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Personality and Individual Differences 46 (2009) 487492

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Personality and Individual Differences

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Personality determinants of political participation: The contribution of traits

and self-efcacy beliefs
Michele Vecchione *, Gian Vittorio Caprara
Sapienza University of Rome, Dipartimento 39 di Psicologia, Via dei Marsi 78, 00185 Rome, Italy

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Received 31 May 2008
Received in revised form 20 November 2008
Accepted 25 November 2008
Available online 13 January 2009
Five-Factor Model
Political self-efcacy
Social-cognitive theory

a b s t r a c t
Self- and other-ratings on the Big Five were used to predict political efcacy beliefs and political participation in two studies, using both cross-sectional and longitudinal data. Hierarchical regressions showed
that personality traits contribute to political efcacy and participation, beyond the predictive value of
socio-demographic variables. Structural equation modeling corroborated a mediational model in which
Openness and Energy/Extraversion accounted for signicant variance in political self-efcacy beliefs,
which in turn accounted for political participation. Whereas both traits have concurrent validity, only
Energy/Extraversion remained a signicant distal predictor of adult political participation.
2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction
Research on personality and politics has gained new impetus in
recent years, as political choices seems to depend increasingly on
voters likes and dislikes (Caprara & Zimbardo, 2004). Yet, empirical studies have mostly focused on political orientation other than
on engagement, pointing to traits and values other than to self-efcacy beliefs. In reality, people are likely to engage in the political
arena, whatever their political orientation, if they believe that they
can exert some inuence over the political process. Citizens who
doubt that they can have any effect have no reason to engage in
the political game, even in contexts that invite active participation.
Instead, citizens who believe that they can inuence the political
system are likely to take action in the pursuit of their goals even
at the cost of personal risk. In this contribution, we focus on perceived political efcacy, namely on the self-beliefs that lead people
to feel politically efcacious and to engage actively in politics, and
on the role of personality traits in sustaining such beliefs.
2. Personality traits, self-efcacy beliefs and political
Traits and self-efcacy beliefs are distinctive components of
personality which may account for political behavior to different
degrees. Traits are enduring dispositions to behave in habitual
ways associated to consistent patterns of thought and feelings.

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +39 64 9917665; fax: +39 64 469115.

E-mail address: (M. Vecchione).
0191-8869/$ - see front matter 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Self-efcacy beliefs are knowledge structures that reect the

degree of control people exert over the events that affect their
A number of theorists have highlighted the role of personality in
determining the extent of political participation (Levinson, 1958).
Milbrath (1965) for example, suggested the need to consider the
role of personality in models of participation. However, empirical
studies about the relationship between personality traits and political participation are few and mostly limited to the role of specic
traits. As recently argued by Mondak and Halperin (2008), psychological research on personality has failed to produce concise taxonomies applicable to the study of politics. In this regard, the FiveFactor Model of personality provides a comprehensive framework
to address major individual differences in personality that may
overcome this limitation, at least in part.
Previous studies have shown that individuals with liberal and
left-wing ideologies score higher in Openness than conservative
and right-wing individuals, whereas the reverse occurs for Conscientiousness (Jost, 2006). The extent to which individual differences
in traits account for political participation remains to be claried.
A signicant number of studies have addressed the role of political efcacy in sustaining political interest and participation (Craig,
1979). Surprisingly, despite the vast literature on political efcacy,
little attention has been paid to Banduras (1986) work on perceived self-efcacy and to social-cognitive theory, which embeds
self-efcacy beliefs in a comprehensive theory of personality. The
theory posits perceived self-efcacy, namely beliefs people have
about their capacity to master tasks and situations, at the root of
efcacious behavior and successful adaptation in manifold domains of functioning (Bandura, 1997). Recently, a new measure

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M. Vecchione, G.V. Caprara / Personality and Individual Differences 46 (2009) 487492

has been conceived to assess political self-efcacy (Caprara, Vecchione, Capanna, & Mebane, in press) focusing on the activities that
are required to promote ones own ideals among peers, potential
followers and adversaries, or in other words, to actively participate
in and to compete in the political context of modern representative
democracies. Politicians have shown higher scores on perceived
political efcacy than party members who in turn, outscored
non-partisan voters.
It remains to be claried how traits and political self-efcacy
may operate in concert to account for political behavior. Although,
trait theorists and proponents of self-efcacy theory may hold rival
views about personality functioning, several studies have attempted to cast a bridge between the Big Five and efcacy beliefs.
According to Martocchio and Judge (1997), for example, efcacy
beliefs represent the mechanism through which personality traits
manifest themselves. Others have argued that self-efcacy mediates the effect of personality dispositions on several outcomes,
such as job performance (Kanfer, 1992) and career interest (Nauta,
2004). Yet, we are not aware of any study that has addressed both
traits and self-efcacy beliefs in the domain of politics. In this regard, empirical ndings capable of elucidating how the above operate in concert may be critical to understanding and promoting
citizens engagement in politics (Caprara, 2008).

Hypothesis 5: We expected that individuals with higher education and income would present higher levels of political participation and political efcacy beliefs, in accordance with one of the
most established views of political participation that point to both
income and education as major determinants of voter disenfranchisement (Milbrath, 1965; Verba et al., 1995).
Hypothesis 6: We expected that females would score lower than
males in political participation and perceived political efcacy
scales, in accordance with previous ndings (Milbrath & Goel,
1977) and given the limited number of women in political ofces.
In Italy, as in most of European countries, political participation is
more likely among males than females (Maraf, 2007). Moreover,
Italian women were granted right to vote only in 1946 and still
do not exceed 20% of parliamentary bodies. In this regard, we do
not believe that women are less apt than men to engage successfully in politics. Rather, we believe that traditional preclusion
and limited opportunities still represent important deterrents that
distract women, more than men, from actively engaging in politics.
We present two studies that examine the role of personality
traits in predicting political efcacy beliefs and political participation. Section 4 was conducted on a large sample, using a cross-sectional design and a self-reported questionnaire. Section 5 extended
the analysis across time, on a small sample of adolescents, using
both self- and parent-reports.

3. The current research

4. Study 1

The aim of this research is to examine the extent to which and

how the Five-Factors of personality and self-efcacy beliefs account for political participation and engagement. This research
tests the following hypotheses:
Hypothesis 1: We expected that Openness and Energy/Extraversion would be related to both political efcacy and participation.
These traits refer to individual tendencies and behaviors that are
crucial for success in the political arena.
On the one hand, important ingredients of political activity such
as keeping up-to-date with main political events and taking part in
community and social activities may benet from a genuine Openness towards the outside world. Previous results suggest that critical thinking, which is positively related with Openness (Clifford,
Boufal, & Kurtz, 2004) encourage political participation enhancing
political efcacy and personal control (Guyton, 1988).
On the other hand, several facets of Energy/Extraversion such as
assertiveness, persuasiveness and dominance, are crucial to participating and being successful in politics. Previous results suggest
that Extraversion is consistently related to leadership across study
settings and leadership criteria (Judge, Bono, Ilies, & Gerhardt,
2002). Other ndings have shown that politicians score higher than
the general population on Energy/Extraversion (Caprara, Barbaranelli, Consiglio, Picconi, & Zimbardo, 2003).
Hypothesis 2: We hypothesized that Openness and Energy/
Extraversion would have higher criterion validity than the other
Big Five, for which we offer no hypotheses, given a lack of both theoretical consideration and past empirical ndings.
Hypothesis 3: We expected that political self-efcacy would be
related to high levels of participation, in accordance with previous
studies on internal political efcacy (Verba, Schlozman, & Brady,
Hypothesis 4: We expected that self-efcacy beliefs fully mediate the relations of Openness and Energy/Extraversion traits to
political participation. We assigned primacy to traits in accordance
with both a vast literature attesting to the signicant genetic component of basic traits and with views of traits as habitual responses
resulting from chronic personsituation interactions that, once
crystallized, operate as automatic behavioral tendencies (Loehlin,
McCrae, Costa, & John, 1998).

4.1. Aim of the study

The rst aim of this study was to assess the relative contributions of the Five-Factors of personality to perceived political efcacy and participation, controlling for basic socio-demographic
characteristics. A related aim was to determine whether political
self-efcacy mediated the inuence of traits on political
4.2. Method
4.2.1. Participants and procedures
A sample of 1353 individuals completed a set of questionnaires
that measured traits, political self-efcacy and political participation. Data was gathered by approximately 200 psychology majors
as part of a course assignment at the University of Rome. Each student was briefed on the general aims of the research, instructed
how to administer the questionnaire and asked to collect data from
six people equally distributed across age and gender. The mean age
of the sample was 40.5 years (SD = 18.5), with 42% male. Education
levels were: elementary school 6.6%, junior high school 10.1%, high
school 62.4% and college 21.0%. Annual income ranged from less
than 5000 (2.8%) to more than 80,000 (4.2%), with the modal
group being from 15,000 to 29,000 (26.8%).
4.2.2. Measures Personality traits. To assess traits we used a short version of
the Big Five Questionnaire (BFQ; Caprara, Barbaranelli, Borgogni, &
Perugini, 1993). It contains 60 items that form ve domain scales,
with 12 items on each scale. Respondents indicate agreement with
the extent to which each item describes them on a 5-point scale
ranging from complete disagreement (1 = very false for me) to
complete agreement (5 = very true for me). High correlations between the analogous scales in the BFQ and the NEO-Personality
Inventory (Costa & McCrae, 1985), conrmed the construct validity
of the instrument (Caprara et al., 1993). In this sample, Cronbachs
a were .84 for Energy/Extraversion, .86 for Agreeableness, .80 for
Conscientiousness, .88 for Emotional Instability and .90 for

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Table 1
Means, standard deviations, and correlations in Section 4.

Emotional stability
Political self-efcacy
Political participation
















Correlations for males are above the diagonal; correlations for females are below diagonal.
p < .05.
p < .01. Perceived political efcacy. As a measure of perceived political efcacy (henceforth, PPE), we used 10 items aimed to assess
individuals beliefs in their capabilities to actively participate in
the political context (Caprara, Vecchione, Capanna et al., in press).
The measure taps the capacities to exert control over ones own
representatives, and to voice ones own opinions and preferences
about programs and candidates. Respondents evaluate how capable they feel in carrying out the action or behavior on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 5 (completely). Caprara,
Vecchione, Capanna et al. (in press) reported high reliability, high
criterion validity, and appreciable correlations with established
measures of internal political efcacy. Cronbachs a was .91. Political participation. Political participation was measured
by asking respondents if they engaged in specic political behaviors, such as participating in political manifestations, distributing
leaets, donating money to a political association, having relations
with politicians, and working for a political party. A composite index was created by taking a sum of the ve categorical indicators.
4.3. Results
4.3.1. Descriptive statistics
Table 1 presents means, standard deviations and correlations
among the variables of interest, separately for males and females.
Since correlations were similar across gender, the analyses were
performed on the whole sample.
4.3.2. Using traits to explain political self-efcacy and participation
Hierarchical regression has been used to examine the hypothesis that Openness and Energy/Extraversion have a higher concurrent validity than the other personality traits. First, we controlled
for age, gender, education and income. Then, we examined
whether the Five-Factors accounted for signicant additional variance in PPE and political participation. As shown in Table 2, males
and people with higher education reported higher levels of PPE.
Adding personality traits in the second block further improved prediction. Participants scoring higher on Openness and Energy/Extraversion reported greater PPE. The contribution of the other traits,
instead, was not signicant.
Males, older people and people with higher education reported
higher levels of political participation. Among traits, only Openness
and Energy/Extraversion signicantly contributed to political participation, over and above demographic variables. Determination
coefcients for PPE and political participation were .18 and .12,
4.3.3. Structural model for testing mediated effects
We examined the relations among traits, political efcacy beliefs and political participation within the framework of structural
equation modeling. In this analysis, we focused on the traits that
we hypothesized to be related to political efcacy and participa-

Table 2
Hierarchical multiple regression.

Emotional stability
F for change in R2

Political participation

Political self-efcacy

Model 1

Model 2

Model 1

Model 2







p < .01.

tion, namely Openness and Energy/Extraversion, excluding the

traits for which we have no hypotheses. First, we tested the
hypothesized model, in which PPE directly contributed to political
participation and fully mediated the inuence of Openness and Energy/Extraversion. Next, we tested a partial mediational model by
adding the direct effects of traits on political participation; significant direct effects would suggest that efcacy beliefs are partial
mediators of the relation between traits and political participation.
In the third, alternative model, traits directly contributed to political participation, mediating the inuence of PPE. Gender and education were included in the models because they can affect both
political efcacy and participation. We did not include age and income because they showed no effects on political participation and
only weak effects on PPE in the above analyses. For each model, we
handled measurement error by treating self-efcacy and traits as
latent factors with multiple indicators. As for Energy/Extraversion
and Openness, we randomly combined items into three parcels to
reduce the number of indicators. Measurement model. Although, the v2 was signicant,
v2(101) = 560.35, p < .001, the other t indices provided a good
t, TLI = .94, SRMR = .04 and RMSEA = .06. The factor loadings of
the indicators related to the same underlying construct were all
higher than .40 and signicantly different from zero, providing
support for the convergent validity of the scales. Structural model. The full mediational model t the data,
v2(144) = 807.61, p < .001, TLI = .92, SRMR = .05 and RMSEA = .06.
As shown in Fig. 1, individuals with high Openness and Energy/
Extraversion have higher levels of PPE, which predicts political participation, over and above gender and education. Males scored
higher on Energy/Extraversion and showed higher levels on PPE
and political participation than females. Higher educated people

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M. Vecchione, G.V. Caprara / Personality and Individual Differences 46 (2009) 487492

5.1.1. Participants and procedures

Participants were 71 adolescents (38% male), enrolled in junior
high schools in Genzano, a residential community located near
Rome, Italy. They were part of a larger longitudinal project that
started in 1989 with the primary goal of investigating the personal
and social determinants of adjustment from late infancy to early
adulthood. Traits were measured through mother ratings in
1998, when the age of the participants ranged from 13 to 16 years
(M = 14.12 and SD = .43). Self-efcacy beliefs and political participation were measured six years later (2004) and were both self-reported. All families consented to have their adolescents participate
in the research.

Fig. 1. All parameters are standardized. Underlined coefcients are not signicant.

scored higher on Openness and showed higher levels of PPE and

political participation than less educated people. This model explained 20% of the variance in efcacy beliefs, and 26% of the variance in political participation. Estimates of indirect effects using
Sobels approximate signicance test (Sobel, 1982) revealed that
both Openness (b = .13, Z = 6.48 and p < .001) and Energy/Extraversion (b = .10, Z = 5.10 and p < .001) contributed to political participation through their inuence on PPE, while adding the direct
effects of traits did not signicantly improve the t,
Dv2(2) = 0.16 and p = .92. The alternative path of inuence traits
mediating the relationship of efcacy beliefs to political participation was not supported by the empirical data, v2(145) = 1034.35,
p < .001, TLI = .89, SRMR = .07 and RMSEA = .07.
4.4. Discussion
Findings of this study corroborated most of the posited hypotheses. Openness and Energy/Extraversion accounted for signicant
variance in political efcacy and participation. As anticipated,
Agreeableness, Conscientiousness and Emotional stability did not
produced a signicant increment in the R2 after the demographic
variables were partialled out. These results support hypotheses 1
and 2. Political self-efcacy was directly related to political participation, fully mediating the inuence of Openness and Energy/
Extraversion, supporting for hypotheses 3 and 4. Hypothesis 5
was only partially supported, as people with higher education reported higher levels of political participation and efcacy, whereas
the contribution of income was small or not signicant. Ultimately,
males showed a higher sense of political efcacy than females, in
accordance with hypothesis 6. Yet, the cross-sectional nature of
the ndings and the use of only self-reports represents major limitations of the study. A second study was conceived to address
these limitations, taking advantage of an ongoing longitudinal

5.1.2. Measures Traits. To assess Openness and Energy/Extraversion, we
used the extended version of the Big Five Questionnaire (BFQ),
which contains 132 items that form ve domain scales, with 24
items on each scale. Items were worded in third person form to obtain parent ratings. Specically, mothers were asked to rate how
much each item was appropriate to describe the personality of
their daughter or son, using a 5-point Likert scale ranging from
complete disagreement (1) to complete agreement (5). Cronbachs
a was .70 for Energy/Extraversion, and .73 for Openness. Political participation. To measure political participation, we
administered the same indicators of participative behaviors used in
Section 4. Perceived political efcacy. Participants were administered
the ten items used in the rst study (a = .93). Parent socio-economic status. Family socio-economic status
was operationalized as educational attainment of the father. Education levels were: elementary school 16.9%, junior high school
42.3%, high school 32.4%, and college 8.4%.
5.2. Results
Table 3 presents the means, standard deviations, and correlations among traits, PPE and political participation. As hypothesized, both Energy/Extraversion and Openness were related to
efcacy beliefs and political participation measured six years later.
As in Section 4, we used structural equation modeling to examine whether efcacy beliefs mediated the relation between traits
and political participation, controlling for gender and fathers educational level. Traits, efcacy beliefs and political participation
were operationalized as single composite indicators by averaging
the items used to measure each construct. Given the small number
of observations, parameters and standard errors were estimated
using 1000 bootstrap samples. This approach can be applied when
sample sizes are moderate or small, in the range of 2080 cases
(Efron & Tibshirani, 1993).
The full mediational model t the sample data well,
v2(6) = 7.37, p = .29, TLI = .91, SRMR = .069 and RMSEA = .057. As
shown in Fig. 2, both PPE and fathers education affected political

5. Study 2
5.1. Method
The aim of this study was to determine whether Energy/Extraversion and Openness traits measured through parent ratings in
early adolescence account for later self-efcacy perceptions in
the political sphere and political participation, controlling for gender and fathers level of education. This latter variable was included since it may affect political participation in later adult life
(Beck & Jennings, 1982).

Table 3
Means, standard deviations and correlations and Section 5.


Political self-efcacy
Political participation
p < .05.
p < .01.







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M. Vecchione, G.V. Caprara / Personality and Individual Differences 46 (2009) 487492

Fig. 2. All parameters are standardized. Underlined coefcients are not signicant.

participation. Adolescents rated by their mothers as having higher

levels of Energy/Extraversion reported to have a higher sense of
personal efcacy in the political domain. Openness and gender
were also related to PPE, although, these results were not statistically signicant.
The signicance of the indirect effects was examined through
the bootstrap procedure proposed by Shrout and Bolger (2002). Energy/Extraversion contributed to political participation indirectly
through its inuence on PPE (b = .11 and p < .001). The indirect effect of Openness, instead, was not signicant.1 Adding the direct effects of traits did not improve the t signicantly, Dv2(2) = 2.95 and
p = .23. The full mediational model explained 14% of the variance in
PPE, and 25% of the variance in political participation.
5.3. Discussion
The ndings of this study showed that personality traits of Energy/Extraversion and Openness were related to both political efcacy and participation, supporting the rst hypothesis. They also
corroborated the posited model, in which efcacy beliefs fully
mediate the effect of traits on political participation (hypothesis
3), attesting to the long-term effect of Energy/Extraversion, as
rated by others, in predicting political behavior. This hypothesis,
however, was only partially supported. The direct effect of Openness on political efcacy was not signicant, as well its indirect effect on political participation, in contrast to our expectations and
to the ndings of the rst study. Fathers education was a signicant predictor of political participation, supporting the hypothesis
5, which suggests the critical role of education in enhancing political participation. The effect of gender, instead, was not signicant,
thus not providing support for hypothesis 6, in contrast with the
results of the rst study.
6. Conclusion
This research aimed to investigate the mediational role of political efcacy in linking personality traits to political participation.
Findings showed that a measure of the ve primary dimensions
of phenotypic inter-individual differences contribute to self-reported efcacy beliefs, which in turn affected political participation. These results are in accordance with the view that assigns
basic dispositions a crucial role in making sense of peoples behav1
Results were conrmed using the classical formula derived from Sobel (1982):
test of indirect effect was signicant for Energy/Extraversion (b = .11, Z = 3.25 and
p < .001) but not for Openness (b = .06, Z = .81 and p = .42).


ior, including political choice (Block & Block, 2006; Caprara, Vecchione, & Schwartz, in press; Jost, 2006).
Political self-efcacy showed an association with Energy/Extraversion and Openness. Whereas both traits have concurrent validity, only Energy/Extraversion remained a signicant distal
predictor of adult political participation. These results may be
due to the higher stability of this temperament-based trait across
the diverse phases of development (Hampson & Goldberg, 2006).
Nevertheless, the lack of signicance of Openness may be due to
the small size of the sample used in the second study.
Energy/Extraversion and Openness are two related traits that
underlie a more basic exploratory tendency toward experience
(Peterson, Smith, & Carson, 2002); they represent the two primary
traits that form the Digmans second-order factor labelled beta
(Digman, 1997) or plasticity (DeYoung, 2006). Olson (2005) interpreted this factor as a broad dimension reecting the degree of
individuals social and experiential engagement, which entails active and enthusiastic participation in life activities. Individuals
who exhibit high levels of engagement are likely to demonstrate
intense and vital involvement in activities. On the other hand, disengagement is characterized by detachment, disinterest, apathy,
low involvement, and a non-participatory orientation to life activities (p. 1692).
Our results are in accordance with those of Silvester and Dykes
(2007), who found that both critical thinking and communication
skills were signicantly associated with candidates political performance, as assessed through the percentage of votes achieved
in the 2005 UK general election. As argued by Silvester (2008),
politicians must be able to sift through large amounts of information quickly, identify key arguments, balance conicting demands
and formulate responses (p. 128). On the other hand, they must
be able to communicate effectively across different audiences
and communication media, as well as persuade potential voters
of their intentions (Silvester, 2008).
The capabilities to analyse, organize and integrate information
and to convince and persuade people can be easily traced back to
Energy/Extraversion and Openness traits. One should note, however, that the abilities related to both these traits can predispose
one to political activity, but not necessarily translate into actual
political action since one can be extremely energetic and openminded, but fail to be interested in politics or lack a sense of efcacy to inuence the machinery of governmental and representative systems. In this regard, our ndings highlight the role of
efcacy beliefs in mediating the inuence of traits, and thus in
channeling basic dispositions in the service of politics. As in other
domains of functioning, it is unlikely that people can be efcacious
in politics unless they believe they can produce desired results by
their actions. Whichever their habits, dispositions and preferences,
it is unlikely that people get actively involved in politics unless
they feel capable to do what political participation commonly requires. In this regard, one should also not overlook the contribution
of a robust theory of individual psychosocial functioning, namely
social-cognitive theory (Bandura, 1986), which embeds the understanding of political action within a broad theory of human agency.
The theory allows us to go beyond the mere assessment of political
efcacy, as it may suggest interventions aimed to promote the
mastery experiences needed to build and enhance peoples condence in their abilities to contribute to the functioning of
There are several limitations to this study. First, we used two
convenience samples, which not represent the entire population.
Moreover, this investigation was carried out in Italy, where political turnout is high, politics is party-centered and driven, and active
political participation is expressed mostly in supporting ones own
party and leaders. Thus, generalization of the ndings to other
samples and countries has to be approached with caution.

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