Why this personality research?

As noted in our literature review, and further endorsed by Paunonen et al. (2000), it is important to study personality and its structure cross-culturally because of the need to “understand the nature of the organization of human behaviour” (p.222) and “the extent to which that organization is universal or culturally specific” (p.222). Church and Lonner (1998) contest that these issues are not fully resolved in personality psychology and will not be until research has taken place in many different cultures on many different samples. This research has commenced, however, there is still a long way to go before firm conclusions may be drawn.

Cheung, Leung, Fan, Song, Zhang, and Zhang (1996) have argued that personality tests that have been developed in the West may not adequately assess the personality of Chinese respondents. They note that the lack of appropriate measures for use in Chinese populations is particularly significant given they constitute approximately a quarter of the world’s population and this population has emigrated in significant numbers to most countries in the Western world. Moreover, and given the economic growth of China, tools for assessing personality in Chinese samples may be of growing commercial interest, as well as being of interest to applied psychologists, educators and others in China.

Cheung, Cheung, Wada and Zhang (2003) in their review of indigenous measures of personality assessment in Asian countries focus primarily on the CPAI and note that it is the first Asian personality inventory to have been translated into English and other languages (e.g., Korean and Japanese). In their discussion, they comment that “with a research program designed to establish its clinical validity, the CPAI holds promise as an indigenous clinical assessment measure” (p.287). The researchers do not however venture outside of the realm of clinical assessment. Given that personality assessments are not only developed for clinical use, it is necessary to conduct a program of research that establishes the psychometric properties and validity of indigenous tests in the Chinese workplace. Trait theories of personality have their ultimate origins within a biological model of the individual (e.g., Costa & McCrae, 2002; Eysenck, 1991; McCrae, 2004; Stankov, Boyle & Cattell, 1995). This is why, for example, researchers such as Wu, Lindsted, and Lee (2005) have attempted to (unsuccessfully) link blood type with personality in Asia. Jang et al. (1998) and Loehlin et al. (1998) were more successful in demonstrating the heritability of personality traits. This, coupled with the huge amount of research on the FFM seems to provide wide-ranging support for a universal model of personality. However, as Du Bois (1964) notes, “People without culture are inconceivable. Similarly, culture without man is meaningless. Both are constantly interactive.” (p.9). This, alongside issues concerning Chinese Openness (Cheung et al., 2004) may mean that Cheung et al. (1996) were correct in their claim for an additional (to the FFM) Interpersonal Relatedness factor. Furthermore, in line with a biologically-based, universal model of personality there may be value in Cheung, Wada and Zhang’s (2003) claim that “what were considered ‘indigenous’ constructs in Asia may inform a “blind spot” in Western trait measures of personality” (p.287). This potential blind-spot may also affect the criterion-related validity of personality assessment at work and thus its utility in assisting in the prediction of workplace performance. This effect, by implication of a universal blind-spot, may not only be observed in Asia, but anywhere in the world where personality tests are used.

Although there is some support for the ability of the CPAI to export to foreign cultures, as endorsed by Cheung et al. (2003), more studies are required in other Western cultures before being able to draw firm conclusions about potential “blind-spots” in current Western personality theory. Poortinga and Van Hemert (2001) note in their conclusion that although, in their view, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that traits hold across cultures, psychology can only benefit from further studies of personality in non-European /North American cultures. Van der Vijer and Leung (1997) advocate a convergence approach in the provision of support for the universality of a personality construct. This requires the administration of both Western and indigenously developed assessments of personality in order to investigate what may be unique to one or a number of cultures and what may be applicable to all. Church (2001) adds that it is important to assess whether or not an indigenous assessment of personality holds incremental validity beyond that provided by imported measures. Triandis and Suh (2002) imply in their caution regarding the lack of emic research and the lack of studies carried out on non-Western samples, that this type of research is required by cross-cultural researchers. It follows that joint administration of a Western and indigenous personality test in China should occur in addition to the administration of that same Western test, alongside the so-called indigenous measure in a Western nation in order to investigate the constructs at play fully. Likewise, the collection of meaningful criterion data to analyse in order to fulfil Church’s (2001) call is indicated.

Greater knowledge of personality; which aspects are universal and which are not; as well as the investigation of links between both “universal” and indigenous factors of personality in their ability to predict performance in both the West and China will add immense value to the literature and professional workplace. At the same time this will provide researchers and practitioners alike with confidence (or otherwise) in use of personality assessments locally and worldwide as a valid tool in the workplace assessment and development process.