McCrae and Costa’s Five-Factor model of personality is said to be predictive in certain behaviours such as honesty, job performance and procrastination. This Five-Factor model applies to organisational testing because personality is a crucial part in understanding the interests and abilities of an applicant within a business. There have been several criticisms of the Big Five and how accurately it can describe a person’s future performance. These criticisms will be discussed in length in this essay. The essay will also consider the usefulness of the Big Five within psychological assessments.
Personality can be defined as “the dynamic organisation of systems that determine the individual’s characteristic patterns of behaviour, thought, and feeling” (Sibaya & Nicholas, Personality, 2008). Simply put one can describe personality as the aspects of a person which make them unique (Sibaya & Malcolm, 2003). Personality attributes have successfully been studied over centauries and investigators have concluded that the personality domain can be best described by five “super ordinate constructs” (Digman, 1990).
A personality trait is “a durable disposition to behave in a particular way” and the five-factor model has become the dominant idea of a personality structure (Weiten, 2007). The five-factor model of personality came about as a result of Hans Eysenck’s two dimensions of personality. Eysenck’s theory comprised of neuroticism-stability and extraversion-introversion and he later added the third dimension known as psychoticism (Sibaya & Malcolm, 2003). Eysenck’s theory also concluded that personality traits could largely be determined by genetics (Sibaya & Malcolm, 2003).
Eysenck’s theory of personality dimensions was a “precursor of the five-factor model” developed by Costa and McCrae (Sibaya & Malcolm, 2003). The five-factor model can be seen as the most recent approach to personality and personality traits. Costa and McCrae argue that personality traits derive from five higher order traits. These traits are now known as the “Big-Five” (Weiten, 2007). Similar to Eysenck’s view on personality traits Costa and McCrae concluded that genetics play a substantial role in personality (Digman, 1990). An example of genetics playing a role in the development in personality traits can be seen in the study of twins.
Jim Lewis and Jim Springer were identical twins separated at birth in 1940 (Sibaya & Malcolm, 2003). These twins were later reunited and research showed that they had similar personality traits. The twins both drove the same model car; they both smoked heavily and liked the same brand of cigarettes (Sibaya & Malcolm, 2003). A further impact of the five-factor model is that it has shown in studies that this personality study applies across cultures and is widely identifiable in different cultures around the world (Weiten, 2007).
The five-factor model states that there are five core personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. These form a mnemonic, OCEAN, which is often used for remembering the personality traits (Sibaya & Malcolm, 2003). Openness applies to the openness one would have to an experience. Openness is often associated with traits such as curiosity, imagination and flexibility (Weiten, 2007). McCrae states that openness can determine one’s political attitudes or ideologies (Weiten, 2007).
Conscientiousness relates to traits involving well disciplined and well organised people and is associated with people being diligent within the workplace (Weiten, 2007). Extraversion relates to people who can be categorised as outgoing or sociable people (Weiten, 2007). Agreeableness relates to one’s ability to be sympathetic, trusting and modest (Weiten, 2007). Agreeable personality traits have been known to be associated with a constructive approach to dealing with conflict but agreeable people have also been known to be aggressive (Weiten, 2007).
Neuroticism relates to people who are anxious or hostile (Weiten, 2007). People who score high in this personality trait have been known to over re-act to stressful situations (Weiten, 2007). Organisational psychology “focuses on role related behaviour, group pressure, commitment to organisations and patterns of communication” (Sibaya & Malcolm, 2003). In order for an organisational psychologist to determine this behaviour certain organisational testing or psychological assessments need to take place.
A psychological assessment is a “standardised measure of a sample of a erson’s behaviour” (Weiten, 2007). Psychological assessment is one of the oldest and most focussed areas of industrial-organisational psychology (Weiten, 2007). Psychological assessment focuses on an individual’s difference in behaviour and their individual job performance and then develops ways in which they can measure or predict such performances. Testing enables psychologists to select people for jobs, assess one’s potential and develop people. Testing can often lead to labelling of people and selection for jobs, promotions or training has often been made in accordance to these labels.
The importance of psychological assessments within the workplace is that they enable the perspective employer to have predictions about the applicant’s future performance and how that applicant may behave in the future. An example of how psychological assessments are beneficial and important can be seen in the use of a personality test. A personality test “measure various aspects of personality, including motives, interests and attitudes” (Weiten, 2007). Personality tests can be helpful because they assist in personnel selection within business and industry (Weiten, 2007).
A sub-division of personality tests is ‘interest inventories’ which determine the interest of an individual in relation to the interests needed to do the job. An example of ‘interest inventories’ can be seen in the need for a sales person to have a personality type that is an extrovert. The example of the sales person can also explain the importance of psychological assessments within the work environment because without this form of testing perspective employers would be unable to employ people that are specifically suited to the position on offer, e. . an extrovert. The use of psychological assessment in business begins when the candidate is still in the selection process. The applicant for a perspective job will first consider the job analysis. A job analysis is the process of obtaining information about a job by determining what duties, tasks or activities it entails in order to perform the job successfully (Sibaya & Malcolm, 2003). Following a job analysis the applicant would then submit an application and begin the selection process.
A selection process can be described as the process of identifying who will be hired from the pool of applicants (Sibaya & Malcolm, 2003). The applicant will then undergo psychological assessment which involves a prediction of the applicant’s knowledge, abilities, attitudes and personality traits. The way in which these tests help with the selection process are that they are the best predictors of performance and behaviour on the job (Sibaya & Malcolm, 2003). Now that the selection process has been explained one can similarly link the development and promotion process to psychological assessment.
With development or promotion the worker will have to undergo psychological testing to ensure that their abilities and interests fit with the promotion available. The five-factor model applies within the workplace because it enables employers to evaluate employee’s personalities and make use their personality traits to the best of their abilities. Research has indicated that the Big Five traits are able to predict specific behaviour (Weiten, 2007). The Big Five’s ability to predict this behaviour can be seen as beneficial in the workplace.
An example of how the Big Five can benefit an industry can be seen in the personality trait ‘conscientiousness’ because it has been said that conscientiousness correlates with honesty, higher job performance and a lower alcohol consumption (Weiten, 2007). This being said one can understand that the Big Five traits allow a perspective employer the ability to employ conscientious workers. Many of the Big Five traits are related to career success (Weiten, 2007). The five-factor model can be used in the selection, development and promotion of employees because it allows the employer to predict what qualities the applicant has.
The example used previously about the sales rep needing to be an extrovert is a perfect example of how the Big Five apply to selection, development and promotion. The five-factor model would allow the employer of such sales rep to be able to select candidates that fit the personality type that is required for the job at hand. Similar to this the employer could use the five-factor traits to determine whether an existing employee fits the personality required in a job opening and therefore the five-factor model applies to promotions within business as well.
A further benefit to the Big Five is that an employer can determine an employee’s weak traits and develop them further thus improving the workforce. The use of the Big Five within occupational testing has been criticised by many psychologists and researchers as they feel nit does not adequately determine one’s ability to perform a task. A common criticism is that there is a fundamental need for more than five traits (Weiten, 2007). An example of this can be seen in recent studies that state that honesty-humility should be a sixth trait.
Another criticism is that studies have shown that the five-factor model can discriminate against people. In the case of South Africa this criticism of the five-factor model only improved the outcome of the test because the discrimination led to changes in legislation which protect the rights of people and state that only valid testing may be done (Sibaya & Malcolm, 2003). The legislation protecting people’s rights within organisational tests has encouraged the use of these tests in the selection of new employees.
Studies have also shown that the Big Five are not necessarily a reflection of one’s personality but rather a reflection of their “test-taking skills” (Ones, Reiss, & Viswesvaran, 1996). This criticism states that the results of the five-factor traits test are a reflection of one’s “cognitive ability and years of education” (Ones, Reiss, & Viswesvaran, 1996). This criticism is not necessarily a negative aspect as it only ensures better use of the Big Five within organisational testing because education is an important aspect to one’s personality.
There are two main criticisms of the five-factor model. These are the “frame of reference effect” and “socially desirable responding” (Hanges, Dickson, & Smith, 2001). Critics argue that the five-factor model is not useful because it is too broad to be applied to psychological assessment (Schmit & Ryan, 1993). The first criticism is the frame of reference effect which states that the image the average job applicant would like to convey will have an effect on the psychological assessment (Hanges, Dickson, & Smith, 2001).
The frame of reference effect can be explained better if one considers that a job applicant will be guided by their self-presentation (Schmit & Ryan, 1993). An employee will stand to gain or lose from the results of the psychological assessment and will therefore may alter their response to be in line with what would be considered the correct response (Hanges, Dickson, & Smith, 2001). This ‘altered response’ by the job applicant can be seen as a “ideal-employee” frame of reference where as the response given by a volunteer would be seen as a “stranger-description” frame of mind (Schmit & Ryan, 1993).
The second criticism of the five-factor model is the socially desirable response. The “socially desirable response” can be divided into two sub-groups. Firstly there is “self-deception” which is the “unconscious tendency to see oneself in a favourable light” (Schmit & Ryan, 1993). Secondly, there is the theory of “impression management” where a person is consciously aware that they are putting up a false front in order to create a better impression (Schmit & Ryan, 1993).
The concept of socially desirable responses has undergone three studies which examined the effect of the socially desirable response. The result of these three studies found that in a test of “fake good vs. honest responses” the personality reliabilities were higher in the fake good (Hanges, Dickson, & Smith, 2001). A further study was done on socially desirability consisting of three sample groups. The sample groups were the job applicant, the job incumbent and the student (Hanges, Dickson, & Smith, 2001).
The results of this study much like the results of other studies showed that the job applicant showed more socially desirable responses than the job incumbent (Hanges, Dickson, & Smith, 2001). When defining personality some may argue with Freud’s opinion that personality is largely hidden and unknown. This definition of personality would parallel the argument that the five-factor model is a poor predictor of job success as well as suggesting that it is unethical to use the five-factor model within employment procedures (Hogan, Hogan, & Roberts, 1996).
This argument could stem from criticisms such as the effect of socially desirable responses, the frame of reference effect and the thought that the five-factor model is limited by only considering five traits. Although these criticisms all have a valid argument one cannot help but believe the evidence that a well-constructed personality assessment is a valid predictor of job performance and it enhances fairness in the employment process (Hogan, Hogan, & Roberts, 1996).