Ethnoracial differences in personality

A reader inquired about research on ethnoracial differences in personality. There actually is a growing body of research on this. Why? Given IQ differences, to avoid unequal proportionality (i.e. disparate impact), a number of industrial psychologists have advocated using personality measures in place of cognitive measures. As it has turned out, though, there are average differences in personality too. So now there is ongoing research on the unequal proportionality caused by using personality tests (1,2 ). Could the differences partly be due to nature? The heritability of personality factors range for .33 to .65 and several genes have already been identified which code for individual personality differences [3] (in some populations), so it’s possible — if you want, you can enter some of the associated polymophisms found by de Moor et al. (2010) into Hapmap and see if it turns up anything. I can’t imagine a large genetic effect, but who knows.

Anyways, I edited the tables from a recent meta analysis (4) which compared Asians, Blacks, Indians, Hispanics, and Whites on the Big 5. The only large differences are between Asians and Blacks. These, however, move in the opposite direction of the cognitive differences, leading to a Scylla and Charybdis for IO
psychologists. [d means standardized difference; a d of .1 would be equivalent to 1.5 points if translated into white IQ metrics (SD=15)].


[1] Hausdorf and Risav, 2010. Decision Making Using Personality Assessment: Implications for Adverse Impact and Hiring Rates
[2] Hausdorf and Risav, 2011. Personality Testing in Personnel Selection: Adverse impact and differential hiring rates
[3] de Moor, et al., 2010. Meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies for personality
[4] Foldes et al., 2008. Group differences in personality: meta-analyses comparing five U.S. racial groups

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5 Responses to Ethnoracial differences in personality

  1. Chuck says:


    I really haven’t looked into this and I’m not familiar with the literature. I was aware of this meta analysis, so I posted on it. As for the measures, I linked to the paper; in it, you can find a discussion of them. If you are interested, I found two relatively recently released analyses commissioned by the armed forces. You can dig through them and see if you can find anything interesting. Let me know if you do. (Be patient, it’ll take a minute or two to load them up.)

    • Chuckwiththehippo says:


      If you get a chance, could you watch this series and make a list of the environmentalist arguments?

  2. bgc says:

    The problem is that these personality tests are self-rated, and different nations and ethnicities self-rate differently – so although personality self-rating works quite well within homogeneous groups, that international and between-race comparisons are not valid.

    There are big differences, but at present these can only be quantified using behavioural (outcome, not dispositional) measures – perhaps genetic measures will be able to replace these eventually.

    Furthermore, personality measures cannot replace IQ tests – because personality is self-rated – it is not a ‘test’ and it is trivially easy to learn the big five questionnaires, and lie to generate whatever employers’ want (usually high C, high A, low N).

    So personality tests are fine when nothing depends on the outcome (pure research) but are ridiculous when used in employment evaluation.

  3. JL says:

    I think one problem with personality tests may be that in them people estimate their personality in relation to their peer group, which is usually rather homogeneous racially. An extroverted Asian is different from an extroverted black.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Yes. I’m sure anybody in the USA would find it odd that black people are supposedly more introverted and conscientious than white people. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear that psychology has discovered an objective way to measure personality traits. Perhaps psychologists could by comparing markers of personality traits (e.g. conscientiousness = GPA after controlling for other factors).

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