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Has Average Joe Got Inner Conflicts? Positioning the Self and the Meaning of Mid-Range Scores on the Big Five Traits

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In this article we explore dilemmas with interpreting mid-range scores on Big Five personality traits. Using dialogical self theory, we hypothesized that mid-trait individuals would report more conflict between I-positions congruent with the trait domain concerned, for example, conflict between I-as-bold and I-as-reserved in the domain of Extraversion. A community sample of 147 participants completed a Big Five trait measure, the NEO Personality Inventory (NEO PI-R), and the I-Position Inventory (IPI). The IPI contains 88 I-position statements generated from previous research and clinical assessments. Fifty-two of the statements form 26 opposing pairs (e.g., I-as-optimist vs. I-as-pessimist). To measure the most salient I-position conflicts, respondents were asked to rank these pairs (only the top five pairs were ranked). In support of the conflict hypothesis, for three of the Big Five traits, individuals who scored mid-range reported more conflict between I-positions congruent with the trait than did respondents in the upper and lower quartiles of the distribution (significant for Extraversion, Openness to Experience, and Agreeableness). We argue the findings highlight problems of interpretation for mid-range trait scores that arise from the limitations of aggregation methods, but also from a compromised theoretical foundation. Trait theory masks dynamic processes as well as social contexts.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia

Publication date: April 3, 2015

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