Personality Testing and Police Selection: Utility of the `Big Five'

By Black, Jonathan | New Zealand Journal of Psychology, June 2000 | Go to article overview

Personality Testing and Police Selection: Utility of the `Big Five'


Black, Jonathan, New Zealand Journal of Psychology


While I/0 psychologists have traditionally viewed personality testing as contributing little to the prediction of job performance, recent development of the `big five' personality constructs has shown that personality tests can be valid predictors of performance and may add significant incremental validity to tests of cognitive ability. The generality of these higher-order traits, however, may limit their usefulness in a selection setting. Correlational data is presented from a sample of police recruits (n=284) who completed the NEO Personality Inventory-Revised early in their basic training. Both higher- and middle-order traits were found to be linked to both broad and narrow performance outcomes. Conscientiousness added incremental validity to cognitive testing. The assessment of higher-order and middle-order personality traits for personnel selection is discussed.

During the past three decades the view that personality is a poor predictor of job performance has become established among many occupational psychologists in New Zealand. Early reviews (Ghiselli & Barthol, 1953; Guion & Gottier, 1965; and Mischel, 1968) that helped shape this gloomy evaluation may have been overly pessimistic in their conclusions. Many criticisms raised by early personality test reviews (eg. Mischel, 1968) have been addressed and shown to be less significant than previously thought, or have resulted in improved methodology (Hogan & Nicholson, 1988). One such improvement is the development of personality inventories designed to measure qualities among typical individuals instead of psychopathology among the deviant or mentally disordered. Guion and Gottier (1965) found that tests developed for specific purposes were more predictive of performance than tests scored with standardised algorithms. Personality tests designed to measure "normal" behavioural traits are likely to improve the development of logical links between job requirements, personality measurement, and performance (Rosse, Miller, & Barnes, 1991).

During the last decade two developments have lead some researchers to re-evaluate the potential validity of personality tests when selecting personnel. First, there is increasing agreement among personality theorists and researchers alike that personality can be organised and classified within a `big five' structural framework, also labelled the five-factor model (Norman, 1963). This has provided a useful taxonomy in which to identify consistent and meaningful relationships between personality traits and performance criteria for different occupations. Secondly, the techniques of meta-analysis, which Barrett (1992) coined the first wonder of personnel psychology, have recently been applied to new reviews of personality and job performance.

The five-factor model of personality is based upon peer ratings using ordinary trait vocabulary (Digman, 1990; Norman, 1963). While a number of researchers have claimed to successfully identify a larger number of major personality traits, these five traits or dimensions have proved to be replicable over different theoretical frameworks, using different instruments, and with ratings obtained from different sources, a variety of samples, and with a high degree of generality (Barrick & Mount, 1991; Conn & Ramanaiah, 1990; Costa & McCrae, 1990; Goldberg, 1990).

These `big five' have traditionally been labelled Neuroticism (vs. emotional stability), Extraversion (or surgency), Openness to experience (alternatively viewed as culture or intellect), Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness (or dependability). In brief, Neuroticism is the inclination towards expressing anxiety, anger, depression, and other negative affects. Extraversion is marked by sociability, energy, and a buoyant frame of mind. Openness is characterised by objectivity, need for variety, and curiosity. Agreeableness is a tendency towards altruism, trust, and sympathy, and Conscientiousness is characterised by self-discipline, order, reliability, and foresight. …

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