Research ArticleSOCIAL SCIENCES

Challenges to capture the big five personality traits in non-WEIRD populations

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Science Advances  10 Jul 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 7, eaaw5226
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw5226

Abstract

Can personality traits be measured and interpreted reliably across the world? While the use of Big Five personality measures is increasingly common across social sciences, their validity outside of western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (WEIRD) populations is unclear. Adopting a comprehensive psychometric approach to analyze 29 face-to-face surveys from 94,751 respondents in 23 low- and middle-income countries, we show that commonly used personality questions generally fail to measure the intended personality traits and show low validity. These findings contrast with the much higher validity of these measures attained in internet surveys of 198,356 self-selected respondents from the same countries. We discuss how systematic response patterns, enumerator interactions, and low education levels can collectively distort personality measures when assessed in large-scale surveys. Our results highlight the risk of misinterpreting Big Five survey data and provide a warning against naïve interpretations of personality traits without evidence of their validity.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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