Traits and trait names: How well is Openness represented in natural languages?


  • Robert R. McCrae

    Corresponding author
    1. Gerontology Research Center, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, Baltimore, USA
    • Gerontology Research Center, National Institute on Aging, National Institute of Health, 4940 Eastern Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21224, USA
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The five-factor model of personality has repeatedly emerged from lexical studies of natural languages. When adjective-based factor scales are correlated with other personality measures, the adequacy and comprehensiveness of the five-factor model are demonstrated at a broad level. However, English language adjectives do not necessarily capture more subtle distinctions within the five factors. In particular, of several facets of the Openness factor, only Openness to Ideas and Values are well represented in single terms. Openness to Fantasy, Aesthetics, Feelings, and Actions can be expressed in phrases, sentences, and literary passages—as excerpts from Bunin's ‘Lika’ illustrate— but not in single words. To maintain its relevance to personality psychology, the study of personality language must continue to examine empirical links to other personality systems and must move beyond the dictionary to analyses of natural language speech and writing.