Separating method factors and higher order traits of the Big Five: a meta-analytic multitrait-multimethod approach

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2012 Feb;102(2):408-26. doi: 10.1037/a0025559. Epub 2011 Oct 3.


Though most personality researchers now recognize that ratings of the Big Five are not orthogonal, the field has been divided about whether these trait intercorrelations are substantive (i.e., driven by higher order factors) or artifactual (i.e., driven by correlated measurement error). We used a meta-analytic multitrait-multirater study to estimate trait correlations after common method variance was controlled. Our results indicated that common method variance substantially inflates trait correlations, and, once controlled, correlations among the Big Five became relatively modest. We then evaluated whether two different theories of higher order factors could account for the pattern of Big Five trait correlations. Our results did not support Rushton and colleagues' (Rushton & Irwing, 2008; Rushton et al., 2009) proposed general factor of personality, but Digman's (1997) α and β metatraits (relabeled by DeYoung, Peterson, and Higgins (2002) as Stability and Plasticity, respectively) produced viable fit. However, our models showed considerable overlap between Stability and Emotional Stability and between Plasticity and Extraversion, raising the question of whether these metatraits are redundant with their dominant Big Five traits. This pattern of findings was robust when we included only studies whose observers were intimately acquainted with targets. Our results underscore the importance of using a multirater approach to studying personality and the need to separate the causes and outcomes of higher order metatraits from those of the Big Five. We discussed the implications of these findings for the array of research fields in which personality is studied.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological
  • Observer Variation
  • Personality Assessment*
  • Personality*
  • Self-Assessment