Cattell's 16 Personality Factors

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The 16 personality factors are different dimensions that make up personality. These include factors such as emotional stability, perfectionism, reasoning, and warmth. 

People have long been interested in understanding human personality. As a result, numerous theories have been developed to explain how personality develops and influences behavior.

One such theory was proposed by psychologist Raymond Cattell, who created a taxonomy of 16 different personality traits that could be used to describe and explain individual differences between people's personalities.

This article explores the trait approach to personality and the 16 factors of personality that Cattell identified. It also discusses uses for the 16PF Questionnaire and what your results on the test might mean.

The Trait Approach to Personality

Psychologists have long debated exactly how personality should be defined and described. One of these key ideas is known as the trait theory of personality.

According to trait theory, human personality is composed of a number of broad traits or dispositions.

Some of the earliest of these trait theories attempted to describe every single trait that might possibly exist. For example, psychologist Gordon Allport identified more than 4,000 words in the English language that could be used to describe personality traits.

While this approach was good at identifying different types of traits, it is unwieldy and difficult to use. Many of these traits, for example, are highly similar, making it difficult to distinguish some traits from others. Such ambiguity also makes it difficult to study these personality traits.

The 16 Personality Factors

Psychologist Raymond Cattell analyzed Allport's list and whittled it down to 171 characteristics, mostly by eliminating terms that were redundant or uncommon. He then used a statistical technique known as factor analysis to identify traits that are related to one another. With this method, he was able to whittle his list to 16 key personality factors.

According to Cattell, there is a continuum of personality traits. In other words, each person contains all of these 16 traits to a certain degree, but they might be high in some traits and low in others.

The following personality trait list describes some of the descriptive terms used for each of the 16 personality dimensions described by Cattell.

  1. Abstractedness: Imaginative versus practical
  2. Apprehension: Worried versus confident
  3. Dominance: Forceful versus submissive
  4. Emotional stability: Calm versus high-strung
  5. Liveliness: Spontaneous versus restrained
  6. Openness to change: Flexible versus attached to the familiar
  7. Perfectionism: Controlled versus undisciplined
  8. Privateness: Discreet versus open
  9. Reasoning: Abstract versus concrete
  10. Rule-consciousness: Conforming versus non-conforming
  11. Self-reliance: Self-sufficient versus dependent
  12. Sensitivity: Tender-hearted versus tough-minded
  13. Social boldness: Uninhibited versus shy
  14. Tension: Inpatient versus relaxed
  15. Vigilance: Suspicious versus trusting
  16. Warmth: Outgoing versus reserved

The 16 factors identified by Cattell were based on the original list of personality traits described by Gordon Allport. However, other researchers believe these 16 factors can be further reduced to fewer dimensions that underpin personality. The five-factor model is one example.

The 16PF Personality Questionnaire

Cattell developed an assessment based on these 16 personality factors. The test is known as the 16PF Personality Questionnaire and is still frequently used today, especially in career counseling, marital counseling, and in business for employee testing and selection.

The test is composed of forced-choice questions in which the respondent must choose one of three different alternatives. Personality traits are then represented by a range and the individual's score falls somewhere on the continuum between highest and lowest extremes.

The scores can be interpreted using a number of different systems, depending upon why the test is being used. Some interpretive reports take a clinical approach looking at personality, while others are more focused on topics such as career selection, teamwork development, and leadership potential.

Research has supported the test's validity, including its use in career development and personality assessment.

A free version of the 16PF Questionnaire is available online through the Open-Source Psychometrics Project. The test is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for professional advice or medical diagnosis. Talk to a mental health provider or career testing service to have a professional administer the test and interpret your results.

Other Personality Tests

There are also many other personality assessments available. Like the 16PF Questionnaire, they tend to evaluate different dimensions or traits, although the specific traits included on each test vary. Some of the most popular personality tests include:

Uses for the 16 Factors

The 16 Personality Factors (16PF) has a variety of uses, including:

  • Career development: The assessment can provide insights that help people determine which careers suit their talents and interests.
  • Industrial and organizational settings: The questionnaire is sometimes used to evaluate job candidtates to determine if they are a good fit for particular roles.
  • Personality assessment: The questionnaire can be useful for better understanding different aspects of personality.
  • Research: The 16 factor questionnaire is also used as a research tool when investigating different aspects of personality and behavior.

The Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF) is widely used today for career counseling.

In business, it is used in personnel selection, especially for choosing managers. It is also used in clinical diagnosis and to plan therapy by assessing anxiety, adjustment, and behavioral problems.

Test Interpretation

Several reports can be generated to help interpret the test results for different purposes, including clinical reports, career development reports, leadership reports, and personality interpretations.

The 16PF Questionnaire takes approximately 30 to 50 minutes to administer. It can be taken on a computer, but it can also be taken in pencil-and-paper form. It is often administered and interpreted by a trained professional but can also be self-administered. 

Each personality factor is scored on a 10-point scale. A score below four is considered low, and a score above seven is considered high. The context, interaction, and overall score also need to be considered in addition to the scores on each factor.

It is important to remember that high doesn't correspond to "good" and low doesn't correspond to "bad." Each scale has its own meaning, so it is important to use a scoring guide to determine what your score indicates.

History of the 16 Factors

Born in 1905, Cattell witnessed the advent of many 20th-century inventions, such as electricity, telephones, cars, and airplanes. He was inspired by these innovations and was eager to apply the scientific methods that were used to make such discoveries to the human mind and personality.

Personality, he believed, was not just some unknowable and untestable mystery. It was something that could be studied and organized. Through scientific study, human characteristics and behaviors could be predicted based on underlying personality traits.

Cattell worked with psychologist Charles Spearman, who was known for his pioneering work in statistics. Cattell would later use the factor analysis techniques developed by Spearman to create his own personality taxonomy, which became the 16PF Questionnaire.

A Word From Verywell

The 16 factors of personality is one example of the trait approach. According to trait theory, human personality is made up of a number of different personality dimensions. The 16PF Questionnaire is still widely used today in a variety of settings. It can give clinicians insight into their client's needs during treatment. It is also often used as a career development tool.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  6. PSI. 16PF Comprehensive Insights Report.

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is the author of the "Everything Psychology Book (2nd Edition)" and has written thousands of articles on diverse psychology topics. Kendra holds a Master of Science degree in education from Boise State University with a primary research interest in educational psychology and a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Idaho State University with additional coursework in substance use and case management.