The Five-Factor Model in Fact and Fiction

Personality and Social Psychology


  1. Robert R. McCrae PhD1,
  2. James F. Gaines PhD2,
  3. Marie A. Wellington PhD2

Published Online: 26 SEP 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781118133880.hop205004

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

How to Cite

McCrae, R. R., Gaines, J. F. and Wellington, M. A. 2012. The Five-Factor Model in Fact and Fiction. Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition. 5:I:4.

Author Information

  1. 1

    Baltimore, Maryland, USA

  2. 2

    University of Mary Washington, Department of Modern Foreign Languages, Fredericksburg, Virginia, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 26 SEP 2012


Literature and personality psychology both address human nature, but they rarely address each other. We argue that the Five-Factor Model (FFM), a universal and heritable structure of enduring personality traits, provides a framework for integrating these two traditions. For the psychologist, fiction can provide illustrative examples, testable hypotheses about traits and psychological processes, and perhaps a better understanding of culture and history. For the writer and reader, an understanding of current knowledge about personality can contribute to a keener perception of human character and a deeper appreciation of its depiction. Literary critics have long been influenced by psychoanalytic theory, but they have not, by and large, kept up-to-date with developments in psychology. We argue that critics might fruitfully apply the methods and findings of contemporary trait psychology to broad questions about genres, literary periods, and individual authors, as well as to the interpretation of individual characters. We illustrate the use of FFM personality profiles in understanding the protagonists from works of Goethe, Molière, and Voltaire. The FFM should be central to an evolving consciousness about human nature.


  • personality;
  • Five-Factor Model;
  • literature;
  • traits;
  • literary criticism;
  • personality theory