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

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

Numerous meta-analyses have investigated the relationship between personality and Big Five performance, ranging from professional/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 overall performance (i.e., a latent variable indicated by shared variation in performance in specific domains) remains to be systematically tested,” write study authors Ethan Zell and Tara L. Lesick.

A literature search yielded 1,228 potentially relevant articles. To be included in the synthesis, articles needed to provide meta-analytic effect sizes that indexed the size of the relationship between Big Five traits and performance. The Big Five traits included personality assessments of the self and others, as well as measures that used a Big Five framework. Performance included behavioral indices of productivity, achievement, effectiveness based on objective measures (eg, GPA), and external ratings (eg, teacher feedback). Performance was categorized into work, academic, and other types of performance (eg, 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 can produce practically important consequences [], especially in the performance domain, where small gains in performance bring tangible rewards, such as greater entry into selective academic programs and job promotion.” Additionally, conscientiousness had an overall effect that was at least 46% greater than the other big five traits (i.e., extroversion, agreeableness, openness, and neuroticism).

The researchers note, “These data are consistent with emerging theory which posits that awareness is an exceptionally important correlate of performance, given its overlap with critical dimensions such as self-control, determination, and planning.”

Previous meta-analyses have focused distinctly on the link between personality and professional or academic performance, suggesting similar associations for both. Current work suggests that while agreeableness and openness produce similar effects for both performance categories, conscientiousness is more strongly related to academic performance (vs. work). Likewise, extroversion and neuroticism have a stronger relationship with performance at work (vs. academic). It appears that the association between personality and performance varies significantly across performance categories.

Finally, looking at replicability in three meta-analyses in which the same associations of personality and performance were examined by independent research teams, the researchers found that the results were very similar—in other words, replicable.

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

The research, “Big Five Personality and Performance Traits: A Quantitative Synthesis of Over 50 Meta-Analyses,” was authored by Ethan Zell and Tara L. Lesick.

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