“Basic” personality traits may not be universal

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Five pe­r­son­al­ity traits widely thought to be uni­ver­sal across cul­tures might not be, ac­cord­ing to a study of an iso­lat­ed so­ci­e­ty.

Psy­chol­o­gists who spent two years work­ing with 1,062 mem­bers of the Tsi­mane cul­ture of Bo­liv­ia found that they did­n’t nec­es­sarily ex­hib­it the five broad di­men­sions of pe­r­son­al­ity – open­ness, con­sci­en­tious­ness, ex­tra­ver­sion, agree­a­ble­ness and neu­rot­i­cism – al­so known as the “Big Five.” 

The Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal As­socia­t­ion’s Jour­nal of Per­son­al­ity and So­cial Psy­chol­o­gy pub­lished the study on­line Dec. 17.

Pre­vi­ous re­search has found strong sup­port for the Big Five traits in more de­vel­oped coun­tries and across some cul­tures, but these re­search­ers found more ev­i­dence of a Tsi­mane “Big Two:” so­cially ben­e­fi­cial be­hav­ior, al­so known as proso­cial­ity, and in­dus­tri­ous­. These Big Two com­bine el­e­ments of the tra­di­tion­al Big Five, and may rep­re­sent un­ique as­pects of highly so­cial, sub­sist­ence so­ci­eties, the re­search­ers said.

“Si­m­i­lar to the con­sci­en­tiousness por­tion of the Big Five, sev­er­al traits that bun­dle to­geth­er among the Tsi­mane in­clud­ed ef­fi­cien­cy, pe­r­se­ver­ance and thor­ough­ness. These traits re­flect the in­dus­tri­ous­ of a so­ci­e­ty of sub­sist­ence farm­ers,” said the stu­dy’s lead au­thor, Mi­chael Gur­ven of the Uni­vers­ity of Cal­i­for­nia, San­ta Bar­ba­ra. 

“How­ever, oth­er in­dus­tri­ous traits in­clud­ed be­ing en­er­get­ic, re­laxed and help­ful. In small-scale so­ci­eties, in­di­vid­u­als have few­er choices for so­cial or sex­u­al part­ners and lim­it­ed do­mains of op­por­tun­i­ties for cul­tur­al suc­cess and pro­fi­cien­cy. This may re­quire abil­i­ties that link as­pects of dif­fer­ent traits, re­sult­ing in a trait struc­ture oth­er than the Big Five.”

The Tsi­mane are forager-farm­ers who live in com­mun­i­ties of roughly 30 to 500 peo­ple, dis­pe­rsed among about 90 vil­lages. Since the mid-1900s, they have come in­to great­er con­tact with the mod­ern world, but mor­tal­ity rates re­main high (a­bout one in five ba­bies nev­er reach age five) and fer­til­ity is very high (a­round nine births per wom­an), the study said. Few Tsi­mane are for­mally ed­u­cat­ed; lit­er­a­cy is about 25 pe­rcent. Some 40 pe­rcent speak Span­ish in ad­di­tion to their na­tive lan­guage. They live in ex­tend­ed family clus­ters that share food and la­bor and lim­it con­tact with out­siders un­less ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary, ac­cord­ing to the au­thors.

Written By: American Psychological Association and World Science staff
continue to source article at world-science.net

6 COMMENTS

  1. I can’t say I got anything from that article. A comparison example of what they were talking about would have been nice. A description of each of the big five with example and a description of the big two with example would have also helped. Basically, I don’t get it

  2. In reply to #1 by aquilacane:

    i hear ya. i studied the big five in university and this article does a poor job at explaning what the term means to people who aren’t familiar with it. even knowing, the article is poorly written and way too summarized to get anything substantial out of it.

  3. ” Psy­chol­o­gists who spent two years work­ing with 1,062 mem­bers of the Tsi­mane cul­ture of Bo­liv­ia found that they did­n’t nec­es­sarily ex­hib­it the five broad di­men­sions of pe­r­son­al­ity – open­ness, con­sci­en­tious­ness, ex­tra­ver­sion, agree­a­ble­ness and neu­rot­i­cism – al­so known as the “Big Five.” “

    Again we see this small populational variance touted as a ” theory killer ” and no genetic information available, not to mention the paucity of other info.

    Reminds me of the small population in Brazil, I think, that does not conform to Chomsky’s theories on language acquisition. As one linguist said; ” we have 5,999 populations/cultures that DO support Chomsky’s theory. “

  4. Skimmed through the actual research paper and it is interesting, however the implications are not as dramatic as the headline makes out I think.

    The same basic needs are human universals (acquiring resources, managing social relationships, defending against threats to resources and relationships). With the evolution of language came personality descriptions which describe a persons capacity to meet these needs. Different cultures classify these capacities in slightly different ways, and some classification systems are more common than others across cultures, especially the Five Factor model, (and I think the six factor or ‘HEXACO’ model might be even more common across cultures given empirical data to date).

    This variation in classification in different cultures is interesting, but nonetheless, when you look at the data all the basic personality capacities are subsumed in the classification somewhere, including in the Tsimane it seems. It’s just that instead of tending to rate someone on each of five or six dimensions e.g. “perceptive, conscientious, prosocial, courageous, and outgoing” – they would instead tend to rate someone on two dimensions: conscientiousness (with perceptiveness, courageousness and outgoingness involved in this description), and prosociality (with perceptiveness, courageousness and outgoingness involved in this description also). This is a simplification, but conveys the basic concept I think.

  5. A good study, but nothing surprising or unexplainable.

    If such a small society/clan/culture grows larger and interacts more with others, the added phenomena of neuroticism / agreeableness would emerge as additional carriages tacked on to their locomotive of consciousness.

    Further as our highly advanced societies progress to unprecedented levels of collective and individual operation, the Big 5 will become the Big 6 or even the Big 7 at some point.

    The more advanced, the higher and more complex the hierarchies, the more severe are the attachment difficulties/challenges (Neuroticism), and the more involved are the layers of social interaction available (Agreeableness etc driven by identity and interlinked with neuroticism and openness).

    For anyone to suggest that western societies came with a complete package of 5 traits that they had since time immemorial would be kidding themselves. We started with two or three as well…

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