Evolution of the Five Factor Theory

Originally, the five factors constituted noting more than a taxonomy, a classification of basic personality traits. By the late 1980s, Costa and McCrae became confident that they and other researchers had found a stable structure of personality. That is, they had answered the first central question of personality: What is the structure of personality? This advance was an important milestone for personality traits. The field now had a commonly agreed-on language for describing personality, and it was in five dimensions. Describing personality traits, however, is not the same as explaining them. For explanation, scientists need theory, and that was the next project for McCrae and Costa.

McCrae and Costa (1996) objected to earlier theories as relying too heavily on clinical experiences and on armchair speculation. By the 1980s, the rift between classical theories and modern research-based theories had become quite pronounced. It had become clear to them that "the old theories cannot simply be abandoned: They must be replaced by a new generation of theories that grow out of the conceptual insights of the past and the empirical findings of contemporary research" (p. 53). Indeed this tension between the old and new was one of the driving forces behind Costa and McCrae s development of an alternative theory, one that went beyond the five-factor taxonomy.

What then is the alternative? What could a modern trait theory do that was missing from the classic theories? According to McCrae and Costa, first and foremost, a new theory should be able to incorporate the change and growth of the field that has occurred over the last 25 years as well as be grounded in the current empirical principles that have emerged from research.

For 25 years, Costa and McCrae had been at the forefront of contemporary personality research, developing and elaborating on the Five-Factor Model. According to McCrae and Costa (1999) "neither the model itself nor the body of research findings with which it is associated constitutes a theory of personality. A theory organizes findings to tell a coherent story, to bring mto focus those issues and phenomena that can and should be explained" (pp. 139-140). Earlier, McCrae and Costa (1996, p. 78) had stated that "the facts about personality are beginning to fall mto place. Now is the thne to begm to make sense of them." In other words, it was time to turn the Five-Factor Model (taxonomy) mto a Five-Factor Theory (FFT).

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  • stefan
    Who said a theory organizes finding of a coherent story to bring into focus those issues?
    3 years ago

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