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The Development of Factorial Personality Tests


The task of identifying how many personality traits were needed to fully describe human personality was undertaken by, amongst others, Raymond B. Cattell and his associates. In 1946 Cattell published his seminal book ‘The Description and Measurement of Personality’. This book identified the three sources of data that could be used as a basis for constructing a comprehensive theory of personality. These data are: data obtainable from objective tests, observer’s ratings of behaviour and self-report questionnaire data. Cattell respectively termed these three sources of data: test, or T-data; life, or L-data and questionnaire or Q-data. T-data consist of behaviour that can be directly observed and measured in experimentally controlled conditions. These include such things as: measures of the latency of visual after effects; speed of reaction time; the startle response; EEG activity, etc. Q-data and L-data consist respectively of self-reports or others’ reports of typical observed behaviour. Cattell further proposed that the statistical procedure of factor analysis (should be used to analyse these three sources of data and identify the core set of personality traits (factors) that were needed to account for all the variability that was observed in these different sources of data.


In addition to outlining the methodology for developing an empirically based trait model of personality Cattell, in his 1946 book, ‘The Description and Measurement of Personality’, also presented an integrative review of the then extant research literature. On the basis of this literature review he attempted to map out the basic, or primary, personality factors that were needed to account for what he termed “the complete sphere of human personality”. Guided by this literature review, he then developed a number of self-report questionnaires (using his nomenclature, Q-data) to further explore the factor structure of human personality. (These self-report questionnaires eventually formed the basis of the Sixteen Personality Factor (16PF)* questionnaire which, while nowadays being somewhat dated in its original form, contiunes to be one of the most famous personality tests that has ever been developed.)


The personality traits that Cattell had initially identified from his literature review were then revised on the basis of further research, resulting in the 15 primary personality traits that are assessed by the 16PF (the sixteenth factor being intelligence, which Cattell considered to be a personality trait, rather than an ability factor). Subsequent research indicated that the 15 personality traits first identified by Cattell (that is to say, Cattell's 16 personality factors minus intelligence) could be accounted for by five broad second order factors (Tupes & Christal, 1961). This elegant second order (five factor) model of personality has recently been popularised by the work of Costa & McCrae (1987), with many of the personality tests that are routinely used for staff selection being based of this Five Factor Model (FFM).



* 16PF is a Trademark of IPAT



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