Association between Big Five Inventory (BFI-2) Traits and Competence

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Statistical investigation of the association between Big Five Inventory (BFI-2) traits and competence.

Abstract:

One of the most reliable scales for measuring personality characteristic is the Big Five Inventory. BFI-2 consists of five main features of open-mindedness, consciousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. I aimed to comprehend the association and direction between three of these psychological traits with competence- as a sub-factor of Balanced Measure of Psychological Needs (BMPN). In line with the reviewed literature, I hypothesised that Neuroticism is negatively correlated with competence. My second and third hypotheses were related to the postulation of a positive association between Open-mindedness and Extraversion with competence, respectively. Results specified a near-moderate negative correlation between Neuroticism and competence. Additionally a weak positive correlation was reported between competence and each of the Open-mindedness and Extraversion factors. This was partially in contrast with some previous findings of a stronger association between these traits and competence. However, the direction of the associations corroborated and confirmed the expected outcome outlined in all three hypotheses. BFI-2 is a revolutionised universal scale of its previous conceptual schemes, albeit with some shortcomings. Therefore, further research on alternative frameworks is required to develop a more comprehensive approach to the scale in order to measure the main psychological traits in a more rigorous manner.

While personality psychology in the past, has been robustly structured to define human individuality, the unique patterned experience of actual individual lives is thought to be too complex to digest compared to previous theories of personality such as those of Carl Rogers (Psychotherapy and Personality Change, 1954), Hans Eysenck (Dimensions of Personality, 1967) and Erik Erikson (Dimensions of a New Identity 1964). It is believed that personality psychology should go beyond the current defined measurement scales. It therefore necessitates the implementation of an accurate scale to elucidate the complex species-typical characteristic traits of human nature as a whole (Ellis et al., 2009).

The Big 5 factor model is undoubtedly one of the most valuable platforms for understanding human nature. The Big 5 factor model is alternatively known as the Big Five Inventory (BFI-2). BFI-2 consists of five most stable characteristics in human nature including openness to experience (Open-mindedness), consciousness, extraversion (vs introversion), agreeableness, and negative emotionality composite (neuroticism), using the acronym OCEAN. (Briggs & Cheek, 1986).

Openness varies from the ability to engage in highly intellectual conversations to welcoming new opportunities in life. Consciousness is based on being industrious, productive and orderly.  Extraversion trait manifests early in human life; and is related to being energised by the power of social interactions (i.e., valuing to be with people). Agreeableness is when agreeable personalities stand high in passion and politeness traits, and mostly value intimate relationships by prioritising them (Hayes & Joseph, 2003).Neuroticism is interpreted as negative emotionality and obtaining an understanding that life is full of threats. According to the recent findings, highly neurotic individuals will expect to encounter considerable difficulty in a wide range of activities in the society as their being neurotic affects their performance in an adverse way (Pytlik Zillig et al., 2002).

Deci and Ryan developed the Self-Determination Theory (SDT) in 1985. SDT is a unitary concept that deals with the differences in the type and amount of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Three most pivotal basic needs in line with SDT are thought to be relatedness, autonomy, and competence (Deci & Ryan, 2008).

Relatedness is feeling connected to other individuals or groups and is strongly associated with altruism, a mutual sense of care and concern for each other as fellow human beings. Autonomy refers to self-initiated behaviours. When people are fully autonomous they are wholeheartedly immersed in carrying out the task which they are required to do (Van den Broeck et al., 2011). Therefore autonomy is thought to be associated with effective conduct and competency. Overall, three fundamental psychological needs embedded in SDT defines the fact that human being (as social and self-possessed units) must satisfy in order to achieve optimal wellbeing and to master great performance in their everyday lives. Competence is one of the most studied subjects in social psychology (Niemiec & Ryan, 2009), and is essential to success. It is mostly related to possessing a sense of mastery over things that matters for each individual, and feeling effective in the environment (Van den Broeck et al., 2011).

The aim of this report is to clarify the association between three main traits embedded in the Big Five Model with competence.  This will result in the creation of three different hypotheses by matching three BFI-2 traits with one of the most controversial fundamental needs specified in the SDT- competence. Accordingly, I have postulated three hypotheses (H1-3):

H1: Literature reveals that there is a negative relationship between neuroticism and competence. Test takers scoring higher in neuroticism will show lower levels of competence (i.e., high neuroticism is associated with reverse competency and vice versa) (Heisel et al., 2010).

H2: There is a positive relationship between openness to experience and competence (Hazrati-Viaria et al., 2012).

H3: There is a positive relationship between extroversion and competence. The more extroverted the test takers, the more competent they will be in their everyday life in accordance with the test results (Hazrati-Viaria et al., 2012).

Method

Participants 

The 721 participants were enrolled at The University of Melbourne and completed the survey as a non-profit laboratory activity in 2017 (180 males, 537 females and 3 reported other genders and 1 none). Students aged between 16 and 60 (M = 21.44; SD = 5.22).

Materials:

The BFI 2 was used as a self-report inventory of 5-point ratings based on the Likert-type scale of 0 “(strongly agree)” to 5 “(strongly disagree)”. It consists of only 60 brief items with relatively plain language (e.g., Neuroticism: Q19. Can be tense, Open-mindedness: Q35. Values art and beauty), and Extraversion: Q6. has an assertive personality). BMPN used the same Likert scale, albeit with 18 items in three subscales (e.g., competence composite: Q9. I took on and mastered hard challenges). Items with a negative weight were reverse-scored to balance the test.

The statistical analyses should be able to test the internal reliability of the scale(s) introduced in our chosen BMPN and BFI-2 constructs. For this purpose, Cronbach alpha was measured. The neuroticism subscale consisted of 12 items (α = .91), the open-mindedness subscale consisted of 12 items (α = .84), and extraversion subscale consisted of 11 items (α = .86). Cronbach’s alphas for the 6 items in the competence composite was α =.67.

Procedure:

In total 78 questions were asked through an online platform (18 from the BMPN and 60 from the BFI-2) from the student participants in the class. In–advance approval was sought from the university ethics committee prior online distribution of the surveys. Sufficient time was dedicated to each participant to answer the questionnaire. The tutors handed over the scores of each participant to the main storage of collected data.  Pearson Product Moment Correlation was conducted to answer the relevant research questions raised in relation to the direction and strength of association between different continuous variables defined in each hypothesis. Effect Size was measured to report the size of the effect relative to the variability in this cohort.

Results 

Descriptive statistics (Mean and SD) were produced for each variable. A two-tailed Pearson’s correlation analysis was computed to assess the statistical relationship between Neuroticism and competence (H1), Openness to experience and competence (H2), and Extroversion and competence (H3).

A near moderate negative linear correlation was found between Neuroticism and competence, r(719) = -.45, p = .00. A week positive linear association was found between Openness and competence, r(719)=.26, p = .00. Also, a week positive linear association was found between Extroversion and competence, r(719) = .34, p = .00.

Effect size was reported with relation to each achieved correlation coefficient for each group of variables. It is near large for the first group (r=.45), and near medium for the second and third group (r =.26 and r = .34), respectively.

Table 1: Descriptive Statistics for Variables Competence, Negative Emotionality, Open-mindedness, and Extraversion, (N = 721)

Variable Mean Standard Deviation
Competence (BMPN) 3.11 .63
Negative Emotionality (BFI-2) 3.15 .84
Open-mindedness (BFI-2) 3.82 .64
Extraversion (BFI-2) 3.22 .71

Discussion

Neuroticism and competence were near moderately correlated in a negative manner.  This is partially concordant with the previous studies. Therefore, our interpreted data supports our first hypothesis. However, there has been studies that neuroticism is strongly negatively correlated with competence (Chamorro-Premuzic & Furhnam, 2006). These findings are not surprising given the fact that negative emotionality can affect the success and wellbeing rate in an adverse manner through the expression of unpleasant feelings and depression within one’s individual life. High level of neuroticism and negative emotionality leads to less emotional stability (Hills & Argyle, 2001). Consequently, people with higher levels of emotional stability were less likely to report incompetency and vice versa.

Openness to experience was positively (although weakly) correlated with competence. Therefore, respondents with higher levels of openness to experience were slightly more likely to report higher levels of competence compared to the conservative individuals. This was partially in line with the reviewed literature, and supported our second hypothesis (LePine et al., 2000). This means that there must be other factors at play to affect the level of competency; and high levels of open-mindedness are not necessarily related to competence in a strong positive manner.

In the third tested hypothesis, extroversion was weakly (however positively) correlated with competence; meaning that personalities with high levels of extroversion were slightly more likely to report higher levels of competence. This is similar to the achieved outcome from hypothesis two. The reason can be possibly because openness and extraversion greatly overlap with each other either in the BFI-2 scale – that is , the similarity in the concept of some questions (Q16R with Q50; Q30 with Q41, 40 and 46 with 25R, etc.), or in real life by sharing same willingness to new challenges, interactions and opportunities in both personalities (Soto & John, 2017).

Furthermore, some research studies support the outcome of hypothesis three (Akomolafe, 2013). However, this outcome is surprising given the fact that being extroverted and highly sociable can have inimical impacts on the overall rate of competency (academic performance, winning games etc). High rate of social and environmental interaction can lead to traumatising effects and developing PTSD by interacting with psychopaths and malignant personalities through one’s lifespan. This resultantly affects the competency in an adverse manner by decreasing one’s confidence rate and concentration capacity. In contrast, some findings report that there is a reverse linear association between PTSD and extroversion (Jakšić et al., 2012). It has been even suggested to implement psychological technics for the purpose of initiating more extroversion-related activities in order to heal from the past traumatising effects (Xuji et al., 2015). Therefore, our understanding of the interpreted results is partially consistent with the existing literature and partially in contrast with the rest. In brief, this research is an indicative that being gregariousness and excitement-seeking does not contradict great performance (either academic or non-academic) and feeling competency.

This study been done in a cohort made of the University of Melbourne students only. Therefore, the results may not be generalizable to a heterogeneous adult population outside of this forum.

In addition, there wasn’t any specific period of time or context to apply to the participants’ ratings (e.g., instructions to rate the experience in the past week compared to today). Different people might be experiencing severe traumatising or pleasant moments in that specific day of survey completion. This might produce some further response bias as the test is not taken in a continuous time-dependant manner.

The Cronbach alpha’s results showed the highest reliability (excellent) to be reported for the Neuroticism trait in the BFI-2 scale. The lowest internal consistency among three researched BFI-2 traits were for Open-mindedness and Extraversion, respectively (However, both still fit within the good range), and was questionable for competence in BMPN scale. The latter affects the reliability and consequent outcome of the study. Moreover, this study is a cross-sectional research and self-report measure was partly used. These are additional shortcomings. Therefore, further researchers could initiate conducting longitudinal studies to establish clearer cause-effect relationships.

An unequal number of females to males could be an indicator that hormonal mediation may influence the outcome, and might result in further bias. More gender-focussed studies should be conducted. The role of different level of gene expression and epi-genetic factors should also be considered.  Another factor affecting the response bias is acquiescence bias and fatigue in the middle of answering the questions. It can consequently result in careless answering of random questions in the same manner (e.g., pressing strongly disagrees several times for many different questions in each composite (Hinz et al., 2007)

The Big 5 is the manifestation of comprehensive representation of personality as long as the linguistic knowledge permits it (e.g., there might be elements of personality that can’t be described in words). Therefore, this hinders the BFI-2 capacity (Gurven et al., 2012).

The BFI-2 and BMPN have both evolved in their most efficient version in the hierarchy of the personality measurement models. Despite the fact that BFI-2 still stands high in the hierarchical representations for measuring objective personality traits, HEXACO (six factor model) has also attracted many attention as an alternative taxonomic personality representation (Lee & Ashton, 2004). Although, Hexaco is thought to be reliable, Saucier, Hampson, Goldberg, and Hampson (2000) believed that models with fewer factors have more tendency to be cross-culturally replicable than the ones with six and seven factors.  In another word, Hexaco is not perfectly universal (Anglim & O’Connor, 2018).

Further age-gender focussed studies with the most revised version of the BFI-2 and BMPN scales are required to shed light on the accurate correlation level of each variable with each other. Also, their associated reasons as to what strength and why these traits are being associated with the BMPN composite (especially competence) needs to be further elaborated.

In a nutshell, BFI-2 is based on the linguistic representation of accurately defined descriptive adjectives without bias that have been so far encapsulated in the lexicon. Research specifies that BFI-2 is a great descriptive framework (however not flawless) to measure objective personality traits. Further predictive association studies (e.g., regression analysis) are required to provide us with a deeper understanding of the relationship between BFI-2 composites and BMPN factors. This approach will hopefully result in the promotion of intrinsic motivation and lead to the fostering of human mastery, psychological wellbeing, and personality growth.

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