Guide: 16PF – A Behavior-Based Approach to Traits

16PF - 16 Personality Factor Questionnaire

The 16 Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PFQ) was conceived in the 1940s by psychometricians Cattell, Eber, and Tatsuoka. It focuses on collecting behavioral psychometric data to best understand what makes up someone’s personality.

Primary goals for the 16PFQ self-assessment are to:

“[The 16PF’s goal is to] provide a thorough, research-based map of normal personality.”

– Raymond Cattell
  • Use primary and secondary stratum-level traits to effectively pinpoint root behaviors in the 16PFQ
  • Devise a mathematical behavioral specification and prediction equation

There are three (3) validity scales in the 16PFQ, namely:

  1. Bipolar Impression Management (IM)
  2. Acquiescence (ACQ)
  3. Infrequency (INF)


The 16PF personality factors are, in alphabetical order:

A – Warmth

Warmth is the preference for interpersonal closeness and empathy, and inclination to present an approachable exterior.

Low WarmthHigh Warmth
• Shields self from world, appears aloof
• Solution-focused advice and suggestions
• Prefers action and results over camaraderie
• May appear emotionless or tyrannical when angered
• Minds own business
• Considers needs of others first
• Feeling-focused advice and comfort
• People-oriented
• Giving and caring, attuned to emotional states
• Outward, smiley expression

B – Reasoning

Reasoning is the use of quantitative measures to arrive at several different conclusions, and considering possible extraneous variables.

Low ReasoningHigh Reasoning
• More inclined to go with hunches or gut instinct
• Emotions play a more central role in action
• Looks for qualitative over quantitative proof
• Focuses on abstract over the concrete
• Lower general IQ*
• Needs evidence, facts, and statistics to consider a point
• Sees correlations and cause-effect analyses
• Considers multiple points of view
• Inclined to take time to consider options and alternatives
• Higher general IQ*

C – Emotional Stability

Emotional stability is the ability to keep cool under times of stress or uncertainty, and put data over feelings.

Low Emotional StabilityHigh Emotional Stability
• Self-esteem issues
• Emotional breakdowns
• Physiological symptoms: diarrhea, aches, pains
• Unstable relationships
• Fluctuating mood; artistic inclinations
• Calm, able to regulate emotions
• Patient and accepting
• Stoic outlook, sees more than one angle
• Long-term goals in sight
• Level-headed in face of adversity or failure

E – Dominance

Dominance is more than control or force, it’s a method of asserting power over a situation and being proactive.

Low DominanceHigh Dominance
• Obedient, docile
• Shies away from conflict and confrontations
• Humble, lets others take the lead
• Deferential and cognizant of respect for higher-uppers
• Seeks out partners and/or friends who can take charge
• Competitive, forceful
• May see life as a zero-sum game: only winners and losers
• Aggressive, all-or-nothing approach
• Intense and passionate
• Takes on (and assumes) positions of leadership

F – Liveliness

Liveliness is the outwardly expressive energy and action—the drive to keep excitement levels high.

Low LivelinessHigh Liveliness
• Serious and withdrawn
• Sober and controlled
• Introspective
• Prudent in dealing with matters
• Less emotionally expressive; stoic expressions
• Enjoys the limelight
• Expressive, outward energy
• Dramatic reactions to events and news
• Seeks out adrenaline-increasing activities
• Impulsive and spontaneous

G – Rule-Consciousness

Rule-consciousness is the drive to uphold pre-established rules and systems and expect the community to do the same.

Low Rule-ConsciousnessHigh Rule-Consciousness
• Breaks rules when perceived as senseless or illogical
• Makes decisions on a whim, gives little value to norms
• Sees others as equals
• Avoids meritocracy and bureaucracy
• Prefers decentralized structures
• Values laws and order
• Positive outlook toward official authority
• Inclined to give merit to accolades and status
• Expects others to follow pre-established paths
• Moralistic and values-driven

H – Social Boldness

Social boldness is the inclination to initiate social gatherings and quickly establish familial relationships from the get-go.

Low Social BoldnessHigh Social Boldness
• Passive and reactive when socializing
• Comfortable with enjoying self alone and/or with a few close friends
• Hypervigilant to (real or perceived) threats from social environment
• Shy and prefers to steer clear of extensive socializing
• Intimidated by those of high status or popularity; may struggle with self-esteem
• Initiates most plans and activities
• Asks more questions in conversation, changes topic as necessary
• Actively seeks out opportunities to connect with others
• Large number of friends and acquaintances
• Uses more social media platforms*

I – Sensitivity

Sensitivity is the tendency to be swayed and affected by emotions and feelings—and deeply experiencing them all.

Low SensitivityHigh Sensitivity
• Rigid and unmoved by conflict
• Tough-minded
• Can take constructive criticism and mean comments
• Objective and focused on goals
• Little consideration for beating around the bush
• Aesthetically aware and appreciative
• Accurately reads non-verbal cues
• Nostalgic and sentimental
• Attuned to emotional states of self and others
• Tender and forgiving

L – Vigilance

Vigilance is the tendency to possess a cautious outlook toward life events and skepticism towards peoples’ motives and intentions.

Low VigilanceHigh Vigilance
• Trusting and accommodating
• Assumes honesty in others
• Can be naive and “tricked” easily
• Trusts first impressions
• Unconditionally giving and considering
• Skeptical of others’ motives
• May harbor passive-aggressive hostility
• Suspicious, prone to second thoughts
• Distrustful until proven otherwise
• Paranoia when taken to extremes

M – Abstractedness

Abstractedness is the communication style of metaphors and long-winded analogies to make a point—reading between the lines.

Low AbstractednessHigh Abstractedness
• Prefers dealing with sensory details; what is tangible and measurable
• Works best with tried-and-true facts
• Direct in speech and mannerisms
• Pragmatic and down-to-earth
• Interpolates, uses known data
• Deals best with symbolism, ideas, and constructs
• Understands hidden messages of various artistic mediums
• Infers and visualizes the future
• Thrives when solving complex problems
• Extrapolates, makes predictions

N – Privateness

Privateness marks the tendency to withhold revealing information and protect oneself with metaphorical walls.

Low PrivatenessHigh Privateness
• Emotionally expressive
• “Open book” style of conversation
• Shares experiences and thoughts
• Difficulty keeping secrets from others
• Usually sociable and outgoing, although there are exceptions
• Skeptical and wary of others
• Secret thoughts kept inside
• Prefers to deal with issues alone
• Little to no revealing information about self in conversations
• Has a seemingly impenetrable aura of mysteriousness

O – Apprehension

Apprehension is the fear of the future and use of coping mechanisms (e.g. rationalization, projection) to calm uneasy feelings.

Low ApprehensionHigh Apprehension
• Complacent and self-assured
• Secure and guilt-free
• Easily satisfied and at ease
• Confident and grounded
• Self-aware of shortcomings and areas for improvement
• Prone to rumination and self-blame
• Low self-esteem, insecure
• Anxious and on edge
• Guilty and self-defeating
• Worrying about possible catastrophes

Q1 – Openness to Change

Openness to change describes the willingness to accept new viewpoints, changes in plan, and the general lifestyle of keeping options open.

Low Openness to ChangeHigh Openness to Change
• Prefers routine and stability
• “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”
• Conservative political attitudes
• Goes with what’s tried and true
• Basks and thrives in comfort zone
• Daring, experimental
• Tries new foods and activities
• Liberal political attitudes
• Change-oriented
• Feels discomfort in comfort

Q2 – Self-Reliance

Self-reliance is the preference for autonomy and control over personal decisions and actions; holding only oneself accountable for results.

Low Self-RelianceHigh Self-Reliance
• Feels anxiety when making critical life decisions
• External locus of control
• Prefers support of a community
• More at ease consulting others to make a decision
• If severe, may have signs of dependent personality disorder
• Independent and comfortable with being solo
• Internal locus of control
• Takes responsibility for decisions
• Makes contingency plans in case
• Focuses on future in a positive light

Q3 – Perfectionism

Perfectionism is the pressing need to uphold high standards in work, relationships, and life in general—with every detail under control.

Low PerfectionismHigh Perfectionism
• Focuses on big-picture thinking
• Often makes “careless” mistakes
• Doesn’t sweat the details
• Prefers others to handle minutiae
• Lax and tolerant of disorder
• Detail-oriented
• Prone to stress and burnout
• Time-sensitive
• Pressure to attain “perfection”
• Ruminates about what could have been done better

Q4 – Tension

Tension is the psychological tug and pull between the past and the future, which often manifests into physical symptoms, such as headaches.

Low TensionHigh Tension
• “Let it be” attitude
• Mindful of the present moment
• Sees time as a free-flowing concept
• Laid-back, “chill” and easygoing
• Takes change with ease
• Physiological symptoms: headaches, sweat, shaky hands
• Pulled between the past and the future
• Aims to control time and resources (e.g. energy)
• May become frazzled with change
• May develop into chronic conditions such as high blood pressure

16PF: A Summary of Factors

  • A – Warmth
  • B – Reasoning
  • C – Emotional Stability
  • E – Dominance
  • F – Liveliness
  • G – Rule-Consciousness
  • H – Social Boldness
  • I – Sensitivity
  • L – Vigilance
  • M – Abstractedness
  • N – Privateness
  • O – Apprehension
  • Q1 – Openness to Change
  • Q2 – Self-Reliance
  • Q3 – Perfectionism
  • Q4 – Tension

Bonus: For the extra curious, here are the means and standard deviation for the 16PF 5th edition.


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