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What theory underlies personality assessments?

Different theories of personality underlie different instruments. The most widely accepted model of personality on a universal basis is that known as the 5-Factor Model. Simply put, this model assumes that individuals’ personality can be described and measured in terms of their variance along five bi-polar traits. These ‘Big-5’ traits are Openness to Experience (O), Conscientiousness (C), Extraversion (E), Agreeableness (A) and Emotional Stability (N). A number of instruments have been developed over the years to measure these traits.

One of the ‘Big-5’ measures which has been used extensively in cross-cultural research is the NEO-PI-R. This personality assessment has been translated into more than 40 languages/dialects and used in over 30 different cultures. Research results have shown that the NEO-PI-R traits hold together in a reasonable approximation to their intended structure in many cultures. This suggests that the test has continued utility outside of its Western place of origin (USA). It is, however, important to note that the factor structure does not hold together as intended in all cultures (for example it appears that Openness to Experience is far less salient in China), and even where it does, this does not imply that each trait has the same importance in the observed culture as it may do in others, or that there are not indigenous traits which may be capable of explaining variations in personality and behaviour over and above the variation that the NEO-PI-R or other ‘Big-5’ measures can account for. Additionally, for the purposes of this article, it is useful to question whether the test was actually developed as a measure of workplace personality, thus, with the intention to measure the range of traits that may be associated with the prediction of an individual’s workplace performance.

Thus far then, we know that the universal concept and measurement of personality does seem to have a high degree of validity whilst at the same time it is necessary to acknowledge that such a model is unable to capture the complete essence of Chinese personality.

Indigenous personality researchers have been working on the development of a localised measure of personality. For example, researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong have published the CPAI, originally named the Chinese Personality Assessment Inventory and more recently, the CPAI-2, now the acronym stands for the Cross-Cultural Personality Assessment Inventory. Research with this tool has questioned both it’s reliability and validity.

© Dr Graham Tyler
Utility and Validity of Western and Chinese Models and Measures of Personality in Chinese and Western Organisational Contexts