An Investigation of the Development of Expertise: The Personality Traits of Human Performance Improvement Experts, as Measured by the Neuroticism, Extraversion, and Openness (NEO) Personality Inventory-Revised (NEO PI-R)
By Mary Rita Roux-Zink, PhD
The research topic was the role of normal human personality traits in the development of expertise in the profession of human performance improvement (HPI). The research focused on Certified Performance Technologists (CPTs). CPTs are certified by the International Society for Performance Improvement (International Society for Performance Improvement, 2012). The research was defined as foundational, as no research had been conducted to assess the normal human personality traits of HPI experts. The research used a quantitative research design, quasi-experimental approach, and one-group purposive sampling. Two single-use online measures were used: a researcher-developed demographic questionnaire; and the Neuroticism, Extraversion, and Openness (NEO) Personality Inventory-Revised (NEO PI-R), considered a standard tool for measurement of the major normal adult human personality traits (PAR Inc., 2010).
The research was conducted with the participation of 111 CPTs. The demographic questionnaire results revealed that 44.1% of the participants were male (n = 49), and 55.9% were female (n = 62). Additionally, 81.1% (n = 90) were aged 50 or more years. The participants were professionally experienced, as 79.3% (n = 88) recorded more than 15 years of experience. Finally, the participants were highly educated, as 12.6% (n = 14) reported undergraduate degrees, 42.3% (n = 47) reported graduate degrees, and 43.2% (n = 48) reported they had completed post-graduate courses.
The research questions focused on the normal human personality traits of neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. The research results indicated that the expert responses most often fell into the category of Average for all personality traits. Comparisons of the experts with the normalized NEO PI-R population, overall, and by gender, resulted in expert scores that were significantly lower than the normalized NEO PI-R population scores (PAR Inc., 2010). No significant differences were found when the experts were compared among themselves by gender, by years of experience, and by both gender and years of experience.
The research established the baseline for the measurement of the normal personality traits of the CPTs. According to the research, CPTs were an extremely homogenous population, with quite consistent personalities. The research results provided important input to the development and delivery of selection and training materials that encourage entrance into the field, and provided vital data to the academic research on the topic of expertise studies.
The research results contribute to the determination of selection criteria and to job satisfaction and accomplishment predictions for prospective experts in HPI. Specifically, the CPT personality trait scores, as a group, suggest that individuals with Very High or Very Low scores on any personality trait measured by the NEO PI-R may not be a good fit for the work or for the attainment of expert status in the profession. The details of the research results revealed that the experts varied significantly, and produced lower scores, than the normed population, for all of the personality traits, particularly for the traits of extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. The fact that the research results were lower in comparison to the normed population for these personality traits may reflect the expert personality of an assertive, confident expert, whose years of experience have led to a relatively automatic, reflexive response to his or her professional world.
Additionally, the research results revealed that the female expert expressions of extraversion, openness, and agreeableness were significantly lower than the male expression, perhaps due to the experiences of a female expert who has interacted professionally in a world where genderized, or what may be viewed as stereotypical, behavior and expression make higher expressions of those personality traits problematic. While some adjustments may need to be taken to reflect younger audiences, considerations should be taken to ensure that potential female experts have the tools necessary to act and compete professionally in situations that may reflect discordant enactments of gender roles. It is reasonable to infer that potential female experts in HPI may need to anticipate that the expression of self-promotion, and the expression of higher qualities of personality traits, may not be beneficial with some customers or colleagues.
The research results also revealed that no statistically significant differences existed between the participants, based on years of experience, for all five of the personality traits. In other words, the personality traits of the CPTs, generally speaking, do not significantly vary in relation to their years of experience. However, the results were constrained by the homogeneity of the group of research participants. The conclusion may be made that the homogeneity of the group led to the lack of statistically significant differences. Additionally, no generalizations may be made in relation to younger experts, due to the conformity of the years of experience of the participants. Input to the development of selection and training materials that encourage entrance into this field and promote expertise status should be limited to the notification of the homogeneity of the participant group.
The future research recommendations included the following: (1) Conduct further research with the CPTs, using the NEO PI-R to analyze expert personality traits at the lower personality trait (factor) level. As each of the NEO PI-R personality traits are composed of six facets, analysis conducted at the factor level may produce additional details of interest on the personality traits of the experts. (2) Conduct research using a more sensitive personality inventory to determine personality traits not measured in the NEO PI-R. While the research results provided foundational personality trait information on the CPTs, the research results indicated that further research may be required to determine if the presence of other personality traits plays a role in the development of HPI expertise. (3) The NEO PI-R was based on the Big Five theory, which postulated that human personality traits are expressed in the five main normal human personality traits of neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness (John, Naumann, & Soto, 2008). Further research focused on nontraditional human personality traits not addressed by the NEO PI-R may provide research results that give a more comprehensive understanding of the factors that influence the development of expertise.
In summary, the research results provided input to research specific to the profession of HPI, and may result in a more comprehensive understanding of factors that influence the development of expertise, such as selection criteria, curriculum development, and education and training programs.
International Society for Performance Improvement. (2012). CPT Certification. Retrieved from http://www.ispi.org/content.aspx?id=186
John, O. P., Naumann, L. P., & Soto, C. J. (2008). Paradigm shift to the integrative Big-Five trait taxonomy: History, measurement, and conceptual issues. In O. P. John, R. W. Robins, & L. A. Pervin (Eds.). Handbook of personality: Theory and research (pp. 114-158). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
PAR Inc. (2010). NEO Personality Inventory-Revised (NEO PI-R™). Retrieved from http://www4.parinc.com/Products/Product.aspx?ProductID=NEO-PI-R
Mary Rita Roux-Zink holds a doctoral (Ph.D.) degree in educational psychology from Capella University. Her areas of specialty include learning theories, and the development of expertise.
In addition to her degree, Mary Rita holds the International Society of Performance Improvement certification of Certified Performance Technologist (CPT), and the American Society for Training and Development certification of Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR). She is a member of the International Society of Performance Improvement (ISPI), the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), and the American Psychological Association (APA).
Mary Rita is a member of the of the Boeing Company’s Learning, Training, and Development organization. Her current responsibilities include development of the learning science strategy for the Enterprise Manufacturing and Quality Learning Solutions group. She has an extensive background in diverse areas, as she has previously served as a Human Performance Technology expert, and a Human Resources specialist. She may be reach via email at <a href=”mailto:email@example.com”>firstname.lastname@example.org</a>