The development and measurement of personality

6.3 The ‘super three’ or the ‘big five’ traits?

Eysenck’s personality theory (1967, 1997) describes three broad personality factors. These are:

  • extraversion–introversion
  • neuroticism–ego–stability
  • psychoticism.

Watch the following video lecture, which describes these three factors, and compares them to the ‘Big 5’ later identified by Costa and McCrae (1992b):

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Video: The Super Three or the Big Five?


Other personality scales

Other questionnaires measure aspects of personality that are covered in Eysenck and in the Big 5. For example, Zuckerman’s Sensation-Seeking Scale (1971) is a measure of some of the aspects associated with extroversion.

When psychologists talk about the Big 5, it might be more appropriate to specify which of the big fives; as there is no single set of identical dimensions that is agreed on by all researchers. However, the focus has been on Costa and McCrae’s measurement scale, the NEO-Personality Inventory Revised (NEO-PI-R, Costa & McCrae, 1992), given the huge amount of empirical research on it. The NEO-PI R comprises 240 questions for five dimensions or ‘domains’:

  • extroversion
  • neuroticism
  • openness to experience
  • conscientiousness
  • agreeableness.

Cross-questionnaire correlations demonstrate a high level of reliability, perhaps reflecting the fact that the questionnaire was developed out of the need of a common lexicon for the main characteristics of personality. As the questionnaire was borne out of measures of various existing personality tests in the 1980s (Goldberg, 1980), its validity remains strong. These topics of reliability and validity will be explained in the next section.

Group activity: Personality tests

Complete the following personality scales:

Do the results reflect what you know about yourself? Do these scales accurately reflect your personality? Why? Discuss in the Personality forum.

Optional activity: Eysenck

Watch Eysenck first describing his theory in ‘The biological basis of personality, 1980’.

Further reading