Early 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. Freud’s own life experiences wielded one of the strongest influences on his theory of personality.
But psychology based on one person’s experiences is not enough. U.S. Air Force Personnel Laboratory became involved in developing a model to show the broad spectrum of people’s personalities in the 1960s. Ernest Tupes and Raymond Christal developed the Five Factor Model of personality. They reviewed other’s research to find a set of traits that would form this model. Still they clung to the idea of psychology showing the differences between healthy and unhealthy traits. The names that they gave each factor–Surgency, Agreeableness, Dependability, Emotional Stability, and Culture–were chosen because they sounded positive.
Surgency refers to a high level of energy, confidence and enthusiastic interaction with others. The opposite would be lethargy, timidity or sadness. However, surgency was connected with extroverted behavior. The opposite of this would introversion which is no longer considered negative. Extroversion at its high end includes aggressiveness and risky excitement seeking, which are not considered positive traits. The higher scores in sensation seeking of the extrovert was found to correlate with higher creativity, but other traits of the extroverted personality, such as talkativeness, resulted in less creative work.
One of the traits that defines Agreeableness is compliance. But, Noncompliance with authority is a characteristic of the creative people according to many researchers, such as Hans Eysenck and Paul Torrance, population. So creative people score lower in Agreeableness, even if they are friendly.
Dependability is now named Conscientiousness and describes with 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.” However people low in creative ability, tend to have more creative accomplishments than one would suspect if they are 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. Even though the assumption was made that Emotional Stability would enhance creativity, no correlation was found between the two.
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. However, this factor also rate acceptance of liberal political and social ideas. It has been renamed to match what it was meant to measure, Openness to Experience. As this characteristic is described as artistic, original and imaginative, it would be a bit of a shock if a creative person did not score higher in Openness to Experience.
The Five Factor Model of personality now goes by the acronym OCEAN. Each factor is recognized as a continuum with a wide normal range in the middle and extremes at either end. It is no longer a test of five healthy versus five unhealthy characteristics. It is still the most widely used personality model for psychology studies but even as the names and interpretation of the traits have gone through changes, it will be challenged by new models of human personalities. Will these simply be another change in semantics?