5 Years of Progress: A Reply to Block


1 Journal of Research in Personality 35, 108–113 (2001) doi:10.1006/jrpe.2000.2294, available online at http://www.idealibrary.com on REPLY 5 Years of Progress: A Reply to Block Robert R. McCrae National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, Baltimore, Maryland During the past 5 years, no coherent and persuasive critique of the methods or findings of the FFM has appeared. In addition to a wealth of personality correlates, research has made important contributions to understanding the biological bases of personality, its cross-cultural universality, and its lifespan development. Theoretical efforts, though incomplete, have begun to integrate the study of traits into a broader understanding of the personality system. The FFM continues to thrive. To judge from Block’s (this issue) latest assessment, the past 5 years have been difficult for proponents of the Five-Factor Model (FFM): Methodologi- cal and substantive critiques have proliferated, empirical studies have yielded ‘‘nothing of central importance’’ to personality psychology, and theoretical efforts have not offered useful guidance. Needless to say, I take a rather different view: No persuasive criticism has appeared, empirical studies have made major contributions, and theoretical statements have begun to integrate the study of traits into a broader understanding of the personality system. Criticisms and Replies The whole enterprise of science depends on challenging accepted views, and the FFM has become one of the most accepted models in contemporary psychology. It is inevitable, then, that articles critical of some aspect of the FFM will abound; indeed, that is one mark of the model’s success. A number of articles have responded to such critiques (McCrae & Costa, 1995a; Piedmont, McCrae, Riemann, & Angleitner, 2000; Spirrison, 1994; see McCrae & Costa, 1999, for an interpretation of Digman’s two factors in terms of positive and negative valence), but it is not possible, here or Address correspondence and reprint requests to Robert R. McCrae, Personality, Stress and Coping Section, Gerontology Research Center, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, 5600 Nathan Shock Drive, Baltimore, MD 21224-6825. E-mail: [email protected] nih.gov. 108 0092-6566/01 $35.00

2 REPLY 109 elsewhere, to respond to all of them. Nor is it necessary: Methodological objections to specific studies and occasional failures to replicate can be safely ignored. What cannot be ignored are patterns of evidence, seen across several studies, that converge in suggesting problems with a model. For example, several studies using confirmatory factor analysis suggested poor fits for the FFM. In response, we argued that poor fit could be attributed to misspecifica- tion of the model and to limitations in confirmatory factor analysis itself (McCrae, Zonderman, Costa, Bond, & Paunonen, 1996). Many of the studies cited by Block agree in finding more than five factors, which would seem to be a significant threat to the basic tenet that the FFM is a comprehensive model. But, as Block pointed out, the results of any given factor analysis depend on such ‘‘upstream influences’’ as the variables fac- tored, the nature of the sample, and the details of the factor method. In conse- quence, the interpretation of any single analysis is problematic. The FFM became the dominant paradigm in trait psychology when the same five fac- tors emerged from a variety of instruments and methods. The additional fac- tors Block mentions have not replicated across studies. For example, no one has seconded the suggestion of Paunonen and Jackson (1996) that the Con- scientiousness factor lacks coherence (Costa & McCrae, 1998). In fact, years after announcing the comprehensiveness of the FFM, no one has persuasively identified any sixth factor of comparable scope and generality, although some candidates are under consideration (Cheung & Leung, 1998; Piedmont, 1999). Empirical Progress Block dismisses recent studies of FFM correlates as ‘‘unthinking re- search’’ ‘‘signifying almost nothing’’ of importance. That may be an accu- rate assessment of some FFM research, but surely not all. Indeed, from one ˆ perspective, personality correlates are the raison d’e tre of trait psychology. If traits were not important predictors of health behaviors, vocational interests, social interactions, and so on, why should we care about them? The FFM provides a systematic framework for the investigation of all these topics, and the collective findings enrich our understanding of how the factors operate in the real world. But for the scientific purist who is concerned only about issues ‘‘of central importance to the study of personality,’’ the past 5 years have been extraordi- narily fruitful. We have learned a great deal about the biological bases of personality traits through behavior genetic and comparative studies. There is now solid evidence that all five factors have a genetic basis (Loehlin, McCrae, Costa, & John, 1998); when corrected for measurement error, one study provided estimates of heritability ranging from .66 to .79 (Riemann, Angleitner, & Strelau, 1997). Further, Jang and colleagues demonstrated that the specific traits that define the five factors have specific genetic origins net

3 110 REPLY of the five factors, suggesting that the genetic architecture of personality is finely detailed (Jang, McCrae, Angleitner, Riemann, & Livesley, 1998). There have been groundbreaking studies demonstrating analogs to the FFM in animal species (e.g., King & Figueredo, 1997). Although molecular ge- netic studies have so far been disappointing (Ball et al., 1997), all these findings highlight the biological origins of the full range of personality traits. Another vigorous line of research has documented the universality of the ́ FFM. Lexical studies in a variety of languages (Benet-Martı nez & John, 2000; Somer & Goldberg, 1999) have continued to yield five-factor solu- tions, although, as Block noted, others failed to find an Openness/Intellect factor, either because the language lacked a sufficient number of relevant trait terms (McCrae, 1990) or because those terms were excluded from con- sideration by the researcher’s decision rules. A clearer test of universality requires that the same variables be measured in each culture. Using translations of the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R; Costa & McCrae, 1992), researchers have replicated the FFM structure in samples from Malaysia, Peru, Israel, and a dozen other countries (Cassaretto Bardales, 1999; Mastor, Jin, & Cooper, 2000; Montag & Levin, 1994). Yang and colleagues (1999) replicated the FFM in samples of psychi- atric patients in the People’s Republic of China and showed that FFM dimen- sions predict symptoms of personality disorder in much the same way there as they do in the United States (McCrae, Yang, & Costa, 1999). Cross-cultural comparisons have also been informative about the develop- ment of traits in adulthood. In North American samples, Neuroticism, Extra- version, and Openness decline from age 18 to age 30, while Agreeableness and Conscientiousness increase. The same trends continue after age 30, al- though usually at a much slower rate. Cross-sectional studies using data from Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, The Czech Republic, Croatia, Estonia, Russia, Turkey, Japan, and South Korea showed very similar pat- terns (McCrae et al., 2000), despite dramatic differences in culture and in recent history. This suggests the hypothesis that changes in adult personality reflect intrinsic maturational processes common to the human species. Another exciting development is an emerging integration of personality and child developmental psychology, guided by the FFM (e.g., Kohnstamm, Halverson, Mervielde, & Havill, 1998). It is becoming clear that the FFM provides a good model of personality traits for children as young as 11 or 12 (Parker & Stumpf, 1998) and perhaps much younger (Measelle & John, 1997). Studies on the developmental course of FFM traits from childhood to college age are only beginning (Costa, Parker, & McCrae, 2000). Theoretical Formulations Block is rightfully concerned about the need for conceptual clarification and theoretical elaboration. I am pleased that he chose to highlight our theo-

4 REPLY 111 retical efforts to understand the FFM (McCrae & Costa, 1999), but readers should be aware that ours is only one perspective. Wiggins (1996) edited an entire book on the topic, which also included evolutionary, lexical, and socio- analytic perspectives. Five-Factor Theory (FFT), as Paul Costa and I call our system, has been sketched out in two chapters (McCrae & Costa, 1996, 1999). I doubt that readers unfamiliar with the original sources will understand much about FFT from Block’s synopsis. Besides omitting 10 postulates and a model of the personality system, his paraphrases are often inaccurate. The Adaptation pos- tulate does not mean that people vaguely ‘‘seek to adapt any way they can,’’ but that, in response to environmental pressures, people develop habits, atti- tudes, skills, and other psychological mechanisms that are consistent with their personality traits. In translating the Interaction postulate, Block appears to have confused characteristic adaptations (which are enduring psychologi- cal structures) with behaviors. In brief, FFT attempts to systematize what we have learned about person- ality from research on the FFM. Anyone who has followed empirical devel- opments closely will not be surprised by the premises of the theory. For example, Postulate 1b, Origin, states that ‘‘personality traits are endogenous basic tendencies’’—consistent with the behavior genetic research reviewed above. The finding that traits are heritable, therefore, does not prove the theory because the theory postdicted, rather than predicted, the results. In this sense Block is correct that FFT is not a deductive system. There are, however, other ways in which theories can explain phenomena (cf. McCrae & Costa, 1995b). The central insight in FFT is that personality traits, as basic tendencies, must be distinguished from characteristic adaptations: the habits, attitudes, relationships, roles, interests, and values which, in part, express traits. The major difference is that characteristic adaptations are also powerfully shaped by the social environment, whereas traits are not. Once that distinction is grasped, it becomes much easier to understand how the FFM identified in Americans can also be found in Estonians and Malaysians. The FFM is a characteristic of the human species, and only its expression varies across cultures, or ages, or genders. FFT tries to present the big picture of personality, from biological bases to life narratives to transient moods and concrete behaviors. With so wide a purview, it is perhaps not surprising that FFT is short on details. But it does offer a framework in which details can be placed and an agenda for future work. The FFM organizes personality traits, a major subset of basic tendencies; what schemes could be used as taxonomies for characteristic adaptations and dynamic processes? There is evidence that traits are biologi- cally based, but what are the genes, the neurological structures, the neurobio- logical processes that underlie traits? FFT says that characteristic adaptations

5 112 REPLY interact with the environment to determine behavior, but how, from the vast repertoire of adaptations, does the individual select the appropriate basis for a response? Given the enduring influence of traits, how can characteristic maladaptations be reshaped to become more adaptive (Harkness & McNulty, in press)? These are the kinds of questions to which FFT leads; perhaps some of them will be answered in the next 5 years. REFERENCES Ball, D., Hill, L., Freeman, B., Eley, T. C., Strelau, J., Riemann, R., Spinath, F. M., Angleitner, A., & Plomin, R. (1997). The serotonin transporter gene and peer-rated neuroticism. 1301–1304. Neuroreport, 8, ́ nez, V., & John, O. P. (2000). Toward the development of quasi-indigenous per- Benet-Martı sonality constructs: Measuring Los Cinco Grandes in Spain with indigenous Castilian American Behavioral Scientist, 44, markers. 141–157. Cassaretto Bardales, M. (1999). Adaptacion del Inventario de personalidad NEO Revisado Unpublished doctoral (NEO-PI-R) Forma S en un grupo de estudiantes universitarios. dissertation, Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru, Lima, Peru. Cheung, F. M., & Leung, K. (1998). Indigenous personality measures: Chinese examples. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 29, 233–248. Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) and Costa, P. T., Jr., & McCrae, R. R. (1992). Odessa, FL: Psychological NEO Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI) professional manual. Assessment Resources. Costa, P. T., Jr., & McCrae, R. R. (1998). Six approaches to the explication of facet-level traits: Examples from Conscientiousness. European Journal of Personality, 12, 117–134. Costa, P. T., Jr., Parker, W. D., & McCrae, R. R. (2000, February). Adult development, Episode I: Personality stability and change in gifted adolescents. Paper presented at the First Convention of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Nashville, TN. Harkness, A. R., & McNulty, J. L. (in press). Implications of personality individual differences science from clinical work on personality disorders. In P. T. Costa, Jr., & T. A. Widiger (Eds.), Personality disorders and the Five-Factor Model of personality (2nd ed.). Wash- ington, DC: American Psychological Association. Jang, K. L., McCrae, R. R., Angleitner, A., Riemann, R., & Livesley, W. J. (1998). Heritability of facet-level traits in a cross-cultural twin sample: Support for a hierarchical model of personality. 74, 1556–1565. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, King, J. E., & Figueredo, A. J. (1997). The Five-Factor Model plus dominance in chimpanzee personality. Journal of Research in Personality, 31, 257–271. Kohnstamm, G. A., Halverson, C. F., Jr., Mervielde, I., & Havill, V. L. (Eds.). (1998). Parental descriptions of child personality: Developmental antecedents of the Big Five? Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. Loehlin, J. C., McCrae, R. R., Costa, P. T., Jr., & John, O. P. (1998). Heritabilities of common and measure-specific components of the Big Five personality factors. Journal of Research in Personality, 32, 431–453. Mastor, K. A., Jin, P., & Cooper, M. (2000). Malay culture and personality: A Big Five perspective. American Behavioral Scientist, 44, 95–111. McCrae, R. R. (1990). Traits and trait names: How well is Openness represented in natural languages? European Journal of Personality, 4, 119–129.

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