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One free measures of the Big 5 is the IPIP. I have noticed that IPIP items seem to have a positive bias towards items loading on the extraversion (EX), emotional stability (ES), conscientiousness (C), agreeableness (A), and openness/intellectance (O) pole of the scale.

For example, for agreeableness, you have items "I am interested in people" (positive) and "I insult people" (negative), or for conscientiousness you have items "I pay attention to details" (positive) or "I make a mess of things" (negative).

However, at the level of a construct there are positive aspects to all the other poles of the Big 5. Being disagreeable could mean that you are comfortable confronting people when you believe they have done something wrong or that you are comfortable pointing out social injustice. Being lower on conscientiousness may mean that you don't feel the need to do everything perfectly in life or that you believe that sometimes it's better to be a little messy so that you can focus on more important things.


Thus, I'm interested in the positive bias in measures of the Big 5 towards conscientiousness, agreeableness, extraversion, emotional stability, and openness.

  • Is there any research that quantifies the degree to which different measures of the Big 5 display this positive bias?
  • Are there any Big 5 measures that specifically try to avoid this positive bias?
  • To what extent is this positive bias inherent to the concepts of the Big 5?
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BTW: Do people with high agreeableness agree with more statements (positive or negative, or at least: positive) than ones with low agreeableness? –  Piotr Migdal Aug 31 '12 at 11:50

2 Answers 2

In a previous post on the global personality factor, you provided examples to describe how self-report items indicating higher trait levels are phrased in more socially desirable terms, hence the positive bias.

I think it's important to distinguish between two (or three) kinds of biases here: one is related to the wording/content of the items (the positive bias your refer to) and the other stems from trait desirability, i.e. the extent to which individuals find a trait desirable for personal reasons (e.g. their own standing on the trait) and for socio-cultural reasons (e.g. the extent to which a trait is valued by society or his/her culture).

To use your own examples, one could perhaps mitigate the positive bias by including items that make the lower ends of each trait seem less undesirable (.e.g., "I enjoy being in my own company most of the time" for low extraversion) and the higher ends less desirable (e.g. "I like to dominate in social situations" for high extraversion), but you would still have the effects of the trait desirability biases. It's not to say that the task of improving the wording or content of the items to reflect less bias isn't important, and to what extent there is bias is itself arguable.

Has the purported positive bias been documented or described in any articles? Perhaps that should be the main question at this point.

I'm only aware of approaches to dealing with the desirability biases mentioned. One is to obtain reports from multiple informants in addition to self-reports. Another is to use ipsative (i.e. forced-choice) measures of the Big Five (e.g., Hirsh & Peterson, 2008).


Hirsh, J. B., & Peterson, J. B. (2008). Predicting creativity and academic success with a “fake-proof” measure of the Big Five. Journal of Research in Personality, 42(5), 1323-1333.

Ludeke, S. G., Weisberg, Y. J., & Deyoung, C. G. (2013). Idiographically Desirable Responding: Individual Differences in Perceived Trait Desirability Predict Overclaiming. European Journal of Personality.

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Here is a work about IPIP 50 in New Zeeland but there are also some references to USA findings: http://www.psychology.org.nz/cms_show_download.php?id=617

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Thanks. The article seems to provide standard psychometric information: i.e., the factor structure of the test, gender differences, whether test scores predict relevant criteria including job satisfaction and counter productive work behaviour; it doesn't directly seem to go into whether items have a positivity bias. –  Jeromy Anglim May 31 '13 at 0:07

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