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Are There More than Five Universal Traits?

Research documenting the robustness of the FFM of personality traits around the world has clearly made a major contribution to our understanding of personality organization and culture. Still, there are several lines of research that challenge whether five factors are enough. One of these challenges is that, because the FFM was essentially created in the United States by American researchers, it may be the case that its measurement is missing other important factors not intended to be measured in the first place.

Interpersonal Relatedness

One important line of research has been led by Fanny Cheung and colleagues (2001). They began their work with the idea that the FFM might be missing some important features of personality in Asia, and specifically China. Specifically, they thought that none of the FFM traits dealt well with issues of relationships, which are central in China (as well as many cultures around the world). Thus, they developed what they initially considered an indigenous scale designed to measure personality in China that included the following traits:

· • Harmony, which refers to one’s inner peace of mind, contentment, interpersonal harmony, avoidance of conflict, and maintenance of equilibrium;

· • Ren Qing (relationship orientation), which covers adherence to cultural norms of interaction based on reciprocity, exchange of social favors, and exchange of affection according to implicit rules;

· • Modernization, which is reflected by personality change in response to societal modernization and attitudes toward traditional Chinese beliefs;

· • Thrift vs. Extravagance, which highlights the traditional virtue of saving rather than wasting and carefulness in spending, in contrast to the willingness to spend money for hedonistic purposes;

· • Ah-Q Mentality (defensiveness), which is based on a character in a popular Chinese novel in which the defense mechanisms of the Chinese people, including self-protective rationalization, externationalization of blame, and belittling of others’ achievements, are satirized;

· • Face, which depicts the pattern of orientations in an international and hierarchical connection and social behaviors to enhance one’s face and to avoid losing one’s face (Cheung, Leung, Zhang, Sun, Gan, Song et al., 2001 ) (p. 408).


Collectively, Cheung and colleagues have named these dimensions “Interpersonal Relatedness.” Although they originally found support for the existence of this dimension in their studies of mainland and Hong Kong Chinese, they have also created an English version of their scale and documented the existence of the Interpersonal Relatedness dimension in samples from Singapore, Hawaii, the Midwestern United States, and with Chinese and European Americans (Cheung, Cheung, Leung, Ward, & Leong, 2003 ; Cheung et al., 2001 ; Lin & Church, 2004 ).

Filipino Personality Structure

Another major line of research that challenges whether the FFM is enough comes from studies on the personality structures of Filipinos headed by Church and colleagues. In early research, they identified as many traits as they could that existed in the Filipino language, and asked Filipino students to rate them, just as they would on any personality test. Early studies using the same statistical techniques that have been used to test the FFM were used and demonstrated that seven, not five, dimensions were necessary to describe the Filipino personality adequately (Church, Katigbak, & Reyes, 1998 ; Church, Reyes, Katigbak, & Grimm, 1997 ). The two additional traits were Tempermentalness and Self-Assurance. In fact, similar types of findings were found previously with Spanish-speaking samples in Europe as well (Benet-Martinez & Waller, 1995 , 1997 ).

In one of their later studies, Church and colleagues (Katigbak, Church, Guanzon-Lapena, Carlota, & del Pilar, 2002 ) used two Filipino indigenous personality scales encompassing a total of 463 trait adjectives, and a Filipino version of the NEO PI-R to measure the FFM, and asked 511 college students in the Philippines to complete these measures. Statistical analyses indicated that there was considerable overlap in the personality dimensions that emerged from the Filipino scales and the FFM measured by the NEO PI-R. Still, several indigenous factors emerged, including Pagkamadaldal (Social Curiosity), Pagkamapagsapalaran (Risk-Taking), and Religiosity. These latter traits were especially important in predicting behaviors such as smoking, drinking, gambling, praying, tolerance of homosexuality, and tolerance of premarital and extramarital relations, above and beyond what could be predicted by the FFM. CROSSCULTURAL STUDIES ON PERSONALITY DIMENSIONS .


In the mid-20th century, European psychologists suggested the existence of an “authoritarian personality,” and developed scales to measure it (Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, & Levinson, 1950 ). This dimension is related to the concept of dominance, and refers to the fact that people differ in their dependence on authority and hierarchical status differences among interactants. Hofstede, Bond, and Luk ( 1993 ) analyzed data from 1,300 individuals in Denmark and the Netherlands, and found six personality dimensions. Five of these were related to the FFM; the sixth, however, was not. The researchers labeled this “Authoritarianism.”

Actually, Dominance is a trait that emerges in studies of the personalities of animals. King and Figueredo ( 1997 ), for instance, presented 43 trait adjectives with representative items from the FFM to zoo trainers who work with chimpanzees in 12 zoos. The trainers were asked to describe the chimpanzees in terms of the adjectives provided. The results showed no differences between the zoos, and the interrater reliability among the raters was high. Factor analysis of the ratings produced six factors, five of which corresponded to the FFM; the sixth corresponded to dominance. The same findings have been reported in studies of orangutans and chimpanzees (Pederson, King, & Landau, 2005 ; Weiss, King, & Enns, 2002 ; Weiss, King, & Figueredo, 2000 ), and suggest that Dominance is an inherited trait among animals.


To date, attempts to find other universal traits do not contradict the FFM, but instead add to it. The unresolved question concerns exactly what other dimensions, if any, reliably exist across cultures. The findings reported above are indeed promising in terms of an answer to this question, but certainly much more research is necessary across a wider range of cultures to gauge its comparability with the FFM. Other indigenous approaches to studying traits have also been developed in countries such as India, Korea, Russia, and Greece (Allik et al., 2009 ; Cheung, Cheung, Wada, & Zhang, 2003 ; Saucier, Georgiades, Tsaousis, & Goldberg, 2005 ). These, and other approaches, will hopefully shed more light on this important topic in the future.

To be sure, we need to be clear about the difference between the FFM, which is a model of the universal personality traits, and FFT, which is a theory about the source of those traits. It is entirely possible that the FFM will be amended in the future to allow for the possibility of other traits, but for the theory underlying them to be the same. Or it could be that the FFM will turn out to be the most reliable but that the theory accounting for the source is entirely wrong. The number of traits that are universal and where they come from are two issues we need to keep separate in our minds. CROSSCULTURAL STUDIES ON PERSONALITY DIMENSIONS .

Internal versus External Locus of Control

Aside from cross-cultural research on traits, there has also been a considerable amount of cross-cultural research examining other dimensions of personality that do not fall cleanly within the trait perspective but are noteworthy in their own right. One of these concerns the personality concept of locus of control . This concept was developed by Rotter ( 1954 , 1966 ), who suggested that people differ in how much control they believe they have over their behavior and their relationship with their environment and with others. According to this schema, locus of control can be perceived as either internal or external to the individual. People with an internal locus of control see their behavior and relationships with others as dependent on their own behavior. Believing that your grades are mostly dependent on how much effort you put into study is an example of internal locus of control. People with an external locus of control see their behavior and relationships with the environment and others as contingent on forces outside themselves and beyond their control. If you believed your grades were mostly dependent on luck, the teacher’s benevolence, or the ease of the tests, you would be exemplifying an external locus of control.

Research examining locus of control has shown both similarities and differences across cultures. In general, European Americans have higher internal locus of control scores than East Asians, Swedes, Zambians, Zimbabweans, African Americans, Filipinos, and Brazilians (for example, Hamid, 1994 ; Lee and Dengerink, 1992 ; Munro, 1979 ; Dyal, 1984 ; Paguio, Robinson, Skeen, & Deal, 1987 ). These findings have often been interpreted as reflecting the mainstream American culture’s focus on individuality, separateness, and uniqueness, in contrast to a more balanced view of interdependence among individuals and between individuals and natural and supernatural forces found in many other cultures. People of non-mainstream American cultures may be more likely to see the causes of events and behaviors in sources that are external to themselves, such as fate, luck, supernatural forces, or relationships with others. Americans, however, prefer to take more personal responsibility for events and situations, and view themselves as having more personal control over such events.

Although such interpretations are interesting and provocative, they still leave some gaps to be filled. For example, they do not account for phenomena such as self-serving bias or defensive attributions, in which Americans tend to place the responsibility for negative events on others, not themselves (see Chapter 13 on self-enhancement). Also, some researchers have suggested that locus of control is really a multifaceted construct spanning many different domains—academic achievement, work, interpersonal relationships, and so on—and that separate assessments of each of these domains are necessary to make meaningful comparisons on this construct. Smith, Dugan, and Trompenaars ( 1997 ) examined locus of control across 14 countries, and found some cross-national differences in locus of control, but larger differences by gender and status across countries. Thus, the search for cross-cultural differences may obscure larger differences based on other social constructs. Future research needs to address all these concerns to further elucidate the nature of cultural influences on locus of control. CROSSCULTURAL STUDIES ON PERSONALITY DIMENSIONS .

Direct, Indirect, Proxy, and Collective Control

Yamaguchi ( 2001 ) has offered another interesting way of understanding control across cultures. He distinguishes between direct, indirect, proxy, and collective control. In direct control , the self acts as an agent, and individuals feel themselves to be more self-efficacious when their agency is made explicit, leading to greater feelings of autonomy and efficacy. Direct control may be the preferred mode of behavior in cultural contexts that promote independence or autonomy, such as in the United States.

Other cultural contexts, however, may encourage other modes of control, primarily because of their focus on interpersonal harmony. For instance, in indirect control , one’s agency is hidden or downplayed; people pretend as if they are not acting as an agent even though in reality they are doing so. Yamaguchi ( 2001 ) tells of an example in which a rakugo (comic master) was annoyed at his disciple’s loud singing. Instead of directly telling him to stop, he instead praised him with a loud voice. Although at first it sounded as if the comic master was praising the disciple, in reality he was telling him to be quiet; thus, the disciple stopped singing.

Proxy control refers to control by someone else for the benefit of oneself. This is a form of control that can be used when personal control—either direct or indirect—is not available or inappropriate. These are third-party interventions, when intermediaries are called in to regulate or intervene in interpersonal relationships or conflicts between parties with potential or actual conflicts of interest. This type of control is essential for survival for those in weaker positions and thus unable to change their environments by themselves. CROSSCULTURAL STUDIES ON PERSONALITY DIMENSIONS .




Finally, in collective control , one attempts to control the environment as a member of a group, and the group serves as the agent of control. In this situation, individuals need to worry about interpersonal harmony less because the group shares the goal of control.

Yamaguchi ( 2001 ) suggests that direct, personal control may be the strategy of choice in cultures that value autonomy and independence, such as the United States. In cultures that value the maintenance of interpersonal harmony, however, indirect, proxy, and collective control strategies may be more prevalent ( Figure 10.3 ).

Figure 10.3 The Relationships Between Cultural Values and Preferred Control Strategies

Source: Yamaguchi, S. ( 2001 ). Culture and control orientations. In D. Matsumoto (Ed.), The handbook of culture and psychology (pp. 223-243). New York: Oxford University Press. ( www.oup.com ) By permission of Oxford University Press.


Deci and Ryan (Deci & Ryan, 1985 ; Ryan & Deci, 2000 ) have posited a self-determination theory,which states that people from all cultures share basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness, but that the specific ways in which these needs are met and expressed differ according to context and culture. Meeting these needs, in whatever form or by whatever means, should be related to greater well-being of people in all cultures.

Of these claims, perhaps the most controversial is the one concerning autonomy. Conceptualizations of cultures that focus on individualism versus collectivism, and particularly those rooted in Markus and Kitayama’s ( 1991b ) framework of independent versus interdependent self-construals ( Chapter 13 ), suggests that people of collectivistic cultures are not autonomous. Deci and Ryan suggest, however, that there is a large distinction among autonomy, individualism, independence, and separateness. According to self-determination theory, people are autonomous when their behavior is experienced as willingly enacted and when they fully endorse the actions in which they are engaged or the values expressed by them (Chirkov, Ryan, Kim, & Kaplan, 2003 ). Thus, people are autonomous whenever they act in accord with their interests, values, or desires. The opposite of autonomy in this perspective is not dependence, but heteronomy, in which one’s actions are perceived as controlled by someone else or are otherwise alien to oneself. Thus, one can be either autonomously independent or dependent; they are separate constructs. CROSSCULTURAL STUDIES ON PERSONALITY DIMENSIONS.

These ideas have received support in several studies involving participants from South Korea, Turkey, Russia, Canada, Brazil, and the United States (Chirkov et al., 2003 ; Chirkov, Ryan, & Willness, 2005 ). In all cultures tested to date, their studies have shown that individuals tend to internalize different cultural practices, whatever those practices may be, and that despite those different practices, the relative autonomy of an individual’s motivations to engage in those practices predicts well-being. Autonomy, therefore, appears to be a universal psychological need and phenomenon, although the way in which it is practiced and expressed is different in different cultures (Kagitcibasi, 1996 ). This idea is bolstered by findings demonstrating the universality of self-efficacy—an optimistic sense of personal competence—a construct related to autonomy (Scholz, Hutierrez Dona, Sud, & Schwarzer, 2002 ).


As stated earlier in the chapter, indigenous personalities are conceptualizations of personality developed in a particular culture that are specific and relevant only to that culture. In general, not only are the concepts of personality rooted in and derived from the particular cultural group under question, but the methods used to test and examine those concepts are also particular to that culture. Thus, in contrast to much of the research described so far on universal traits, in which standardized personality measures are used to assess personality dimensions, studies of indigenous personalities often use their own nonstandardized methods.

Indigenous conceptions of personality are important because they give us a glimpse of how each culture believes it is important to carve up their psychological world. By identifying indigenous concepts, each culture pays tribute to a specific way of understanding their world, which is an important part of each cultural worldview. By giving these concepts names, each culture is then allowed to talk about them, thereby ensuring each indigenous concept’s special place in their culture. CROSSCULTURAL STUDIES ON PERSONALITY DIMENSIONS.

Over the years, many scientists have been interested in indigenous conceptions of personality, and have described many different personality constructs considered to exist only in specific cultures. Early work in this area produced findings of many other personality constructs thought to be culture-specific, including the personality of Arabs (Beit-Hallahmi, 1972 ), North Alaskan Eskimos (Hippler, 1974 ), the Japanese (Sakamoto & Miura, 1976 ), the Fulam of Nigeria (Lott & Hart, 1977 ), the Irulas of Palamalai (Narayanan & Ganesan, 1978 ), Samoans (Holmes, Tallman, & Jantz, 1978 ), South African Indians (Heaven & Rajab, 1983 ), and the Ibo of Nigeria (Akin-Ogundeji, 1988 ). Berry, Poortinga, Segall, and Dasen ( 1992 ) examined three indigenous personality concepts, each of which was fundamentally different from American or Western concepts. The African model of personality, for example, views personality as consisting of three layers, each representing a different aspect of the person. The first layer, found at the core of the person and personality, embodies a spiritual principle; the second layer involves a psychological vitality principle; the third layer involves a physiological vitality principle. The body forms the outer framework that houses all these layers of the person. In addition, family lineage and community affect different core aspects of the African personality (Sow, 1977, 1978, cited in Berry et al., 1992 ; see also Vontress, 1991 ).

Doi ( 1973 ) has postulated amae as a core concept of the Japanese personality. The root of this word means “sweet,” and loosely translated, amae refers to the passive, childlike dependence of one person on another, and is rooted in mother-child relationships. According to Doi, all Japanese relationships can be characterized by amae, which serves as a fundamental building block of Japanese culture and personality. This fundamental interrelationship between higher- and lower-status people in Japan serves as a major component not only of individual psychology but of interpersonal relationships, and it does so in ways that are difficult to grasp from a North American individualistic point of view.

Along with different conceptualizations of personality, different cultures have different, specific, important concepts that are important to understanding individuals in their culture. These include the Korean concept of cheong (human affection; Choi, Kim, & Choi, 1993 ); the Indian concept ofhishkama karma (detachment; Sinha, 1993 ); the Chinese concept ren qing (relationship orientation; Cheung, Leung, Fan, Song, Zhang, & Zhang, 1996 ); the Mexican concept simpatia (harmony, avoidance of conflict; Triandis, Marin, Lisansky, & Betancourt, 1984 ; Holloway, Waldrip, & Ickes, 2009 ); and the Filipino concepts of pagkikipagkapwa (shared identity), pakikiramdam (sensitivity, empathy), and pakikisama (going along with others; Ennquez, 1992) (all cited in Church, 2000 , p. 654).

Much of the work on indigenous personality has provided fuel for those who subscribe to the view that culture and personality are mutually constituted. In this view, it makes no sense to consider personality as a universal construct (like traits); instead, it makes more sense to understand each culture’s personalities as they exist and have developed within that culture. This viewpoint rejects the notion of a universal organization to personality that may have genetic, biological, and evolutionary components. Its proponents (Markus & Kitayama, 1998 ; Shweder & Bourne, 1984 ) argue that the research supporting universality and its possible biological substrates may be contaminated by the methods used. These methods, the argument goes, have been developed in American or European research laboratories by American or European researchers; because of this cultural bias, the findings support the FFM as a default by-product of the methods used to test it. Indigenous approaches, it is claimed, are immune from such bias because their methods are centered around concepts and practices that are local to the culture being studied (see, however, the replication of the FFM using nontraditional methods of assessing taxonomies of trait adjectives in multiple languages; De Raad, Perugini, Hrebickova, & Szarota, 1998 ).


We believe there is a middle ground that integrates both universal and culturespecific understandings and empirical findings on personality. This middle ground starts with our understanding of personality as a multidimensional construct. If, as we have done at the beginning of this chapter, we broadly conceptualize two different aspects of personality, one involving traits and the other involving identities, then we can easily consider that they come from different sources and are influenced differently by biology and culture. On one hand, it appears that traits are more enduring aspects of a person’s personality, referring to underlying dispositions for thoughts, feelings, and actions. These appear to be at least somewhat rooted in biology and genetics; thus individuals are born with a set of genetic predispositions for certain aspects of their personalities. Because these are biologically-based genetic predispositions, they are relatively less impervious to cultural and environmental influences (although the exact degree of potential influence is an interesting question if one considers the possible influence of culture on biological processes across evolution).

On the other hand, identities, which is a loose term that refers to perceived roles in life, aggregate role and life experiences, narratives, values, motives, and the conceptualization and understanding of oneself, should be less influenced by biology and more influenced by culture because these are in large part cultural constructions of the meaning and value of one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. As such, they are more likely to be “mutually constituted” in development, arising out of an interaction between the individual and the environment. During these interactions, culturally-determined meanings of right and wrong, good and bad, appropriate and inappropriate help to guide the construction of meaning, and thus the creation of identities, roles, and motives. It is no wonder, therefore, that this aspect of personality is less influenced by biology and more heavily influenced by culture. CROSSCULTURAL STUDIES ON PERSONALITY DIMENSIONS.

This integrative perspective allows us to move beyond questioning whether personality is universal or culture-specific, as if they are mutually exclusive, dichotomous categories. A better and more fruitful approach might be to consider how some aspects are influenced relatively more by biology and how some other aspects are influenced relatively more by culture. It is entirely possible that some aspects of personality (e.g., traits) may be organized in a universal fashion, either because of biological or genetic factors or because of culture-constant learning and responses to the environment. The fact that some aspects of personality may be organized universally, however, does not necessarily argue against the possibility that other aspects of personality may be culturally unique. It may be these culturally unique aspects that give personality its own special flavor in each specific cultural milieu, and allow researchers the possibility of studying aspects of personality that they might not observe in other cultures. This is, in fact, the major premise underlying Five-Factor Theory that we discussed earlier. Thus, a more beneficial way of understanding the relationship between culture and personality may be to see indigenous and universal aspects of personality as two sides of the same coin, rather than as mutually exclusive. If we come to understand the relationship between culture and personality (and biology, for that matter) in ways that allow for the coexistence of universality and indigenization, then we can tackle the problem of exactly how to conceptualize and study this coexistence.

In terms of research findings, evidence for indigenous conceptions of personality are not necessarily antithetical to the existence of universal personality traits such as the FFM described earlier in this chapter. Both the FFM and indigenous personality concepts are theoretical constructs—they are inferences scientists make about the psychological underpinnings of a person’s personality. As we suggest, here the existence of one way of viewing personality does not necessarily argue against the existence of another. The two may exist simultaneously. Trait approaches such as the FFM refer more to the universal aspects of personality that are true of all people regardless of culture (underlying dispositional traits and action tendencies), while indigenous aspects of personality refer to those aspects of personality that are culture-specific, especially concerning their understandings and conceptualizations of personality. Both may be accurate.

Recent research that directly examines competing hypotheses from a universal trait perspective as opposed to a cultural, indigenous perspective of personality also sheds light on how both types of personalities exist and are differentially influenced by biology and culture. The universal trait view of personality suggests that traits exist in all cultures, and influence behavior in multiple contexts, because traits are inherent to people regardless of context. The indigenous view of personality, however, suggests that traits would not be endorsed or even existing in all cultures, and that even if they did, they would not influence behaviors across different contexts. Two studies, however, have shown that traits are endorsed even implicitly across cultures, and cross-context consistency in traits exist across cultures, and this consistency is related to adjustment similarly across cultures, demonstrating support for the universal trait view of personality (Church et al., 2008 ; Church et al., 2006 ). At the same time, cultural differences in self-perceptions of traitedness existed, which supported indigenous, culture-specific perspectives. It makes sense that self-perceptions were more culturally variable, because these are more influenced by cultural meaning and construction. Perceptions of traits are different than the actual traits themselves. CROSSCULTURAL STUDIES ON PERSONALITY DIMENSIONS.

The integrative perspective we suggest here proposes two separate but not mutually exclusive possibilities about the sources of personality: (1) the existence of biologically innate and evolutionarily adaptive factors that create genetic predispositions to certain types of personality traits and (2) the possibility of cultureconstant learning principles and processes (MacDonald, 1998 ; McCrae, 2000 ). Dispositional traits that humans bring with them into the world may be modified and adapted throughout development and the life span via interactions with the environment. Over time, dipping into this resource pool in order to adapt to various situational contexts may serve as the impetus for changes to the pool itself, which may account for changes in consistency and mean levels of the dispositional traits observed in previous studies (Roberts & DelVecchio, 2000 ; Roberts, Walton, & Viechtbauer, 2006 ).


In this chapter, we have discussed the major approaches to understanding and studying the relationship between culture and personality, and have examined many different types of studies on this topic. We began by defining personality and briefly describing major approaches to the topic. We described research on the FFM, which suggests that there is universality in personality organization around a small set of basic personality traits. Additional studies in this genre have suggested that there may be a sixth or even seventh personality trait that is universal; future research is necessary to test this idea more fully. We also discussed the FFT, a theory about where the universal personality traits come from. FFT suggests that the underlying traits reflect biologically based, inherited dispositions for behavior. But, how these traits are expressed may be culturally variable, as each person develops characteristic adaptations to address each of the traits.

In addition, we discussed interesting new cross-cultural research on control and autonomy. These studies are important because they inform us about personality organization from a different perspective. The evidence to date suggests that autonomy is