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February 22, 2012

FFPI-C: Big 5 Applied To School Age Youth

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The Five Factor Personality Inventory – Children (FFPI-C) is a personality inventory based on the Five Factor (Big 5) theory of personality. The test is normed for ages 9 years, 0 months to 18 years, 11 months.  It has 75 items that are rated on what might be referred to as a semantic differential scale between two opposing anchor statements.  The test is designed to be self-administered so the examinee must be able to speak and comprehend English and have a third grade reading level. However, the manual does allow the questions to be read to the examinee in cases where reading may be an issue.  It’s untimed but the authors estimate it should take between 15 and 40 minutes.  In my experience it tends to get completed closer to the 15 minute mark.

Theory

As the name implies the FFPI-C is built on the Five Factor Model (FFM) of personality.  This taxonomy is often referred to as the Big 5 and it represents a classification system for traits that define individual differences. Like CHC theory, the Big 5 (FFM) factors were arrived at through factor analysis.  In short, factor analysis is a data reduction technique that looks for commonality amongst variables.  Those variables with stronger relationships amongst each other form a factor.  Without getting into the esoteric statistical details suffice to say that five factors seemed to robustly explain the individual behavioral variables the best. For the donnish wanting a bit more detail, the Big Five (FFM) structure consists of a varimax rotation of the first five principal components taken from a large heterogeneous set of trait adjectives. The resulting dimensions (or factors) are as follows:

Openness

This cognitive style distinguishes imaginative, creative people from down-to-earth, conventional people. Open people have a willingness to learn new things and enjoy new experiences.   Their way of thinking tends be individualistic and perhaps nonconforming.  Another characteristic is thinking in imaginative abstractions that are far removed from concrete experience. This factor has been referred to by some as an Intellect factor so it should come as no surprise some researchers have found a relationship with Openness and Crystallized Intelligence (Ashton M.C., Lee K., Vernon P.A., Jang K.L. 2000). People with low scores on openness to experience tend to have narrow, common interests. They prefer the plain, straightforward, and obvious over the complex, ambiguous, and subtle. Closed people prefer familiarity to novelty; they are conservative and resistant to change. Not surprisingly the FFPI-C manual finds a significant correlation between openness and academic grade point average (GPA).  However openness is not correlated with success in any particular academic subject.

Conscientiousness 

The unity of the conscientiousness factor has been debated.  Some like Paunonen and Jackson (1996) find the domain is best conceptualized as three overlapping dimensions of (1) methodical/orderly, (2) dependable/reliable, (3) ambitious/striving.  As a unitary construct it’s best defined as self-discipline and favors planned verses spontaneous or impulsive decision making. Bear in mind that acting on impulse isn’t necessarily bad depending on the context.  Many activities in life benefit spontaneous action rather than deliberate action.  The upside to Conscientiousness in a school setting is obvious.  Such students will likely complete their work on time and they strive to achieve academically. The FFPI-C manual found significant correlations between conscientiousness and all academic areas (reading, math, science, etc) as well as a significant correlation with total GPA and academic GPA.

 Extraversion

Extraversion is nearly universal in theories of personality.  And as such it’s quite salient in everyday interactions with people. Extraversion is marked by pronounced engagement with the external world. Extraverts enjoy being with people, are full of energy, and often exude positive emotions. They tend to be enthusiastic, action-oriented individuals that seek opportunities for excitement. In groups they tend to assert themselves, and often enjoy being the center of attention. Whether impulsivity belongs in the extraversion factor or the neuroticism factor has been debated.  The Five Factor model puts it under neuroticism while Eysenck (3-factor theory) puts it under extraversion.

Individuals that score low on extraversion are generally referred to as “introverts.”  Introverts tend to be quiet, low-key, deliberate, and appear disengaged from the social world. Their lack of social involvement should not be interpreted as shyness or depression; those scoring low on extraversion (introverts) simply need less external stimulation. The independence and reserve of the introvert is sometimes mistaken as unfriendliness or arrogance. In reality, an introvert who scores high on the agreeableness dimension (discussed next) will not seek others out but will be quite pleasant when approached. There is no relationship between extraversion and academics.

Agreeableness

Agreeableness refers to the extent a person seeks cooperation and social harmony. Agreeable individuals value getting along with others. They are therefore considerate, friendly, generous, helpful, and willing to compromise their interests with others. Agreeable people also have an optimistic view of human nature. They believe people are basically honest, decent, and trustworthy.

What to call people that score low on the agreeableness factor varies depending on the text and researcher (unlike extraversion vs intraversion which is a settled matter).  Some refer to them as disagreeable, antagonistic, and even aggressive. I prefer to use more positive language and side with those calling it assertive (agreeable vs assertive). Those scoring low on the agreeableness factor place self-interest, ideals or goals above getting along with others. They are less concerned with others’ well being, and give off an impression that they are unfriendly, uncooperative and skeptical of human motives. Agreeableness is obviously advantageous for attaining and maintaining popularity. Indeed agreeable people are better liked than disagreeable people. On the other hand, agreeableness is not useful in situations that require tough or absolute objective decisions. In leadership situations (those that aren’t collaborative) people that are high in agreeableness may falter whereas those with less agreeableness may find success. Occupations in science, the military and (more obviously) critics are often more suited to those with lower levels of agreeableness. There is no relationship between agreeableness and academics.

 Neuroticism

You  won’t find a factor called Neuroticism on the FFPI-C.  The authors wisely chose a different descriptor they termed “Emotional Regulation.”  Saying a child is neurotic is unnecessarily provocative compared to saying the child has difficulty regulating his/her emotions.  The term neurotic comes from Freud who used the term neurosis to describe a condition marked by mental distress, emotional suffering, and an inability to cope effectively with the normal demands of life. He suggested that everyone shows some signs of neurosis, but that we differ in our degree of suffering and our specific symptoms of distress. That definition fits this factor well.  Those with average levels of neuroticism are capable of becoming emotional but also are capable of controlling those emotions.  Lower scoring individuals on the FFPI-C Emotional Regulation (neuroticism) scale tend to have more difficulty controlling their emotions; whereas, those that score higher, while resistant to stress, appear to have difficulty expressing their emotions.

Conclusion

The FFPI-C does a good job of providing an interpretation guide for these factors.  Scores within certain ranges are given a classification (e.g. average, low, high) and those descriptors coincide with a short narrative describing how that rating might be generically expressed.  Since there are no validity scales on the FFPI-C it’s probably wise to find convergence between the scores and other observations and interviews of the child being assessed.  The reliability and validity data in the manual suggest that the FFPI-C is adequate in both regards.

I have found the FFPI-C useful for special education students during transitions and during evaluations for an emotional disturbance (ED).  For those transitioning it’s often useful to understand how the student interacts with peers, how open the student is to change and how well the student handles stress.  For ED evaluations the Emotional Regulation scale does most of the heavy lifting, but its also useful to distinguish between students that may have difficulty regulating their emotions but who are agreeable versus those that are not.  In some cases that information has proven useful when devising the behavior plan and deciding placement.

The only issue I have with the FFPI-C is with the administration and scoring form.  It uses a carbon copy sheet that in my experience often doesn’t show the marks clearly when it’s time to score the form.  Also, with two pages I would expect that fewer scoring errors would occur if each page had it’s own subtotal.  In fact, I use the margin at the bottom of the first page to create a subtotal. That said, it’s a minor inconvenience that in no way detracts from the usefulness of the test.

 

 

Ashton M.C., Lee K., Vernon P.A., Jang K.L. Fluid Intelligence, Crystallized Intelligence, and the Openness/Intellect Factor (2000) Journal of Research in Personality, 34 (2), pp. 198-207.
Paunonen, S. V., & Jackson, D. N. (1996). The Jackson Personality Inventory and the Five factor model of personality. Journal of Research in Personality, 30, 42–59.