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Personality and Individual Differences 42 (2007) 1255–1266

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Exploring the interplay between personality dimensions:


A comparison of the typological and the dimensional
approach in stress research
Jan Ole Røvik *, Reidar Tyssen, Tore Gude, Torbjørn Moum,
Øivind Ekeberg, Per Vaglum
Department of Behavioural Sciences in Medicine, Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, University of Oslo,
P.O. Box 1111 Blindern, N-0317 Oslo, Norway

Received 22 February 2006; received in revised form 10 August 2006; accepted 3 October 2006
Available online 17 November 2006

Abstract

Research on the combined effects of the personality dimensions of neuroticism, extraversion, and con-
scientiousness on stress have increased in recent years. Personality typologies, which are based on combi-
nations of high and low scores of neuroticism, extraversion, and conscientiousness, have been used.
However, the typological approach has been criticized on methodological grounds, because dichotomiza-
tion of continuous variables produces loss of information and predictive power. The combined effects of
neuroticism, extraversion, and conscientiousness are still unclear. Because the typological approach is clin-
ically useful, we applied both the typological and the dimensional approaches to a sample of 371 Norwe-
gian physicians in their internship year, to explain stress. The dichotomization of the personality
dimensions in the typology produced only a small loss of predictive power when there was a curvilinear
relationship between neuroticism and the stress measure. These findings support the usefulness of typolo-
gies in predicting stress when compared with dimensional statistical models. Loss of predictive power
should be accounted for, and the implications of using the typological approach should be discussed in
future studies.
Ó 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

*
Corresponding author. Tel.: +47 22851025; fax: +47 22851300.
E-mail address: j.o.rovik@medisin.uio.no (J.O. Røvik).

0191-8869/$ - see front matter Ó 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.paid.2006.10.004
1256 J.O. Røvik et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 42 (2007) 1255–1266

Keywords: Personality; Typology; Dimensions; Three-factor model; Predictive power

1. Introduction

The importance of considering the interplay between personality traits has been increasingly
acknowledged in stress research. Earlier studies started to focus on the effects of the basic traits
of neuroticism and extraversion from Eysenck’s system (Eysenck & Eysenck, 1985). Both traits
were separately found to be important predictors of stress. People high in neuroticism tend to
experience more stressful events (Bolger & Schilling, 1991; Bolger & Zuckerman, 1995; Fergusson
& Horwood, 1987; Magnus, Diener, Fujita, & Pavot, 1993; Suls, Green, & Hillis, 1998), and even
more distress regardless of level of stress (Bolger & Schilling, 1991; Bolger & Zuckerman, 1995;
Suls et al., 1998; Watson, 1984). Extraversion on the other hand was found to predispose to
the experience of more pleasurable events (Magnus et al., 1993) and more positive affects (Costa
& McCrae, 1980; Lischetzke & Eid, 2006; Watson & Clark, 1992).
An integrative model of positive and negative affect, including positive and negative events, has
been elaborated by Zautra, Affleck, Tennen, Reich, and Davis (2005). They used the recently
developed multilevel modelling methodology that can measure responses within individuals,
across time, and still test for traditional between-individual differences. Zautra et al. used the
dimensions of neuroticism and extraversion for the prediction of between-individual differences
in this study. Neuroticism predicted lower positive affect, higher negative affect and more negative
events. Extraversion on the other hand predicted higher positive affect and more positive events.
This corresponds to findings on affectivity by Vollrath and Torgersen (2000). On the within-indi-
vidual level Zautra et al. found neuroticism to aggravate the negative impact of negative events,
whereas extraversion identified people with trait-level positive affect, rather than people with in-
creased sensitivity to positive events. The interplay between neuroticism and extraversion as pre-
dictors were however not considered.
Conscientiousness is a factor in the five-factor system of personality (Costa, McCrae, & Dye,
1991) and is inversely related to psychoticism in Eysenck’s three factor system (Eysenck, 1994).
Few studies have examined conscientiousness and its relation to stress. The trait is associated
with positive affect (Watson & Clark, 1992), and people high on conscientiousness tend
to engage in active coping rather than in neurotic, maladaptive coping under stressful
conditions (Costa et al., 1991; Hooker, Frazier, & Monahan, 1994; Lee-Baggley, Preece, &
DeLongis, 2005).
In clinical psychology and medicine typologies or profiles have been widely used to describe
groups of individuals with certain combinations of characteristics, like the 16 Jungian types in
the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) (Myers & McCaulley, 1985) and the personality disor-
ders of DSM-IV (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). In this way, large amounts of infor-
mation are condensed under one heading. These typologies are also criticised for their
typological claim (Clark, Livesley, & Morey, 1997; McCrae & Costa, 1989) and alternative dimen-
sional models of personality disorders have been proposed (Widiger & Simonsen, 2005).
Personality types came to be hotly debated in the First Workshop on Personality Psychology:
Personality Structure and Development Across the Life-Span in 2000, in Gent, Belgium. There
J.O. Røvik et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 42 (2007) 1255–1266 1257

was a general recognition in the debate that the puzzle of personality types was far from resolved.
In this context Asendorpf took the challenge of editing a Special Issue for the European Journal
of Personality devoted to the puzzle of personality types in march 2002. Three personality types,
resilients, overcontrollers, and undercontrollers had been identified in earlier studies (Asendorpf,
Borkenau, Ostendorf, & Van Aken, 2006; Robins, John, Caspi, Moffitt, & Stouthamber-Loeber,
1996). Several contributors explored the consistency of these tree types by using cluster analysis or
inverse factor analysis based on the NEO-PI(R) instrument. Only partial consistency of person-
ality types across studies was demonstrated, however, leaving the field with still unresolved puz-
zles (Asendorpf, 2002).
To predict individual adaptation and level of stress in a more comprehensive way there is a need
to examine the interplay between different personality traits. Looking at each personality trait sep-
arately can only partially predict the individual’s stress level. Certain traits have opposite effects,
like neuroticism and extraversion, and we do not know to what degree conscientiousness can
attenuate or aggravate the effect of neuroticism and extraversion. Torgersen (1995) presented a
typological classification of personality that builds on combinations of high and low neuroticism,
extraversion, and conscientiousness. This methodology captures the interplay between these three
personality traits. Vollrath and Torgersen advocated this typology of eight distinct personality
types and they demonstrated the value of this approach in two studies of stress, coping, and health
behaviour among Swiss students (Vollrath & Torgersen, 2000, 2002). They argued against the use
of interactions of personality dimensions, claiming that not all relationships were linear, and that
three-way interactions are conceptually difficult to comprehend. In these studies, personality types
that combine low neuroticism with high conscientiousness reported a high stress tolerance and
had more favourable profiles of coping, while personality types combining high neuroticism with
low conscientiousness showed high vulnerability to stress and poor coping. The role of extraver-
sion was more ambiguous as it seemed to depend on the specific combination of the other two
personality traits (Vollrath & Torgersen, 2000). This typology has also been applied in a police
service study (Lau, Hem, Berg, Ekeberg, & Torgersen, 2006). Individuals with high neuroticism
combined with low extraversion reported higher levels of perceived stress. Conscientiousness
had a moderating role on stress. A study among medical students using Torgersen’s typology
showed an unfavourable effect of the combination of high neuroticism and high conscientiousness
on stress, whereas extraversion seemed to have a protective effect (Tyssen et al., submitted for
publication).
Pittenger delivered an important criticism of this typology of personality in 2004 (Pittenger,
2004). His main argument against dichotomizing continuous variables to construct personality
types was based on the assumption that a considerable amount of information and explained var-
iance would be lost by this strategy. When he replicated Vollrath and Torgersen’s personality
types as predictors of coping in a sample of American students, he found that analyses that used
continuous variables yielded a higher shared variance (an average 30.5% increase in R2) than
those that used dichotomous categories (types). Costa, Herbst, McCrae, Samuels, and Ozer
(2002) also emphasized this viewpoint, but also promoted the idea that non-linear information
inherent in the personality types can boost their predictive power. If so, typologies would out-
weigh the predictive power of the dimensional combinations of the traits. However, (Costa
et al., 2002) demonstrated a superiority of personality dimensions over types in predicting psycho-
social functioning, depression, and personality disorder symptoms, as for instance more common
1258 J.O. Røvik et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 42 (2007) 1255–1266

obsessive-compulsive and avoidant symptoms in overcontrolled types. This was conducted in a


sample from the East Baltimore Area where individuals with a history of psychiatric disorder were
oversampled.
The level of reported stress may be seen as the result of the interplay between individual char-
acteristics, for instance vulnerability to stress, and the stressor (Lazarus, 1999). A useful and valid
personality typology should thus be able to identify significant differences in the level of subjective
stress. It would therefore be of interest to compare the explained variance of subjective stress mea-
sures in a non-clinical population, using both Torgersen’s personality typology and the ‘‘big
three’’ personality dimensions, and the interaction between them.
We were interested in examining in depth the question of a possible loss of predictive power
using a dichotomous rather than a dimensional approach. In order to do so we first wished to test
if the relationships between the stress measures and the personality dimensions were linear or
non-linear. Second, we wanted to address the question if any curvilinearity modifies the loss of
predictive power that follows dichotomization of the dimensions. Third, we were interested in
substantial information about the combined effects of neuroticism, extraversion, and conscien-
tiousness on stress.

2. Method

2.1. Participants and procedure

Participants in this study were students graduating from all four medical schools in Norway in
1993 and 1994 (N = 631). Of these final-term students (T0), 522 responded to a postal question-
naire (overall response rate = 83%). The mean age of this group was 28 years (SD = 2.8), 57%
were female, 43% were male. One year later, at the end of the first postgraduate internship year
(T1), this cohort again received a postal questionnaire: 371 responded (71% of the final-term sam-
ple, 58% of the original total student population). The mean age of the group at T1 was 29 years
(SD = 2.8), 56% were female, 44% were male. The sampling procedure and loss of participants at
follow-up are discussed in detail elsewhere (Tyssen, Vaglum, Grønvold, & Ekeberg, 2000).

2.2. Personality traits

Personality traits were measured using the 36-item version of Torgersen’s Basic Character
Inventory which is based on an original questionnaire constructed by Lazare, Klerman, and Ar-
mor (1966) and modified by Torgersen (1980). This instrument was designed to bring psychody-
namic personality theory into operation in a psychometric tool and the factor structure has been
replicated in female and male, patients and normals, Americans and Norwegians, twins and non-
twins (Torgersen, 1980). This instrument assesses the ‘‘big three’’ personality dimensions of neu-
roticism (e.g. ‘I’m very touchy about criticism’), extraversion (e.g. ‘Many people consider me a
lively person’), and conscientiousness (e.g. ‘Everything I do must be precise and accurate’). Each
dimension is based on nine questions with a dichotomous response (agree/do not agree), giving a
range from 0 (low) to 9 (high), thus giving a continuous variable. Cronbach’s alphas for the scales
in our sample were: neuroticism = 0.82, extraversion = 0.87, and conscientiousness = 0.63.
J.O. Røvik et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 42 (2007) 1255–1266 1259

Intercorrelations between the traits were low (Pearson’s r): neuroticism and extraversion = 0.19,
neuroticism and conscientiousness = 0.11, extraversion and conscientiousness = 0.17. Correla-
tions between the traits and the dependent variables were (Pearson’s r): neuroticism and job
stress = 0.38, neuroticism and mental distress = 0.41, extraversion and job stress = 0.04, extra-
version and mental distress = 0.10, conscientiousness and job stress = 0.10, and conscientious-
ness and mental distress = 0.12.

2.3. Personality typology

The basis of the typology was the 36-item version of the Basic Character Inventory. The types
were constructed from the three scales of neuroticism, extraversion, and conscientiousness in
accordance with Torgersen’s model (Torgersen, 1995; Vollrath & Torgersen, 2000). Median splits
were used (neuroticism: median = 3; extraversion: median = 6; conscientiousness: median = 3).
The participants were assigned to one of eight distinct personality types with unique combinations
of high or low levels of the three dimensions, as shown in Table 1.

2.4. Job stress

Job stress was measured using a modified 32-item version of Cooper’s Job Stress Questionnaire
originally developed from interviews with British general practitioners (Cooper, Rout, & Fara-
gher, 1989), modified by Tyssen to fit the working conditions of Norwegian house officers (Tyssen
et al., 2000). A factor analysis with varimax rotation yielded four factors: emotional pressure (e.g.
‘I am stressed by dealing with suffering patients’), time pressure (e.g. ‘I am stressed by interrup-
tions and fuzz’), fear of complaints and criticism (e.g. ‘I am stressed by the possibility of com-
plaints from patients’), and work-home interface stress (e.g. ‘I am stressed by the difficulty of
balancing work and private life’). Each item was scored on a five-point scale from 1 (‘Nothing
at all’) to 5 (‘Very much’). Raw scores were used. Overall Cronbach’s alpha was 0.87.

Table 1
Frequency of the eight personality types
Type Composition Women n (%) Men n (%) Total n (%)
N E C
Spectators 8 (3.1) 15 (7.9) 23 (5.2)
Insecures + 29 (11.3) 17 (9.0) 46 (10.3)
Sceptics + 11 (4.3) 19 (10.1) 30 (6.7)
Brooders + + 56 (21.9) 25 (13.2) 81 (18.2)
Hedonists + 35 (13.7) 28 (14.8) 63 (14.2)
Impulsives + + 47 (18.4) 26 (13.8) 73 (16.4)
Entrepreneurs + + 23 (9.0) 36 (19.0) 59 (13.3)
Complicated + + + 47 (18.4) 23 (12.2) 70 (15.7)
Total 256 (100) 189 (100) 445 (100)
N = neuroticism, E = extraversion, C = conscientiousness.
+ Represents values greater than median, represents values less than median.
1260 J.O. Røvik et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 42 (2007) 1255–1266

2.5. Mental distress

Mental distress in the previous two weeks was measured using the self-report instrument, SCL-
5, a five-item version of the Hopkins Symptom Check List-25. This version is based on a factor
analysis by Tambs and Moum (1993), and consists of three anxiety items (e.g. ‘Feeling nervous-
ness or shakiness inside’) and two depression items (e.g. ‘Feeling hopeless about the future’). Each
item is rated on a five-point scale from 0 (Not at all) to 4 (Very much). The instrument has dem-
onstrated satisfactory psychometric characteristics and performs almost as well as SCL-25
(Strand, Dalgard, Tambs, & Rognerud, 2003).

2.6. Statistical analysis

2.6.1. Explained variance


Analyses of variance (ANOVAs) were used to compare the explained variance of the different
models of typologies, and multiple linear regressions were used on the models with continuous
dimensions as predictors of stress.

2.6.2. Personality dimensions


Initially, multiple linear regression analyses with age, gender, and the three personality dimen-
sions (centred) as independent variables were performed separately, with job stress and mental
distress as dependent variables. Age and gender had no effect on job stress, and there were no
interactions between age, or gender, and the personality dimensions. Age and gender were there-
fore excluded from the final dimensional models. Multiple linear regressions, including two-way
and three-way interaction analyses, and squared traits to capture curvilinearity, were performed
with personality dimensions as independent variables, and job stress and mental distress as depen-
dent variables. The significance level was set to p < 0.05.

2.6.3. Personality types


An ANOVA was computed with personality types as the independent variables and job stress
as the dependent variable, controlled for gender. Gender did not contribute significantly to job
stress, and there was no interaction between personality types and gender. Given these findings,
gender was not included in the further analyses because it did not relate to the research questions.
Each type was in turn compared to the average of the other seven types pooled with simple con-
trasts. The significance level was set to p < 0.05.
The same procedure was performed with mental distress as a dependent variable.

3. Results

3.1. Explained variance of the models

3.1.1. Job stress


The dimensional model explained 14.8% of the variance, with only the main effects entered.
(Table 2, model 1a) Neuroticism explained 14.5% of the variance whereas extraversion explained
J.O. Røvik et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 42 (2007) 1255–1266 1261

Table 2
Explained variance (R2) in the different statistical models (multiple linear regressions)
Models Entered variables Job stress R2 Mental distress R2
Dimensional
Model 1a Main effects N, E, C 14.8 16.1
Model 1b Main effects N, E, C 15.3 16.1
2-Way interactions N * E, N * C, E * C
3-Way interaction N*E*C
Model 1c Main effects N, E, C 16.8 15.4
2-Way interactions N * E, N * C, E * C
3-Way interaction N*E*C
Curvilinearity N2, E2, C2
Typological
Model 2 Typologies 8 types 15.4 11.7
N = neuroticism, E = extraversion, C = conscientiousness.

0.01%, and conscientiousness explained 0.7%. The main effects, together with the interaction effects,
explained 15.3% of the variance (Table 2, model 1b), and a model with the main effects and both
the interactions and the curvilinear variables (trait2) explained 16.8% of the variance (Table 2,
model 1c). The typology explained 15.4% of the variance in job stress (Table 2, model 2).

3.1.2. Mental distress


The dimensional model explained 16.1% of the variance with the main effects entered, 16.1%
when the interaction effects were entered with the main effects, and 15.4% when the main effects,
the interactions, and the curvilinearity variables were entered together. The typological model ex-
plained 11.7% of the variance (Table 2).

3.2. Personality traits and stress

Neuroticism was significantly associated with job stress (F = 65.7, p < 0.001), but extraversion
and conscientiousness were not. There was a tendency towards an interaction effect between neurot-
icism and extraversion (F = 3.5, p = 0.062), and no effect of the three-way interaction between the
dimensions. The relationship between neuroticism and job stress was curvilinear, as shown in Fig. 1.
Neuroticism was significantly associated with mental distress (F = 60.85, p < 0.001), but extra-
version was not. There was a tendency towards an effect of conscientiousness (F = 3.1, p = 0.08),
and a tendency towards an interaction effect between neuroticism and conscientiousness (F = 2.9,
p = 0.09).

3.3. Personality types and stress

The eight personality types differed significantly with regard to stress (ANOVA: F= 10.15,
p < 0.001). Three constellations of neuroticism and extraversion differed from the other types
pooled: Those with low neuroticism and high extraversion, those with high neuroticism and
low extraversion and finally those high in both neuroticism and extraversion, as shown in Table
1262 J.O. Røvik et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 42 (2007) 1255–1266

3.7

2SD+
Smoothed means
2SD-

3.2
Job stress (scale 1 - 5)

2.7

2.2

1.7
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Neuroticism (median = 3)

Fig. 1. Curvilinearity of neuroticism regressed into job stress, uncontrolled.

3. The personality types with low neuroticism and high extraversion reported lower stress than the
other types. Of these, the hedonist type, which is low in conscientiousness is the most favourable
in regard to stress with lower reported levels on both job stress and mental distress, whereas the
entrepreneur type which is high in conscientiousness reports lower levels only in mental distress.
Among the personality types with high neuroticism and low extraversion only the brooder type,
which is high in conscientiousness, reported higher stress than the others. Among the types with

Table 3
Job stress among the eight personality types (ANOVAs)
Types Composition Job stress Mental distress
N E C Mean (SD) Mean (SD)
b
Hedonist + 2.16 (0.42) 1.54b (1.7)
Entrepreneur + + 2.26 (0.44) 1.76b (2.1)
Spectator 2.28 (0.47) 2.05 (2.0)
Sceptic + 2.38 (0.53) 2.00 (2.3)
Insecure + 2.57 (0.51) 3.58 (2.7)
Brooder + + 2.63a (0.48) 4.86a (4.3)
Impulsive + + 2.66a (0.45) 3.38 (3.4)
Complicated + + + 2.74a (0.47) 4.50a (4.2)
N = neuroticism, E = extraversion, C = conscientiousness.
+ Represents values greater than median, represents values less than median.
a
Significantly higher stress scores than the other types pooled (p < 0.05, post hoc contrasts).
b
Significantly lower stress scores than the other types pooled (p < 0.05, post hoc contrasts).
J.O. Røvik et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 42 (2007) 1255–1266 1263

high neuroticism as well as extraversion, those with high conscientiousness as seen in the compli-
cated type report the highest level of stress (Table 3).

4. Discussion

We found that the use of ordinal groups of personality types explained nearly the same degree
of variance in job stress as the use of the three dimensional measures of personality traits (upon
which the types were constructed), including two-way and three-way interactions, and curvilinear-
ity variables. Adding curvilinearity variables increased the explained variance of job stress, indi-
cating a curvilinear relationship between the personality dimensions and job stress. This was not
the case for mental distress however; entering the curvilinearity variables here produced a certain
loss of predictive power indicating that there was no curvilinear relation between mental distress
and the personality dimensions (Table 2). When using the typology to explain mental distress,
there was a 3.7% loss of predictive power compared to the dimensional approach, which is argu-
ably within acceptable statistical limits.
The reason why the typological approach is approximately equal to the dimensional approach
in explained variance of job stress may be found in the shape of the regression line between neu-
roticism and job stress (Fig. 1). The slope is steeper and straighter in the lower part of the curve to
the left of the median, compared to the more flattening and irregularly curved upper part to the
right of the median. This may boost the predictive power of the typologies. Creating a dimen-
sional model with an equation that matches non-linearity in the covariates is a difficult task;

2.5
2SD+
Smoothed means
2SD-

2
Mental distress (scale 0 - 4)

1.5

0.5

0
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Neuroticism (median = 3)

Fig. 2. Linearity of neuroticism regressed into mental distress, uncontrolled.


1264 J.O. Røvik et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 42 (2007) 1255–1266

we may get a fair approximation that does not grasp the variance optimally and thereby lose pre-
dictive power in this model as well. The typology approach is most useful mathematically when
three-way and higher interactions are being examined, as it does not suffer the loss of predictive
power inherent in the polynomial regressions (Table 2). The shape of the regression line between
neuroticism and mental distress did not demonstrate such a curvilinearity. (Fig. 2).
The fact that there were only small differences in explained variance in this data set between the
typological or dimensional approach indicates that the choice between the two approaches could
be based on a pragmatic evaluation, given differences in explained variance as the sole basis of the
choice. Personality dimensions may be the best choice in situations where the aim is to measure
the maximum variance explained by personality. Findings expressed in dimensional models may
be linked to personality theory more easily. For the clinician, once the typological diagnosis has
been established, he or she can, by dimensional thinking, focus the intervention on those traits
that are most deviant and troublesome. Monitoring the introversion–extraversion trait in patients
with social phobia could be useful to document treatment advances, a more specific monitoring
could be obtained by using facet scales, for instance the neuroticism facet of hostility when treat-
ing relational problems.
In terms of how the traits interact, however, this study shows that the typological approach
gives substantial information on the interplay between the traits that the dimensional approach
fails to do, thus enabling a more comprehensive model of personality and stress. In occupational
health or clinical work with patients, it is important to be able to identify personality types that
are more prone to react with high stress than others. Typological thinking may also be convenient
because it describes the patient’s character in a way that clinicians, as well as laymen, usually
adopt when perceiving other individuals. When the clinician gets a new and unique patient, she
or he will compare the patient with the relevant prototypes they know, to match the patient to
the best-fit prototype.
There are limitations to our study. Because the sample consisted of physicians we cannot gen-
eralize the results to the general population. The sample size may be small, taking into account
that as many as eight groups were compared in our typology, thus making Type II errors more
likely. Loss of predictive power may increase the risk of type II errors, in the typological model
due to dichotomization, and in the dimensional model due to polynomial regression issues.
However, in conclusion, our study suggests that the combination of the personality dimensions
of neuroticism, extraversion, and conscientiousness in a typology can be a useful tool in studying
an individual’s reaction to stress.

Acknowledgement

This project has been financed with the aid of EXTRA funds from the Norwegian Foundation
for Health and Rehabilitation.

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