Cattell's 16 Personality Factors

Personality Factors Described by Raymond Cattell

Personalities
Cattell's taxonomy described 16 different personality factors.. Plume Creative / Digital Vision / Getty Images

People have long struggled to understand personality and numerous theories have been developed to explain how personality develops and how it influences behavior. One such theory was proposed by a psychologist named Raymond Cattell. He created a taxonomy of 16 different personality traits that could be used to describe and explain individual differences between people's personalities.

Born in 1905, Cattell witnessed the advent of many 20th-century inventions such as electricity, telephones, cars, and airplanes.

He was inspired by these innovations and was eager to apply the scientific methods used to make such discoveries to the human mind and personality.

Personality, he believed, was not just some unknowable and untestable mystery. It was something that could be studied and organized. Through scientific study, human characteristics and behaviors could then be predicted based on underlying personality traits.

Cattell had worked with psychologist Charles Spearman, who was known for his pioneering work in statistics. Cattell would later use the factor analysis techniques developed by Spearman to create his own personality taxonomy.

Learn more about the 16 different personality factors that Cattell described.

The 16 Personality Factors

According to trait theory, human personality is composed of a number of broad traits or dispositions. Some of the earliest of these trait theories attempted to describe every single trait that might possibly exist.

For example, psychologist Gordon Allport identified more than 4,000 words in the English language that could be used to describe personality traits.

Later, Raymond Cattell analyzed this list and whittled it down to 171 characteristics, mostly by eliminating terms that were redundant or uncommon. He was then able to use a statistical technique known as factor analysis to identify traits that are related to one another.

Factor analysis can be used to look at enormous amounts of data in order to look for trends and to see which elements are the most influential or important. By using this method, he was able to whittle his list to 16 key personality factors.

According to Cattell, there is a continuum of personality traits. In other words, each person contains all of these 16 traits to a certain degree, but they might be high in some traits and low in others. While all people have some degree of abstractedness, for example, some people might be very imaginative while others are very practical.

The following personality trait list describes some of the descriptive terms used for each of the 16 personality dimensions described by Cattell.

  1. Abstractedness: Imaginative versus practical
  2. Apprehension: Worried versus confident
  3. Dominance: Forceful versus submissive
  4. Emotional Stability: Calm versus high strung
  5. Liveliness: Spontaneous versus restrained
  6. Openness to Change: Flexible versus attached to the familiar
  7. Perfectionism: Controlled versus undisciplined
  1. Privateness: Discreet versus open
  2. Reasoning: Abstract versus concrete
  3. Rule-Consciousness: Conforming versus non-conforming
  4. Self-Reliance: Self-sufficient versus dependent
  5. Sensitivity: Tender-hearted versus tough-minded.
  6. Social Boldness: Uninhibited versus shy
  7. Tension: Impatient versus relaxed
  8. Vigilance: Suspicious versus trusting
  9. Warmth: Outgoing versus reserved

The 16PF Personality Questionnaire

Cattell also developed an assessment based on these 16 personality factors. The test is known as the 16 PF Personality Questionnaire and is still frequently used today, especially in business for employee testing and selection, career counseling and marital counseling.

The test is composed of forced-choice questions in which the respondent must choose one of three different alternatives. Personality traits are then represented by a range and the individuals score falls somewhere on the continuum between highest and lowest extremes.

References

Cattell, R. B. (1946). The description and measurement of personality. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace, & World.

Cattell, R. B. (1957). Personality and motivation structure and measurement. New York, NY: World Book.

Cattell, H.E.P., & Mead, A.D. (2008). The Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF). In G.J. Boyle, G. Matthews, & D.H. Saklofske (Eds), The Sage Handbook of Personality Theory and Assessment: Vol. 2, Personality Measurement and Testing., Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Conn, S.R., & Rieke, M.L. (1994). The 16PF Fifth Edition technical manual. Champaign, IL: Institute for Personality and Ability Testing, Inc.

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