General Factor of Personality

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The General Factor of Personality (GFP) is a concept in psychology that is claimed to be an overarching higher-order factor that explains the observed positive correlations (derived via the statistical method of factor analysis) between all the socially desirable aspects of various models of personality.[1] Thus, for example, all the individual 'Big-Five' traits of the five-factor personality model positively correlate with each other on a group level, apart from the socially undesirable trait of neuroticism, which negatively correlates with the others.

It is proposed that the general factor of personality represents a continuum with altruistic and pro-social behavior at one end of the spectrum, and anti-social and egoistic behavior at the other end. This hypothesis makes the GFP similar to the oft-controversial concept of 'emotional intelligence', and some researchers have conceptualized the GFP as representing broad 'social effectiveness' in a similar fashion. Research has seemingly confirmed the hypothesis that individuals high in the GFP are generally more socially adroit and pro-social, with higher GFP individuals reporting better daily social relations and mood,[2] lower levels of engagement in criminal activities,[3] greater job performance (explaining all of the relationships between job performance and the 'Big Five' traits), and the factor itself positively correlates with purported measures of emotional intelligence.[4][5] Along with the lower order personality traits the GFP is itself extracted from, twin studies have established that a large portion of the variance in individual differences in the GFP can be attributed to additive genetic factors (h2 = .52).[6]

Traits associated with the GFP[edit | edit source]

In terms of the "big five" personality traits—considered by many in the field of psychology to be the "gold standard" model of personality—high-GFP individuals are described as being open to new experiences, hardworking, sociable, friendly, and emotionally stable. Several studies have also linked the GFP to IQ, with one study finding the GFP exhibited a strong correlation (r = .70) with WAIS IQ scores at age 18 when relying on judges' ratings of big-five personality traits.[7] The link between GFP and measures of general intelligence was replicated by Dunkel & De Baca (2016), however the correlation was weak (r = 0.32).

Expressions of the GFP traits are observed to be different in various cultures, as these cultures vary on what is considered socially desirable and acceptable behavior. Thus, a person high in the GFP is said to be more adroit at observing these often unspoken, implicit customs and adapting their behavior to conform to them.

The GFP and life history theory[edit | edit source]

The existence of a GFP was first formally proposed by the controversial psychologist J. Phillipe Rushton.[8] Rushton attempted to tie the GFP in with his other highly controversial theory, the 'differential-K' theory that proposed the existence of evolved differences in life history traits between the major human races. Rushton hypothesized that due to differences in selection pressures imposed by the harsh climatic conditions of the boreal climates of northern Asia and ice-age Europe that would be expected to select for highly co-operative behavioral phenotypes among the historical inhabitants of these regions, the GFP was positively correlated with both IQ and a slower life history speed (with these traits supposedly all stemming from a higher-order K factor). Thus, Rushton predicted that Africans would be the lowest GFP race, and east Asians would be the highest. However, recent research has directly contradicted this assertion, finding that Africans were the highest in the GFP and east Asians were the lowest. Similar to what has been discovered regarding the purported IQ-slow life history link that Rushton also proposed, this evidence suggests that individuals high in the GFP may exhibit a slower-life history within races but not across races.[9]

Criticism[edit | edit source]

Since its conception, the theory has been linked to racialist and/or heriditarian theories of individual/group differences in behavior (the first individual to hypothesize that there was a broad underlying factor behind observable personality traits was the scientific polymath and father of eugenics, Sir Francis Galton) which some see as evidence that many advocates of the concept use it to advance and provide support for racist or eugenicist agendas.[10] There also exist fears that the construct could also be used to apply positive or negative incentives to those who are found to be higher or lower in this factor as a form of social engineering, similar to the intention behind the Chinese government's 'social credit' system. Arguing against the concept on scientific grounds, several researchers have labelled the construct a statistical chimera (similar to arguments made against the validity of IQ tests) or have claimed it is merely an artifact of social desirability bias (i.e. this construct is just measuring impression management skills and nothing innate).[11] Opponents of the theory claim that certain lower level facets of the Big Five can often predict social behaviors better than any proposed overarching structure like the GFP.

References[edit | edit source]

  4. https://doi:10.1016/j.paid.2016.05.020
  6. Veselka, L., Schermer, J. A., Petrides, K. V., Cherkas, L. F., Spector, T. D., & Vernon, P. A. (2009). A General Factor of Personality: Evidence from the HEXACO Model and a Measure of Trait Emotional Intelligence. Twin Research and Human Genetics, 12(05), 420–424. doi:10.1375/twin.12.5.420