Creative Semantics

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The changes in the names  given to the factors in the Five Factor Model of personality is indicative of the changes in research psychology.  Earlier psychology was considered a science that dealt with the causes and treatment of mental illness.

Famed psychologist such as Sigmund Freud worked with neurotic and psychotic patients. His theories of psychoanalysis and resulting model of mental structure were based on his work with his patients and his own inner struggles.  Typical of many notable psychologists of his day, Freud’s own life experiences wielded one of the strongest influences on his theory of personality.

On the other hand, Ernest Tupes and Raymond Christal developed their model working for the U.S. Air Force Personnel Laboratory. They reviewed other’s research to find a set of factors that would combine to form  the broad spectrum of people’s personalities.  Still certain factors were viewed as positive and the inverse negative. Surgency, agreeableness, dependability, emotional stability, and culture were names chosen for the positive aspect.

Surgency refers to a high level of energy, confidence and enthusiastic interaction with others. The opposite would be lethargy, timidity or sadness.  However, this trait was renamed with the more familiar title, Extraversion.  This factor (like the others in the model) is now viewed as a continuum  with a wide normal range in the middle and extremes at either end. Introversion is no longer considered negative. Extraversion at its high end includes aggressiveness and risky excitement seeking, which are not positive. 

But it was the higher scores in excitement seeking, as well as activity and positive emotions that placed subjects higher on the extroversion scale for the study from Southern Methodist University on Creativity and the Five-Factor Model by L.A, King et alThe more creative people scored lower in Agreeableness in this same study. This factor is also a continuum; on one end can be rude defiance, at the other a doormat type of behavior. Compliance is one of the traits that defines agreeableness. Remember, both Hans Eysenck and Paul Torrance found lack of compliance with authority as a characteristic of the creative population.

Dependability or its new title, Conscientiousness, describes how responsible, organized or hard working a person is. This factor usually correlates negatively with creativity in research. (I am reminded of the old saying “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”) What is interesting about Creativity and the Five-Factor Model  is that subjects rated low in creative ability, tended to show an increase in creative accomplishments if they were higher in this factor.

Emotional Stability, which again seems like a positive trait was replaced by the name at the opposite end of the scale, Neuroticism.  Why? Perhaps to make the snappy acronym OCEAN out of the five factors. Actually it may describe this factor more clearly, as does Emotional Instability, an alternate title. Even though the assumption was made that emotional stability would enhance creativity, no correlation was found between the two in King’s study.

Finally culture is the relation of the person to arts and intellectual pursuits: music, writing, acting, even  gourmet food, high couture dress, and technological advancements. These are what creative people produce. At least initially; after an original idea is produced, it no longer takes much creativity to reproduce it. This factor may also rate acceptance of liberal political and social ideas. It has been renamed to more closely match what it was meant to measure, Openness to Experience. This factor includes the descriptive adjectives artistic, original and imaginative, which are basically words to denote creativity. It would be a bit of a shock if a creative person did not score higher in openness to experience, but it has happened.

Perhaps one of the difficulties of uncovering the personality traits of creative people is that creativity is a trait in its own right.

Eysenck, H.J.  Creativity and Personality: Suggestions for a Theory, Psychological Inquiry, 1993, Vol. 4, No. 3, 147-178
King, L.A. Walker, L.M. Broyles, S.J.  Creativity and the Five-Factor Model. Journal of Research in Personality2013Volume 30, Issue 2, Pages 189-203 
McCrae, R.R and John, O.P. An Introduction to the Five-Factor Model and Its Applications, (Viewed Jan. 1 2014)
Tupes, E. C , & Christal, R. E. (1961). Recurrent personality factors based on trait ratings (USAF ASD Tech. Rep. No. 61-97). Lackland Air Force Base, TX: U.S. Air Force.
Torrance, E.P. & Khatena, J. (1970) What Kind of Person Are You? A brief screening device for identifying creatively gifted adolescents and adults. Gifted Child Quarterly, 14, 71-75
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