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Trait Means and Desirabilities as Artifactual and Real Sources of Differential Stability of Personality Traits


  • We would like to thank Grant Edmonds and Joshua Jackson for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article. We are particularly grateful to Michael Chmielewski and David Watson for providing the two-week dependability estimates of the Big Five Inventory (BFI) items, which afforded a much expanded consideration of the role of transient measurement error toward the research questions in this investigation. Note that the BFI dependability estimates used here are reported at the BFI scale level in Chmielewski and Watson (2009), and many of the Inventory of Individual Differences in the Lexicon dependability estimates are reported in Wood, Nye, and Saucier (2010).

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dustin Wood, Department of Psychology, Wake Forest University, 526 Greene Hall, Winston-Salem, NC 27109. Email:


Using data from 3 personality trait inventories and 7 samples, we show that trait items that have means near the scale midpoint and that vary more in their perceived desirability (e.g., items related to dominance, creativity, traditionalism, and organization) tend to be more stable over time, whereas items with means near the scale maximum or minimum and that vary less in their perceived desirability (e.g., items related to agreeableness, intellect, and reliability) tend to be less stable. Our findings indicate that items with means near the scale maximum or minimum have lower stabilities primarily due to having lower measurement dependability (i.e., short-term stabilities unlikely to reflect true change). However, items varying more in their desirability are more stable even after accounting for measurement dependability, consistent with the view that trait stability is facilitated in part by individuals actively working to develop in the direction they find desirable.