Metatraits of the Big Five and why there is no General Factor of Personality (GFP)
Colin G. DeYoung and Jordan B. Peterson have done some interesting work on the Big 5 personality inventory and found that the Big Five factors, that were originally thought to be independent of each other do tend to fall into two clusters, dubbed stability (alpha) and plasticity (beta).
This work is interesting for several reasons. First of all, the Big Five are by no means anthropological (human) universals and secondly, it may provide us with clues about human evolution, which is highly desirable as there is very little work on personality in Evolutionary Psychology.
When anthropologists conduct factor analysis among indigenous people, they often only find two clusters or factors: a prosocial one (majority women) and a provisioning one (majority men). From an evolutionary point of view, this makes a lot of sense as personality in this respect is directly involved in reproduction and represents two different reproductive strategies that are sexually and socially selected. However, what Colin G. DeYoung and others have found is something entirely different, as women tend to be higher in most personality factors (extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness and neuroticism), which would have yielded a different clustering.
What makes the most sense from the point of view of Evolutionary Psychology is to search for the origin of these two meta traits in sedentism (stability) and nomadism (plasticity), respectively. The Stability traits include all traits that early farmers required for survival: delayed gratification (high impulse control) and detail-orientedness (conscientiousness), higher conflict threshold and a generally cooperative and conformist attitude (agreeableness) Even a less disturbed sleep (higher need for relaxation, sheltered from nature) makes sense in this regard. Plasticity, on the other hand, includes the skills to survive as nomads (quick reactivity/impulsivity, risk-taking, novelty-seeking, as well as the ability to make friends with outgroup members (more fun-loving, parties, laughter, travel, dating).
So, what kind of people would have had a tendency towards stability or plasticity? Sedentism is associated with sedentary farmers as well as sedentary hunter-gatherers (who may be somewhat in-between) and nomadism is associated with pastoralism and nomadic hunter-gatherers.
The question then is, why is there a tendency in Western (or WEIRD — Jo Henrich) societies to have five factors? If we assume that each subsistence strategy requires different provisioning/caregiving traits, then we get the HEXACO inventory (C/A=farmersX/E=herders, O/H = hunter-gatherers). We can easily plot these six values onto Shlomo Schwartz’s map of values, which is also consistent with the above correlations for stability and plasticity:
A General Factor of Personality (GFP) would include traits selected in all three different subsistence environments. If we consider that many of these traits and values are conflicting then the GFP consists of a rather small core of prosocial and provisioning traits. E.g. humility may easily conflict with extraversion (display of visible success) and conformity may easily clash with hedonism and self-direction. It is therefore unlikely that a universal GFP only does exist, it only existed in the three respective modes of subsistence. Of course, modern societies also have their own values and norms, which can be seen as an evolutionary selector of traits. However, these norms are based on preexisting evolutionary tendencies.
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Originally published at http://the-big-ger-picture.blogspot.com on June 9, 2022.