In Brief

Are our personality traits as males and females determined by the culture we live in or by our biological differences? The answer to this age-old question, according to researchers Paul T. Costa Jr., PhD, Antonio Terracciano, PhD, and Robert R. McCrae, PhD, may be some of both. The researchers, of the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore, conducted a study to find out how people across cultures look at their own personalities. They gathered self-reported data from college-age and adult men and women in 26 cultures using the Revised NEO Personality Inventory, which asks questions related to five basic universal personality factors: neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness.

Their results found that although the differences between men and women were the same cross-culturally, the size of the self-reported differences varied between traditional and modern cultures. Surprisingly, men and women in progressive or liberal countries showed a greater degree of differentiation.

Costa suggests the differentiation may have to do with the individualism of the modernized societies, where people are free to respond in natural, less socially instructed ways, making differences more apparent.

Also, the authors note, perhaps in traditional cultures where sex roles are highlighted, women respond to questions about their own personality by comparing themselves with other women rather than with men, which would negate gender differences. A third possibility is that general personality traits are not as important in cultures where collectivism is the rule and, as a result, personality differences aren't noticed or mentioned.

The research appears in the August issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Personality Processes and Individual Differences.