a need for excitement, and those who are reported to be modest are often described as amenable), this does not exclude the possibility that in infrequent cases some of the normally incompatible personality traits can coexist. It is possible, for instance, that individuals who are often described by themselves or by their close acquaintances as angry and hostile are very seldom believed to experience shame or embarrassment, which are other indicators of Neuroticism (Allik et al., 2012, see Fig. 4C). Similarly, it is possible to find a person who is highly dutiful and carefully deliberates his or her actions but has a relative low need for achievement (Allik et al., 2012, see Fig. 4B). In most cases dutifulness and achievement striving go hand in hand, but infrequently these two traits are disassociated or are even opposite. Despite being infrequent, these cases suggest that some atypical combinations of personality traits exist. Unfortunately, we know very little about these atypical combinations and even less about circumstances that make their occurrence possible.

(p. 180) Higher-Order Invariants

Debates concerning FFM focused mainly on the proper number of factors. Perhaps one of the most famous statements about the reality of five factors was formulated as follows: “We believe it is simply an empirical fact, like the fact that there are seven continents on earth or eight American presidents from Virginia. Biologists recognize eight classes of vertebrates (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and four classes of fishes, one extinct), and the theory of evolution helps to explain the development of these classes. It does not, however, explain why eight classes evolved, rather than four or eleven, and no one considers this a defect in the theory” (McCrae & John, 1992, p. 194). Indeed, one of the most vocal criticisms was that there is no good explanation as to why there are five and not, for example, seven factors (Block, 1995, 2010). Although a hierarchical approach to the number of factors (Markon et al., 2005) considerably relieved the tension, the five factors is still perceived to be the core of the FFM. However, the most significant progress has been achieved establishing universals or near-universals that are independent of the number of factors. We can call them higher-order invariants because their existence does not depend critically on how many personality factors are there.

Sex Differences

Lynn and Martin (1995) were among the first who reported a systematic pattern of gender differences: Women obtained higher mean scores than men on Neuroticism scales in all 37 nations in which the results of the EPQ were available; men scored higher than women on Extraversion in 30 countries and on Psychoticism in 34 countries. Subsequent studies using measures of the FFM show that women in most countries are higher in several traits related to Neuroticism, Agreeableness, warmth, and openness to feelings, whereas men score higher on scales measuring assertiveness and openness to ideas (Costa, Terracciano, & McCrae, 2001; Lippa, 2010; Schmitt, Realo, Voracek, & Allik, 2008). These differences are consistent with universal gender stereotypes (Löckenhoff et al., 2014), but the measured differences are generally rather small.

Although the direction of gender differences is near-universal, the magnitude shows systematic variation: These differences systematically increase with the level of development—including a long and healthy life, equal access to knowledge and education, and economic wealth (Costa et al., 2001; Lippa, 2010; Schmitt et al., 2008). This finding was counterintuitive, because most people assumed that gender equality would lead to diminished sex differences in personality. Several explanations have been offered to explain this puzzling finding. One explanation is that gender differences are illusory as a by-product of self-stereotyping, which occurs when between-gender social comparisons are made. Because these social comparisons are more likely to exert a greater impact in Western nations it is expected that the disparity between men and women appears to increase with the level of development (Guimond et al., 2007). In a similar direction, Costa and colleagues (2001) speculated that it reflected different processes of attribution in traditional and modern cultures. Schmitt and colleagues (2008) proposed that heightened levels of sexual dimorphism result from personality traits of men and women being less constrained and more able to naturally diverge in developed nations. In less fortunate social and economic conditions, innate personality differences between men and women may be attenuated.

Do men vary more than women in personality? Data collected from 51 cultures or territories suggested that in most cultures, male targets varied more than female targets, and ratings by female informants varied more than ratings by male informants, which may explain why higher variances for men are not found in self-reports (Borkenau, McCrae, & Terracciano, 2013). Variances were higher in more developed societies and effects of target sex were stronger in more individualistic societies. It seems that individualistic cultures enable a less restricted expression of personality, resulting in larger variances, particularly among men (Borkenau et al., 2013).

Age Differences

Although the same Five Factor structure appears to persist through the major part of the human lifespan the mean traits change slowly but relentlessly. For example, it seems to be a universal rule that younger people are considerably more extraverted and open than older people, whereas older people are perceived to be more agreeable and conscientious than younger people (Allik, Realo, et al., 2009; McCrae, Terracciano, & 78 Members of the Personality Profiles of Cultures Project, 2005). Existing data seem to favor an explanation according to which personality development through the (p. 181) lifespan follows a universal pattern that is largely independent of the economic and political environment (Costa, McCrae, et al., 2000). Consider a cross-sectional study of the observer-rated personality traits of 7,065 Russians. Most adult targets were born before the first satellite Sputnik was launched in 1957, and approximately 10% were born before Stalin’s purges in 1937; there were even five targets born before the Bolshevik revolution led by Vladimir Lenin in 1917 (Allik, Realo, et al., 2009). In contrast, the college-age targets had lived most of their lives in the post-Soviet era. These major historical events, very different from those experienced elsewhere in the world, might have left their imprints on the personality of targets, and uniquely Russian cohort effects might have created a distinctive pattern of Russian age differences. Instead, age differences in general showed the same pattern seen elsewhere: The difference profile between younger and older Russians across the 30 NEO PI-R facet scales has almost exactly the same shape as it has in the United States, Portugal, or Korea. These findings seem to support the hypothesis that intrinsic maturational changes in the mean level of personality traits are most likely genetically determined and relatively immune to social and historical influences (Allik, Realo, et al., 2009).

According to the social investment theory (Helson, Kwan, John, & Jones, 2002; Roberts, Wood, & Smith, 2005), the normative personality trait development in adulthood can be explained not by biological processes but by societal demands and universal social roles faced in young adulthood. It is true, as many researchers have noted (Donnellan, Conger, & Burzette, 2007; Soto, John, Gosling, & Potter, 2011), that most personality changes are in the direction of increased maturity. As a result, personality pathology tends to decline with age, notably in the case of borderline PD. Although plausible, the social investment theory is unable to explain some of the most basic facts about personality development. An almost complete lack of susceptibility to social and historic changes, which could radically modify social demands and roles, makes explanations based on intrinsic maturation more plausible.

Differences in Perspective

Social psychologists have conducted countless numbers of laboratory experiments to explore the idea that there is a fundamental disparity between the way people perceive themselves and the way they are perceived by others (Jones & Nisbett, 1971; Nisbett, Caputo, Legant, & Marecek, 1973; Watson, 1982). This disparity is believed to originate from an inevitable asymmetry between internal and external viewpoints: People are immersed in their own sensations, emotions, and cognitions at the same time that their experience of others is dominated by what can be observed externally (Pronin, 2008).

However, all these arguments about systematic differences between how people see the personality traits of others and their own personality traits are suspicious in view of the fact that normative self-rated personality mean scores converge almost perfectly with normative observer-rated mean scores on personality questionnaires (Allik, Realo, et al., 2010). There are truly miniature differences between self-rated and observer-rated mean raw scores, amounting to less than one-quarter standard deviation for most traits.

Nevertheless, the small differences that are seen demonstrate a cross-culturally replicable pattern of difference between internal and external perspectives for Big Five personality traits. People everywhere see themselves (on average) as more neurotic and open to experience than they are seen by other people. External observers generally hold a higher opinion of an individual’s Conscientiousness than he or she does about himself or herself. As a rule, people think that they have more positive emotions and excitement seeking but less assertiveness than it seems from the vantage point of an external observer. This cross-culturally replicable disparity between internal and external perspectives is not consistent with predictions based on the actor-observer hypothesis, because the size of the disparity was unrelated to the visibility of personality traits. Surprisingly, a relatively strong negative correlation (r = –.53) between the average self-minus-observer profile and social desirability ratings suggests that people in most of the cultures studied view themselves less favorably than they are perceived by others (Allik, Realo, et al., 2010). It is clear that our current theories cannot explain the direction of the small differences in personality trait perception, but once again personality processes have shown themselves to be universal.

Are Mean Levels Universal?

There are several lines of evidence that suggest that the observed differences in trait levels across cultures are real. As noted above, the FFM can be replicated in culture-level analyses, because cultures that score higher on some definers of a factor usually score (p. 182) higher on others: Variations in trait levels are thus not due merely to random fluctuations introduced by translation. Culture-level means show construct validity in a number of ways, including correlations of means based on self-reports versus observer ratings (McCrae, Terracciano, & 78 Members of the Personality Profiles of Cultures Project, 2005; McCrae et al., 2010) and correlations with other culture-level variables, such as individualism-collectivism (Hofstede & McCrae, 2004).

Perhaps one of the most intriguing observations is that the geographic distribution of mean scores of personality traits has a systematic pattern for both self and observer ratings (Allik & McCrae, 2004b; McCrae, Terracciano, & 79 Members of the Personality Profiles of Cultures Project, 2005; Rentfrow et al., 2008; Schmitt et al., 2007) across the world and with countries (Allik, Realo, et al., 2009; Rentfrow, 2010). For example, it seems to be a general rule that extraverted and open-minded people live predominantly in economically prosperous, democratic, and individualistic countries (Allik & McCrae, 2004b).

However, the ranking of cultures on some personality traits may seem counterintuitive. Indeed, it is not highly expected that the most conscientious—determined, strong-willed, organized, dutiful, and deliberate—people live in Burkina Faso and Congo whereas the least conscientious, according to the self-reports at least, live in Japan and Korea (Mõttus, Allik, & Realo, 2010). These informal observations can be supported by more rigorous analyses. For instance, Heine and colleagues (2008) reanalyzed published data and showed that aggregate national scores of self-reported Conscientiousness were, contrary to the authors’ expectations, negatively correlated with various country-level behavioral and demographic indicators of Conscientiousness, such as postal workers’ speed, accuracy of clocks in public banks, accumulated economic wealth, and life expectancy at birth. Oishi and Roth (2009) extended the list of paradoxical findings by showing that nations with high self-reported Conscientiousness were not less but more corrupt.

What should be done if we encounter a paradoxic relationship between aggregate national scores of personality and some independent societal measures? Before we can come to a final verdict on faults of culture-level personality scores, we need to follow a simple list of prescriptions on how to react in situations in which trait measures are not related to external criteria in an expected manner (Mõttus et al., 2010). First, it is possible that the personality traits used in predictive validity studies are sometimes too broad and only some of their aspects are related to the expected criterion variable. Second, going for a refined description of personality should be coupled with a rigorous and comprehensive choice of external validity criteria. Ideally, the choice of criteria should be based on a clear, theoretically sound account of the causal chain of events that connects the ways of responding on personality scales to variations in the expected external criterion variable. For instance, it has been tempting to hypothesize that high culture-level means of Conscientiousness should yield high accuracy of bank clocks (Heine et al., 2008). In fact, we need a causal explanation as to how a greater proportion of conscientious people in a given population help to get bank clocks, monitored by very small and probably very unrepresentative fractions of populations, more accurate.

The third prescription is to consider alternative ways of conceptualizing the puzzling relationships. The assumed links between external criteria and personality mean that scores are often based on broad theoretical generalizations. For instance, it is appealing to believe that the maintenance of democracy presupposes not only efficient regulation and a transparent legal system but also competent and responsible people. Therefore, it could be expected that in more democratic countries citizens are more responsible and disciplined, resulting in a positive correlation between the level of democracy and the mean national scores of Conscientiousness. However, the relationship may almost equally well go the other way around—it is a dictatorship that better enforces hard work, discipline, and order in society. In reality, an effective democracy is much more likely to be found in cultures with a strong emphasis on self-expression values, whereas dutifulness, order, and hard work are the correlates of survival, the opposite of self-expression (Inglehart & Welzel, 2005). Thus, it can be argued that in countries with higher scores of Conscientiousness—that is, where people are rule abiding, inhibited by social constraints, and keen on keeping order—people are not able to realize their potential for freedom and autonomy, which, in turn, are the cornerstones of democracy (Mõttus et al., 2010).

Scepticism concerning the validity of the country mean scores was also stimulated by the publication of surprising findings that indicated that national character ratings did not converge with assessed personality traits (Hřebíčková & Graf, 2013; McCrae et al., 2013; McCrae, Terracciano, Realo, & Allik, (p. 183) 2007; Realo et al., 2009; Terracciano et al., 2005). The lack of correspondence between national stereotypes and assessed personality traits elicited a vigorous debate (Ashton, 2007; McGrath & Goldberg, 2006; Perugini & Richetin, 2007; Robins, 2005). Among critical comments, Leon Festinger’s social comparison processes—the idea that people estimate their attitudes or dispositions relative to social standards (Festinger, 1954)—was repeatedly mentioned. These frame-of-reference explanations are very seductive in their simplicity, but they are certainly much easier to propose than prove. For example, Heine and colleagues (2008) proposed that people likely bring to mind a standard that lies outside their own culture, for example, a perceived international norm (Heine et al., 2008), in making their own ratings. Yet how could laypersons have such an extraordinary ability to obtain accurate information about the mean levels of personality traits across many countries when psychologists find it so difficult?

Other fields, also facing the reference-level problem, have learned to cope with it. Health studies, for example, are familiar with the paradox that in those countries and regions in which people complain more about serious health problems, people are in fact healthier and live longer (Sen, 2002). Another example are Americans who are decidedly less satisfied with their income than the Dutch even if their real incomes are more or less comparable (Kapteyn, Smith, & Van Soest, 2013). A Harvard political scientist, Gary King, proposed the use of anchoring vignettes—brief descriptions of hypothetical persons—along with self-reports (Hopkins & King, 2010; King, Murray, Salomon, & Tandon, 2004; King & Wand, 2007). Provided that the anchoring vignettes display various levels of the same characteristic that is being measured by self-reports, it is possible to determine the relative position of self-ratings among the hypothetical persons depicted in the vignettes. In a recent study, anchoring vignettes were used to test whether people from 21 countries (Australia, Benin, Burkina Faso, People’s Republic of China, Estonia, Germany, Hong-Kong, Japan, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritius, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Senegal, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States) have different standards for Conscientiousness (Mõttus, Allik, Realo, Pullmann, et al., 2012). All participants rated their own Conscientiousness and that of the 30 hypothetical persons portrayed in the short vignettes, with the latter ratings expected to reveal individual differences in standards of Conscientiousness. Contrary to expectations of the reference-level theorists, the vignettes were rated relatively similarly in all cultures, suggesting no substantial culture-related differences in standards for Conscientiousness. Controlling for the small differences in these standards did not substantially change the rankings of countries on mean self-ratings and the predictive validities of these rankings for objective criteria. These findings lend little support to the hypothesis that mean self-rated Conscientiousness scores are influenced by culture-specific standards, considerably restricting the range of potential explanations for the puzzling country rankings in Conscientiousness (Mõttus, Allik, Realo, Pullmann, et al., 2012). Although it is premature to draw any firm conclusions, it may be that personality traits are estimated in absolute rather than in relative terms. It is possible, for example, that people have developed a more robust and unconditional way of judging their basic tendencies to feel, think, and behave than for judging the level of political freedom in their society or their work satisfaction (Kapteyn et al., 2013; King, Murray, Salomon, & Tandon, 2003; Kristensen & Johansson, 2008).

What Is Behind Personality Universals?

Searching for personality universals cannot be a goal in itself; they need to be explained, because they may reveal the most fundamental properties of human personality. The observation of universal properties has already stimulated some theoretical explanations. Five Factor Theory (FFT) emerged as a response to challenges posed by these recently discovered universalities (McCrae & Costa, 1996, 1999, 2003). In contrast to the FFM, which is an empirical summary about the covariation of personality traits, FFT is an attempt to explain universal or near-universal properties of human personality. How can we understand the extraordinary stability of personality traits across the human lifespan (McCrae & Costa, 2003)? Why does the same pattern of covariation among personality traits emerge in countries with completely different economic prosperity, historical experience, and cultural traditions (McCrae, Terracciano, & 78 Members of the Personality Profiles of Cultures Project, 2005; Schmitt et al., 2007)? Why are the effects of heritability overwhelming compared to the vanishingly small effects of the shared environment (McCrae, Jang, Livesley, Riemann, & Angleitner, 2001; Riemann, Angleitner, & Strelau, 1997; Yamagata et al., 2006)? Or why do life events show very little influence on the levels of personality traits (Costa, (p. 184) Herbst, McCrae, & Siegler, 2000)? Or why a utopia to create a new human being, homo sovieticus, was a total failure (Angleitner & Ostendorf, 2000)? The FFT was a response to these and other challenges and provides an explanation for most of these personality universals or near-universals established during the past few decades. According to the FFT, personality traits are basic tendencies, deeply rooted in the organism, that are relatively immune to influences from the environment (McCrae & Costa, 1996, 1999, 2003).

The main purpose of that central “dogma”—in the sense that Francis Crick (1990) used that word—of FFT was to provide a clear basis for formulating a testable hypothesis (Allik & McCrae, 2002). Postulating a general heuristic principle that there is no “transfer” from culture and life experience to basic personality traits obviously stimulates the search for conditions—certainly not very frequent ones—in which this general postulate is violated (Allik & McCrae, 2002). However, finding these violations may be more difficult than is claimed by the critics of FFT. Typically those who oppose the central “dogma” concentrate on one particular detail, forgetting about the whole picture. Another source of opposition is a conflicting “dogma” according to which personality, like the human mind in general, is almost entirely shaped by culture (Barkow, Cosmides, & Tooby, 1992). Many critics of FFT seem to suffer from a false impression that it is an easy task to find evidence demonstrating how culture determines personality.

Challenges to Universality

More than 10 years ago Allik and McCrae (2002) reviewed evidence that could challenge the central “dogma” of the FFT in the context of cross-cultural research. There are four groups of findings that appear to be inconsistent with the basic hypothesis about the immunity of personality traits to cultural influences (Allik & Realo, 2013).

Unique traits.

The first is related to an aspiration to find unique personality traits or exceptional combinations of common traits that are specific to one culture alone (Cheung et al., 2011). As we have argued above, all these attempts to establish unique or indigenous traits were mainly futile because what was believed to be a unique trait was found to be applicable to other cultures as well, although perhaps not exactly in the same degree of salience.


The second involves personality differences associated with acculturation. McCrae and colleagues examined Chinese undergraduates living in Hong Kong and Vancouver (McCrae, Yik, Trapnell, Bond, & Paulhus, 1998). Canadian-born Chinese shared many features of the Hong Kong personality profile, but they also demonstrated significant acculturation effects: Their profiles were more similar to European Canadians than the personality profiles of recent emigrants from Hong Kong. It is quite appalling that it took so long to use the same study design to examine how acculturation shapes personality traits (Güngör et al., 2013; Söldner, 2013; Zimmermann & Neyer, 2013). This new wave of studies provided support for the view that personality can be subjected to cultural influence. For example, Japanese Americans became more “American” and less “Japanese” in their personality as they reported higher participation in the U.S. culture (Güngör et al., 2013). However, these studies also showed that a more sophisticated methodology is needed to study acculturation. To make firm conclusions about acculturation, it is necessary to determine personality traits before sojourning in a new cultural environment. It was shown that many acculturation effects can be explained by self-selection: Open and extraverted people are more likely to contact new cultures in which they become even more open and experience more positive emotions (Söldner, 2013; Zimmermann & Neyer, 2013). Thus, acculturation is a specific case in which the central “dogma” could be violated. It seems, however, that the size of this violation is smaller than initially expected.


Evidence from the third group attempts to demonstrate that language influences the personality of the speaker. When a speaker switches from one language to another, his or her gestures may change. Is switching languages accompanied by a change of personality? This is, of course, a part of a more general question: Does the language you speak affect the way you think (Deutscher, 2010)? Some researchers are optimistic in answering this question; they believe that bilinguals may have two personalities that they can switch with the change of language (Ramirez-Esparza et al., 2006). For example, when German and Spanish versions of the NEO Five Factor Inventory were administered to two groups of bilinguals of these two languages both groups, regardless of the individual’s first language, scored higher on Extraversion and Neuroticism when Spanish was the test language (Veltkamp, Recio, Jacobs, & Conrad, 2013). This is a sufficient reason to conclude that language indeed modulates the way in which respondents answer personality items. It is less certain that these two (p. 185) shifts in scores for Extraversion and Neuroticism indicate the individual’s access to multiple cultural meaning systems and the ability of the individual to switch between different culturally appropriate behaviors. For example, it is possible that these two versions of the questionnaire were not fully identical. To achieve the same level of expression on some trait it is necessary to use more extreme answers in one language than another. Nobody can exclude the possibility that switching languages results in small changes in the speaker’s personality. To reach this conclusion, however, it is necessary to eliminate a number of more trivial explanations.

Unfortunately, the number of studies in which two versions of the same personality questionnaire are administered to bilinguals is regrettably small. In one of these relatively rare studies, Konstabel (1999) asked bilinguals to answer the NEO PI-R questionnaire both in Estonian and Russian. Except for some trivial differences these two versions were practically identical. Although personality stereotypes of these two ethnic groups are dramatically contrasting (Realo et al., 2009), the language in which personality items were formulated has only a negligible effect on answers (Konstabel, 1999). Likewise, the occurrence of cultural frame shifting was mostly negligible when Swedish-Finns switched their answers from one language to another (Lönnqvist, Konstabel, Lönnqvist, & Verkasalo, 2014).

Cohort effects.

When the same questionnaire is used without change over a considerable period of time it is possible to determine whether men and women of the same age but born in different years have identical personality scores. Age differences in the mean level of adult personality traits are rather small and longitudinal changes of individual scores are even smaller (McCrae & Costa, 2003). Nevertheless, Jean Twenge has reported several meta-analyses showing dramatic cohort effects (Twenge, 2000, 2001; Twenge & Campbell, 2002, 2008; Twenge & Im, 2007). For example, American college students have increased in both Neuroticism and Extraversion by nearly a full standard deviation over the past half century (Twenge, 2000, 2001).

Surveys and polls show that people’s values, habits, and social practices change all the time (Inglehart, Basanez, Diez-Medrano, Halman, & Luijkx, 2004; Putnam, 2000). It is tempting to believe that these changes also affect personality traits. Do dramatic cohort effects demonstrate the way in which culture and society modify personality? Not necessarily. Personality scores are always a mixture of various components. For example, if respondents were asked to describe an ideal person their ratings were highly correlated with their self-description. These descriptions were, in turn, correlated with personality descriptions attributed to the typical representative of their own nation (Allik, Mõttus, & Realo, 2010; Allik, Mõttus, et al., 2009). Thus, along with the distinctive personality traits ratings there are also components representing information about an average person and social desirability. As already noted (Allik & McCrae, 2002), scales analyzed by Twenge are mainly keyed in a positive direction. It is well documented that cultures vary considerably based on extreme and neutral responding (Mõttus, Allik, Realo, Rossier, et al., 2012). Together with extreme and neutral responding it is possible that the acquiescence bias—a tendency to agree with all the questions (Smith, 2004)—also decreases with time. Because artifactual explanations of the cohort effects cannot be automatically discarded, it is possible that the “true” personality scores, which remain after all potential biases are partialled out, have not changed much over the past years.

It is also important to remember that the interpretation of cross-sectional data is tricky. Secular trends reported by Twenge were difficult to replicate in more representative samples and the inspection of effect sizes provided little evidence for strong or widespread cohort-linked changes (Terracciano, 2010; Trzesniewski & Donnellan, 2010). Moreover, separation of cohort effects from the age of participants and study period effects is not a trivial exercise (e.g., Realo & Dobewall, 2011). Usually there is simply not enough data to separate the cohort effect from the effect of age and study moment of participants. In these singular cases and acknowledging these distinctions it is indeed possible to demonstrate that people who were born in a particular year are on average less satisfied with their lives than those who were born only a decade earlier or later (Realo & Dobewall, 2011). Again, that the cohort effects on personality exist is not a real problem. The problem is their size, which might be too small to have any theoretical or practical consequences.


It is occasionally argued that personality psychologists are more interested in individual differences than in searching for universals as is done in physics or chemistry. Nobody seems to question, publicly at least, that it is an essential function of science to seek universals and if personality psychologists are determined to follow a scientific pursuit then they also need to look for invariant properties in their data. (p. 186) When Galileo dropped objects of different materials and weight from the Leaning Tower of Pisa he looked for a property that is common to all matter (Allik et al., 2013). In the same way, personality psychologists—perhaps even more than in some other disciplines—are deeply interested in what is common to personality descriptions in all cultures and societies (McCrae, 2009). Only these universal features could provide a satisfying answer to the question of why some people are happy and others feel miserable, why some are laborious and others are lackadaisical, and why some are inquisitive while others are satisfied with what they already have.


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