Raymond Cattell found personality traits to have a multi-level, hierarchical structure (Cattell, 1946). The first goal of these researchers was to find the most fundamental primary traits of personality. Next they factor-analyzed these numerous primary traits to see if these traits had a structure of their own—i.e. if some of them naturally went together in self-defining, meaningful groupings.

They consistently found that the primary traits themselves came together in particular, meaningful groupings to form broader secondary or global traits, each with its own particular focus and function within personality (Cattell & Schuerger, 2003). For example, the first global trait they found was Extraversion-Introversion. It resulted from the natural affinity of five primary traits that defined different reasons for an individual to move toward versus away from other people (see below). They found that there was a natural tendency for these traits to go together in the real world, and to define an important domain of human behavior—social behavior. This global factor Global Extraversion/Introversion (the tendency to move toward versus away from interaction with others) is composed from the following primary traits:

  • Warmth (Factor A): the tendency to move toward others seeking closeness and connection because of genuine feelings of caring, sympathy, and concern (versus the tendency to be reserved and detached, and thus be independent and unemotional).
  • Liveliness (Factor F): the tendency to be high-energy, fun-loving, and carefree, and to spontaneously move towards others in an animated, stimulating manner. Low-scorers tend to be more serious and self-restrained, and to be cautious, unrushed, and judicious.
  • Social Boldness (Factor H): the tendency to seek social interaction in a confident, fearless manner, enjoying challenges, risks, and being the center of attention. Low-scorers tend to be shy and timid, and to be more modest and risk-avoidant.
  • Forthrightness (Factor N): the tendency to want to be known by others—to be open, forthright, and genuine in social situations, and thus to be self-revealing and unguarded. Low-scorers tend to be more private and unself-revealing, and to be harder to get to know.
  • Affiliative (Factor Q2): the tendency to seek companionship and enjoy belonging to and functioning in a group (inclusive, cooperative, good follower, willing to compromise). Low-scorers tend to be more individualistic and self-reliant and to value their autonomy.

In a similar manner, these researchers found that four other primary traits consistently merged to define another global factor which they called Receptivity or Openness (versus Tough-Mindedness). This factor was made up of four primary traits that describe different kinds of openness to the world:

  • Openness to sensitive feelings, emotions, intuition, and aesthetic dimensions (Sensitivity – Factor I)
  • Openness to abstract, theoretical ideas, conceptual thinking, and imagination (Abstractedness – Factor M)
  • Openness to free thinking, inquiry, exploration of new approaches, and innovative solutions (Openness-to-Change – Factor Q1) and
  • Openness to people and their feelings (Warmth – Factor A).

Another global factor, Self-Controlled (or conscientious) versus Unrestrained, resulted from the natural coming together of four primary factors that define the different ways that human beings manage to control their behavior:

  • Rule-Consciousness (Factor G) involves adopting and conscientiously following society’s accepted standards of behavior
  • Perfectionism (Factor Q3) describes a tendency to be self-disciplined, organized, thorough, attentive to detail, and goal-oriented
  • Seriousness (Factor F) involves a tendency to be cautious, reflective, self-restrained, and deliberate in making decisions; and
  • Groundedness (Factor M) involves a tendency to stay focused on concrete, pragmatic, realistic solutions.

Because the global factors were developed by factor-analyzing the primary traits, the meanings of the global traits were determined by the primary traits which made them up. In addition, then the global factors provide the overarching, conceptual framework for understanding the meaning and function of each of the primary traits. Thus, the two levels of personality are essentially inter-connected and inter-related.

However it is the primary traits that provide a clear definition of the individual’s unique personality. Two people might have exactly the same level of Extraversion, but still be quite different from each other. For example, they may both be at the 80% on Extraversion, and both tend to move toward others to the same degree, but they may be doing it for quite different reasons. One person might achieve an 80% on Extraversion by being high on Social Boldness (Factor H: confident, bold, talkative, adventurous, fearless attention-seeking) and on Liveliness (Factor F: high-energy, enthusiastic, fun-loving, impulsive), but Reserved (low on Factor A: detached, cool, unfeeling, objective). This individual would be talkative, bold, and impulsive but not very sensitive to others people’s needs or feelings. The second Extravert might be high on Warmth (Factor A: kind, soft-heated, caring and nurturing), and Group-Oriented (low Factor Q2: companionable, cooperative, and participating), but Shy (low on Factor H: timid, modest, and easily embarrassed). This second Extravert would tend to show quite different social behavior and be caring, considerate, and attentive to others but not forward, bold or loud—and thus have quite a different effect on his/her social environment.

Today, the global traits of personality are commonly known as the Big Five. The Big Five traits are most important for getting an abstract, theoretical understanding of the big, overarching domains of personality, and in understanding how different traits of personality relate to each other and how different research findings relate to each other. The big-five are important for understanding and interpreting an individual’s personality profile mainly in getting a broad overview of their personality make-up at the highest level of personality organization. However, it is still the scores on the more specific primary traits that define the rich, unique personality make-up of any individual. These more-numerous primary traits have repeatedly been found to be the most powerful in predicting and understanding the complexity of actual daily behavior (Ashton, 1998; Goldberg, 1999; Mershon & Gorsuch, 1988; Paunonen & Ashton, 2001)

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