Saucier, G. & Srivastava, S.. (in press). What makes a good structural model of personality? Evaluating the Big Five and alternatives. In M. L. Cooper & R. Larsen (Eds.), Handbook of personality and social psychology: Personality processes and individual differences (Vol. 3). APA Books.
Personality psychology is challenged with the task of identifying the joints at which to carve a person, some minimally comprehensive set of attributes, processes, or other characteristics of a person that serves to describe them, predict behavior and events, and distinguish one person from another. This is Allport’s “unit problem.”
John, O. P., Naumann, L. P., & Soto, C. J. (2008). Paradigm shift to the integrative Big Five trait taxonomy: History, measurement, and conceptual issues. In O. P. John, R. W. Robins, & L. A. Pervin (Eds.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (3rd ed., pp. 114-158). New York, NY, US: Guilford Press
The Big Five personality traits (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness) emerged through dictionary work: identifying the thousands of words that English speakers might use to describe themselves or another person, and then subsuming these under a small number of labels based on which labels tend to hang together in such descriptions. These categories seem best defined prototypically–identifying characteristic centers and accepting fuzzy boundaries between categories–than by identifying clear boundaries between them.
John and colleagues provide a quick tour through the similarities and differences of similar personality structures derived from the vernaculars of other cultures and languages and discuss the validity and reliability of measurement of the Big Five.
They finish with a defense of the Big Five as a) only one of several possible levels of analysis (to assuage those who argue that the categories are broad, but incomplete), b) that measures of the Big Five are predictive of important life outcomes (tied to things of real psychological importance, and not just a something about the words we use to describe persons), and c) as a starting point for multiple theoretical approaches, explorations of personality development, and causal explanations.
McAdams, D. (1995). What do we know when we know a person? Journal of Personality, 63, 365-396.
McAdams asks us what it is to know a person, and lays out a tripartite scheme for the description of personality.