The human personality can be a fascinating thing to understand. Having an idea of the personality traits of the people around us can help us interact with others in a better way. So, it is important to understand the different personality types among human beings. 

For this reason, researchers have developed many different kinds of personality tests and theories. One such theory involves Cattell’s 16 personality factors (16PF) given by psychologist Raymond Cattell. In this article, we will discuss this theory in detail.

Cattell’s 16 Personality Factors

Before talking about Cattell’s trait theory, let us see how it came into existence.

In simple terms, a trait is any characteristic that can cause an individual to behave in a certain way. Throughout history, different researchers have proposed different versions of the trait theory. 

In its basic form, the trait theory indicates that the human personality comprises many traits or characteristics. The American psychologist Gordon Allport did notable work on this. He found that a Standard English language dictionary contains above 4000 words that describe different personality traits.

Cattell based his work on this work by Allport. According to Cattell, personality is something that can predict how an individual will behave in a certain situation. He believed that scientific methods to identify personality traits will be more effective than previous theoretical work. 

To develop his personality theory, Cattell analyzed Allport’s list of 4000 traits. At first, he reduced this list to 171 characteristics or traits. He did this by eliminating uncommon and redundant terms. He then thought of refining the list even more. To do this, he used a statistical technique called factor analysis. British psychologist Charles Spearman developed this concept.

Cattell claimed that personality traits are of two types. He called them surface traits and source traits. Surface traits are the visible characteristics in an individual that one can see from the outside. 

By doing factor analysis, Cattell identified certain clusters of surface traits in each individual. He named these as source traits. Cattell found 16 such source traits. He also developed the Handbook of the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF). This is a self-report questionnaire. Even to this day, this serves as one of the most common personality tests used worldwide.

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The 16 Factors in Brief

As we have said before, Cattell identified 16 personality factors through his work. Each factor contributes to a personality trait. Cattell believed that these personality traits exist in a continuum. This means that all 16 traits exist in every individual to some extent. But their level or intensity varies from person to person. This is what creates personality differences.

Let us now look at each of the 16 factors that Cattell identified.

1. Warmth

Warmth means the extent of friendliness or sociability in a person. Cattell named this Factor A. Based on the level of warmth, a person can be outgoing or reserved.

2. Reasoning

This is Cattell’s Factor B. It denotes the intelligence of a person. It gives a measure of how a person can do an action or task in a logical or sensible way.

3. Emotional Stability

Emotional stability allows a person to develop an integrated and balanced way of responding to the problems faced in daily life. This was Cattell’s Factor C.

4. Dominance

In simple terms, dominance refers to an individual’s power and authority over others. Some people prefer to be dominant while others prefer to be submissive. Cattell called this his Factor E.

5. Liveliness

Cattell termed this as Factor F. Liveliness refers to the quality of being outgoing, energetic, and enthusiastic.

6. Rule-consciousness

As one can understand from the name, rule-consciousness means an individual’s will to follow rules or disregard them. This was Cattell’s Factor G.

7. Social boldness

Social boldness implies how comfortably a person acts and feels in social situations. Cattell called this Factor H.

8. Sensitivity

In simple terms, the sensitivity means the quality or condition of being sensitive. Cattell named this Factor I.

9. Vigilance

Vigilance means keeping a careful watch for possible danger or difficulties. This was Cattell’s Factor L.

10. Abstractedness

In simple words, this refers to a state of mind characterized by detachment from reality. It means how preoccupied a person is in their own thoughts. This is the Factor M.

11. Privateness

Cattell termed this as his Factor N. This indicates how discreet or open a person prefers to be in his or her daily life.

12. Apprehension

This refers to the fear that something bad or unpleasant will happen. Cattell called this Factor O.

13. Openness to change

This was the Factor Q1. It indicates how open-minded a person is.

14. Self-reliance

Cattell called this Factor Q2. It denotes the extent of autonomy of a person. It indicates how self-sufficient an individual is.

15. Perfectionism

This denotes the extent to which an individual strives to be flawless in everything they do. It also gives an idea about the self-criticizing tendencies of a person. Cattell termed this as Factor Q3.

16. Tension

This gives an idea of whether an individual tends to be impatient or relaxed. This is the last of the personality factors described by Cattell. He marked this as Factor Q4.

Uses of the 16 Personality Factors

Having an idea of the 16 personality factors can be useful in many fields. We will discuss some of them below.

  • Personality assessment: This was the original purpose of developing the 16 personality factors. Needless to say, the 16PF test can help to determine an individual’s personality type.
  • Career counseling: Perhaps the most common use of personality factors is in the area of career counseling. Experts often conduct the 16PF test on different candidates. This helps to reveal their characteristic traits. This can help career advisors decide what kind of job suits each person.
  • Organizational setting: Many organizations or companies may use the test to get an idea of whether certain employees are suitable for a particular job or task.
  • Research tool: Researchers may also use the questionnaire as an important tool to conduct research on personality types.

Test Interpretation of 16PF Test

Cattell founded the Institute for Personality and Ability Testing (IPAT) in Illinois, USA. This institute first published the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF) in 1949. Presently, its 5th edition is in circulation. This version contains 185 multiple-choice questions. The test exists in both a paper and a digital or computerized version. Readers can find a free version of the test online.

Based on the answers to the questions, each of the 16 traits can get a score ranging from 0 to 10. A score of 4 or less indicates a “low score”. 7 or more indicates a “high score”.  Note that these are personality traits. So, a low score does not mean that someone has done poorly on the test. Similarly, a high score does not mean someone has done well. These just indicate that people have different kinds of character traits.

The following table helps to show what these scores mean for each of the 16 personality traits.

Factor codeTraitLow score interpretationHigh score interpretation
AWarmthImpatient, reserved, distant, detached, aloofOutgoing, kind, easygoing
BReasoningConcrete thinking, low IQ, lower mental capacityAbstract thinking, high IQ, good mental capacity
CEmotional stabilityEmotionally unstable, easily upset, reactiveEmotionally stable, calm, adaptive, mature
EDominanceSubmissive, obedient, humble, conflict-avoidant, docileDominant, assertive, aggressive, bossy
FLivelinessSerious, restrained, silent, introspectiveLively, cheerful, spontaneous, animated, expressive, impulsive
GRule-consciousnessNon-conforming, self-indulgent, disregards rulesConscientious, conforming, dutiful
HSocial boldnessShy, timid, sensitive, intimated, hesitantUninhibited, bold
ISensitivityTough-minded, utilitarian, roughSensitive, sentimental, intuitive, refined
LVigilanceTrusting, unsuspecting, accepting, easy-goingVigilant, suspicious, skeptical, distrustful
MAbstractednessPractical, prosaic, grounded, conventionalImaginative, absent-minded, impractical, free-thinking
NPrivatenessOpen, forthright, genuine, naivePrivate, discreet, shrewd, polished, diplomatic
OApprehensionSelf-assured, confident, unworriedApprehensive, worried, insecure, guilt-prone
Q1Openness to changeTraditional, rigid, conservativeFlexible, liberal, experimental
Q2Self-relianceDependentSelf-sufficient, solitary, individualistic
Q3PerfectionismIndisciplined, flexible, lax, impulsivePerfectionist, organized, controlling, disciplined
Q4TensionRelaxed, placid, tranquil, patientTensed, nervous, impatient, frustrated
16 PF and score analysis

To Sum Up 

Many researchers have conducted extensive research to understand the different human personalities. Out of those, Raymond Cattell’s trait theory remains an important one.

In this article, we have discussed Cattell’s 16 personality factors (16PF). Every person contains all of these factors or traits in them. The extent of each trait determines the overall personality of that person. 

Cattell’s 16PF questionnaire finds extensive use in many fields. But readers should remember that no theory is flawless. Many people have criticized Cattell’s work as well. Despite that, it remains a landmark work in the field of personality theory.