Dimensions of personality pathology: an alternative to the five-factor model

Am J Psychiatry. 2004 Oct;161(10):1743-54. doi: 10.1176/ajp.161.10.1743.


Objective: Researchers have advocated replacing the DSM-IV classification of personality disorders with an alternative diagnostic system based on the five-factor model. This study evaluates the clinical comprehensiveness of the five-factor model and addresses the broader question of how many factors, and which factors, are necessary to understand personality pathology.

Method: A national sample of 530 psychiatrists and clinical psychologists used the Shedler-Westen Assessment Procedure (SWAP-200) to provide detailed psychological descriptions of patients with personality disorder diagnoses. The SWAP-200 is a 200-item instrument designed to capture the richness and complexity of clinical observations while also providing quantifiable data for research. We used factor analysis to identify dimensions of personality relevant to understanding personality pathology.

Results: The five-factor structure replicated in a content-restricted subset of 60 SWAP-200 items. However, factor analysis of the full SWAP-200 yielded a conceptually richer factor solution that did not resemble the five-factor model. The analysis identified 12 clinically relevant personality dimensions labeled psychological health, psychopathy, hostility, narcissism, emotional dysregulation, dysphoria, schizoid orientation, obsessionality, thought disorder, oedipal conflict (histrionic sexualization), dissociation, and sexual conflict.

Conclusions: The five-factor model represents a sound distillation of the personality constructs used by laypersons. However, it omits key clinical constructs and may not capture the complexity of personality syndromes seen in clinical practice. The SWAP-200 factors may provide a framework for studying personality pathology that is both empirically grounded and clinically relevant.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Personality Assessment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Personality Disorders / classification*
  • Personality Disorders / diagnosis
  • Personality Disorders / psychology
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychiatry
  • Psychology, Clinical
  • Psychometrics
  • Q-Sort / statistics & numerical data
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Terminology as Topic