Study suggests standard personality tests may not work well outside of WEIRD cultures

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An international team of researchers has found evidence that suggests standard personality tests may not work as intended outside of mostly white, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (WEIRD) societies. In their paper, published in the journal Science Advances, the group describes their analyses of thousands of personality survey responses from people all over the world, and what they found.

Prior work has led to the development of modern tests, and most of them are based on the assumption that all people have five basic personality traits: conscientiousness, openness, neuroticism, extroversion and agreeableness—the level of each determines the overall personality assessment of a given individual. In this new effort, the researchers suggest that while such tests might be a valuable research tool in WEIRD countries, they might be less useful for studying people in others.

To find out if there might be differences in personality assessments between cultures, the researchers looked at 90,000 personality responses from people in 23 countries—they note that the types of surveys varied, including standard form-filling, face-to-face meetings and information extracted from databases.

In studying the data, the researchers found discrepancies—they noticed, for example, that there were striking differences in how people responded to questions regarding and conscientiousness. Prior research has shown a connection between cognitive abilities and success in complex jobs in typical WEIRD societies—while conscientiousness plays a bigger role in less-complex jobs. In many of the survey responses from non-WEIRD societies, however, the opposite appeared to be true. They also found many instances of conflicting answers in non-WEIRD responses, such as people responding "yes" to being highly organized and later responding "yes" to being careless.

Commonly used personality questions fail to capture the intended personality traits in surveys in low- and middle-income countries. Credit: Rachid Laajaj, Universidad de Los Andes

The researchers suggest there are likely a number of reasons for the discrepancies they found. There could be language issues, they point out, or even . Or there could be issues involved when a person is taking a face-to-face rather than filling out a form in isolation. They also note that there might have been a tendency by test-takers to mistrust the person giving the test, and because of that, they may have attempted to give what they believed were desired responses. In any case, the group suggests that researchers should be cautious when using such tests to learn more about people in other cultures.

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More information: Rachid Laajaj et al. Challenges to capture the big five personality traits in non-WEIRD populations, Science Advances (2019). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw5226
Journal information: Science Advances

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Citation: Study suggests standard personality tests may not work well outside of WEIRD cultures (2019, July 11) retrieved 23 October 2019 from
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Jul 11, 2019
It is quite possible to be both highly organized and careless

Jul 11, 2019
Not only do you have to find the WEIRD candidates but you must test under particular conditions. For instance a man might be timid and withdrawn at work, open and agreeable with friends and extroverted and aggressive with his partner. Another all too common example is the person who is extrovert and conscientious but only when in their career role, for instance as a security/police role and be timid and shy when the uniform comes off. Students almost universally behave differently in the school/college environment and at home, often having opposite trait eg extrovert to introvert, open to closed and in either direction.

I think it is safe to say that for each trait there is a condition in which a person will move to the extreme end of that trait for instance a condition or environment in which they become extroverted, a condition or environment in which they become introverted and so on.

Just how is the average environment where the person spends the most time evaluated?

Jul 12, 2019
The study doesn't reveal much about personality. Outside the Weird culture, income seems mainly related to your family income. In traditional societies, people aren't hired for their intelligence and efficiency but their family income. Everything is about family and money there, including diploma and prestige. So you find dumb people in the highest job, with the highest diploma. Weird tend to forget their past, and thus that corruption and familism is the natural state, WEIRD is a recent (fragile?) mutation. (And by the way, some WEIRD societies are weirder than others: southern weird nations have much lower social mobility, in other words, some WEIRDS culture are less civilized than others).

Jul 12, 2019
It can be said not to be surprising that "scientists" would take pains to concoct a word concernign white people but was derogatory.
In their evident viciousness towards whites, however, they demonstrated things that can be saaid to have always been evident. Why specify "white"? Just being "educated", "industrialized", "democratic" isn't enough? The "scientists" are attesting that they see characteristi8cs, tendencies is whites, as a group, that are to be seen nowhere else!
The "scientists" would call it "racist" if the same was said about non whites!
By using this term, the "scientists" are attesting that there are race wide components of behavior!
And, face it, do the "scientists" recognize, for example, black cultures that are "educated", "democratic"?

Jul 12, 2019
Why specify "white"?
It's a mistake in the article, the "W" of WEIRD stands for Western, not White. It's not about race but culture (it's mainly used by "co-evolutionist" who talk about the co-evolution between culture and biology. Unlike the "evolutionists" which tend to focus on genes, the coevolutionists focus on culture, ).

Jul 12, 2019
yeah. Funny how Han Chinese (not white, only recently industrialized and then only partially) are smarter/test higher on standardized tests, on average, than Caucasians.

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