Counselor Constructs
Thu, 10 Aug 1995 02:11:15 -0400

Jim Mancuso writes:
"I would like to make a comment about the idea of "The Big Five," to which
you referred. If you go back to the work of Osgood, you will find that he
pulled three superordinate constructs out of the systems of the general
population. Seymour Rosenberg and his associates did some fine work
elaborating the idea of those "Big Three." Then, there has been this rash of
work on "The Big Five."
Many of the advocates of "The Big Five" proceed as if the "The Big Five"
names TRAITS that are REALLY out there, and that people HAVE.
As a personal construct theorist, I would hold that "The Big Five"
represents the category systems which we use as we attempt to categorize
those events which we know as persons. "

Your response is very interesting. Early on in my struggles with this
research project, I went to visit a communications professor I had as an
undergraduate. When I told him what I was doing he directed me to Osgood,
Tannenbaum and Succi (1957). My dissertation advisor did his research on
the interpersonal circle which plots personality traits on two dimensions.
Then when I was trying to find a way to classify constructs I contacted
Lewis Goldberg at the University of Oregon and he directed me to all of the
research on the "big five". He wrote an article in the AMERICAN
PSYCHOLOGIST, January, 1993 that summarizes the development of the Big-Five
and the research related to it which pretty much has me convinced that there
are five superordinate constructs in the domain of person perception. Yet,
it seems to me, that Osgood's three dimensions or possibly four may be the
primitive, pre-verbal constructs with which all humans are born. I think it
is part of the way we are neurologically wired. The evaluative factor seems
to be an essential for any animal to survive. Is the stimulus friendly or
hostile to my existance? The potency factor also seems to me to be important
to survival. Is it a strong unfriendly stimulus or a weak unfriendly
stimulus? An angry three year old throwing a temper tantrum is not much of
a threat to my survival, but an angry 30 year old with a rifle might be.
The third factor, activity can also be linked to survival. How quickly is
the stimulus moving? A large unfriendly stimulus moving quickly toward me
would be a much greater threat to my survival than one that can't run as fast
as I can. Some of Osgood's analyses yielded two lesser factors . I think
that there is a fourth dimension that has to do with the regularity of the
stimulus. An unfriendly stimulus that occurs at random is much more
dangerous than a regular predictable stimulus. Small children seem to be
born with these primitive constructs. Anyway, it seems to me that these are
the underlying factors that keep coming up in all of this research.
Further, I would relate the idea of a "Big
Five" to Miller's magic number seven, plus or minus two!! Seven minus two,
being five, as we know (???).
In other words, for most people, five good categories takes up most of the
variance in our person judgments.

So what do factor studies really tell us? If Osgood was correct, we
just keep finding the same basic factors over and over again but call them by
different names.

Caroline Cook
The University of Akron