How Universal is the Big Five? Testing the Five-Factor Model of Personality Variation Among Forager-Farmers in the Bolivian Amazon

Michael Gurven
Christopher von Rueden
Maxim Massenkoff
Hillard Kaplan
Marino Lero Vie

Refer to Dr. Christopher von Rueden's website for further information.


The five-factor model (FFM) of personality variation has been replicated across a range of human societies, suggesting the FFM is a human universal. However, most studies of the FFM have been restricted to literate, urban populations, which are uncharacteristic of the majority of human evolutionary history. We present the first test of the FFM in a largely illiterate, indigenous society. Tsimane forager–horticulturalist men and women of Bolivia (n = 632) completed a translation of the 44-item Big Five Inventory (Benet-Martínez & John, 1998), a widely used metric of the FFM. We failed to find robust support for the FFM, based on tests of (a) internal consistency of items expected to segregate into the Big Five factors, (b) response stability of the Big Five, (c) external validity of the Big Five with respect to observed behavior, (d) factor structure according to exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis, and (e) similarity with a U.S. target structure based on Procrustes rotation analysis. Replication of the FFM was not improved in a separate sample of Tsimane adults (n = 430), who evaluated their spouses on the Big Five Inventory. Removal of reverse-scored items that may have elicited response biases produced factors suggestive of Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness, but fit to the FFM remained poor. Response styles may covary with exposure to education, but we found no better fit to the FFM among Tsimane who speak Spanish or have attended school. We argue that Tsimane personality variation displays 2 principal factors that may reflect socioecological characteristics common to small-scale societies. We offer evolutionary perspectives on why the structure of personality variation may not be invariant across human societies