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Introduction

The Big Five Inventory was developed by Oliver P. John, Ph.D. (Martinez and John).  The test consists of 44 brief personality descriptors to which the test-taker responds with degree of agreement or disagreement on a 5-point Likert scale.  The test has been normed on several hundred thousand adult Americans by Sam Gosling, Ph.D. and J. Potter at the University of Texas (Gosling). Differences between ethnic groups are generally insignificant.  Slight variations by age from scale to scale are present.

The TestMaster System

The Big Five Inventory has been placed in the public domain by Dr. John.  Therefore, the author McConochie developed a scoring system for the BFI.  McConochie’s version involves a few additional words to help clarify some items, as he found that some items involved vocabulary, e.g. “aloof”, item 27 that was unfamiliar to many adults.  Scoring instructions are provided as an addendum to this manual, for the convenience of researchers.  Gross norms are also provided.  For detailed norms, the researcher is referred to Gosling.

The present author has found the BFI to be quick to administer and score, as valid as or more valid than other brief measures of the Big Five traits and of value in clinical and job applicant assessments.

The report is a simple one-page description of the individual’s scores, with descriptions of the meaning of each level of score (low, average and high).  The “Neuroticism” dimension is inverted and termed Emotional Stability to keep all high scores “desirable”.

Norms: Norms used are the Gosling/Potter norms for adults.  For children the present author gathered data on 216 teenagers ranging in age from 12 to 17 (all the public school students in a small Oregon community).  Norms for males, females and different age groups are used as appropriate in scoring a given report.

Reliability Data

Reliability for the five traits of the BFI are is adequate.  For example, consider the data presented below on data for 166,579 Caucasian females.  Scores are mean item scores.

Trait                             Mean               Standard Deviation       K-R 21 Reliability

Extraversion                 3.13                 .89                               .90

Conscientiousness         3.44                 .75                               .85

Agreeableness              3.66                 .72                               .85

Neuroticism                  3.23                 .84                               .88

Openness                     3.92                 .66                               .84

Validity Data

A.  Criminal behavior.   The author (McConochie) has developed a separate test, the At Risk for Violence test (ARFV), which consists of 58 statements.  It measures several traits that underlie tendencies toward a wide variety of antisocial behavior in both teenagers and adults.  This includes undesirable adult worker behavior and endorsement of terrorism.  Studies of both teenagers and adults have consistently revealed significant correlations between the traits measured by this instrument and BFI scores.  Several such studies are published in the ARFV manual. Low Agreeableness in particular is associated with ARFV traits, including Feelings of career or academic failure, Rigid thinking, Impulsivity, Social rejection, Low guilt, Unresolved anger, Hostile pleasure, Homicide endorsement, being Closed to help and Not (willing to help) stop violence.  Low Conscientiousness is also associated with several of these traits, especially Impulsivity.  Emotional Stability is negatively related to many of these traits, especially Impulsivity and Unresolved anger in one study of middle and high school students.

Low agreeableness also correlates significantly with numbers of crimes committed by 80 adult male prison inmates, including general rule breaking (-.28), property crimes (burglary, etc.)(-.27), sex crimes (-.32), assaultive crimes (-.31) and destructive crimes (-.41).

B.  Work behavior.  The author has developed batteries of tests for screening job applicants.  Studies have revealed significant relationships between the BFI measures of the Big Five personality traits and the author’s measures of the same traits expressed in terms of preferred work behaviors.

In a study comparing the BFI, FFI (Five Factor Inventory) and the author’s Big Five Personality Tests (for screening job applicants), the BFI was slightly superior to the author’s tests and clearly superior to the FFI in its relationship to a wide range of important job duties and conditions measured in terms of comfort performing those duties.  Higher scores on these measures of the Big Five traits are associated with desirable scores on these measures, including how comfortable workers feel in general work situations (e.g. working under pressure, working at a fast pace, managing other workers) and even in some very specific work situations (e.g. working in a clean suit with hood, mask and gloves, working in rooms with no windows).

Personality measures of Big Five traits are positively related to business management aptitude measured in terms of decision judgments and preferred management activities.  As might be expected, data shows that skill and satisfaction in managing tend to be associated with higher scores on all of the Big Five traits.  Managers have to spend much time relating to other people (extroversion), be able to get along with other people (agreeableness), be hard workers (conscientious), be open to learning and changing to change with business climate change (openness) and not unduly prone to depression and anxiety under pressure (emotional stability).

Lewis R. Goldberg, Ph.D., of the Oregon Research Institute, has found many significant relationships between the dimensions of the AB5C, an extensive 485-item measure of Big Five traits and facets, and scores on the Campbell Interest and Skills Survey, which asks persons how much they like doing and how skillful they are at doing work in 36 major career areas. These are primarily positive correlations between personality facet scores and stated interest and skill in job activities.

The author has used his clinical version of the AB5C Inventory, Big Five/45, to assess applicants for State welfare benefits and found persons with the poorest work histories tend to have very low scores on the 50 dimensions measured by this inventory.  Personal friends and other adults who are very successfully employed consistently have average and high scores.

C.  Clinical syndromes and problems.  ADHD.  The author has developed a 58-item test measuring the symptoms of ADHD (the McADHD test) and a child version of the BFI for parents to fill out in describing their children (the McBSI test).  Studies by the author have demonstrated many significant relationships between these personality traits and ADHD symptoms.  Indeed, virtually all of the variance in ADHD symptoms reported by parents is explained by brief parental estimates of low I.Q. and three of  these personality traits (Emotional stability, Extroversion and Agreeableness).  Children with low intelligence, low emotional stability, high extroversion and low agreeableness are perceived by their parents as being “inattentive” and “hyperactive”.

In a psychotherapy application the author once found Big Five personality trait scores very helpful in counseling a depressed middle-aged male.  This man had a college degree and was working nights as a janitor in a public school.  One week he came to his counseling session in a noticeably happy mood.  He had worked days that week to fill in for a janitor on vacation.  The client explained that he was happy because he’d gotten to talk to children and teachers frequently while working.  Testing revealed a high score on Extroversion.  He was successfully advised to try hard to get a day job so he could be with people while working.  Understanding his personality, not his “psychopathology” was the key to successful clinical intervention.

The author has found the BFI helpful in making adult diagnostic evaluation decisions.  It can help clarify and confirm clinical impressions gained in interview.  For example a 39-year-old male who in interview reported symptoms of depression and habits of severe laziness. He was smiling and pleasant in interview.  On the BFI he had very low scores on Emotional Stability and Conscientiousness, a low score on Openness, average on Extroversion and a high score on Agreeableness.           

A middle-aged woman with a history of childhood abuse, adult panic attacks, agoraphobia, depression and low self-esteem was gentle and cooperative in interview but teared easily.  She tended to avoid housework chores.  On the BFI she had very low scores on Conscientiousness, Extroversion and Emotional Stability, an average score on Openness and a high score on Agreeableness.

The author has assessed Veterans applying in middle age for disability benefits after successful employment for many decades since serving in the Viet Nam war.  They were administered the author’s PTSD scale (McPTSD), the author’s disability scale (McDAR), and the BFI.  Some of these veterans did not have either high PTSD test scores or low disability scores but several very low scores on the BFI.  For such individuals, deficits in basic personality traits were central in explaining their work-related difficulties.

Summary

The BFI is a well-normed, reliable measure of the Big Five personality traits and can be used in to help clarify psychological traits relevant to clinical work and in simply understanding non-clinical adults.  It can be administered in the waiting room and completed in a few minutes.  Scoring by computer takes only a few minutes.

References

Benet-Martinez, V., & John, O.P. (1998).  Los Cinco Grandes across cultures and etihnic groups:  Multitrait multimethod analyses of the Big Five in Spanish and English.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 729-750.

Sam Gosling, University of Texas, Psychology Department, www.psy.utexas.edu.

 

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