Cattell 16pf Analysis Essay

Science has always strived to develop a methodology through which questions are answered using a common set of principles; psychology is no different. In an effort to understand differing personalities in humans, Raymond Bernard Cattell maintained the belief that a common taxonomy could be developed to explain such differences.

Cattell's scholarly training began at an early age when he was awarded admission to King's College at Cambridge University where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry in 1926 (Lamb, 1997). According to personal accounts, Cattell's socialist attitudes, paired with interests developed after attending a Cyril Burt lecture in the same year, turned his attention to the study of psychology, still regarded as a philosophy (Horn, 2001). Following the completion of his doctorate studies of psychology in 1929 Cattell lectured at the University at Exeter where, in 1930, he made his first contribution to the science of psychology with the Cattell Intelligence Tests (scales 1,2, and 3). During fellowship studies in 1932, he turned his attention to the measurement of personality focusing of the understanding of economic, social and moral problems and how objective psychological research on moral decision could aid such problems (Lamb, 1997). Cattell's most renowned contribution to the science of psychology also pertains to the study of personality. Cattell's 16 Personality Factor Model aims to construct a common taxonomy of traits using a lexical approach to narrow natural language to standard applicable personality adjectives. Though his theory has never been replicated, his contributions to factor analysis have been exceedingly valuable to the study of psychology.

Origins of the 16 Personality Factor Model

In developing a common taxonomy of traits for the 16 Personality Factor model, Cattell relied heavily on the previous work of scientists in the field. Previous development of a list of personality descriptors by Allport and Odbert in 1936, and Baumgarten's similar work in German in 1933, focused on a lexical approach to the dimensions of personality. Since psychology, like most other sciences, requires a descriptive model to be effective, the construction of a common taxonomy is necessary to successful in explaining personality simplistically (John, 1990). Already focused on the understanding of personality as it pertains to psychology, Cattell set out to narrow the work already completed by his predecessors. The goal of the research is to achieve integration as it relates to language and personality, that is, to identify the personality relevant adjectives in the language relating to specific traits.

The lexical approach to language is creates the foundation of a shared taxonomy of natural language of personality description (John, 1990). Historically, psychologists relied on such natural language to aid in the identification of personality attributes for such taxonomy. The first step in such a process was to narrow all adjectives within a language to those relating to personality descriptions, as it provided the researchers with a base guiding such a lexical approach. When working with a limited set of variables or adjectives within a language progressed from spoken word as it evolved throughout its progression. Since there are finite sets of adjectives in a language, the narrowing of the variables into base personality categories becomes necessary as multiple adjectives can express similar meanings within the language (John, 1999).

In the process of developing a taxonomy, a process that had taken predecessors sixty years up to this point, Allport and Odbert systematized thousands of personality attributes in 1936. They recognized four categories of adjectives in developing the taxonomy including personality traits, temporary states highly evaluative judgments of personally conduct and reputation, and physical characteristics. Personality traits are defined as "generalized and personalized determining tendencies--consistent and stable modes of an individuals adjustment to their environment" (John, 1999) as stated by Allport and Odbert in their research. Each adjective relative to personality falls within one of the previous categories to aid in the identification of major personality categories and creates a primitive taxonomy, which many psychologists and researchers would elaborate and build upon later. Norman (1967) divided the same limited set of adjectives into seven categories, which, like Allport and Odbert's categories, where all mutually exclusive (John, 1999). Despite this, work from both parties have been classified as containing ambiguous category boundaries, resulting in the general conviction that such boundaries should be abolished and the work has less significance than the earlier judgment.

Factor Analysis

Introduced and established by Pearson in 1901 and Spearman three years thereafter, factor analysis is a process by which large clusters and grouping of data are replaced and represented by factors in the equation. As variables are reduced to factors, relationships between the factors begin to define the relationships in the variables they represent (Goldberg & Digman, 1994). In the early stages of the process' development, there was little widespread use due largely in part to the immense amount of hand calculations required to determine accurate results, often spanning periods of several months. Later on a mathematical foundation would be developed aiding in the process and contributing to the later popularity of the methodology. In present day, the power of super computers makes the use of factor analysis a simplistic process compared to the 1900's when only the devoted researchers could use it to accurately attain results (Goldberg & Digman, 1994).

In performing a factor analysis, the single most import factor to consider is the selection of variables as considerations such as domain, where a single domain results in the highest accuracy, and other representative variables related to a single domain would provide a more accurate outcome (Goldberg & Digman, 1994). Exploratory factor analysis governs a single domain while confirmatory factor analysis, often less accurate and more difficult to calculate, governs several domains. In terms of variables, it is unlikely to see a factor analysis with fewer than 50 variables. In those situations, another statistical equation may be a better, easier consideration to process the information. A standard sample size for such a function would range between 500 to 1,000 participants (Goldberg & Digman, 1994).

Cattell, another champion of the factor analysis methodology, believed that there are three major sources of data when it comes to research concerning personality traits (Hall & Lindzey, 1978). L-Data, also referred to as the life record, could include actual records of a person's behavior in society such as court records. Cattell, however, gathered the majority of L-Data from ratings given by peers. Self -rating questionnaires, also known as Q-Data, gathered data by allowing participants to assess their own behaviors .The third source of Cattell's data the objective test, also known as T-Data, created a unique situation in which the subject is unaware of the personality trait being measured (Pervin & John, 2001).

With the intent of generality, Cattell's sample population was representative of several age groups including adolescents, adults and children as well as representing several countries including the U.S., Britain, Australia, New Zealand, France, Italy, Germany, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, India, and Japan (Hall & Lindzey, 1978).

Through factor analysis, Cattell identified what he referred to as surface and source traits. Surface traits represent clusters of correlated variables and source traits represent the underlying structure of the personality. Cattell considered source traits much more important in understanding personality than surface traits (Hall& Lindzey, 1978). The identified source traits became the primary basis for the 16 PF Model.

The 16 Personality Factor Model aims to measure personality based upon sixteen source traits. Table 1 summarizes the surface traits as descriptors in relation to source traits within a high and low range.

Critical Review

Although Cattell contributed much to personality research through the use of factor analysis his theory is greatly criticized. The most apparent criticism of Cattell's 16 Personality Factor Model is the fact that despite many attempts his theory has never been entirely replicated. In 1971, Howarth and Brown's factor analysis of the 16 Personality Factor Model found 10 factors that failed to relate to items present in the model. Howarth and Brown concluded, �that the 16 PF does not measure the factors which it purports to measure at a primary level (Eysenck & Eysenck, 1987) Studies conducted by Sell et al. (1970) and by Eysenck and Eysenck (1969) also failed to verify the 16 Personality Factor Model's primary level (Noller, Law, Comrey, 1987). Also, the reliability of Cattell's self-report data has also been questioned by researchers (Schuerger, Zarrella, & Hotz, 1989).

Cattell and colleagues responded to the critics by maintaining the stance that the reason the studies were not successful at replicating the primary structure of the 16 Personality Factor model was because the studies were not conducted according to Cattell's methodology. However, using Cattell's exact methodology, Kline and Barrett (1983), only were able to verify four of sixteen primary factors (Noller, Law & Comrey, 1987).

In response to Eysenck's criticism, Cattell, himself, published the results of his own factor analysis of the 16 Personality Factor Model, which also failed to verify the hypothesized primary factors (Eysenck, 1987).

Despite all the criticism of Cattell's hypothesis, his empirical findings lead the way for investigation and later discovery of the 'Big Five' dimensions of personality. Fiske (1949) and Tupes and Christal (1961) simplified Cattell's variables to five recurrent factors known as extraversion or surgency, agreeableness, consciousness, emotional stability and intellect or openness (Pervin & John, 1999).

Cattell's Sixteen Personality Factor Model has been greatly criticized by many researchers, mainly because of the inability of replication. More than likely, during Cattell's factor analysis errors in computation occurred resulting in skewed data, thus the inability to replicate. Since, computer programs for factor analysis did not exist during Cattell's time and calculations were done by hand it is not surprising that some errors occurred. However, through investigation into to the validity of Cattell's model researchers did discover the Big Five Factors, which have been monumental in understanding personality, as we know it today.


Aston, M. C., Lee, K., Perugini, M., Szarota, P., de Vries, R. E., Di Blas, L., Boies, K., & De Raad, B. (2004). A six-factor structure of personality-descriptive adjectives: Solutions from psycholexical studies in seven languages. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86, 356-366.

Cattell, R. B. (1990). Advances in Cattellian personality theory. In L. A. Pervin (Ed.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (pp. 101-110). New York: Guildford.

Conn, S. R., & Rieke, M. L. (1994). The 16PF Fifth Edition Technical Manual. Champagne, IL: Institute for Personality and Ability Testing, Inc.

Eysenck, H. J., & Eysenck, M. W. (1985). Personality and individual differences: A natural science approach. New York: Plenum.

Goldberg, L. R., & Digman, J. M. (1994). Revealing structure in the data: Principles of exploratory factor analysis. In S. Strack & M. Lorr (Eds.), Differentiating normal and abnormal personality (pp. 216-242). New York: Springer.

Lamb, K. (1997). Raymond Bernard Cattell: A lifetime of achievement. Mankind Quarterly, 38, 127.

Hall, C. S., & Lindzey, G. (1978). Theories of personality (3rd ed.). New York: Wiley.

Hall, C. S., Lindzey, G., & Campbell, J. B. (1998). Theories of personality (4th ed.). New York: Wiley.

Horn, J. (2001). Raymond Bernard Cattell (1905-1998). American Psychologist, 56, 71-72.

John, O. P. (1990) The Big Five factor taxonomy: Dimensions of personality in the natural language and in questionnaires. In L. A. Pervin (Ed.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (pp. 66-100). New York: Guildford.

John, O. P. (1999). The Big Five trait taxonomy: History, measurement, and theoretical perspectives. In L. A. Pervin & O. P. John (Eds.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (2nd ed., pp. 102-138). New York: Guildford.

Larsen, R. J., & Buss, D. M. (2002). Personality psychology: Domains of knowledge about human nature. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Noller, P., & Law, H., & Comrey, A. L. (1987). The Cattell, Comrey, and Eysenck personality factors compared: More evidence for five robust factors? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 775-782.

Pervin, L. A., & John. O. P. (2001). Personality theory and research (8th ed.). New York: Wiley.

Rossier, J., de Stadelhofen, F. M., & Berthound, S. (2004). The hierarchical structures of the NEO-PI-R and the 16 PF 5. European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 20, 27-38.

Schuerger, J. M., Zarella, K. L., & Hotz, A. S. (1989). Factors that influence the temporal stability of personality by questionnaire. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 777-783.

Sterba, J. (2000). Ethics: Classical Western texts in feminist and multicultural perspectives. New York: Oxford University Press.

The Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF) is a multiple-choice, comprehensive measure of normal range personality found to be effective in a variety of settings where an in-depth assessment of the whole person is needed. Developed over several decades, Raymond Cattell began to work on it in the 1920s when he shifted from the physical sciences to psychology and was shocked at the lack of empirical research available to enquire into the psychological nature of human beings. He wanted to develop a psychological test based on a list generated by Gordon Allport and H.S. Odbert, who had methodically gone through two comprehensive dictionaries to come up with around 18,000 words to describe personality.

Allport and Odbert (in a second round) reduced their list to 4500 adjectives which they believed described observable, permanent personality traits. Cattell got hold of the list, added some terms known from psychological research, and eliminated synonyms, reducing the total to 171. He used the then-new techniques of factor analysis combined with emergent computer technology to discover and measure the fundamental traits of human personality (Wikipedia, 2012d; Cattell and Mead, 2008).

The primary, second-order, and third-order factors

Cattell proposed a multi-level, hierarchical structure of personality. He found:

  • Five second-order global measures which describe personality at a broader, conceptual level. These are related to the five factors of the Big Five models of personality;
  • 16 more precise primary factors (developed earlier) which reveal the fine details and nuances that make each person unique. The latter, believed Cattell, are more powerful in predicting actual behaviour;
  • In addition, the factor analysis revealed a set of third-order factors: Superfactors I and II.

The primary factors

Here are the 16 primary factors whose levels the 16PF Questionnaire assesses:

  1. Warmth
  2. Reasoning
  3. Emotional Stability
  4. Dominance
  5. Liveliness
  6. Rule-Consciousness
  7. Social Boldness
  8. Sensitivity
  9. Vigilance
  10. Abstractedness
  11. Privateness
  12. Apprehensiveness
  13. Openness to Change
  14. Self-Reliance
  15. Perfectionism
  16. Tension

The second-order, Global Factors

When the 16 primary traits were factor-analysed, they revealed five so-called Global Factors, which describe personality at a broader level. These Global Factors, which help to show the degree of relationships among the 16 primary scales, are:

  1. Extraversion
  2. Anxiety
  3. Tough-Mindedness
  4. Independence
  5. Self-Control (IPAT, 2012)

The third-order Superfactors

Third-order Superfactor I encompasses tendencies to move assertively outward into the world toward both social connection and mastery of the environment, and might be called active outward engagement. Third-order Superfactor II involves internal types of processes and events, including impulsivity versus self-restraint (global Self-Control or Conscientiousness), but also the dimensions of sensitivity, reactivity, and creativity: openness to feelings, imagination, aesthetics, and new ideas (global Receptivity/Openness versus Tough-Mindedness) (Cattell and Mead, 2008).

The 16PF Questionnaire was first published in 1949, and the most recent edition, released in 1993, is the fifth edition of the original test. The goal of the fifth edition revision was to update and simplify the language and answer format and develop new reliability and validity data. Also, a new standardisation sample (of 10,000 people) was developed for the fifth edition to reflect the current U.S. Census population.

The 16PF Fifth Edition contains 185 multiple-choice items, written at a fifth-grade reading level. Of these items, 76% were from the four previous 16PF editions, some re-written. The items ask simple questions about daily behaviour, interests, and opinions. The measure tends to sample a broad range of actual behaviour by asking questions about daily, concrete situations, rather than asking the test-taker to simply make a self-assessment of their own personality traits as some tests do. Such simple, self-rating type questions tend to be highly related to the person’s self-image, and dependent on their view of themselves, their level of self-awareness, and their defensiveness about their actual traits. Instead, most 16PF questions tend to ask about actual behavioural situations, for example:

When I find myself in a boring situation, I usually “tune out” and daydream about other things. True/False.
When a bit of tact and convincing is needed to get people moving, I’m usually the one who does it. True/False.

Administration of the test takes about 35–50 minutes for the paper-and-pencil version and about 30 minutes by computer. The test is un-timed; thus it is generally self-administrable and can be used in either an individual or a group setting. The 16PF test was designed for adults at least age 16 and older, but there are also parallel tests for various younger age ranges (e.g., the 16PF Adolescent Personality Questionnaire) (Wikipedia, 2012d).


Because of its strong scientific background, the 16PF Questionnaire is used in a diverse range of contexts, including industrial and organisational, research, educational, and medical settings. In addition, psychologists and counsellors can use it to:

  • Provide information for vocational guidance, helping individuals determine occupations for which they are best suited, including as part of outplacement counselling;
  • Assist with personnel selection, promotion, coaching, and career development through measurement of five primary management dimensions (which predict management potential and style);
  • Supplement clinical diagnosis, prognosis and therapy planning, as the 16PF instrument helps provide clinicians with a normal-range measurement of anxiety, adjustment, and behavioral problems; in fact, the 16PF Questionnaire gives an in-depth integrated picture of the whole person;
  • Identify personality factors that may predict marital compatibility and satisfaction and highlight existing or potential problem areas;
  • Help identify students with potential academic, emotional, and social problems (Pearson Educ., Inc., n.d.; Cattell and Mead, 2008).

Sample items

The actual 16PF Questionnaire needs to be ordered from IPAT (see below), but it is possible to complete “clone” versions – tests purporting to measure the same aspects of personality – online. Here are sample items from two of them; the test-taker is asked to rate each statement on a five-point scale from either “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree” or from “very inaccurate” to “very accurate”:

  • I take time out for others.
  • I know that I am not a special person.
  • I take charge of things.
  • I try to forgive and forget
  • I keep in the background.
  • I can’t do without the company of others
  • I trust others.
  • I am not easily frustrated.
  • I cheer people up.
  • I often feel uncomfortable around others.
  • I seldom feel blue.
  • I dislike myself.
  • I believe in the importance of art.
  • I swim against the current
  • I believe in one true religion.
  • Disorder unsettles me.
  • I like to stand during the national anthem.
  • I am open to using recreational drugs
  • I am extremely sentimental.
  • My thoughtfulness and charitable nature are my foundation.
  • I prefer strange films.
  • I like to solve complex problems.
  • I continue until everything is perfect.
  • I am not especially interested in abstract ideas.

Criticisms and limitations

Cattell’s revolutionary contribution to psychology in using factor analysis and computer technology is widely appreciated. Notwithstanding, his theory has been frequently criticised on the grounds that, although there have been many attempts to replicate his theory, none have entirely succeeded in doing so. One study found that ten factors failed to relate to items in the present questionnaire. The researchers concluded that the 16 PF Questionnaire does not measure the factors which it purports to measure at a primary level (Eysenck and Eysenck, 1987, in Fehriinger, 2004). Also, the reliability of Cattell’s self-report data has been challenged by researchers (Schuerger, Zarrella, & Hotz, 1989, in Fehriinger, 2004).

Cattell and his colleagues responded to the criticism by saying that the lack of replicability was due to the fact that the researchers had not used his methodology. Kline and Barrett, however (1983, in Fehriinger, 2004), used Cattell’s exact methodology, and were only able to verify four of the 16 primary factors. Moreover, Cattell published the results of his own factor analysis of the 16PF instrument, and also failed to verify the primary factors that he himself had hypothesised (Eysenck, 1987, in Fehriinger, 2004).

It is possible that the amount of computation which needed to be done by hand in those days is responsible for skewed data, which made findings unable to be replicated. What modern computers can do in seconds without error hugely eclipses the lengthy, error-prone calculations performed by hand in Cattell’s day; thus, errors may have occurred, preventing replication.

Despite that problem, psychologists acknowledge the huge role Cattell’s work played in paving the way for discovery of the Big Five (Five-Factor-Model) personality tests which dominate the landscape of personality testing today (Wikipedia, 2012a; Fehriinger, 2004).

For more information or to order the 16PF Questionnaire

As noted above, the “real” 16PF Questionnaire can be obtained from IPAT, the company Cattell set up to distribute his personality measures. IPAT can be contacted through their website Two free online tests claiming to measure the same personality traits can be found here: Test 1, Test 2.


  • Cattell, H. and Mead, A. (2008). The Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF). The Sage handbook of personality theory and assessment. Retrieved on 20 December, 2012, from: hyperlink.
  • Fehriinger, H. (2004). Contributions and limitations of Cattell’s 16 Personality Factor model. Retrieved on 20 December, 2012, from: hyperlink.
  • IPAT (2012). IPAT: The 16PF Questionnaire. IPAT: People insights. Retrieved on 17 December, 2012, from: hyperlink.
  • Pearson Education, Inc. (n.d.). 16pf fifth edition: Clinical assessment. Retrieved 20 December, 2012 from: hyperlink.
  • Wikipedia (2012d). 16PF Questionnaire. Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. Retrieved on 20 December, 2012, from: hyperlink.

This article is an extract of the upcoming Mental Health Academy “Overview of the Principal Personality Tests” CPD course. This short course aims to give you an overview of the most common personality test types used today, the applications of their usage, and a sample of the types of questions they ask.  The discussion of each test includes a short section outlining some of the major criticisms or limitations of the test. Click here for more information.

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