A. T., & Katigbak, M. S. (2002). Studying personality traits across
cultures: Philippine examples. In W. J. Lonner, D. L. Dinnel, S. A.
Hayes, & D. N. Sattler (Eds.), Online Readings in Psychology and
Culture (Unit 6, Chapter 2),
Center for Cross-Cultural Research, Western Washington University,
Bellingham, Washington USA.
This material is copyrighted by the author(s), who have kindly extended to the Center the right to use the material as described in the Introduction to this collection and the form entitled "Agreement to Extend License to Use Work."
UNIT 6, CHAPTER 2
STUDYING PERSONALITY TRAITS ACROSS
CULTURES: PHILIPPINE EXAMPLES
A. Timothy Church and Marcia S. Katigbak
Washington State University
Trait perspectives are dominant in the study of personality cross-culturally. We review the questions addressed by researchers who study personality traits across cultures, including, among others, whether traits are used in all cultures to understand persons and their behavior, the universality versus culture-specificity of traits, the validity of imported and indigenous measures of personality traits, and the meaningfulness of trait comparisons across cultures. We then summarize evidence relevant to these questions in one collectivistic culture, the Philippines. Overall, personality research in the Philippines supports the applicability of traits and trait theory as a basis for understanding persons and their behavior across cultures.
Central to western personality psychology is the concept of traits, typically defined as relatively stable or enduring individual differences in thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Although some cultural psychologists question the importance of traits in understanding or predicting behavior in collectivistic cultures (e.g., Markus & Kitayama, 1998), trait perspectives continue to dominate the study and measurement of personality across cultures (Church, 2000). In studying personality traits and their measurement across cultures, the following questions are relevant:
l. Are personality traits useful in
describing or understanding persons and their behavior in all cultures?
2. Do persons in different cultures describe each other in terms of similar or comparable traits?
3. How well do the trait dimensions assessed by imported personality inventories replicate or function across cultures?
4. How culture-specific are the trait dimensions assessed by indigenous personality inventories?
5. Do indigenous personality measures outperform or provide additional prediction of behavior beyond that provided by imported measures?
6. Are particular traits expressed or manifested in a similar manner in all cultures?
7. Can cultural differences in the level of particular personality traits be inferred from comparisons of average scores on personality measures across cultures?
8. Are subgroup differences in personality traits (e.g., gender differences) the same in all cultures?
9. Do persons in different cultures vary in their beliefs about the extent to which behavior is determined by traits versus contextual factors?
10. Are the biological or socio-cultural bases of personality traits the same in different cultures?
As these questions indicate, researchers who investigate personality cross-culturally are typically interested in the usefulness of the trait concept in understanding and predicting behavior across cultures, the universality versus culture-specificity of traits and their expression, the validity of imported and indigenous trait measures, cultural and subcultural differences in trait levels, and the biological or socio-cultural bases of traits.
Cross-cultural personality researchers around the world have addressed these questions in varying degrees. Below, we address each question with a focus on the Philippine context, often drawing on our own studies in each area. An exception: We do not address the last question about the bases of personality traits. Although a few researchers have examined the heritability of personality traits across cultures, no such studies have been conducted in the Philippines.
Do Filipinos use traits in describing or understanding persons and their behavior?
Yes. Researchers have shown that Filipinos readily apply trait terms in describing themselves and others (Church & Katigbak, 2000). For example, in our own studies of mental health conceptions, Filipino college students made extensive use of trait terms in describing Filipinos with good or poor psychological health (Church & Katigbak, 1989). In addition, Filipino psychologists have made extensive use of trait concepts in describing Filipino personality characteristics and in the development of indigenous instruments (Guanzon-Lape¤a, Church, Carlota, & Katigbak, 1998).
Are the trait terms used by Filipinos comparable to those used by persons in other cultures?
Overall, yes. This question addresses the comparability of personality trait lexicons across cultures. Clearly, one can identify many trait terms in Filipino languages that are difficult to translate or that have culture-specific connotations. However, in comprehensive studies of the Filipino (Tagalog) trait lexicon we have found that the person-descriptive lexicon in Filipino is roughly comparable in size to the person-descriptive lexicons in many other languages, including German, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Hungarian, Czech, and Polish, all of which are substantially smaller, however, than the English person-descriptive lexicon (which has many obscure terms) (Church, Katigbak, & Reyes, 1996). Also, by classifying Filipino trait adjectives into an existing taxonomy of person-descriptive categories we concluded that different person-descriptive lexicons address comparable aspects of persons and their behavior (e.g., personality traits; abilities; experiential, physical, and behavioral states; social roles and effects; attitudes and world views; anatomy and appearance).
Most importantly, by classifying Filipino and English trait adjectives into the 133 refined subcategories of a personality taxonomy based on the Big Five dimensions (Surgency/Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability, and Intellect), we concluded that the Filipino and English lexicons make comparable trait distinctions. These results, and recent results in several additional languages, suggest that a Big Five taxonomy can encompass most, if not all, of the trait distinctions made in most cultures.
How well do the trait dimensions assessed by imported personality inventories replicate in the Philippines?
Rather well. Cross-cultural researchers
typically investigate this question by translating and administering personality
inventories developed in one culture (usually in the U.S. or Europe) in a new
culture. By examining the "structure" or relationships among the
imported scales or items (typically using a statistical procedure referred to as
factor analysis), researchers determine whether the same underlying personality
dimensions or "factors" can account for the relationships among the
items or scales, and thus be meaningfully used to assess these trait dimensions
in the new culture. For example, three studies thus far have found that the Big
Five dimensions, as assessed by the Revised NEO Personality Inventory, replicate
rather well in the Philippines (Church & Katigbak, 2002).
How culture-specific are the trait dimensions assessed by indigenous Philippine personality inventories?
Most are not highly culture-specific. A large number of indigenous personality measures have been developed in the Philippines, although only a few measure a fairly comprehensive set of traits or dimensions (Guanzon-Lapeņa et al., 1998). In one series of studies (e.g., see Church, Katigbak, & Reyes, 1998), we obtained Filipinos' ratings of their own personalities using large sets of trait adjectives from the lexical studies referred to earlier. Factor analyses of these responses in several samples have indicated that six substantive dimensions provide a rather comprehensive and replicable representation of Filipino personality structure based on the lexical approach. English labels for these dimensions are Concerned for Others versus Egotism, Gregariousness, Temperamentalness, Self-Assurance, Conscientiousness, and Intellect. By correlating scores on these dimensions with measures of the Big Five, we showed that the indigenous and Big Five dimensions overlap considerably, but do not carve up the personality space in precisely the same manner.
In another series of studies, we used interviews and open-ended questionnaires to derive Filipino college students' conceptions of healthy and unhealthy personality (Church & Katigbak, 1989). Later, college students responded to items written to assess these personality concepts. Factor analyses of the students' responses resulted in six dimensions that showed some conceptual overlap with the lexical dimensions described above: Concern for Others, Affective Well-being, Emotional Control, Social Potency, Responsibility, and Broad-Mindedness. Subsequently, we found moderate to strong correlations between these dimensions and dimensions of the Big Five or five-factor model, as assessed with the NEO-PI-R (Katigbak, Church, & Akamine, 1996).
Two other indigenous personality inventories are well-known in the Philippines, the Panukat ng Pagkataong Pilpino (PPP) and Panukat ng Ugali at Pagkatao (PUP) (Guanzon-Lape¤a et al., 1998). The inventory authors drew on personality descriptions provided by cultural informants and Filipino personality literature to select the traits to assess. For example, English labels for the traits assessed by the PPP are Responsibleness, Orderliness, Achievement Orientation, Honesty, Thoughtfulness, Respectfulness, Humility, Obedience, Capacity for Understanding, Helpfulness, Emotional Stability, Patience, Sensitiveness, Sociability, Cheerfulness, Social Curiosity, Creativity, Risk-Taking, and Intelligence. Some of these traits may be particularly salient in the Philippines (e.g., Respectfulness, Obedience, Humility, Social Curiosity). Furthermore, an inspection of the item content of these inventories reveals references to situations and behaviors that seem particularly relevant for the Philippines setting. However, we recently found that most of the trait dimensions measured by these indigenous measures overlap considerably with the Big Five dimensions; only a few Philippine scales were less well accounted for by the five-factor model (Katigbak, Church, Guanzon-Lapeņa, Carlota, del Pilar, 2002). In sum, studies of indigenous Philippine lexical and inventory dimensions suggest that Big-Five-like dimensions are relevant in the Philippines and that indigenous Philippine dimensions are not very culture-specific.
Do indigenous Philippine measures outperform or provide additional prediction of behavior beyond that provided by imported measures?
Outperform? So far, no. Additional prediction? Yes. In the study just described, we also compared the ability of the indigenous and imported (NEO-PI-R) scales to predict various self-reported behavioral and attitudinal criteria deemed relevant in Philippine society: smoking, drinking, gambling, praying, accident proneness, tolerance of homosexuality, tolerance of extramarital sexual relations, and tolerance of premarital sexual relations (Katigbak et al., 2002). We found that the best indigenous and imported predictors generally correlated with these criteria about equally well; however, the indigenous predictors usually did provide additional prediction of the criteria, as reflected in modest but statistically significant increases in multiple correlations, beyond that provided by the imported scales alone.
Are particular traits expressed or manifested differently in the Philippines?
Probably to some extent, but evidence is limited. Two sources of evidence are relevant. First, one could examine whether the behavioral correlates of particular traits are similar across cultures (e.g., are higher levels of Conscientiousness manifested in higher job performance ratings in all cultures?). Second, one could examine whether the behavioral indicators of particular traits, for example, as captured in inventory items, are comparable across cultures.
Evidence of the first type is sparse cross-culturally, including in the Philippines. Investigators have rarely compared the correlates of the same traits in multiple cultures. Studies in the Philippines present a mixed picture. For example, in a study of academic motives, we found a pattern of correlations between various academic motives and student grade point averages that was very similar for American and Filipino college students (Church & Katigbak, 1992). In contrast, we have found cross-cultural differences in the personality correlates of individualism-collectivism between U.S. and Philippine samples (Grimm, Church, Katigbak, & Reyes, 1999) and Watkins and Astilla (1980) failed to replicate in the Philippines correlations found in U.S. samples between first-year college grades and scores on the California Psychological Inventory.
Regarding the second type of evidence, we have found that a large proportion (about 40%) of the items in the NEO-PI-R (administered to Filipino college students in English, a language of instruction) exhibited "differential item functioning" or item bias across cultures (Huang, Church, & Katigbak, 1997). That is, in many cases, the behaviors depicted in the items were better or more relevant indicators of the intended traits in either the Philippines or the U.S., as compared to the other culture. With very few exceptions, however, the behaviors depicted in the items were sufficiently relevant indicators of the intended traits in both cultures to be retained. Overall, the extent to which particular traits are manifested in comparable behaviors across cultures is an unresolved question.
Can average trait levels of Filipinos, as compared to other cultural groups, be inferred from comparisons of scores on personality inventories across cultures?
Cross-cultural researchers differ considerably in their optimism regarding the validity of such trait-level comparisons across cultures. Methodologists point to a variety of construct, method, and item biases that can reduce the equivalence of personality measures and the comparability of scores across cultures. Judging from our previous reviews of Philippine literature, we suspect that such mean comparisons often do reveal valid cultural differences (Church & Katigbak, 2000); many of the cultural differences reported seem consistent with expectations based on perceptions of Filipino culture and personality. Also, in an analysis of thirty-six cultures, including the Philippines, McCrae (2002) found sensible correlations between cultural means on the Big Five and various cultural dimensions (e.g., cultural means on Extraversion correlated highly with individualism).
The problem is the difficulty of knowing when these cultural comparisons reveal true cultural differences and when they are confounded by conceptual, methodological, and item biases. For example, in addition to the study of differential item functioning mentioned above, we have also investigated various response biases that Filipinos might exhibit when filling out personality inventories. In one study, Church and Katigbak (1992) found that Filipino college students averaged higher than American students on every academic motive they assessed, suggesting that direct score comparisons might be confounded by cultural differences in acquiescence response bias. In a more comprehensive study, however, using a large number of instruments varying in scale content and format, Grimm and Church (1999) found that Filipinos and Americans did not show consistent differences in acquiescence, extreme responding, or midpoint responding; however, Americans did respond to trait measures in a more socially desirable manner than did Filipinos.
In an attempt to investigate more directly the meaningfulness of profile comparisons across cultures, we investigated whether mean profile levels of Filipinos, as compared to American norms, could be predicted from the literature on Filipino personality and the ratings of 43 bicultural judges regarding whether Filipinos or Americans would tend to average higher, or would average the same, on the 30 traits assessed by the NEO-PI-R inventory (Church & Katigbak, 2002). Hypotheses about average cultural differences derived from the literature agreed well with the judgements of the bicultural raters, but the resulting predictions received only limited or partial support in the Filipino mean profiles, plotted using U.S. norms. In sum, the question of whether direct score comparisons with personality measures provide valid information about cultural differences in trait levels remains one of the greatest challenges in the study of personality across cultures.
Are subgroup differences in personality traits the same in the Philippines as in other cultures?
In studying personality across cultures, it is important to be mindful of the heterogeneity within most cultures with respect to ethnicity, language, education, urbanization, and modernization; such subgroup differences, as well as age and gender differences, might be associated with within-culture variability in personality traits. Of these within-culture variables, gender differences have been studied most extensively. Because many hypothesized gender differences in traits (e.g., more agentic or assertive traits in men, more communal traits in women) are consistent with both evolutionary/biological and socio-cultural (e.g., social role theory) explanations, cross-cultural studies might not be able to clarify whether biological or socio-cultural influences, or both, underlie male-female differences in personality traits. Cross-cultural studies of gender differences will be most definitive regarding the causes of gender differences if no consistent patterns of gender differences are found across cultures; whereas consistent patterns of gender differences across cultures are consistent with either biological or social role explanations, significant cultural differences in patterns of gender differences would tend to rule out strictly biological explanations.
Comparisons across a wide range of cultures suggest that gender differences in personality traits, although modest in size, are indeed fairly consistent across cultures, so that biological explanations can not be ruled out. For example, in a study comparing NEO-PI-R mean profiles across 26 cultures, including the Philippines, Costa et al. (2001) found that: (a) women are consistently higher than men in Neuroticism and Agreeableness; (b) in most cultures, women are higher than men in more communal facets of Extraversion (Warmth, Gregariousness, and Positive Emotions), but lower in more agentic facets (Assertiveness, Excitement-Seeking); (c) women average higher than men in Openness to Aesthetics, Feelings, and Actions, but lower in Openness to Ideas; and (d) in most cultures, women are more Dutiful than men, but few consistent gender differences exist for other facets of Conscientiousness. Costa et al. (2001) noted that most of these differences are consistent with gender stereotypes and are compatible with both biological and social-role explanations of gender differences.
In a more recent Philippine sample (Katigbak et al., 2002), again with the Filipino NEO-PI-R, we replicated many but not all of these gender differences: (a) Filipino women averaged higher in all Neuroticism facets except Impulsivity; (b) women averaged higher in the Straightforwardness facet of Agreeableness, but men were slightly higher in Trust and Tender-mindedness; (c) women did not average higher in the communal aspects of Extraversion, but men did average higher in Excitement-seeking; (d) women were higher in Openness to Aesthetics and men were higher in Openness to Ideas; and (d) the only gender difference in the Conscientiousness domain involved the slightly higher average Deliberation scores for men. All effect sizes were small, however.
Surprisingly, Costa et al. (2001) found that gender differences were larger in cultures that are more western, wealthy, and individualistic; in particular, gender effect sizes were larger for European and American cultures than for African and Asian cultures, including the Philippines. From a social role theory perspective, greater differentiation of social roles, and hence larger gender differences in personality, would be expected in more traditional cultures, but this was not the case. Costa et al.'s preferred explanation of this finding is that gender differences in more traditional or collectivistic cultures might be attributed to gender role requirements rather than to traits, so that perceived gender differences in behavior would not be reflected in trait assessments. This explanation is consistent with the view of some cultural psychologists that personality traits are viewed as less important in understanding persons and their behavior in collectivistic cultures (Church, 2000).
Several early studies in the Philippines reported personality differences associated with social class and urban-rural differences, which suggest the influence of socio-cultural factors in personality. For example, greater autonomy, self-assertion and self-confidence, but reduced deference, succorance, affiliation, and moral values have been associated in these studies with higher social-class and urban background (Church, 1987). It is not clear whether similar social class or urban-rural differences would be found in other cultures, but these differences do resemble those associated with the traditionalism-modernism distinction in the cross-cultural literature.
Do Filipinos differ from individuals in other cultures in their beliefs about whether behavior is determined by traits or contextual factors?
Some cultural psychologists expect that individuals in collectivistic cultures such as the Philippines will attribute less importance to traits as compared to roles, norms, and other contextual factors in descriptions of persons and their behavior. Church (2000) reviewed evidence for and against this prediction, and hypothesized that such attributional differences might be associated with cultural differences in implicit beliefs regarding the extent to which behavior is determined by traits versus contextual factors.
In a series of studies, we have developed an instrument to assess individuals' beliefs about the "traitedness" versus contextual nature of behavior, encompassing five belief components: (a) belief in the longitudinal stability of personality traits; (b) belief in the cross-situational consistency of trait-relevant behavior; (c) belief in the ability to predict behavior from traits; (d) belief in the ability to infer traits from relatively few behavioral instances; and (e) belief in the importance of traits in understanding persons and their behavior. Preliminary results in cross-cultural comparisons involving the United States, Mexico, and the Philippines suggest that (a) these beliefs can be reliably assessed across cultures; (b) their component structure is comparable across cultures; and (c) individuals in all three cultures endorse implicit trait beliefs to a fair extent. In future studies we will examine whether cultural differences in implicit trait beliefs are associated with cultural differences in the actual traitedness of behavior. This is a key issue for trait theory generally and for the viability of the trait concept cross-culturally.
In this chapter we provided an overview of the questions typically addressed by researchers who study personality traits cross-culturally. Then, we summarized the current status of the evidence regarding these questions for one collectivistic culture, the Philippines. We concluded that: (a) Filipinos readily apply trait terms in describing themselves and others; (b) Filipinos make trait distinctions that are comparable to trait distinctions made in other languages and cultures; (c) trait dimensions assessed by imported personality inventories replicate rather well in the Philippines; (d) most indigenous Filipino personality dimensions are not highly culture-specific; (e) indigenous Filipino personality measures provide additional prediction of behavior beyond that provided by imported measures; (f) the best behavioral indicators of particular traits, as depicted, for example, in inventory items, may vary across cultures; (g) the question of whether direct mean score comparisons with personality measures provide valid information about cultural differences in trait levels remains one of the major unresolved issues in the study of personality across cultures; (h) some subgroup differences in personality (e.g., gender differences) appear to replicate fairly well across cultures; and (i) individuals in all cultures may endorse, at least to some extent, belief in the longitudinal stability, cross-situational consistency, and predictive validity of traits. Overall, this research supports the applicability of personality traits and trait theory as a basis for understanding persons and their behavior across diverse cultures.
About the Authors
A. Timothy Church received his Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Minnesota and is currently a Professor of Counseling Psychology at Washington State University, Pullman, WA, USA. From 1982 to 1984 he was a visiting professor at De La Salle University in the Philippines and has conducted collaborative research involving the Philippines since that time. His primary research interests involve cross-cultural and indigenous personality structure and assessment and the integration of cultural and trait psychology perspectives. He is currently an Associate Editor for the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marcia S. Katigbak, a native of the
Philippines, received her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology/Measurement from
Washington State University where she is a research associate for the Culture
and Personality project in the Department of Educational Leadership and
Counseling Psychology. Her research interests include personality structure and
assessment across cultures and indigenous psychologies. E-mail: email@example.com.
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Church, A. T., & Katigbak, M. S. (1989). Internal, external, and self-report structure of personality in a non-Western culture: An investigation of cross-language and cross-cultural generalizability. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 857-872.
Church, A. T., & Katigbak, M. S. (1992). The cultural context of academic motives: A comparison of American and Filipino college students. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 23, 40-58.
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Costa, P. T., Terracciano, A., &
McCrae, R. R. (2001). Gender differences in personality traits across cultures:
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Questions for Discussion
1. What questions are typically
addressed by researchers who are interested in personality traits and their
measurement across cultures? Why are the answers to these questions important
for personality psychology and our understanding of human nature?
2. Do you expect that the findings summarized here for the Philippines will be similar to findings in other western or nonwestern cultures? Why or why not?
3. Discuss some implications of the findings summarized here for counseling, personnel selection, and interpersonal communication across cultures.
4. Why might comparisons of personality trait levels of different cultural or ethnic groups be controversial and need to be made with considerable caution? Take into account both measurement and socio-political considerations.
5. How do you make use of trait terms (e.g., dominant, kind, lazy, moody, open-minded) in describing yourself and others? Do you think such personality characteristics predict well what people will do in various situations? Do you think these personality characteristics are fairly stable or rather changeable over time for most people? Compare your views on these questions with those of others in your class.
6. If you are familiar with another language, can you think of any trait terms that would be difficult to translate into English or other languages? If so, what behaviors or meanings are associated with these traits that seem especially culture-specific? Are you aware of English translations for these trait terms that are at least somewhat similar in meaning?
7. What are the "Big Five" dimensions in personality research? Why do you think the "discovery" of the Big Five is considered important by many personality and cross-cultural psychologists?
8. What are the implications of within-culture diversity for cross-cultural comparisons of personality traits?