Factor Models of Personality

Ever wonder how mental health professionals developed the criteria for a healthy personality vs. personality disorders?

The Five Factor Model deals with the healthy, normal personality. Not so other factor models. In 1990, Clark and a group of researchers constructed an instrument with 21 dimensions, based on the criteria of personality disorders in the DSM-III, on various scholarly texts in the field, and even on some Axis I elements.

They proposed the following as descriptive axes: proneness to suicide, self derogation, anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure), instability, hypersensitivity, anger or aggression, pessimism, negative affect, suspiciousness, self-centered exploitation, passive-aggressiveness, dramatic exhibitionism, grandiose egocentrism, social isolation, emotional coldness, dependency, conventionality-rigidity, impulsivity, high energy, antisocial behavior, schizotypal thought.

A far more detailed work was concluded in 1989 by Livesley and others. They studied a vast trove of professional literature as well as the DSM-III-TR and came up with a whopping 79 trait dimensions required to represent all 11 personality disorders. Subsequent refinements increased the number of questionnaire items to 100. These were grouped into 18 constructs of factors:

Compulsivity, conduct problems, diffidence, identity problems, insecure attachment, intimacy problems, narcissism, suspiciousness, affective lability, passive oppositionality, perceptual cognitive distortion, rejection, self-harming behaviors, restricted expression, social avoidance, stimulus seeking, interpersonal disesteem, and anxiousness.

The Livesley model dispenses with openness to experience as an evaluative dimension. The authors regard it of limited use in describing and diagnosing personality disorders.

Similarly, years later (in 1994), Harkness and McNulty also criticized the Five Factor Model. They proposed their own five dimensions: aggressiveness, psychoticism, constraint, negative emotionality r neuroticism, and positive emotionality or extroversion.

One of the earliest factor models, based on an analysis of words in an English-language dictionary that pertained to personality traits was suggested by Allport and Odbert in 1936. They excluded words and phrases that were evaluative or judgmental (such as "good", "bad", "excessive", or "excellent"). Their Lexical Big Five Model proffered these personality dimensions: Surgency or extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability vs. neuroticism, and intellect or culture.

Tellegen and Walter (1987) harshly criticized the methodology of the Big Five Model. They factor analyzed the 1985 edition of the American Heritage Dictionary and countered with a Big Seven Model with these traits: positive valence, negative valence, positive emotionality, negative emotionality, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and conventionality. Together with Almagor they demonstrated, in 1995, that the Model applies to Israel, a culture much different to the United States.

More about personality assessment tests - click HERE!

This article appears in my book, "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited"


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APA Reference
Vaknin, S. (2009, October 1). Factor Models of Personality, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Last Updated: July 5, 2018

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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