In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Personality and Politics

  • Introduction
  • Foundational Works on Personality
  • The Evolution of the Study of Personality
  • Origins and Explanations of the Big Five Framework
  • Measuring the Big Five
  • The Genetics of Personality Broadly and the Big Five Specifically
  • Criticisms of the Big Five Framework
  • The Big Five and Elite Political Behavior
  • Recent Non–Big Five Works

Political Science Personality and Politics
Megan Remmel
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 January 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 January 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0143


Personality involves the investigation of individual differences, both differences across individuals and the manifestation of those differences within individuals. Certainly, such an approach holds a great deal of interest for political scientists studying the beliefs and behaviors of individuals. Indeed, subfields such as political behavior and political psychology are premised on the idea that not only do individuals differ from one another but that those differences have meaningful impacts on values, attitudes, and behaviors. Although existing research has successfully accounted for many precursors of political difference such as demographics, socialization, and core values, psychology more broadly, and personality more specifically, have not claimed positions comparable to these other antecedents. Yet in the 21st century, for example, a number of political scientists now concur that liberals and conservatives disagree about politics because they differ in psychology, personality, and even physiology and genetics. Such findings potentially challenge much of what we know of political behavior and call into question whether in the realm of politics individuals can truly change. While political scientists recognized the potential significance of personality on political values, attitudes, and behaviors for decades, integration of personality into research was sporadic and haphazard with scholars employing a number of different frameworks and measurement batteries and inventories. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, however, personality psychology as a field has largely adopted a trait-centered approach, most often employed through the Big Five model. In light of this cohesion, numerous scholars have undertaken studying the effects of personality on politics. While inclusion of personality and aspects of psychology have greatly increased in the last decade, such works have generated considerable debate within the discipline. These criticisms often concern arguments over the genetic basis of personality and an excessive focus on personality to the exclusion of the environment. Such concerns have prompted advocates of the inclusion of personality in studies of political behavior to explore personality itself, conditional effects, and personality-environment interactions.

Foundational Works on Personality

The philosophical idea of personality has existed for millennia. As discussed in Allport 1937, both Hippocrates and Galen characterized individuals as possessing one of four different “humors” based on excess production of different bodily fluids. Indeed, this ancient theory helped generate the idea of categorizing differences across individuals. Although less visceral than either Hippocrates or Galen, the academic study of personality has over 100 years of history. In popular culture, the theories of Sigmund Freud (Freud 1990) and Carl Jung (Jung 1976) have taken root. Both these authors theorized that personality has both conscious and unconscious aspects and emphasized the importance of dreams in understanding personality. Whereas Freud argued that sex was the motivating factor for psychological differences and dysfunctions, Jung argued individuals could be typed based on how they take in information and make decisions. Later approaches moved beyond these case and observational studies toward a more systematic and scientific study of personality. These now-seminal works Eysenck 1947; Eysenck 1970; Cattell 1946; Cattell 1950; and Cattell, et al. 1993 informed the development of today’s trait approach through their use of factor analysis and reliability testing of constructs.

  • Allport, Gordon. Personality: A Psychological Interpretation. New York: Holt, 1937.

    This is the first study of personality through a trait perspective. Allport differentiates between central traits (basic to an individual’s personality), secondary traits (more peripheral traits), common traits (common to large groups of people), and cardinal traits (used to recognize individuals).

  • Cattell, Raymond. Description and Measurement of Personality. Yonkers, NY: World Book, 1946.

    Takes Allport’s categorization of traits a step further through the use of factor analysis. Cattell presents his theory of sixteen personality dimensions and argues those dimensions (the 16PF) constitute the foundation for a hierarchical and multilevel organization of personality.

  • Cattell, Raymond. Personality: A Systematic Theoretical and Factual Study. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1950.

    DOI: 10.1037/10773-000

    One of the first attempts to not only provide description and explanation of individual differences but also to measure personality. Cattell develops ways to operationalize the 16PF developed in his 1946 book by employing self-reports and the ratings of others to create more objective measures of personality.

  • Cattell, Raymond, A. Karen Cattell, and Heather E. P. Cattell. 16PF Fifth Edition Questionnaire. Champaign, IL: Institute for Personality and Ability Testing, 1993.

    This work is the handbook for using the 16PF test to measure personality. The latest edition (most recently updated in 2002) includes revisions made to the questionnaire. The questionnaire is widely used throughout psychology and has been translated into more than thirty languages.

  • Eysenck, Hans. Dimensions of Personality. New York: Praeger, 1947.

    Another foundational work conceptualizing personality through two trait dimensions: extraversion/introversion and neuroticism. Eysenck acknowledges the importance of social learning but also emphasizes the importance of genetics. He also links biology with personality by relating that personality to an individual’s autonomic nervous system.

  • Eysenck, Hans. The Structure of Human Personality. London: Methuen, 1970.

    Eysenck furthers the conceptualization of personality dimensions offered in his 1947 book. In addition to extraversion/introversion and neuroticism, Eysenck also considers a third dimension dubbed “psychoticism.” This book is one of the earliest attempts to bring together multiple approaches to personality and to use empirical evidence to test personality models.

  • Freud, Sigmund. The Ego and the Id: The Standard Edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 1990.

    Freud argues for a tripartite conceptualization of personality. The id (“it”) is present at birth, entirely unconscious, and strives for immediate gratification. The ego (“I”) develops from the id in response to what is socially acceptable. The superego (“above I”) develops around age five and holds the moral standards we acquire from our parents and society.

  • Jung, Carl. Psychological Types: The Collected Works of C. G. Jung. Vol. 6. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976.

    Jung derives his personality types from impressions and experiences rather than formal case studies or data. He discusses the importance of introversion versus extraversion and how those two interact with four “functions.” This work forms the basis for today’s well-known Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

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