An evaluation of the five factor model

Personality, the intricacy of the motivations behind our actions and behaviour, has always been a field of interest of psychologists in the past as well as present time. There are various ways of looking at Personality, namely the social learning approach, psychobiological approach, psychodynamic approach, humanistic approach as well as trait theories approach. Each approach invests in theories or models that seek to surface a better comprehension of the concept of Personality. This paper will examine the Five Factor Model (FFM; McCrae & Costa, 1987) under the trait theories approach, drawing information from mainly two journal articles on personality traits as well as the results of more recent research. The Five Factor Model stands for the describing of a person’s personality, through the measuring of the factors of Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism (OCEAN) traits inherent in them (McCrae & Costa, 1987). Cervone, Shoda (1999), John and Robins (1994) all similarly contend that the holistic personality of individuals is too complex to be explained by a mere trait model whilst noting, on the other hand, that the FFM is by far the most reliable framework towards understanding personality that is available. This paper will examine the positive and negative aspects of the FFM in order to assess the validity and usefulness of such a model structure in explaining Personality.

The positive aspects of the Five Factor Model are numerous, which explains why it stands as a widely accepted approach to personality (John & Robins, 1994). Firstly, the FFM is largely empirical; it can be tested and have its observations and results analysed. In comparison to the psychodynamic approach for instance, the theories of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) that revolved considerably around the unconscious, were highly unobservable and were not capable of being tried and tested in the way that the trait model can. Furthermore, when compared against other models of personality, the results derived from the FFM are largely consistent, even when tested a number of times (McCrae & Costa, 1987). Additionally, language (i.e. describing words) plays an important role in this approach, instead of the common focus on a particular theory. As a result, it has raised the question of whether the Five Factor Model can be utilised across different cultures where English may not be the language individuals are familiar with, where a translation of the key five dimensions of the trait model may impair its results and accuracy. Nevertheless, the FFM has managed to stand the test of cross-cultures and still produce consistent results (McCrae, 2002, p.22). As a result, to date, the FFM has received much applaud for its accuracy in determining the co-relations between personality and marriage, relationships, job performance, education, business, leadership skills and even health, helping validate its position as the leading framework on personality.

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Conversely, a mere trait model as the leading framework to personality has indeed surfaced doubt among critics. Such uncertainty is commonly due to the Five Factor Model’s descriptive instead of explanatory nature, the narrow scope such traits provide in exploring a holistic personality as well as how the FFM does not conceptualize personality (John & Robins, 1994). While the FFM is broad and comprehensive, it mainly lists and describes personalities; it measures and takes note of what is observable, leaving little light shed on the capabilities of such a personality. Future research could perhaps delve further into assessing one’s capabilities (Cervone & Shoda, 1999) instead of merely focusing on an individual’s tendencies in order to gain a better view of personality, especially since there are various different traits that exist outside the Big Five that could make up a person’s personality (McAdams, 1992). Furthermore, since the FFM is purely descriptive, it provides little understanding behind the dynamic processes in which behaviour is generated and controlled (John & Robbins, 1994). Therefore, it can also be argued that the trait model is limited in that it may not be powerful enough to predict human behaviour and cannot address the developmental processes that may appear in one’s personality (John & Robins, 1994).

The development of personality has also been proposed to be as important as the traits inherent within an individual (John & Robins, 1994) in comprehending the concept of Personality. This surfaces the question of whether a holistic view of personality can ever be achieved given how even the most widely accepted model of personality does little justice to such an end. It has been suggested, however, that there is no conflict between the trait model and the development process in personality (John & Robins, 1994). This allows for the consideration of how traits can be integrated with broader concepts like development and personality dynamics (John & Robins, 1994). The trait model suggests the tendencies for an individual to react in a certain way in a given situation; it does not explain why they do so. On the other hand, although the patterns of behaviour in individuals cannot be explained through the trait model, the consistency of their behaviours which can be illustrated through the examination of the five traits (Cervone & Shoda, 1999) allows a good base to further developing the idea of personality. Despite the FFM’s limitations, it has been proposed that the model could expand into a better comprehension of personality as a whole.

The Five Factor Model is also believed to be a strong base and launch pad in further understanding the mechanism behind personality when coupled with theories regarding the relationships between different personality concepts (John & Robins, 1994). Although it is framework structured at the moment, the traits studied are again seen to be a good foundation of unearthing a deeper understanding of personality as a whole. This is because, according to Cervone and Shoda (1999), the trait approach enhances the comprehension of personality through deducing psychological profiles (which are co-related to consistent patterns of behaviour) by the analysis of the OCEAN traits. Such profiles or constructs enable the broadened understanding of personality; instead of the focus being merely on the five dimensions of the FFM, the development into a much bigger concept of the aforementioned psychological constructs may improve the overall comprehension of personality.

In conclusion, amidst the uncertainties and critique revolving around it, the Five Factor Model still stands as one of the widely accepted forms of understanding personality in the contemporary field. The trait model is often sought after and practised in order to conceptualise Personality because of its validation and reliability thus far, seen from the many tests taken across time and culture. Working off the current framework the FFM provides, future research ought to encompass not only an individual’s tendencies but also the notion of the individual’s capabilities, in hopes of granting an even more holistic view of personality.

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