The learning-and-performance industry is deluged with instruments purported to help people (1) work better in teams, (2) manage more effectively, (3) hire the right people, (4) promote the best people, (5) etcetera. Unfortunately, many of these instruments have validity, reliability, and magnitude-of-effect issues, despite being well-received by respondents and by learning-and-performance professionals. For example, I will note problems with the MBTI Myers-Briggs below.
Such instruments include multi-rater 360-degree instruments, job-skills tests, knowledge tests, and personality inventories. This blog post is related specifically to personality inventories.
Personality instruments include the wildly-popular MBTI Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the DISC, plus all sorts of other tests indexed with colors, shapes, and other personality dimensions.
The thinking is that people’s personalities influence their actions and their actions determine their workplace effectiveness. This makes sense intuitively, but in practice it has not always been easy to show that personality affects behavior. Early excitement about this possibility in the mid 1900’s (i.e., 1930 to 1960) gave way to skepticism, only rebounding into favor in the 1990’s as new research found evidence that personality tests could be used in relationship to job performance. For a good historic overview see John and Srivastava (1999, link in reference section below).
Recent research has generally found that personality inventories are related to job performance, though the relationships may be modest and not always consistent. Barrick and Mount (1991) did a meta-analysis looking at many aspects of job performance and found personality to be a factor. Zhao and Seibert (2006) found that the Five-Factor Personality types were related to entrepreneurial skills. Clarke and Robertson (2005) found that personality was related to workplace and non-workplace accidents. Barrick, Mount, and Judge (2001) examined 15 different meta-analyses and concluded that personality and performance were linked.
But this research needs to be understood with some perspective. As Hurtz and Donovan (2000) and others have pointed out, the relationship between the five-factor personality inventories and job performance can be somewhat limited. In other words, just because a person scores a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean that they will act a certain way; while there is a slight tendency in the predicted direction, it often is only a slight tendency. Hurtz and Donovan worry further that when other indicators are used (e.g., previous job experience, interviews, etc.), personality measures may provide very little additional information. Moreover, they cite the worry that respondents can fake their responses on personality inventories (see also, Birkeland, Manson, Kisamore, Brannick, & Smith, 2006).
It is particularly important to note that personality research is now almost all tied to the “Big-Five” or “Five-Factor” personality taxonomy. This taxonomy measures personality along five distinct scales, including Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Emotional Stability. The “Big-Five” or “Five-Factor” Personality taxonomy has been validated in many scientific studies (Digman, 1990; Hogan, Hogan, & Roberts, 1996) and is the most widely-regarded of the many personality models, especially as it relates to workplace behaviors. For example, Barrick, Mount, and Judge in 2001 looked at 15 meta-analyses that investigated the relationship between the five personality factors and job performance.
Other personality taxonomies have not fared as well. For example, the MBTI (Myers-Briggs) has been widely discredited by researchers. It is considered neither reliable nor valid. For example, see Pittenger’s (2005) caution about using the MBTI. The DISC has not been studied enough to be scientifically validated.
Years ago, I used the MBTI in leadership training to make the point that people are different and may bring different skills and needs to the table. While using such a diagnostic seemed helpful in making that point, today I would use other ways to get that message across or use instruments that are scientifically validated.
To Learn More about Five-Factor Model of Personality
To Purchase/Use Instruments based on the Five-Factor Model
Barrick, M. R., & Mount, M. K. (1991). The Big Five personality dimensions and job performance: A meta-analysis. Personnel Psychology, 44, 1-26.
Barrick, M. R., Mount, M. K., & Judge, T. A. (2001). Personality and performance at the beginning of the new millennium: What do we know and where do we go next?. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 9, 9-30.
Birkeland, S. A., Manson, T. M., Kisamore, J. L., Brannick, M. T., & Smith, M. A. (2006). A Meta-Analytic Investigation of Job Applicant Faking on Personality Measures. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 14, 317-335.
Clarke, S., & Robertson, I. T. (2005). A meta-analytic review of the Big Five personality factors and accident involvement in occupational and non-occupational settings. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 78(3), 355-376.
Costa, P., & McCrae, R. (1992). NEO-PI-R and NEO-FFI professional manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.
Digman, J. M. (1990). Personality structure: Emergence of the five-factor model. Annual Review of Psychology, 41, 417-440.
Hogan, R., Hogan, J., & Roberts, B. W. (1996). Personality measurement and employment decisions: Questions and answers. American Psychologist, 51, 469-477.
John, O. P., & Srivastava, S. (1999). The Big Five Trait Taxonomy: History, measurement, and theoretical perspectives. In L. A. Pervin & O. P. John (Eds.), Handbook of Personality: Theory and Research (2nd ed., pp. 102-138), New York: Guilford Press. Available at:
http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~johnlab/pdfs/john&srivastava,1999.pdf or http://www.uoregon.edu/~sanjay/pubs/bigfive.pdf.
Pittenger, D. J. (2005). Cautionary Comments Regarding the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 57, 210-221.
Zhao, H., & Seibert, S. E. (2006). The Big Five personality dimensions and entrepreneurial status: A meta-analytical review. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 259-271.
Some Interesting Articles on Personality and the Workplace (and their abstracts)
Personality and Team Performance: A Meta-Analysis.
By Peeters, Miranda A. G.; Van Tuijl, Harrie F. J. M.; Rutte, Christel G.; Reymen, Isabelle M. M. J.
European Journal of Personality. Vol 20(5), Aug 2006, 377-396.
Using a meta-analytical procedure, the relationship between team composition in terms of the Big-Five personality traits (trait elevation and variability) and team performance were researched. The number of teams upon which analyses were performed ranged from 106 to 527. For the total sample, significant effects were found for elevation in agreeableness (p = 0.24) and conscientiousness (p = 0.20), and for variability in agreeableness (p = -0.12) and conscientiousness (p = -0.24). Moderation by type of team was tested for professional teams versus student teams. Moderation results for agreeableness and conscientiousness were in line with the total sample results. However, student and professional teams differed in effects for emotional stability and openness to experience. Based on these results, suggestions for future team composition research are presented.
An examination of the role of personality in work accidents using meta-analysis.
By Clarke, Sharon; Roberston, Ivan
Applied Psychology: An International Review. Vol 57(1), Jan 2008, 94-108.
Personality has been studied as a predictor variable in a range of occupational settings. The study reported is based on a systematic search and meta-analysis of the literature, using the “Big Five” personality framework. The results indicated that there was substantial variability in the effect of personality on workplace accidents, with evidence of situational moderators operating in most cases. However, one aspect of personality, low agreeableness, was found to be a valid and generalisable predictor of involvement in work accidents. The implications of the findings for future research are discussed. Although meta-analysis can be used to provide definite estimates of effect sizes, the limitations of such an approach are also considered.
Personality and Transformational and Transactional Leadership: A Meta-Analysis.
By Bono, Joyce E.; Judge, Timothy A.
Journal of Applied Psychology. Vol 89(5), Oct 2004, 901-910.
This study was a meta-analysis of the relationship between personality and ratings of transformational and transactional leadership behaviors. Using the 5-factor model of personality as an organizing framework, the authors accumulated 384 correlations from 26 independent studies. Personality traits were related to 3 dimensions of transformational leadership–idealized influence-inspirational motivation (charisma), intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration–and 3 dimensions of transactional leadership–contingent reward, management by exception-active, and passive leadership. Extraversion was the strongest and most consistent correlate of transformational leadership. Although results provided some support for the dispositional basis of transformational leadership–especially with respect to the charisma dimension–generally, weak associations suggested the importance of future research to focus on both narrower personality traits and nondispositional determinants of transformational and transactional leadership.
The Big Five personality dimensions and entrepreneurial status: A meta-analytical review.
By Zhao, Hao; Seibert, Scott E.
Journal of Applied Psychology. Vol 91(2), Mar 2006, 259-271.
In this study, the authors used meta-analytical techniques to examine the relationship between personality and entrepreneurial status. Personality variables used in previous studies were categorized according to the five-factor model of personality. Results indicate significant differences between entrepreneurs and managers on 4 personality dimensions such that entrepreneurs scored higher on Conscientiousness and Openness to Experience and lower on Neuroticism and Agreeableness. No difference was found for Extraversion. Effect sizes for each personality dimension were small, although the multivariate relationship for the full set of personality variables was moderate (R = .37). Considerable heterogeneity existed for all of the personality variables except Agreeableness, suggesting that future research should explore possible moderators of the personality-entrepreneurial status relationship.
Predicting job performance using FFM and non-FFM personality measures.
By Salgado, Jesús F.
Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology. Vol 76(3), Sep 2003, 323-346.
This study compares the criterion validity of the Big Five personality dimensions when assessed using Five-Factor Model (FFM)-based inventories and non-FFM-based inventories. A large database consisting of American as well as European validity studies was meta-analysed. The results showed that for conscientiousness and emotional stability, the FFM-based inventories had greater criterion validity than the non FFM-based inventories. Conscientiousness showed an operational validity of .28 (N=19,460, 90% CV=.07) for FFM-based inventories and .18 (N=5,874, 90% CV=-.04) for non-FFM inventories. Emotional stability showed an operational validity of .16 (N=10,786, 90% CV=.04) versus .05 (N=4,54I, 90% CV=-.05) for FFM and non-FFM-based inventories, respectively. No relevant differences emerged for extraversion, openness, and agreeableness. From a practical point of view, these findings suggest that practitioners should use inventories based on the FFM in order to make personnel selection decisions.
A Meta-Analytic Investigation of Job Applicant Faking on Personality Measures.
By Birkeland, Scott A.; Manson, Todd M.; Kisamore, Jennifer L.; Brannick, Michael T.; Smith, Mark A.
International Journal of Selection and Assessment. Vol 14(4), Dec 2006, 317-335.
This study investigates the extent to which job applicants fake their responses on personality tests. Thirty-three studies that compared job applicant and non-applicant personality scale scores were meta-analyzed. Across all job types, applicants scored significantly higher than non-applicants on extraversion (d = .11), emotional stability (d = .44), conscientiousness (d = .45), and openness (d = .13). For certain jobs (e.g., sales), however, the rank ordering of mean differences changed substantially
suggesting that job applicants distort responses on personality dimensions that are viewed as particularly job relevant. Smaller mean differences were found in this study than those reported by Viswesvaran and Ones (Educational and Psychological Measurement, 59(2), 197-210), who compared scores for induced ‘fake-good’ vs. honest response conditions. Also, direct Big Five measures produced substantially larger differences than did indirect Big Five measures.
A meta-analytic review of the Big Five personality factors and accident involvement in occupational and non-occupational settings.
By Clarke, Sharon; Robertson, Ivan T.
Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology. Vol 78(3), Sep 2005, 355-376.
Although a number of studies have examined individual personality traits and their influence on accident involvement, consistent evidence of a predictive relationship is lacking due to contradictory findings. The current study reports a meta-analysis of the relationship between accident involvement and the Big Five personality dimensions (extraversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness). Low conscientiousness and low agreeableness were found to be valid and generalizable predictors of accident involvement, with corrected mean validities of .27 and .26, respectively. The context of the accident acts as a moderator in the personality-accident relationship, with different personality dimensions associated with occupational and non-occupational accidents. Extraversion was found to be a valid and generalizable predictor of traffic accidents, but not occupational accidents. Avenues for further research are highlighted and discussed.
Big Five personality predictors of post-secondary academic performance.
By O’Connor, Melissa C.; Paunonen, Sampo V.
Personality and Individual Differences. Vol 43(5), Oct 2007, 971-990.
We reviewed the recent empirical literature on the relations between the Big Five personality dimensions and post-secondary academic achievement, and found some consistent results. A meta-analysis showed Conscientiousness, in particular, to be most strongly and consistently associated with academic success. In addition, Openness to Experience was sometimes positively associated with scholastic achievement, whereas Extraversion was sometimes negatively related to the same criterion, although the empirical evidence regarding these latter two dimensions was somewhat mixed. Importantly, the literature indicates that the narrow personality traits or facets presumed to underlie the broad Big Five personality factors are generally stronger predictors of academic performance than are the Big Five personality factors themselves. Furthermore, personality predictors can account for variance in academic performance beyond that accounted for by measures of cognitive ability. A template for future research on this topic is proposed, which aims to improve the prediction of scholastic achievement by overcoming identifiable and easily correctable limitations of past studies.
Gender differences in personality traits across cultures: Robust and surprising findings.
By Costa Jr., Paul; Terracciano, Antonio; McCrae, Robert R.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol 81(2), Aug 2001, 322-331.
Secondary analyses of Revised NEO Personality inventory data from 26 cultures (N =23,031) suggest that gender differences are small relative to individual variation within genders; differences are replicated across cultures for both college-age and adult samples, and differences are broadly consistent with gender stereotypes: Women reported themselves to be higher in Neuroticism, Agreeableness, Warmth, and Openness to Feelings, whereas men were higher in Assertiveness and Openness to Ideas. Contrary to predictions from evolutionary theory, the magnitude of gender differences varied across cultures. Contrary to predictions from the social role model, gender differences were most pronounced in European and American cultures in which traditional sex roles are minimized. Possible explanations for this surprising finding are discussed, including the attribution of masculine and feminine behaviors to roles rather than traits in traditional cultures.
Five-factor model of personality and job satisfaction: A meta-analysis.
By Judge, Timothy A.; Heller, Daniel; Mount, Michael K.
Journal of Applied Psychology. Vol 87(3), Jun 2002, 530-541.
This study reports results of a meta-analysis linking traits from the 5-factor model of personality to overall job satisfaction. Using the model as an organizing framework, 334 correlations from 163 independent samples were classified according to the model. The estimated true score correlations with job satisfaction were -.29 for Neuroticism, .25 for Extraversion, .02 for Openness to Experience, .17 for Agreeableness, and .26 for Conscientiousness. Results further indicated that only the relations of Neuroticism and Extraversion with job satisfaction generalized across studies. As a set, the Big Five traits had a multiple correlation of .41 with job satisfaction, indicating support for the validity of the dispositional source of job satisfaction when traits are organized according to the 5-factor model.
Relationship of personality to performance motivation: A meta-analytic review.
By Judge, Timothy A.; Ilies, Remus
Journal of Applied Psychology. Vol 87(4), Aug 2002, 797-807.
This article provides a meta-analysis of the relationship between the 5-factor model of personality and 3 central theories of performance motivation (goal-setting, expectancy, and self-efficacy motivation). The quantitative review includes 150 correlations from 65 studies. Traits were organized according to the 5-factor model of personality. Results indicated that Neuroticism (average validity=-.31) and Conscientiousness (average validity=.24) were the strongest and most consistent correlates of performance motivation across the 3 theoretical perspectives. Results further indicated that the validity of 3 of the Big Five traits–Neuroticism, Extraversion, and Conscientiousness–generalized across studies. As a set, the Big 5 traits had an average multiple correlation of .49 with the motivational criteria, suggesting that the Big 5 traits are an important source of performance motivation.
Temperament and personality in dogs (Canis familiaris): A review and evaluation of past research.
By Jones, Amanda C.; Gosling, Samuel D.
Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Vol 95(1-2), Nov 2005, 1-53.
Spurred by theoretical and applied goals, the study of dog temperament has begun to garner considerable research attention. The researchers studying temperament in dogs come from varied backgrounds, bringing with them diverse perspectives, and publishing in a broad range of journals. This paper reviews and evaluates the disparate work on canine temperament. We begin by summarizing general trends in research on canine temperament. To identify specific patterns, we propose several frameworks for organizing the literature based on the methods of assessment, the breeds examined, the purpose of the studies, the age at which the dogs were tested, the breeding and rearing environment, and the sexual status of the dogs. Next, an expert-sorting study shows that the enormous number of temperament traits examined can be usefully classified into seven broad dimensions. Meta-analyses of the findings pertaining to inter-rater agreement, test-retest reliability, internal consistency, and convergent validity generally support the reliability and validity of canine temperament tests but more studies are needed to support these preliminary findings. Studies examining discriminant validity are needed, as preliminary findings on discriminant validity are mixed. We close by drawing 18 conclusions about the field, identifying the major theoretical and empirical questions that remain to be addressed.
Will’s Note: I included this last one because it amused me that searching for “personality” one might find a research review on dog personality—and to keep all this research stuff in perspective.