Personality Traits Below Facets: The Consensual Validity, Longitudinal Stability, Heritability, and Utility of Personality Nuances

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Abstract

It has been argued that facets do not represent the bottom of the personality hierarchy—even more specific personality characteristics, nuances, could be useful for describing and understanding individuals and their differences. Combining 2 samples of German twins, we assessed the consensual validity (correlations across different observers), rank-order stability, and heritability of nuances. Personality nuances were operationalized as the 240 items of the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R). Their attributes were examined by analyzing item residuals, controlling for the variance of the facet the item had been assigned to and all other facets. Most nuances demonstrated significant (p < .0002) cross-method agreement and rank-order stability. A substantial proportion of them (48% in self-reports, 20% in informant ratings, and 50% in combined ratings) demonstrated a significant (p < .0002) component of additive genetic variance, whereas evidence for environmental influences shared by twins was modest. Applying a procedure to estimate stability and heritability of true scores of item residuals yielded estimates comparable with those of higher-order personality traits, with median estimates of rank-order stability and heritability being .77 and .52, respectively. Few nuances demonstrated robust associations with age and gender, but many showed incremental, conceptually meaningful, and replicable (across methods and/or samples) predictive validity for a range of interest domains and body mass index. We argue that these narrow personality characteristics constitute a valid level of the personality hierarchy. They may be especially useful for providing a deep and contextualized description of the individual, but also for the prediction of specific outcomes.

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