Edward Webb on Personality Traits - Dictionary of Arguments
Corr II 11
Personality Traits/Webb/Deary: Edward Webb’s (1915)(1) paper is important because it was arguably the first study scientifically to discover a personality trait using recognizably modern methods.
Study Design/Experiment/Webb: Webb’s (1915) study participants were 194 men, about age 21 years, who were students at a training college for teachers. Each participant was assessed by two judges working independently. (…) the judges were asked to make notes on each of their allotted subjects, having been encouraged to make these as widely as possible, in all work and social settings and on all aspects of behavior (…). [During a break] each judge was asked to write a full character-sketch of each of his subjects. All of this was preparatory work only [and not] used as data. After the (…) break, each judge was given a ‘Schedule of Qualities’ on which to rate each of his subjects, again, over a college term.
There were 39 qualities (…) to be rated on each person; each was a sentence or short statement (…). They were listed in the paper as: Emotions, Self Qualities, Sociality, Activity and Intellect (…). Five months after the ratings were complete, each judge was asked to write in detail about how they understood the meaning of each of the qualities they had been asked to rate. Webb (1915) (1) summarized these reports in his Appendix II, and stated that there was good cross-judge agreement. Where there was less agreement, Webb stated (…) that these tended to be instances where there was poor intra-pair reliability, and these data were discarded.
Results /Webb: The results of Webb’s (1915) Chapter IV were largely about intelligence test data. Webb (…) found a general cognitive factor among the cognitive tests. He computed, using partial correlation methods, the ‘saturation’ of each specific test with the general factor (g). Webb reported a correlation of 0.67 between the g extracted from the five intelligence tests given to the 1913-tesed students and their college examination results. The correlations between g and the personal qualities were computed by Webb (1915), and one notable result was a correlation of −0.39 between g and ratings of “quick oscillation between cheerfulness and depression, as opposed to permanence of mood”. Webb (1915, p. 42) concluded, with respect to intelligence-personality correlations: “Collecting these observations, we may say that the possession of a good degree of ’g’, i.e., of pure intellectual ability (…) tends to occur in persons with stability of emotions, some cheerfulness added to a fair degree of sociality, with marked application to duty and some foresight and perseverance.” However, it was the preponderance of small and ‘insignificant’ correlations between g and the personal qualities that most interested Webb, and he concluded that that lack of association, “furnishes some indication of the purity of ‘g’ as a mental constant” (p. 43)(1).
(…) Webb (1915)(1) reported finding a general factor in character among those traits that are differentially correlated with quick- and profound-estimated intelligence. The qualities contained in this factor were as follows: it had positive loadings on ‘Tendency not to abandon tasks from mere changeability’, ‘Tendency not to abandon task in the face of obstacles’, ‘Kindness on principle’, ‘Trustworthiness’ and ‘Conscientiousness’; and it had negative loadings on ‘Readiness to become angry’, ‘Eagerness for admiration’ and ‘Bodily activity in pursuit of pleasure (games, etc.)’.
VsWebb/Deary: [Webb himself points out that there might have been] random errors; bias in the minds of all observers; problems with observers taking different points of view; and other irrelevant factors. Webb (1915)(1) discussed how the checks on reliability and the detailed scrutiny of what each judge understood by the character qualities answered and mitigated these.
(…) it is [also] a limitation that no women were studied, and that the social and educational background of the rated subjects and their raters was limited. Webb (1915)(1) acknowledged that the people involved were well educated. Because it was at the heart of the study, the list of rated qualities could have had more description and justification, not least regarding their origins.
Five Factor Model/Webb/Deary: (…) the latent structure of Webb’s correlation matrix can justifiably be interpreted in terms of currently accepted major personality dimensions… . The discovery that the data contain something akin to a model of personality that is broadly accepted today pushes back the ‘discovery’ of the Five-Factor Model by decades. [Webb’s study] provides a blind test of Goldberg’s (1993)(2) claim that any adequate sampling of human personality terms will tend to contain about five broad factors.
1. Webb, E. (1915). Character and intelligence: An attempt at an exact study of character. British Journal of Psychology Monograph Supplements, 1 (III), i–iv and 1–99.
2. Goldberg, L. R. (1993). The structure of phenotypic personality traits. American Psychologist, 48, 26–34.
Deary, Ian J.: “Assessing and Enumerating Personality Dimensions. Revisiting Webb (1915)”, In: Philip Corr (Ed.) 2018. Personality and Individual Differences. Revisiting the classical studies. Singapore, Washington DC, Melbourne: Sage, pp. 11-27._____________Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Philip J. Corr
The Cambridge Handbook of Personality Psychology New York 2009
Philip J. Corr (Ed.)
Personality and Individual Differences - Revisiting the classical studies Singapore, Washington DC, Melbourne 2018