New study throws into doubt the universality of the ‘Big Five’
Few psychology theories have as much support as the “Big
Five” personality traits — the finding that people’s personalities
can be described by variations across five basic dimensions:
openness to new experience, conscientiousness, extroversion/
introversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. But new research
with a small South American tribe has thrown the universality
of the five factor model into question.
According to a study published Dec. 17 in the Journal
of Personality and Social Psychology, a team of researchers
administered a translated version of a Big Five personality
inventory to 632 Tsimane, members of a small tribe of hunter-gatherers in the Bolivian lowlands. The researchers asked
them to rate on a 1-to- 5 scale how much words like “aloof,”
“reserved” and “energetic” described their personalities.
When researchers analyzed the results, they found that
the traits did not cluster into the usual Big Five groups. For
instance, a person who rated himself as “reserved” also tended
to say he was “talkative” — suggesting that the overarching
concept of extraversion doesn’t hold up in this culture, says
lead author Michael Gurven, PhD, an anthropology professor
at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In fact, only two
clusters of correlated responses emerged from a factor analysis
of the 40-item test: industriousness and a tendency to be
A tribe of hunter-gatherers in the Bolivian lowlands show evidence of just two personality factors, rather than the usual five.