Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Study: Male and female personalities 'strikingly different'

I'm not sure what to make of this study - it refutes an enormous body of research that makes the case for only minimal differences in male and female personalities. On the other hand, it looks good on paper.

I am skeptical about a couple of things - (1) they did not control for gender identity development (pre-conventional, conventional, post-conventional), which would have an impact on the self-reported gender-related traits - (2) none of the scales (see below) assess for gender identity in any way - all of the traits can be stereotypically applied to one gender or the other.

My sense is that they have identified conventional-stage gender differences, not sex-based personality differences.

The Study

Part of their argument in this study is that using any of the Big 5 models of personality testing is essentially useless. They argue (and I agree):
Personality traits can be organized in a hierarchical structure, from the broad and inclusive (e.g., extraversion) to the narrow and specific (e.g., gregariousness or excitement seeking).
They feel that the Big 5 models are too broad and inclusive, so they went for a more a narrow and specific analysis.They also make some arguments for a specific type of statistical analysis (multivariate vs. univariate) that would bore you to tears.

Here is the crucial part - they advocate a much more sensitive personality profile - I'm not familiar with this measure, so I am only able to present what they have written about it:

The 16PF 5th Edition (16PF5) contains 185 items organized into 16 primary factor scales [67]. The 16PF5 contains 15 primary personality scales, a 15-item Reasoning scale, and a 12-item Impression Management Scale. The current analysis utilizes the 15 personality scales: Warmth (reserved vs. warm), Emotional Stability (reactive vs. emotionally stable), Dominance (deferential vs. dominant), Liveliness (serious vs. lively), Rule-Consciousness (expedient vs. rule-conscious), Social Boldness (shy vs. socially bold), Sensitivity (utilitarian vs. sensitive), Vigilance (trusting vs. vigilant), Abstractness (grounded vs. abstracted), Privateness (forthright vs. private), Apprehension (self-assured vs. apprehensive), Openness to Change (traditional vs. open to change), Self-Reliance (group-oriented vs. self-reliant), Perfectionism (tolerates disorder vs. perfectionistic), and Tension (relaxed vs. tense). The internal consistency of the 15 scales (α) ranged from .68 to .87 (see Table 1).

thumbnailTable 1. Correlations and univariate effect sizes for observed scores.
The 15 primary scales can be further organized into 5 global scales: Extraversion (Warmth, Liveliness, Social Boldness, Privateness, and Self-Reliance), Anxiety (Emotional Stability, Vigilance, Apprehension, and Tension), Tough-Mindedness (Warmth, Sensitivity, Abstractedness, and Openness to Change), Independence (Dominance, Social Boldness, Vigilance, and Openness to Change) and Self-Control (Liveliness, Rule-Consciousness, and Perfectionism. The global scales of the 16PF are similar to the 5 FFM domains; in particular, Extraversion overlaps considerably with FFM extraversion, Anxiety with Neuroticism, Self-Control with Conscientiousness, and Tough-Mindedness with (negative) Openness. The Independence scale, however, has no clear-cut analogue in the FFM [68].
It sounds like a useful scale if it is both reliable and verifiable.

The major differences identified between the sexes are "in Sensitivity, Warmth, and Apprehension (higher in females), and Emotional stability, Dominance, Rule-consciousness, and Vigilance (higher in males). These effects subsume the classic sex differences in instrumentality/expressiveness or dominance/nurturance (see [11])."

For those who want to "Cliff Notes" version of this study, here is a brief article that sensationalizes the outcomes. The link to the actual study is found below.

Male and female personalities 'strikingly different,' study finds

  • Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus - seriously
  • Men and women share just 10pc of personality traits
  • Study has been branded "uninterpretable" by critic
GENDER plays a major part in determining people's personalities, with men and women sharing just 10 per cent of the same personality traits, European psychologists claimed. 
In a study of 10,000 Americans, researchers from Italy and the UK said Wednesday that they found women were much more sensitive, warm and apprehensive, while men were more emotionally stable, dominant, vigilant and rule-conscious.

The study, published in the journal Public Library of Science One, claimed just 10 percent of the sexes' characteristics overlapped and that the finding may help explain why some professions are gender-dominated.

The researchers, led by Dr Marco Del Giudice from the University of Turin, wrote, "The results were striking: the effect size for global sex differences in personality was ... an extremely large effect by any psychological standard."

They added, "These effect sizes firmly place personality in the same category of other psychological constructs showing large, robust sex differences, such as aggression and vocational interests."

However, the study, which used 15 tests on participants aged between 15 and 92, was criticized for allowing the subjects to assess their own personality quirks.

Professor Janet Hyde of the University of Wisconsin, whose 2005 paper on the subject claimed that men and women largely shared characteristics, branded the new study "uninterpretable."

For those readers who would like the science to go with the popular press interpretation of the study, here is the abstract. Because it was published in PLoS ONE, it's open access and freely available to anyone who wants to read the whole thing.

The Distance Between Mars and Venus: Measuring Global Sex Differences in Personality

Marco Del Giudice, Tom Booth, Paul Irwing



Sex differences in personality are believed to be comparatively small. However, research in this area has suffered from significant methodological limitations. We advance a set of guidelines for overcoming those limitations: (a) measure personality with a higher resolution than that afforded by the Big Five; (b) estimate sex differences on latent factors; and (c) assess global sex differences with multivariate effect sizes. We then apply these guidelines to a large, representative adult sample, and obtain what is presently the best estimate of global sex differences in personality.

Methodology/Principal Findings

Personality measures were obtained from a large US sample (N = 10,261) with the 16PF Questionnaire. Multigroup latent variable modeling was used to estimate sex differences on individual personality dimensions, which were then aggregated to yield a multivariate effect size (Mahalanobis D). We found a global effect size D = 2.71, corresponding to an overlap of only 10% between the male and female distributions. Even excluding the factor showing the largest univariate ES, the global effect size was D = 1.71 (24% overlap). These are extremely large differences by psychological standards.


The idea that there are only minor differences between the personality profiles of males and females should be rejected as based on inadequate methodology.

Citation: Del Giudice M, Booth T, Irwing P (2012) The Distance Between Mars and Venus: Measuring Global Sex Differences in Personality. PLoS ONE 7(1): e29265. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029265


Anonymous said...

wonder how I'd rate...

Anonymous said...

I am very familiar with the 16PF. I am a psychologist and was trained by Dr. Samuel Karson (who wrote one of the main interpretive manuals for this measure). It does a good job of assessing personality styles without measuring psychopathology as the MMPI does. It is a compelling study and is likely to lead to more research as it should. However, this is a hot topic socio-politically in a field that is rampant with feminist (some appropriate, I might add) ideology which will bristle at the suggestions of this study. Time and replication will tell, if minds are open enough to explore the issue.

Dr. Mark R. Tims
Licensed Clinical Psychologist, BCETS.