➢ On Psychometric Testing

For clients interested in formal testing as part of their executive assessment process, we are certified administrators for and recommend the Big Five Profile from the Center For Applied Cognitive Studies (www.centacs.com).  The profile measures competencies and the degree to which they come naturally or require focussed attention to master.  If the job description identifies the needed competencies for the position, then this allows for direct measurement of those critical competencies in each candidate.

About the Five-Factor Model

The Five-Factor Model of Personality is the most current, valid, reliable means of assessing personality available.  Psychologists use it as the primary means of understanding and interpreting personality.  The Five-Factor Model is:

  • Reliable: Extremely reliable compared to available personality inventories
  • Acceptable:  High acceptance of personal results by those tested
  • Respected:  Currently the most widely respected personality model in the personality research community
  • Valid:  Established predictive validity across a variety of jobs
  • Uncomplicated:  No theory to understand, a clear vocabulary of individual similarities and differences
  • Compatible:  Serves as a road map to major theories of personality

From the mid-1980’s to the mid-1990’s, the Five-Factor Model was tested and re-tested in the academic and research communities world-wide and found to be superior to prior means of explaining and describing personality. The business community began to take the Five-Factor Model seriously when an article by Pierce and Jane Howard was published in the September 1995 issue of Training and Development.  The article, “Buddy, Can You Paradigm?,” gave a brief history of the model’s development and explains how the Five-Factor Model may be used to understand individuals, relationships and teams in work situations.

Organizations are using the Five-Factor Model for the depth and understanding it offers employees in all aspects of human resource development. Key components of the Five-Factor Model:

  • Personality has five dimensions
  • Scores on dimensions will fall along a normal distribution (bell curve)
  • Personality is best described by individual traits rather than type groupings
  • Strength of individual scores indicates personality preferences
  • People scoring in the midrange prefer a balance of the two extremes for that trait

History & Theory

For three decades, the training community has generally followed the assumptions of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator:

  • a four-dimension model
  • bimodal distribution of scores on each dimension
  • sixteen independent types
  • the concept of a primary function determined by Judger/Perceiver preference
  • a grounding in the personality theory of Carl Jung

The emerging new paradigm is not a radical departure from the Myers-Briggs but rather an evolution requiring a significant shift in thinking. The new paradigm involves:

  • five dimensions of personality
  • normal distribution of scores on these dimensions
  • emphasis on individual personality traits
  • type concept replaced by blends concept
  • preferences indicated by strength of score
  • model based on experience, not theory

Cognitive Science

…the study of the nature of intelligence. It draws on multiple empirical disciplines, including psychology, philosophy, neuroscience, linguistics, anthropology, computer science, sociology and biology.
- Wikipedia, 2009

…the study of the precise nature of different mental tasks and the operations of the brain that enable them to be performed, engaging branches of psychology, computer science, philosophy, and linguistics.
Dictionary.com unabridged, based on the Random House Dictionary
© Random House, Inc. 2006.

Each primary trait in the Five-Factor Model reflects how a unique stimulus triggers the body’s arousal system into action.
Need for Stability: stress triggers your automatic nervous system, or fight-or-flight response. A period of arousal is followed by a return to normalcy and calm. Individuals with higher N scores have a shorter trigger and can’t take a lot of stress before feeling it. People with lower N scores are able to take abundant amounts of stress before feeling it.
Extraversion: sensation, or the five senses, is the trigger.  Your E score is an estimate of the point when your motoric nervous system is aroused, becomes saturated with sensation and craves relief. While Extraversion is traditionally associated with sociability, that is because other people are the most common source of stimulation. People with higher E scores can take more sensation before becoming saturated.
Originality:  novelty is the trigger.  Dopamine is widely considered the “creativity” chemical, with levels of dopamine and dopamine receptors related to one’s ability to hold visual images in the mind.  Your O score represents the point at which you have used up your available dopamine in your pursuit of novelty and your system says “no more novelty or complexity. Take me aback to the simple and familiar, the tried and true.”
Accommodation: the trigger is dominance. The arousal system consists of sex hormones (such as testosterone and estrogen) and serotonin, the neurotransmitter involved in sleep, depression and memory. For people with a relative abundance of male hormones and a relative deficit of female hormones defiance is the norm.  Someone with an opposite balance of hormones would normally be submissive.  You’re a score is an estimate of the point when you tire of being defiant and turn submissive.
Consolidation: distractions are the trigger. The arousal system supporting C behaviors is attentional focus, greatly impacted by levels of testosterone. High levels of testosterone are associated with a greater capacity for sustained, repetitive, goal-focused behavior.  Distractions trigger the attentional system, causing loss of focus. Your C score is an estimate of the point when you finally say, “That’s enough focusing for now. Time for a break.”


Allport and Odbert (1936) were the first researchers to identify the trait-descriptive words in the English language.  Their compendium of 4,500 words has been the primary starting point of language-based personality trait research for the last sixty years.
From 1954-1961, two Air Force personnel researchers, Tupes and Christal (1961), became the first researchers to make use of Allport and Odbert’s work. Tupes and Christal thoroughly established the five factors we know today.  Sadly, they published their results in an obscure Air Force publication that was not read either by the psychology or academic communities.
In the late 1950s, Warren Norman at the University of Michigan learned of Tupes and Christal’s work.  Norman (1963) replicated the Tupes and Christal study and confirmed the five-factor structure for trait taxonomy.  For bringing this discovery into the mainstream academic psychology community, it became known, understandably but inappropriately, as “Norman’s Big Five.”  Rightly, it should be Tupes and Christal’s Big Five, which we now refer to as the Five-Factor Model.
During the 1960s and 1970s traits were out of favor–only behaviors and situational responses were allowed.  However, radical behaviorism began to fall from its pedestal in the early 1980s with the rise of cognitive science.  Cognitive scientists proclaimed that there was more to the human mind than stimulus and response (Howard, 1994).  Throughout the 1980s and continuing through the present, personality researchers have established the Five-Factor Model as the basic paradigm for personality research.

Consensus in the Psychological Community

Up until twenty years ago, the personality research community was fragmented, with Freud, Erikson, Horney, Jung, Murray, Eysenck, and others all claiming the best model.  All were partially right, but only the Five-Factor Model has arms big enough to include them all.
What is different today versus twenty years ago is that there has been a clear trend towards embracing a single model– the Five-Factor Model– as the research paradigm to follow. But while unanimity among personality researchers is still beyond our grasp, one can sense the excitement among researchers in the recent literature:

  • The comprehensive analyses in Dutch have provided so far the strongest cross-language evidence for the Five-Factor Model. John, Angleitner, & Ostendorf (1988)
  • The past decade has witnessed a rapid convergence of views regarding the structure of the concepts of personality.  Digman (1990)
  • The major aim of this article has been to provide sufficient evidence to alleviate any qualms about the generality of the Five-Factor Model structure. Goldberg (1990)
  • We believe that the robustness of the Five-Factor Model provides a meaningful framework for formulating and testing hypotheses relating individual differences in personality to a wide range of criteria in personnel psychology, especially in the subfields of personnel selection, performance appraisal, and training and development.  Barrick & Mount (1991)
  • I again, anticipate more extensive use by tomorrow’s practitioners of new generations of inventories, for example, the NEO Personality Inventory developed by Costa and McCrae (1988) for the assessment in healthy individuals of something akin to today’s five basic dimensions of character and personality that have evolved empirically from a line of inquiry first suggested by Galton a century ago.  Matarazzo (1992)
  • The past decade has witnessed an electrifying burst of interest in the most fundamental problem of the field– the search for a scientifically compelling taxonomy of personality traits. More importantly, the beginning of a consensus is emerging about the general framework of such a taxonomic representation.  Goldberg (1993)
  • Currently the most popular approach among psychologists for studying personality traits is the Five-Factor Model or Big Five dimensions of personality.    Scott Acton (2001)
  • There are a variety of different perspectives in the field of personality, including psychoanalytic and cognitive interpretations. However, the most commonly used and accepted is the Five-Factor descriptive model.    Piers Steel, Joseph Schmidt, and Jonas Shultz (2008)
  • The [Five-Factor] model is considered to be the most comprehensive empirical or data-driven enquiry into personality.    Wikipedia (2009)