Trait Psychology and Culture: Exploring Intercultural Comparisons

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Abstract

Personality traits, studied for decades by Western personality psychologists, have recently been reconceptualized as endogenous basic tendencies that, within a cultural context, give rise to habits, attitudes, skills, beliefs, and other characteristic adaptations. This conceptualization provides a new framework for studying personality and culture at three levels. Transcultural research focuses on identifying human universals, such as trait structure and development; intracultural studies examine the unique expression of traits in specific cultures; and intercultural research characterizes cultures and their subgroups in terms of mean levels of personality traits and seeks associations between cultural variables and aggregate personality traits. As an example of the problems and possibilities of intercultural analyses, data on mean levels of Revised NEO Personality Inventory scales from college age and adult samples (N = 23,031) of men and women from 26 cultures are examined. Results showed that age and gender differences resembled those found in American samples; different subsamples from each culture showed similar levels of personality traits; intercultural factor analysis yielded a close approximation to the Five-Factor Model; and factor scores were meaningfully related to other culture-level variables. However, mean trait levels were not apparent to expert raters, casting doubt on the accuracy of national stereotypes. Trait psychology can serve as a useful complement to cultural perspectives on human nature and personality.

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