Cattell’s 16 Personality Factors

In this article, we cover Cattell’s 16 Personality Factors to discover the key factors that influence our behavior and shape our unique personalities. The development of Cattell’s 16 Personality Factors can be traced back to Raymond Cattell’s pioneering work in the mid-20th century.

Personality traits are the enduring patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that define an individual. They are the building blocks of our personality and play a crucial role in shaping our interactions with others and the world around us.

Cattell’s 16 Personality Factors provide a comprehensive framework for understanding these traits. These factors encompass a wide range of characteristics that contribute to our individual differences, such as extraversion, anxiety, independence, and liveliness, among others.

In the workplace, knowledge of the 16 Personality Factors can facilitate effective team building, leadership development, and talent management. Employers can utilize this understanding to create diverse and complementary teams, improve communication, and enhance overall organizational performance.

Cattell’s 16 Personality Factors

1. Warmth (A)

  • Indicates the degree of outgoingness and interest in others.
  • Warm individuals are friendly, attentive to others, and easy to approach.
  • Lower scores may indicate reservation and a more formal, distant approach.

2. Reasoning (B)

  • Represents the level of abstract thinking and problem-solving ability.
  • High scorers are good at solving complex problems and enjoy intellectual challenges.
  • Lower scores suggest a preference for dealing with the concrete and practical.

3. Emotional Stability (C)

  • Involves handling stress and emotional distress.
  • High emotional stability means better coping with stress and remaining calm under pressure.
  • Lower scores indicate susceptibility to anxiety and emotional ups and downs.

4. Dominance (E)

  • Measures assertiveness and control over situations and people.
  • High dominance suggests assertiveness, decisiveness, and competitiveness.
  • Lower dominance may indicate deference, cooperation, and avoidance of conflict.

5. Liveliness (F)

  • Reflects the level of enthusiasm and energy.
  • High scores denote spontaneity, high energy, and a lively personality.
  • Lower scores suggest a more serious, reserved, and reflective nature.

6. Rule-Consciousness (G)

  • Concerns adherence to societal norms and rules.
  • High scorers are conscientious, dutiful, and moralistic.
  • Lower scores suggest a more unconventional, rule-challenging attitude.

7. Social Boldness (H)

  • Relates to comfort in social situations and willingness to take risks.
  • Socially bold individuals are adventurous, un-shy, and confident.
  • Lower scores indicate shyness, social timidity, and risk-averse behavior.

8. Sensitivity (I)

  • Measures empathy and emotional sensitivity.
  • Sensitive individuals are compassionate, tender-hearted, and responsive to others.
  • Lower sensitivity suggests practicality, objectivity, and less emotional involvement.

9. Vigilance (L)

  • Involves cautiousness and wariness of others.
  • High vigilance indicates mistrust, suspicion, and alertness to deceit.
  • Lower scores suggest a more trusting, accepting, and unguarded approach.

10. Abstractedness (M)

  • Reflects a preference for abstract or theoretical thinking.
  • High scorers are imaginative, creative, and often absorbed in ideas.
  • Lower scores indicate a focus on the concrete, practical aspects of life.

11. Privateness (N)

  • Measures discretion and inclination to share personal thoughts.
  • High privateness suggests being reserved, discreet, and less open with personal matters.
  • Lower scores indicate straightforwardness, simplicity, and an open-book nature.

12. Apprehension (O)

  • Concerns worry and anxiety levels.
  • High apprehension means a tendency towards worry, insecurity, and self-doubt.
  • Lower scores suggest confidence, optimism, and freedom from worry.

13. Openness to Change (Q1)

  • Assesses adaptability and acceptance of change.
  • High scores denote a readiness to try new things, flexibility, and enjoyment of change.
  • Lower scores reflect a preference for stability, routine, and traditional ways.

14. Self-Reliance (Q2)

  • Measures independence and self-sufficiency.
  • Self-reliant individuals prefer to rely on their own judgment and abilities.
  • Lower scores indicate a preference for collaboration and seeking advice from others.

15. Perfectionism (Q3)

  • Reflects a tendency towards orderliness and striving for excellence.
  • High scorers are disciplined, meticulous, and detail-oriented.
  • Lower scores suggest flexibility, tolerance of disorder, and a more relaxed approach.

16. Tension (Q4)

  • Involves the level of impatience and restlessness.
  • High tension indicates impatience, urgency, and a high-strung nature.
  • Lower scores show relaxation, patience, and calmness under pressure.

Note: Cattell’s use of letters (like “Q1” or “M”) stems from the statistical techniques he used in his research, primarily factor analysis, to identify and label these traits. Each letter is a convenient shorthand to reference the specific personality traits uncovered through his studies. These letters are not acronyms but rather labels assigned to each factor for ease of reference.

How to measure the 16 Personality Factors

The Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF) is a self-report inventory developed by Cattell to measure the 16 personality traits he identified through factor analysis.

It is designed to assess an individual’s personality and predict their behavior in various contexts. It comprises a series of questions that respondents answer about themselves and typically includes multiple-choice items with a range of response options.

The questionnaire is available in several versions to suit different age groups and applications, such as adult, adolescent, and children’s versions.

Criticisms  of Cattell’s 16 Personality Factors

While Cattell’s 16 Personality Factors have made significant contributions to the field of psychology, some critics argue that the factors are too numerous and complex, making them difficult to measure and interpret accurately.

Others suggest that the factors may not adequately capture the full spectrum of human personality, leading to oversimplification and generalization.

Additionally, cultural and contextual factors may influence the expression of these personality factors, highlighting the need for cross-cultural research and adaptation of the model.

The Big Five model vs. Cattell’s 16 Personality Factors

When it comes to understanding personality, there are various models and theories that attempt to explain the complexities of human behavior. Another model is the Big Five, which proposes five broad dimensions of personality:

  1. openness,
  2. conscientiousness,
  3. extraversion,
  4. agreeableness, and
  5. neuroticism.

The Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF) and the Big Five personality model represent two significant but distinct approaches to personality assessment in psychology, as follows:


One of the primary differences lies in the number of dimensions each model proposes. The 16PF, as its name suggests, identifies 16 distinct personality traits, whereas the Big Five model posits five broad dimensions of personality (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism).

Complexity and Specificity

The 16PF offers a more granular view of personality by identifying a larger number of traits. This level of specificity can provide a more nuanced understanding of individual differences.

In contrast, the Big Five model’s broader dimensions are seen as more general and encompassing, potentially offering a more simplified and easily understandable framework, but with less specificity.

Theoretical Origins

Cattell’s 16PF was developed through factor analysis, a statistical method, and was heavily influenced by Cattell’s own theory of personality, which sought to categorize a wide range of human traits.

The Big Five model also emerged from factor-analytic studies, but its development was more empirically driven, based on what traits consistently emerged from research data rather than a pre-existing theoretical framework.

Global Factors

The Big Five model focuses on broad, overarching aspects of personality, which are believed to be relatively stable throughout a person’s life and across different cultures.

The 16PF, while also stable, breaks down these aspects into finer details, offering a more complex and intricate view of personality traits.

Application and Utility

The 16PF is often used in clinical, educational, and organizational settings for more detailed personality assessment. Its comprehensive nature makes it suitable for understanding complex individual behaviors and for applications like career planning and counseling.

The Big Five, with its broader categories, is frequently used in psychological research and for more generalized personality assessments.


While both the 16PF and the Big Five provide valuable insights into human personality, they differ in their complexity, theoretical underpinnings, and the level of detail in describing personality traits.

The choice between them often depends on the specific needs of the assessment – whether a broad overview or a detailed profile is required.

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