The Five-Factor Model: Do Personalities Age the Same Way Across Cultures?

Does your culture have a personality?

Let’s use the Five-Factor Model to find out.

Developed in the United States in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the Five-Factor Model (FFM) is an exhaustive taxonomy of personality traits (defined as “tendencies to show consistent patterns of thoughts, feelings, and actions”). 

The personality structure model has been applied in various cultures and is described as universal.

Gender differences in personality and personality attributes related to age – like a boost in conscientiousness and a reduction in openness from adolescence to adulthood – also seem to be universal.

This has led to the FFM being used internationally by psychologists in various functions.

So what is the Five-Factor Model, and what does it mean for cross-cultural studies?

The Five Factors of the Five-Factor Model

We’ve already mentioned two of the factors in the FFM: conscientiousness and openness to experience.

The three others are extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors:

  • Conscientiousness – exhibiting behaviors such as foresight, duty, and responsibility.
  • Openness to experience – exhibiting behaviors that are thoughtful, inquisitive, and show a willingness to meet intellectually challenging tasks.
  • Extraversion – exhibiting behaviors that are energetic, assertive, and gregarious.
  • Agreeableness – exhibiting behaviors that are sympathetic, empathetic, and kind.
  • Neuroticism – exhibiting behaviors that are irritable, moody, and emotionally unstable.

Where is the FFM Used?

This popular trait model of human personality has been used by researchers and practitioners in clinical, social, and industrial-organizational spheres.

It’s also used in cross-cultural research.

One study, for instance, sought to determine if the changes in the mean levels of all five factors between adolescence and the age of 30 were purely American.

The original study found that 

“In terms of personality traits, 30-year-olds resemble 70-year-olds more than 20-year-olds.”

Cross-cultural researchers analyzed similar data from a dozen countries – including Germany, Russia, South Korea, Japan, and Britain – and found that the personality patterns amongst all twelve countries were similar, suggesting a universal maturational process.

As humans meet mid-adulthood, they become less open to new experiences and less enthusiastic, but more altruistic, adjusted, and organized.

This personality trend is common in all societies.

We’ll look at more cultural research regarding the FFM next week.