J. Craig Wallace Ph.D.

At a Higher Level

Personality Pop-Quiz: 7 > 8 and 6 > 5, True or False?

Research suggests a new model of personality supplanting the Big-5

Posted Feb 19, 2018

“You heard of this thing, the 8-minute Abs?” says murderous hitchhiker. “Yeah, sure, 8-Minute Abs. Yeah, the exercise video.” Says Ben Stiller’s character, Ted, in Something About Mary (1998). Hitchhiker response: “Yeah, this is going to blow that right out of the water. Listen to this: 7 … Minute … Abs.”

Is 7-minute abs really that much of an improvement over 8-minute abs? I struggle with 2-minute abs, so I will leave that debate to exercise physiologists. Yet, psychologists are currently wrestling with a similar issue when it comes to personality. Are there 6 primary factors for human personality or are there 5? Throw in some ‘shiny object personality profilers’ with the proliferation of ‘construct mixology’ and there is no end to the number of personality dimensions. Is it just a numbers game with psychologists utilizing various techniques for slicing up variance for turf protection and/or market share or are there meaningful differences?

In the working world, most psychologists and human resource professionals are quite familiar with the Five-Factor Model (FFM) of personality. It is a model that is present in just about every introductory I/O Psychology, Human Resources, and Organizational Behavior textbook with acronyms of OCEAN and CANOE being the most popular to help students recall Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. I learned under the OCEAN acronym and during grad school memorized Barrick & Mount’s (1991) work that demonstrated the critical importance of personality for job performance. I was a devoted subscriber the to the FFM... emphasis on ‘was’.

However, the FFM is significantly limited in its ability to generalize across languages and cultures. In fact, the FFM does not generalize beyond English speaking cultures. The FFM was derived using an English only lexical approach and thereby is only applicable to English speaking cultures – predominantly the United States. Given that most personality measures are based on the FFM, there is a significant disconnect between what most of us subscribe to and what is valid the world over.

Say Hello to the HEXACO. Professors Lee and Ashton discovered that the FFM model did not replicate in non-English speaking cultures, yet, a different model repeatedly emerged… what they termed: HEXACO. By broadening the lexical studies of personality to include descriptive adjectives from 12 languages (including English) a different model of personality consistently emerged – a model that contains six factors: honesty-humility, emotional control, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experience.

AOE Science, used with permission
Source: AOE Science, used with permission

HEXACO is a significant improvement over the FFM. First, the HEXACO is generalizable across cultures, the FFM is not. Second, there is the addition of the honesty-humility factor which is not at all present in the FFM. Third, there are meaningful differences between the models in the interpretation of agreeableness and emotional control - HEXACO’s agreeableness focuses on forgiveness and tolerance, which are aspects of the emotional stability dimension of the FFM, and the emotional control aspect of the HEXACO model focuses more on anxiety, sentimentality, and vulnerability. The dimensions of extraversion, conscientiousness, and openness remain similar to those in the FFM. In short, the HEXACO model of personality is a personality structure for the world – not just the United States.

In addition to the increase in cultural generalizability, research has found that the HEXACO model offers improvements in the predictive validity of assessments for important work outcomes. HEXACO measures have demonstrated incremental validity over the FFM in predicting outcomes such as job performance, workplace delinquency, manipulation, integrity, need for power, and egotism.

The H-factor (honesty-humility) has been credited with driving the unique predictive power of the HEXACO model. The H-factor alone has demonstrated incremental validity over all other personality traits, and even over cognitive ability and popular traits like ‘grit’, which by the way seems to be another name for conscientiousness. In fact, the H-Factor negatively predicts deviant workplace behaviors (theft, sabotage, revenge, aggression) and positively predicts desirable workplace behaviors (job performance, safety, adaptability, creativity, & innovation).

I am still not clear if 7-minute or 8-minute or even my 2-minute abs, pray tell, might be the best option. It seems that in the exercise world, fewer is better, but again, I will leave that to the exercise pros. However, in terms of personality and the working world, fewer is not better and it is true: 6>5. The HEXACO model of personality has 6 factors, is valid the world-over, has important implications for hiring and developing organizational talent, and is hands down the best model going.

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