Synthesis of over 50 meta-analyses examines link between Big Five personality and performance

A synthesis of 54 meta-analyses which collectively included over 2,000 studies and 550,000 participants found a robust association between Big Five personality and performance. This research was published in the Journal of Personality.

Numerous meta-analyses have investigated the relation between Big Five personality and performance, ranging from job/academic performance to tests of emotional intelligence, or measures of creativity and interpersonal sensitivity, with varying research findings.

“The fundamental question of how well the Big Five predict performance in general (i.e., a latent variable indicated by shared variance in performance in specific domains) has yet to be systematically tested”, write study authors Ethan Zell and Tara L. Lesick.

A literature search yielded 1,228 articles of potential relevance. To be included in the synthesis, articles had to provide meta-analytic effect sizes that indexed the size of the relation between Big Five traits and performance. Big Five traits included both self- and other- ratings of personality as well as measures that used a Big Five framework. Performance included behavioral indices of productivity, achievement, effectiveness based on objective measures (e.g., GPA), and external ratings (e.g., teacher feedback). Performance was categorized into job, academic, and other types of performance (e.g., negotiation skills, computer programming).

A total of 54 meta-analyses, which collectively included 2028 studies and 554,778 participants were included in this synthesis.

Zell and Lesick found small associations between Big Five traits and overall performance. The authors suggest that “Statistically small effects of personality traits may yield practically important consequences [], especially in the performance domain, where small gains in performance bring tangible rewards such as increased entry into selective academic programs and job promotion.” Further, conscientiousness had an overall effect that was at least 46% larger than the other Big Five traits (i.e., extraversion, agreeableness, openness, and neuroticism).

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The researchers note, “These data are consistent with emerging theory postulating that conscientiousness is a uniquely important correlate of performance, given its overlap with critical dimensions like self-control, grit, and planning.”

Prior meta-analyses had distinctly focused on the link between personality and either job or academic performance, suggesting similar associations for both. The current work suggests that while agreeableness and openness yield similar effects for both performance categories, conscientiousness is more strongly related to academic (vs. job) performance. As well, extraversion and neuroticism have a stronger relation with job (vs. academic) performance. It appears that the association between personality and performance varies in meaningful ways across performance categories.

Lastly, looking at the replicability across three meta-analyses in which the same personality-performance associations had been examined by independent research teams, the researchers found that the results were very similar – in other words, replicable.

Zell and Lesick write, “[An] important caveat is that, because personality—performance research incorporated in the present report was correlational in nature, it remains unclear whether personality has a causal impact on performance. Although personality may cause performance, it is also possible that performance trends initiate changes in personality or that third variables such as socioeconomic status account for both personality and performance.”

The research, “Big five personality traits and performance: A quantitative synthesis of 50+ meta-analyses”, was authored by Ethan Zell and Tara L. Lesick.

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