Further Evidence of the Impact of Cognitive Complexity on the Five-Factor Model

By Bowler, Mark C.; Bowler, Jennifer L. et al. | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, August 10, 2012 | Go to article overview

Further Evidence of the Impact of Cognitive Complexity on the Five-Factor Model


Bowler, Mark C., Bowler, Jennifer L., Cope, John G., Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


According to the five-factor model (FFM) of personality the same 5 factors are universal across all individuals. However, recent evidence suggests that this assumption may be incorrect (Bowler, Bowler, & Phillips, 2009). In this study we sought to further examine the impact of cognitive complexity on the FFM by evaluating its impact on the factor structure of Saucier's (1994) Mini-Markers. Overall, our results support the findings of Bowler et al. (2009). Individuals with below average levels of cognitive complexity display personalities that are best described by a 3-factor model and individuals with above average levels of cognitive complexity display personalities that are best described by a 6- rather than a 7-factor model. Implications of the appropriateness of the FFM are discussed.

Keywords: cognitive complexity, five-factor model of personality, personality assessment.

The five-factor model (FFM) is unquestionably the best-known model of human personality (Funder, 2001). Its popularity is evident in its recent application to a wide variety of areas, such as, but not limited to, the adoption of technology (Devaraj, Easley, & Crant, 2008), aggression toward an intimate partner (Hines & Saudino, 2008), college students' health-related behaviors (Raynor & Levine, 2009), motivation to learn and develop (Major, Turner, & Fletcher, 2006), organizational commitment (Erdheim, Wang, & Zickar, 2006), organizational justice (Shi, Lin, Wang, & Wang, 2009), relationship infidelity (Orzeck & Lung, 2005), and retirement decisions (Robinson, Demetre, & Corney, 2010). Despite the popularity and versatility of the model, the nature and appropriateness of the FFM has been the source of substantial debate (see e.g., De Young, 2010; Srivastava, 2010). Moreover, researchers' efforts to explicitly clarify the number of factors that best describe human personality have generated differing results (see e.g., Almagor, Tellegen, & Waller, 1995; Ashton, Jackson, Helmes, & Paunonen, 1998; Bowler, Bowler, & Phillips, 2009; Jackson, Paunonen, Fraboni, & Goffin, 1996; Simms, 2007; Zuckerman, Kuhlman, Joireman, Teta, & Kraft, 1993).

The impact social perceptions have on the FFM is one of the most relevant issues in this debate. As noted by Srivastava (2010), it is impossible to separate measures of personality from the errors of human perception. Either the measures themselves require human perception when they are being completed (e.g., self-report measures) or human perception is introduced at the measure's creation (e.g., Funder & Sneed, 1993; Yamagata et al., 2006). Regarding the need for human perception, Saucier and Goldberg (1996) noted that the FFM represents "dimensions of perceived personality" (p. 124). Similarly, Fiske (1994) noted that the FFM is useful for understanding "how people perceive people" (p. 124) and is based on "interpretations or small generalizations from perceived behavior" (p. 123). Along these lines, recent evidence suggests that cognitive complexity (the dimensionality of an individual's social perceptions) has an impact on the structure of five-factor measures (Bowler et al., 2009). In this study we sought to test this assumption further by addressing the following question: Does the personality structure of individuals with higher levels of cognitive complexity differ from the personality structure of individuals with lower levels of cognitive complexity?

The Five-Factor Model

The history of the development of the FFM has been thoroughly described by numerous researchers (e.g., Wiggins, 1996). What began as a two-factor model of intellect and will (Webb, 1915) quickly expanded into three- and four-factor models (Cattell, 1933; Garnett, 1919). From these, Fiske (1949) developed the basic foundation for what would become the FFM as it is now constituted. During the following decades, the majority of researchers supported the overall stability of the five-factor structure (e. …

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