Discriminant Validity of the 'Big Five' Personality Traits in Employment Settings

Article excerpt

The ability of the `big five' personality traits to predict supervisors' ratings of performance is investigated using the Orpheus personality questionnaire. Orpheus is a broad spectrum work-based personality questionnaire containing 190 items. It generates scores on sixteen scales - five major scales, seven minor scales, and four audit scales. The major scales are Fellowship, Authority, Conformity, Emotion and Detail and are based on the `big five' model of personality. The minor scales are Proficiency, Work-orientation, Patience, Fair-mindedness, Loyalty, Disclosure and Initiative, and are based on the Prudentius model of integrity. The four response audits are Dissimulation, Ambivalence, Despondency and Inattention, and are designed to screen for inappropriate responding. Supervisors' ratings on 245 subjects in a variety of occupations and employment settings are obtained on the Orpheus respondents. All of the `big five' traits were found to have significant correlations with appropriate supervisors' ratings.

Studies of the relationship between job performance and personality have been summarised in two meta-analytic studies carried out by Barrick and Mount (1991) and Tett and Jackson (1991). In both these studies the most striking finding was that the `big five' personality trait of Conscientiousness is the only consistent predictor of job performance. The other `big five' dimensions of extraversion, neuroticism, openness-to-experience and agreeableness do, however, provide some predictive power in particular circumstances. Sackett and Wanek (1996) argue that the general predictive power of Conscientiousness comes about as a consequence of the close conceptual relationship between Conscientiousness and Integrity. They further suggest that a combined trait representing High Conscientiousness, Low Neuroticism and High Agreeableness is a surrogate for Integrity and can explain all of the ability of the `big five' personality traits to predict job performance. Furthermore, each of the three component traits, on their own, was, they argue, unable to add any predictive power to an Integrity measure. However, Sackett and Wanek focus their attention on the prediction of overall job performance. This may be unrepresentative in its capacity to mirror the way in which personality traits are actually applied on a day to day basis in organisations.

The present study looks at the ability of each of the `big five' personality dimensions to predict those specific aspects of behavior which they are designed to assess, using the Orpheus personality questionnaire (Rust, 1996). Orpheus is a 190 item questionnaire which assesses 12 traits (5 major scales and 7 minor scales). The five Orpheus major scales are based on the `big five' model of personality, interpreted within the context of work-related behaviors, beliefs, attitudes and interests. The scales (Fellowship, Authority, Conformity, Emotion and Detail) represent social, organizational, intellectual, emotional and perceptual aspects of personality respectively, and are based on the `big five' traits of extraversion, toughmindedness, openness-to-experience, neuroticism and conscientiousness. A rating scale for supervisors was designed to assess the behaviors associated with each of these `big five' dimensions.


Orpheus is a work based personality questionnaire that was developed specifically for use in working populations. As well as providing reliable measures of the `big five' it also aimed to reduce correlations between these five traits to a minimum. The reliabilities and intercorrelations of the Orpheus `big five' measures appear in Table 1.

The Orpheus measure of Fellowship assesses the `big five' trait of extraversion/ introversion. High Fellowship scorers are generally happier working with others or in a team, while low Fellowship scorers generally prefer work that requires a degree of independence. Authority assesses the `big five' trait of toughvs. …


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