Niche Diversity Can Explain Cross-Cultural Differences in Personality Structure




The covariance structure of personality traits derived from statistical models (for example, Big Five) is often assumed to be a human universal. Cross-cultural studies have challenged this view, finding that less-complex societies exhibit stronger covariation among behavioural characteristics, resulting in fewer derived personality factors. To explain these results, we propose the niche diversity hypothesis, in which a greater diversity of social and ecological niches elicits a broader range of multivariate behavioural profiles and, hence, lower trait covariance in a population. We formalize this as a computational model, which reproduces empirical results from recent cross-cultural studies and also yields an additional prediction for which we find empirical support. This work provides a general explanation for population differences in personality structure in both humans and other animals and suggests a substantial reimagining of personality research: instead of reifying statistical descriptions of manifest personality structures, research should focus more on modelling their underlying causes.

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Post-print Article

Publication Date



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

Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2019 The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.

DOI: 10.1038/s41562-019-0730-3

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Full Citation:

Smaldino, Paul E., Aaron Lukaszewski, Christopher R. von Rueden, and Michael Gurven. “Niche Diversity Can Explain Cross-Cultural Differences in Personality Structure.” Nature Human Behaviour 3, no. 12 (December 2019): 1276–83. doi:10.1038/s41562-019-0730-3.