‘Universal’ Personality Traits Are Not So Universal Study Finds
Psychologists have long thought that everyone’s personality can by evaluated to some degree with five expressive traits knows as the “Big Five.” They are: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Psychologists believe these traits are rooted in biology and transcend cultural differences, but a new study contradicts this thought.
Researchers studied an indigenous Bolivian society called the Tsimane forager-farmers. For more than two years they studied over 1,000 people who lived in isolated communities. Each community ranged from 30 to 50 people who lived in extended family groups, shared food and labor, were not formally educated, with limited contact with outsiders.
First, researchers gave the adults a standard questionnaire to assess the Big Five personality traits. Then, they asked them to evaluate their spouse’s personality. What they found next was that the subject’s personality that was reported by his or her spouse did not fit with the Big Five Traits. They also found that it didn’t fit the big five traits even when they controlled for education level, Spanish fluency, gender, and age.
According to Yahoo News, what the researchers discovered was evidence of two broad traits that could be labeled the Tsimane “Big Two.” The first of the two was prosociality, or socially beneficial behavior, which to the Tsimane looks like a mixture of extroversion and agreeableness, two traits found in the Big Five. The second trait was industriousness. This trait blends efficiency, perseverance and thoroughness found in the conscientious trait of the Big Five.
Live Science reports the team says the results don’t support the universality of the Big Five and they speculate the social structure of the Tsimane could be why they have different trait structures other than the Big Five.
The research team wrote in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology:
“Individuals in all human societies face similar goals of learning important productive skills, avoiding environmental dangers, cooperating and competing effectively in social encounters, and finding suitable mates. In small-scale societies, individuals have fewer choices for social or sexual partners and limited domains of opportunities for cultural success and proficiency. This may require abilities that link aspects of different traits, resulting in a trait structure other than the Big Five.”