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Contributions and Limitations of Cattell's Sixteen Personality Factor Model

Heather M. Fehriinger
Rochester Institute of Technology

Personality traits and scales used to measure traits are numerous and commonality amongst the traits and scales is often difficult to obtain. To curb the confusion, many personality psychologists have attempted to develop a common taxonomy. A notable attempt at developing a common taxonomy is Cattell's Sixteen Personality Factor Model based upon personality adjectives taken form the natural language. Although Cattell contributed much to the use of factor analysis in his pursuit of a common trait language his theory has not been successfully replicated.

Science has always strived to develop a methodology through which questions are answered using a common set of principles; psychology is no different. In an effort to understand differing personalities in humans, Raymond Bernard Cattell maintained the belief that a common taxonomy could be developed to explain such differences.

Cattell's scholarly training began at an early age when he was awarded admission to King's College at Cambridge University where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry in 1926 (Lamb, 1997). According to personal accounts, Cattell's socialist attitudes, paired with interests developed after attending a Cyril Burt lecture in the same year, turned his attention to the study of psychology, still regarded as a philosophy (Horn, 2001). Following the completion of his doctorate studies of psychology in 1929 Cattell lectured at the University at Exeter where, in 1930, he made his first contribution to the science of psychology with the Cattell Intelligence Tests (scales 1,2, and 3). During fellowship studies in 1932, he turned his attention to the measurement of personality focusing of the understanding of economic, social and moral problems and how objective psychological research on moral decision could aid such problems (Lamb, 1997). Cattell's most renowned contribution to the science of psychology also pertains to the study of personality. Cattell's 16 Personality Factor Model aims to construct a common taxonomy of traits using a lexical approach to narrow natural language to standard applicable personality adjectives. Though his theory has never been replicated, his contributions to factor analysis have been exceedingly valuable to the study of psychology.

Origins of the 16 Personality Factor Model

In developing a common taxonomy of traits for the 16 Personality Factor model, Cattell relied heavily on the previous work of scientists in the field. Previous development of a list of personality descriptors by Allport and Odbert in 1936, and Baumgarten's similar work in German in 1933, focused on a lexical approach to the dimensions of personality. Since psychology, like most other sciences, requires a descriptive model to be effective, the construction of a common taxonomy is necessary to successful in explaining personality simplistically (John, 1990). Already focused on the understanding of personality as it pertains to psychology, Cattell set out to narrow the work already completed by his predecessors. The goal of the research is to achieve integration as it relates to language and personality, that is, to identify the personality relevant adjectives in the language relating to specific traits.

The lexical approach to language is creates the foundation of a shared taxonomy of natural language of personality description (John, 1990). Historically, psychologists relied on such natural language to aid in the identification of personality attributes for such taxonomy. The first step in such a process was to narrow all adjectives within a language to those relating to personality descriptions, as it provided the researchers with a base guiding such a lexical approach. When working with a limited set of variables or adjectives within a language progressed from spoken word as it evolved throughout its progression. Since there are finite sets of adjectives in a language, the narrowing of the variables into base personality categories becomes necessary as multiple adjectives can express similar meanings within the language (John, 1999).

In the process of developing a taxonomy, a process that had taken predecessors sixty years up to this point, Allport and Odbert systematized thousands of personality attributes in 1936. They recognized four categories of adjectives in developing the taxonomy including personality traits, temporary states highly evaluative judgments of personally conduct and reputation, and physical characteristics. Personality traits are defined as "generalized and personalized determining tendencies--consistent and stable modes of an individuals adjustment to their environment" (John, 1999) as stated by Allport and Odbert in their research. Each adjective relative to personality falls within one of the previous categories to aid in the identification of major personality categories and creates a primitive taxonomy, which many psychologists and researchers would elaborate and build upon later. Norman (1967) divided the same limited set of adjectives into seven categories, which, like Allport and Odbert's categories, where all mutually exclusive (John, 1999). Despite this, work from both parties have been classified as containing ambiguous category boundaries, resulting in the general conviction that such boundaries should be abolished and the work has less significance than the earlier judgment.

Factor Analysis

Introduced and established by Pearson in 1901 and Spearman three years thereafter, factor analysis is a process by which large clusters and grouping of data are replaced and represented by factors in the equation. As variables are reduced to factors, relationships between the factors begin to define the relationships in the variables they represent (Goldberg & Digman, 1994). In the early stages of the process' development, there was little widespread use due largely in part to the immense amount of hand calculations required to determine accurate results, often spanning periods of several months. Later on a mathematical foundation would be developed aiding in the process and contributing to the later popularity of the methodology. In present day, the power of super computers makes the use of factor analysis a simplistic process compared to the 1900's when only the devoted researchers could use it to accurately attain results (Goldberg & Digman, 1994).

In performing a factor analysis, the single most import factor to consider is the selection of variables as considerations such as domain, where a single domain results in the highest accuracy, and other representative variables related to a single domain would provide a more accurate outcome (Goldberg & Digman, 1994). Exploratory factor analysis governs a single domain while confirmatory factor analysis, often less accurate and more difficult to calculate, governs several domains. In terms of variables, it is unlikely to see a factor analysis with fewer than 50 variables. In those situations, another statistical equation may be a better, easier consideration to process the information. A standard sample size for such a function would range between 500 to 1,000 participants (Goldberg & Digman, 1994).

Cattell, another champion of the factor analysis methodology, believed that there are three major sources of data when it comes to research concerning personality traits (Hall & Lindzey, 1978). L-Data, also referred to as the life record, could include actual records of a person's behavior in society such as court records. Cattell, however, gathered the majority of L-Data from ratings given by peers. Self -rating questionnaires, also known as Q-Data, gathered data by allowing participants to assess their own behaviors .The third source of Cattell's data the objective test, also known as T-Data, created a unique situation in which the subject is unaware of the personality trait being measured (Pervin & John, 2001).

With the intent of generality, Cattell's sample population was representative of several age groups including adolescents, adults and children as well as representing several countries including the U.S., Britain, Australia, New Zealand, France, Italy, Germany, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, India, and Japan (Hall & Lindzey, 1978).

Through factor analysis, Cattell identified what he referred to as surface and source traits. Surface traits represent clusters of correlated variables and source traits represent the underlying structure of the personality. Cattell considered source traits much more important in understanding personality than surface traits (Hall& Lindzey, 1978). The identified source traits became the primary basis for the 16 PF Model.

The 16 Personality Factor Model aims to measure personality based upon sixteen source traits. Table 1 summarizes the surface traits as descriptors in relation to source traits within a high and low range.

Critical Review

Although Cattell contributed much to personality research through the use of factor analysis his theory is greatly criticized. The most apparent criticism of Cattell's 16 Personality Factor Model is the fact that despite many attempts his theory has never been entirely replicated. In 1971, Howarth and Brown's factor analysis of the 16 Personality Factor Model found 10 factors that failed to relate to items present in the model. Howarth and Brown concluded, “that the 16 PF does not measure the factors which it purports to measure at a primary level (Eysenck & Eysenck, 1987) Studies conducted by Sell et al. (1970) and by Eysenck and Eysenck (1969) also failed to verify the 16 Personality Factor Model's primary level (Noller, Law, Comrey, 1987). Also, the reliability of Cattell's self-report data has also been questioned by researchers (Schuerger, Zarrella, & Hotz, 1989).

Cattell and colleagues responded to the critics by maintaining the stance that the reason the studies were not successful at replicating the primary structure of the 16 Personality Factor model was because the studies were not conducted according to Cattell's methodology. However, using Cattell's exact methodology, Kline and Barrett (1983), only were able to verify four of sixteen primary factors (Noller, Law & Comrey, 1987).

In response to Eysenck's criticism, Cattell, himself, published the results of his own factor analysis of the 16 Personality Factor Model, which also failed to verify the hypothesized primary factors (Eysenck, 1987).

Despite all the criticism of Cattell's hypothesis, his empirical findings lead the way for investigation and later discovery of the 'Big Five' dimensions of personality. Fiske (1949) and Tupes and Christal (1961) simplified Cattell's variables to five recurrent factors known as extraversion or surgency, agreeableness, consciousness, emotional stability and intellect or openness (Pervin & John, 1999).

Cattell's Sixteen Personality Factor Model has been greatly criticized by many researchers, mainly because of the inability of replication. More than likely, during Cattell's factor analysis errors in computation occurred resulting in skewed data, thus the inability to replicate. Since, computer programs for factor analysis did not exist during Cattell's time and calculations were done by hand it is not surprising that some errors occurred. However, through investigation into to the validity of Cattell's model researchers did discover the Big Five Factors, which have been monumental in understanding personality, as we know it today.

Table 1. Primary Factors and Descriptors in Cattell's 16 Personality Factor Model (Adapted From Conn & Rieke, 1994).

Descriptors of Low Range

Primary Factor

Descriptors of High Range

Reserve, impersonal, distant, cool, reserved, impersonal, detached, formal, aloof (Sizothymia) Warmth Warm, outgoing, attentive to others, kindly, easy going, participating, likes people (Affectothymia)
Concrete thinking, lower general mental capacity, less intelligent, unable to handle abstract problems (Lower Scholastic Mental Capacity) Reasoning Abstract-thinking, more intelligent, bright, higher general mental capacity, fast learner (Higher Scholastic Mental Capacity)
Reactive emotionally, changeable, affected by feelings, emotionally less stable, easily upset (Lower Ego Strength) Emotional Stability Emotionally stable, adaptive, mature, faces reality calm (Higher Ego Strength)
Deferential, cooperative, avoids conflict, submissive, humble, obedient, easily led, docile, accommodating (Submissiveness) Dominance Dominant, forceful, assertive, aggressive, competitive, stubborn, bossy (Dominance)
Serious, restrained, prudent, taciturn, introspective, silent (Desurgency) Liveliness Lively, animated, spontaneous, enthusiastic, happy go lucky, cheerful, expressive, impulsive (Surgency)
Expedient, nonconforming, disregards rules, self indulgent (Low Super Ego Strength) Rule-Consciousness Rule-conscious, dutiful, conscientious, conforming, moralistic, staid, rule bound (High Super Ego Strength)
Shy, threat-sensitive, timid, hesitant, intimidated (Threctia) Social Boldness Socially bold, venturesome, thick skinned, uninhibited (Parmia)
Utilitarian, objective, unsentimental, tough minded, self-reliant, no-nonsense, rough (Harria) Sensitivity Sensitive, aesthetic, sentimental, tender minded, intuitive, refined (Premsia)
Trusting, unsuspecting, accepting, unconditional, easy (Alaxia) Vigilance Vigilant, suspicious, skeptical, distrustful, oppositional (Protension)
Grounded, practical, prosaic, solution orientated, steady, conventional (Praxernia) Abstractedness Abstract, imaginative, absent minded, impractical, absorbed in ideas (Autia)
Forthright, genuine, artless, open, guileless, naive, unpretentious, involved (Artlessness) Privateness Private, discreet, nondisclosing, shrewd, polished, worldly, astute, diplomatic (Shrewdness)
Self-Assured, unworried, complacent, secure, free of guilt, confident, self satisfied (Untroubled) Apprehension Apprehensive, self doubting, worried, guilt prone, insecure, worrying, self blaming (Guilt Proneness)
Traditional, attached to familiar, conservative, respecting traditional ideas (Conservatism) Openness to Change Open to change, experimental, liberal, analytical, critical, free thinking, flexibility (Radicalism)
Group-oriented, affiliative, a joiner and follower dependent (Group Adherence) Self-Reliance Self-reliant, solitary, resourceful, individualistic, self sufficient (Self-Sufficiency)
Tolerated disorder, unexacting, flexible, undisciplined, lax, self-conflict, impulsive, careless of social rues, uncontrolled (Low Integration) Perfectionism Perfectionistic, organized, compulsive, self-disciplined, socially precise, exacting will power, control, self –sentimental (High Self-Concept Control)
Relaxed, placid, tranquil, torpid, patient, composed low drive (Low Ergic Tension) Tension Tense, high energy, impatient, driven, frustrated, over wrought, time driven. (High Ergic Tension)

Peer Commentary

Maybe We're Asking the Wrong Question

Jennifer A. Dructor
Rochester Institute of Technology

There is no doubt in my mind that Raymond Bernard Cattell was an intelligent man. Beginning his college days at age 16 in the field of chemistry and attaining a doctorate degree in psychology immediately thereafter along is an impressive accomplishment. Working with renowned psychologists like Charles Spearman, one of the originators of factor analysis, only adds to this credibility. Nevertheless, I have to question the methodology that contributed to the Sixteen Factor Model of Personality Cattell created.

It is no secret that despite multiple attempts to demonstrate the validity of the model, it has never actually been replicated. Even Cattell himself was not able to duplicate his findings, which in my opinion speaks volumes. He did not have the advanced technology to work with like computer software that virtually eliminates human error, which begs the question "How do we know if any of the conclusions were reasonable or valid at all?" Although a useful model known as the "Big Five factors" was developed through investigations into Cattell's theory, I do not feel satisfied with any of the conclusions drawn as to why this model is not conclusive.

People often forget that before becoming what we consider a science all fields of study came from philosophy. Is it even possible to come up with an accurate taxonomy of universally common traits? Are the methods of factor analysis and the lexical approach to this question even valid themselves? I think we often get ourselves into trouble when we try to draw conclusions about people using mathematical equations and scientific methods. Yes, it has been widely found that factor analysis has been able to find correlations between various items within psychology; but, I ask, in what situations does one analyze a person's behavior or personality by pulling out that calculator, pencil and paper? The connation I get whenever I read about someone trying to explain people using math is, "How does this make sense?" I think to have a truly deep understanding of a person's traits we must first turn to philosophy and answer the question, "Are there any universal traits, and what reasonable explanations can be provided to support the answer?"

Cognitive relativism states that there are no universal truths about the world and that there are no intrinsic characteristics, but only different ways of interpretation (Sterba, 2000). Every culture has its own views of the world, what is right and wrong, and how people should live their lives. Every culture has its own interpretation and holds different meanings for various things; so, how can anything be universally true? As Americans, being citizens of one of the most powerful nations of the world, we often feel that our beliefs and opinions hold true over most nations; but who is to say that our conclusions extend to any nation outside of our culture? To even come close, I think a team of individuals from every nation would have to analyze their own culture and put their findings together. Only then, I believe could these methods be relied on to draw accurate conclusions.

If one day we are able to decisively answer the previously mentioned questions, I think the lexical approach could be a useful tool. It is logical to think that the more words in existence to describe one meaning symbolizes how important it is to society. Yet this method does not include all parts of speech and cannot really accommodate traits that are ambiguous to most people. The lexical approach has been used to find popular meanings, and factor analysis has been used to determine traits that are correlated, but how does this determine the existence of the traits? The communication process human beings went to from primitive days until now was long and complicated. People might not have always been able to communicate all of their thoughts, feelings, or emotions clearly, and we cannot exactly go back in time to find the answers.

Although I understand the burning desire to classify traits in order to better understand people, I am not sure that questions about human nature can ever actually be explained. Although our hearts are in the right place, often I feel that our need to figure people out clouds our judgment. I too find myself yearning to better understand others and myself; but I am not yet convinced that any of our methods are valid in doing so. We need philosophy because of our natural tendency not to critically examine our beliefs and to accept accounts of the world given to us because some intelligent person like a psychologist says so or even because a book on the topic tells us so. How well did psychologist Raymond Cattell question his predecessors?

Peer Commentary

Is the Development of a Hierarchy of Personality From a Flawed Base Trustworthy?

Mallory R. Harvey
Rochester Institute of Technology

The five-factor model of personality is based on the fundamental principles and goals of Cattell's 16 Personality Factor Model. Cattell's approach to understanding the factors of personality was lexical. He acquired previous compilations of the most common adjectives describing personality and subdivided and excluded terms, ending up with 35 clusters of descriptors. A factor analysis of the 35 clusters resulted in the formation of a hierarchy, which consisted of 16 personality traits. Cattell's results were never duplicated, and his method of organization was discarded. Although his method of analysis was discorroborated, the currently popular five-factor model of personality was developed from Cattell's clusters of personality descriptions. Basing a method of analysis off of a flawed method without questioning the original breakdown of the lexical arrangement leaves doubts as to the comprehensiveness of the five-factor model.

Cattell's 35 clusters of personality traits were further limited by Fiske, who used a subset of only 22 clusters and ran a factor analysis. The results of Fiske's analysis provided a five-factor solution. Tupes and Christal completed further analysis, using larger samples. Their results also corroborated a five-factor hierarchal model of personality (Larsen & Buss, 2002). The most recent form of Cattell's 16 Personality Factor approach declares that the 16 personality traits are results of five major personality factors. This is quite similar to the five-factor approach in that the global properties of personality are restricted to five characteristics. Recent studies have shown both methods of analysis measure comparable personality factors quite reliably (Rossier, de Stadelhofen, & Berthound, 2004).

Recent criticisms of the five-factor model have looked at the possible exclusion of other universal personality factors. Evidence for a sixth factor is strong, and there is some evidence for a seven-factor model. A cross-cultural study completed by Aston et al. (2004) suggests that a factor containing the aspects of Honesty or Humility should be added to the current five-factor model to make it more comprehensive. Further evidence has suggested that a global property of personal attractiveness may be a feasible addition to the current model (Larsen & Buss, 2002). The numerous exclusions marked by recent research suggest that the foundations of the five-factor model should be reevaluated.

The five-factor model has also been criticized for being unable to concretely label the fifth factor. There has been much debate as to the validity of either Intelligence or Imitation as the fifth factor. Comparing different cultures has caused much of the dispute over the labeling of the fifth factor. Different cultures value different personality characteristics, and this contributes to the problem of defining the fifth factor (Larsen & Buss, 2002). The difference in values leads to the conclusion that, globally, there cannot be a consensus on a fifth trait and calls into question the possibility of a globally reliable hierarchy of personality.

Cattell paved the way for the development of the five-factor model of personality, but the process developed has not been entirely substantiated. Many aspects of personality appear to have been overlooked in the process of clumping together and discarding adjectives in the original lexical breakdown performed by Cattell. There has been a great influx of support for the addition of a sixth factor of personality. Much thought should be given to how statistical processes are performed and what in reality is being measured.

Author Response

Factor Analysis Questioned

Heather M. Fehringer
Rochester Institute of Technology

A question has been posed about the efficacy of using factor analysis as an approach to identifying individual traits. Trait theorists employ three main approaches in their research, the lexical approach, the statistical approach, and the theoretical approach. Most trait psychologists have employed one or more of the three main approaches. Cattell based his work on previous information gathered through the lexical approach of Allport and Odbert and the statistical approach, factor analysis. Simply put, factor analysis is a process by which large clusters and grouping of data are replaced and represented by factors. As variables are reduced to factors, relations between the factors begin to define the relations in the variables they represent (Goldberg & Digman, 1994).

I for one am not a mathematician and will not attempt to explain the methodology any further. I would refer anyone looking for a further in-depth explanation of the methodology of factor analysis to the chapter, "Revealing Structure in the Data: Principles of Exploratory Factor Analysis," by Goldberg and Digman (1994).


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