A contrarian view of the five-factor approach to personality description

Psychol Bull. 1995 Mar;117(2):187-215. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.117.2.187.


The 5-factor approach (FFA) to personality description has been represented as a comprehensive and compelling rubric for assessment. In this article, various misgivings about the FFA are delineated. The algorithmic method of factor analysis may not provide dimensions that are incisive. The "discovery" of the five factors may be influenced by unrecognized constraints on the variable sets analyzed. Lexical analyses are based on questionable conceptual and methodological assumptions, and have achieved uncertain results. The questionnaire version of the FFA has not demonstrated the special merits and sufficiencies of the five factors settled upon. Serious uncertainties have arisen in regard to the claimed 5-factor structure and the substantive meanings of the factors. Some implications of these problems are drawn.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Humans
  • Personality Assessment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Personality Development
  • Personality Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Personality Disorders / psychology
  • Psychometrics
  • Reproducibility of Results