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What Are the 16 Personality Factors?

The 16 Personality Factors (16PF) are a framework for understanding personality traits introduced by psychologist Raymond Cattell. This theory is based on the idea that there are 16 basic personality dimensions. Cattell also suggested that these dimensions could be measured using self-report questionnaires and other methods.

Cattell’s theory is one of the many ways of thinking about personality proposed by different theorists. Some theories take a trait approach in which they attempt to define personality as a collection of different traits or characteristics. 

Different theorists have come to differing conclusions about just how many traits make up human personality. Some, like Gordon Allport, suggested that personality is made up of literally thousands of different unique traits. Others, like Cattell, proposed that personality could be described more simply as a collection of broad personality dimensions.

Understanding Cattell’s 16 Personality Factors

The 16 personality factors that Cattell described are:

  1. Warmth: Friendliness, kindness, and approachability towards others.
  2. Reasoning: Logical thinking, problem-solving ability, and intellectual curiosity.
  3. Emotional Stability: Calmness, resilience, and ability to manage stress.
  4. Dominance: Assertiveness, leadership tendencies, and desire for control.
  5. Liveliness: Enthusiasm, energy, and spontaneity in social interactions.
  6. Rule-Consciousness: Conformity to social norms, adherence to rules, and respect for authority.
  7. Social Boldness: Confidence in social situations, willingness to take risks, and assertiveness.
  8. Sensitivity: Emotional responsiveness, empathy, and awareness of others’ feelings.
  9. Vigilance: Alertness, cautiousness, and attentiveness to potential threats.
  10. Abstractedness: Imagination, creativity, and inclination towards abstract thinking.
  11. Privateness: Preference for solitude, introspection, and privacy.
  12. Apprehension: Anxiety, worry, and tendency to feel fearful or nervous.
  13. Openness to Change: Willingness to embrace new experiences, ideas, and adaptability to change.
  14. Self-Reliance: Independence, self-confidence, and autonomy in decision-making.
  15. Perfectionism: High standards, attention to detail, and desire for precision.
  16. Tension: Feelings of stress, discomfort, and emotional strain.

How Cattell Identified His 16 Personality Factors

To determine which dimensions could describe personality, Cattell started by looking at the list Allport had developed. He cut out and combined traits that were repetitious or overly similar until he had a much smaller list of around 170 traits.

Next, Cattell utilized factor analysis to learn more about which traits shared connections. Using this technique, he narrowed his list to just 16 main personality factors that make up personality. 

He suggested that all people have these factors, but they vary in the degree to which they display them. Each factor exists on a continuum, meaning people can be high, low, or somewhere in the middle on each trait.

You can think of each of the 16 personality factors as basic building blocks of personality. Everyone has each one to a certain degree, and the varying amounts of each characteristic make each person’s personality unique.

Why Are the 16 Personality Factors Important?

The 16 personality factors provide a structured way to think about and measure personality. By assessing these factors, psychologists and researchers can learn more about individual personality and make predictions about how people behave in different contexts and situations.

For example, evaluating these traits can help therapists and counselors understand specific challenges that people might face. Knowing this can lead to the development of more effective therapeutic interventions.

Knowing more about your personality can also provide insight into your strengths and areas where you might excel. For example, recognizing that you are skilled in certain areas and weaker in others can help you better recognize which careers might be most appropriate for your personality tendencies.

Measuring the 16 Personality Factors

Cattell also developed a measure to evaluate the 16 personality factors, the 16PF Personality Questionnaire. The test continues to be a popular psychological assessment today and is widely used in career counseling, employment, business, and counseling contexts.

The questionnaire includes a number of statements and questions that are designed to assess the 16 personality factors. For each time, the test-taker was asked to rate how well the item described them using a Likert scale. Options often range from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.”

Once the questionnaire is complete, it is scored to determine how the person scores for each of the 16 personality factors. In many cases, the results are used to create a profile of the individual’s personality, which indicates their personality tendencies, preferences, and behaviors.

The test has been found to be effective in various settings. Numerous studies have indicated that it has good validity (meaning it measures what it is supposed to measure).

Alternative personality measures that may also be used include:

Uses for the 16 Personality Factors

Learning more about the 16 personality factors can be helpful for building self-awareness and gaining greater insight into the things that make you tick. The 16 PF Questionnaire is often used for a number of purposes, including:

  • Personality assessment: Taking the test can be a great way to learn more about your tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses
  • Career counseling: The assessment can offer valuable insights into career paths where you might thrive
  • Employee selection: Businesses sometimes use the 16 personality factors to identify job candidates who are best suited to certain roles
  • Academic planning: The questionnaire can also be a helpful tool as you are figuring out what you want to study in school
  • Personal development: Learning more about the 16 personality factors can help you build greater awareness of your own motivations and behaviors

The 16 PF Questionnaire is also sometimes used in counseling and therapy. Mental health professionals may use it to better understand their clients so that they can develop treatment approaches that are best suited to each client. In couples therapy, the assessment can also help people learn how to better understand their partner’s personality, motivations, and communication style.


Bahner, C.A., Clark, C.B. (2020). Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF). In: Zeigler-Hill, V., Shackelford, T.K. (eds) Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences. Springer, Cham.

Cattell, H. E. P., & Mead, A. D. (2008). The Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF). In G. J. Boyle, G. Matthews, & D. H. Saklofske (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Personality Theory and Assessment, Vol. 2. Personality Measurement and Testing (pp. 135–159). Sage Publications, Inc.

Cornwell, M., Greenidge, D. (2020). Sixteen-factor model of personality, The. In: Zeigler-Hill, V., Shackelford, T.K. (eds) Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences. Springer, Cham.