Identifying Dominant Personality Traits

Kirstie L. Bash and Lynn S. Urban*
University of Central Missouri

Keywords: Criminal Justice, Psychology, Neuroticism, Students, Personality, Big Five


Determining dominant personality traits among students enables personality to be matched with the "best fit" for career placement, as well as to match student personalities with faculty personalities. This research aims to establish literature on criminal justice student personality traits and to determine scores on personality inventories. Results from analyzing data from 124 criminal justice and 67 psychology students, using an independent measures t-test for the Big Five personality scores, suggest that overlapping career paths is responsible for similar scores on personality inventories. Dominant personality traits were not observed in the results; however, this research provides a foundation on personality research for criminal justice students.


Personality measures are developed to assess differing traits and to understand individual differences in personality, as well as to predict behaviors. The Big Five Inventory (BFI) assesses five broad personality traits: consciousness, openness, neuroticism, extraversion, and agreeableness, which can be generalized across cultures (McCrae & Costa, 1997; Salgado, 1997). The five broad traits were characterized with distinct adjectives by Judge, Higgins, Thoresen, and Barrick (1999). Conscientiousness represented persistence, responsibility, organization, hardworking, and carefulness. Openness embodied adjectives such as intellectual and unconventional. Neuroticism represented anxiety, depression, irritability, and fear. Extraversion illustrated characteristics like sociability, impulsivity, and assertiveness. Agreeableness embodied cooperativeness, cheerfulness, and gentleness (Judge et al., 1999). 

Neuroticism, conscientiousness, and extraversion, out of the five factors, were reported as the most pertinent to career success (Judge et al., 1999). Specifically, high conscientiousness was the only trait linked to intrinsic career success, while high extraversion, high consciousness, and low neuroticism were all linked to extrinsic career success. Judge et al. (1999) reported that extrinsic career success included more objective factors such as pay or incentives, and intrinsic career success was characterized by an individual's own subjectiveness towards success such as satisfaction. Judge et al. (1999) also found that mental ability and personality traits were adept at predicting various career success factors. Similarly, emotionally stable and conscientious individuals reported higher job satisfaction (Sutin, Costa, Miech, & Eaton, 2009). Furthermore, individuals with higher extraversion received higher salaries and more promotions than individuals with lower extraversion (Seibert & Kraimer, 2001).

Despite personality having no known connections to achievement and success (Ridgell & Lounsbury, 2004; Sanders, 2008), personality is an innate characteristic that affects the decision-making process. In addition, individuals tend to prosper in environments that are deemed to be a "good fit" for their personality (Holland, 1985). Conversely, individual productivity could diminish under less-ideal circumstances, which highlights the importance of an adequate match for both personality and environment. Holland (1985) further reported that individuals categorized as a "good fit" were more likely to have increased levels of performance and satisfaction.

By applying Holland's (1985) theory to personality traits and academic majors, three validity assumptions need to be met. First, a reasonable relationship between the personality trait and the major should exist. For example, conscientiousness has been reported to be consistent with measures of police officer occupational performance (Barrick & Mount, 1991), which can be the traditional career path of criminal justice majors. Secondly, the existence of majors and personality trait differences are consistent with a construct that could include intelligence, motivation, etc. Finally, individual differences will exist between students and personality traits, in which a positive relationship between individual satisfaction and traits is also present. The three components of Holland's (1985) theory provide a model for assessing personality traits as related to individual majors. This literature review for the current research focuses on three specific majors (music, mathematics, and business majors) due to the availability of previous literature and irregularity of career overlapping.

Assessing personality traits of music majors and faculty found no significant difference between extraversion and introversion among undergraduate music majors, but individuals were still categorized as mostly extroverted (Hedden, Rappaport & Boody, 2005). Utilizing the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (1985), Hedden et al. (2005) extended their findings by reporting the existence of common factors between extraverts and introverts, but more importantly between faculty members and students in that extraversion was high. The similarities could potentially provide a model to assist students with adapting similar behaviors/skills to those of their faculty members, who have demonstrated knowledge and success in their field. Previous mathematics research conducted by Kilic-Bebek (2009) found that consciousness traits were significantly correlated with math students' final grades. Although conscientiousness was reported to be a strong predictor for mathematics achievement abilities, the other four personality traits were not. However, students in mathematics courses with less than 50 students and students enrolled in mathematics courses for mathematics (mathematics, science, engineering, and computer science) as opposed to humanities, business, and education reported significantly lower extraversion (Kilic-Bebek, 2009).

Additional personality research conducted by Lounsbury, Smith, Levy, Leong, and Gibson (2009) reported that undergraduate business majors exhibited personality traits that differed from other undergraduate students. Business majors scored higher on extraversion and conscientiousness, while scoring lower on agreeableness and openness (Lounsbury et al., 2009). Business majors also scored high on tough-mindedness and assertiveness. The researchers reasoned that as business-related activities increase, the need for conscientious individuals increases to facilitate more organization, time management, and goal setting. Additional rationale behind the findings of business majors reported that as competition with grades, jobs, and individual achievement increase, individuals are less inclined to be cooperative and gentle with others, who may be present in that competitive environment.

Extending Lounsbury's (2009) personality research to criminal justice students enables a potential distinction between criminal justice students and other majors while simultaneously establishing a foundation for personality research on criminal justice students. The purpose of the current research was to examine the distinction of personality traits among criminal justice students, while using psychology students as a comparison group. Previous research has focused on student personality traits as a whole (Tidwell & Southward, 2010; Farsides & Woodfield, 2002) and by individual majors such as business majors (Lounsbury et al., 2009) and music majors (Hedden et al., 2005). Currently, there exists a dearth of literature that focuses specifically on the criminal justice major's personality traits. Implications of this research include benefitting both students and university departments by providing information in regards to personality traits that are most common among criminal justice students in addition to facilitating improved "fits" for better career placement and increased job satisfaction after college.



Criminal justice undergraduate students and psychology undergraduate students from the University of Central Missouri were recruited for this research study (N = 124, N = 67, respectively). The University of Central Missouri is a comprehensive, public university with approximately 11,000 students. Participants were recruited through classroom participation by a selection process, in which the researchers compared class sizes to maximize student participation and chose required criminal justice courses to ensure adequate sample size. Participants were also recruited through the SONA system, which is the University of Central Missouri's psychological science departments' online participant management pool. The SONA system allows students to view and sign up for available research studies. Students who signed up on the SONA system were compensated for their participation by being awarded research credit that may be used for classroom credit by participating faculty members. Participants were at least 18 years of age and the data were collected anonymously. Criminal justice students ranged from 18 to 40 years of age (M = 20.9), and psychology students ranged from 18 to 49 years of age (M = 21.9). Table 1 displays demographic information. Twelve criminal justice students were excluded from the analysis due to incomplete survey responses.

Table 1. Demographic Information of Criminal Justice and Psychology Students


Criminal Justice




















Materials and Procedures

Classroom participants began the study by reading and signing the consent form, which was approved through the University of Central Missouri's Institutional Review Board (IRB) at the expedited level. Online participants were required to read the same consent form and check the "I agree to participate in this research" button before proceeding to any of the surveys. Participants were then instructed to complete the Big Five Inventory (BFI) designed by Oliver P. John in 1991 (see Appendix A). The BFI consisted of 44 statements that participants ranked for the extent to which the statement applied to them on a 5-point Likert scale. Before analysis, 16 questions were reverse scored via instructions provided by Oliver P. John.

Participants also completed a short demographic survey to identify age, gender, class rank, major, and cumulative and major grade point average. Age, major, cumulative, and major grade point average were all open-ended questions; gender and class rank were close-ended questions. Participants were not required to complete any portion of the demographic survey.  Thus, twelve criminal justice participants were excluded due to incomplete responses and demographic information. Participants who were not classified as psychology or criminal justice were also excluded from analysis. A debriefing statement was provided to all participants, along with the researcher's contact information if any questions arose.


Data were analyzed using an independent measures t-test to compare the mean scores of all five personality traits of criminal justice and psychology students. Each personality trait was analyzed separately for the criminal justice and psychology student comparison. The only significant difference between the two groups was for neuroticism, t (189) = -4.511, p < .001, presented in Table 2. The maximum scoring for each personality trait is also included in Table 2.  The assumptions of the independent t-test were confirmed prior to beginning this report: the observations were independent of one another, the sample size for each group was larger than thirty, ratio-level data was used, and the Levene's test indicated that homogeneity of variance existed. Criminal justice students and psychology students scored similarly on extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness. Table 2 displays the descriptive statistics for criminal justice and psychology students, respectively.

Table 2. Results for the Big Five Personality Traits for Criminal Justice and Psychology Students









N = 8

Maximum  = 40

CJ = 124

Psy = 67

CJ = 28.05

Psy = 26.78





 N = 9

Maximum  = 45

CJ = 124

Psy = 67

CJ = 35.18

Psy = 35.85





N = 9

Maximum  = 45

CJ = 124

Psy = 67

CJ = 34.34

Psy = 33.36





N = 8

Maximum = 40

CJ = 124

Psy = 67

CJ = 20.25

Psy = 24.31





N = 10

Maximum  = 50

CJ = 124

Psy = 67

CJ = 34.49

Psy = 35.55




*p < .001.


The results of the independent t-test found that criminal justice students and psychology students are significantly different from one another on only one personality trait; psychology students scored slightly higher on neuroticism than criminal justice students. This significance can be explained by several factors such as skewness of data or meaningless significance. The criminal justice and psychology students were of reasonable sample sizes. However, the criminal justice sample was twice as large as the psychology sample, which could account for insignificant results of the other four traits. Although the results did find significance for neuroticism, there was only a four-point difference between the two groups. This brings into question the meaningfulness of the results given the lack of deviation from the two majors' scores. Given the similar scores between criminal justice and psychology students on the big five personality traits, this discussion will focus more on the similarities between the two majors.

Criminal justice students and psychology students scored similarly on extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness. These similarities could be due to the overlapping of criminal justice and psychology areas such as forensic psychology, criminology, and rehabilitation counseling. Criminology and forensic psychology are reported to be in the top five criminal justice career areas (Johnson, 2012), which highlights the relation between criminal justice careers and the field of psychology. These career overlaps could attribute to the similar scoring for personality traits and could shed light on the fundamental similarities between criminal justice and psychology, despite having dissimilar career paths such as policing and counseling.

The four personality traits consistent among criminal justice students and psychology students represent qualities, such as organization, sociability, and assertiveness that are essential to the careers of criminal justice and psychology. Hogan (1971) reported that characteristics of being a good police officer were dependability and assertiveness, which are the underlying characteristics of extraversion and conscientiousness. Counselors typically exhibit characteristics such as organization and sociability with their clients, which represent agreeableness and conscientiousness. Both criminal justice and psychology students scored moderately high in regards to conscientiousness and agreeableness, which could indicate similar levels of intrinsic career success (i.e., job satisfaction). Intrinsic career success is also most likely to be the primary motivator for individuals to pursue careers in criminal justice and psychology; two fields that strive towards helping other individuals rather than focusing on extrinsic career success such as higher pay or incentives.

The personality scores reported by Lounsbury et al. (2009) indicated significant differences between business majors and non-business majors; business majors scored higher on conscientiousness and lower on agreeableness and openness. However, examining the mean score differences displayed that those differences were miniscule. The same trend was also observed in the research conducted by Kilic-Bebek (2009) and the current research study. The small difference between individual personality traits brings into question the difference between statistical significance and meaningful significance, which would be a suggested topic for future research.

Major limitations of the current research include a restricted sample size of criminal justice and psychology students and incomplete surveys. The current research was able to recruit 124 criminal justice students, but only 67 psychology students, which could have skewed the results due to unequal sample sizes. For future research, it is suggested to expand the sample. Grade point averages were also not analyzed due to the majority being unknown and unreported by students. A final limitation of the current research can be attributed to the weakness of self- reported surveys that were administered to the students. Due to these limitations, results of the current study should be interpreted with caution.

However, this research does shed light on the similarities between criminal justice students and psychology students, despite some career opportunities being unrelated such as school counselor and police officers. Sanders (2008) found no significant personality traits related to police officer performance, but further suggested that individual personality may be irrelevant due to police organizations focusing on the group dynamics as a whole. Although dominating personality traits among criminal justice and psychology students were not established, the current research study does provide the first descriptive look into the personality traits of criminal justice students. Further research on criminal justice student personality traits could prove to be beneficial in making a connection between personality trait and better occupational placements.


Barrick, M.R., & Mount, M.K. (1991). The big five personality dimensions and job performance: A meta-analysis. Personal Psychology, 44, 1-26. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-6570.1991.tb00688.x

Farsides, T., & Woodfield, R. (2002). Individual differences and undergraduate academic success: the roles of personality, intelligence, and application. Personality and Individual Differences, 34, 1225-1243. doi: 10.1016/S0191-8869(02)00111-3

Hedden, D., Rappaport, A., & Boody, R. (2005). A study of personality type among college music majors and music faculty. Missouri Journal of Research in Music Education, 42, 27-39.

Hogan, R. (1971). Personality characteristics of highly rated policemen. Personnel Psychology, 39, 210-19.

Holland, J. L. (1985). Making vocational choices: A theory of vocation personalities and work environments. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Johnson, N. (2012). Five best paying criminal justice careers. U.S. News University. Retrieved from http://www.usnewsuniversitydirectory.com/articles/5-best-paying-criminal-justice-careers_12491.aspx#.ULZ41uQ80Ys.

Judge, T., Higgins, C., Thoresen, C., & Barrick, M. (1999). The big five personality traits, general mental ability, and career success across the life span.  Personnel Psychology, 52(3), 621-652. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-6570.1999.tb00174.x

Kilic-Bebek, E. (2009). Explaining math achievement: Personality, motivation, and trust. Cleveland State University. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 157. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/305066832?accountid=6143. (305066832).

Lounsbury, J., Smith, R., Levy, J., Leong, F., & Gibson, L. (2009). Personality characteristics of business majors as defined by the big five and narrow personality traits. Journal of Education for Business, 84(4), 200-204. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-6570.1999.tb00174.x

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Appendix A

The Big Five Inventory (BFI)

Here are a number of characteristics that may or may not apply to you. For example, do you agree that you are someone who likes to spend time with others? Please write a number next to each statement to indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with that statement.

Disagree Strongly – 1; Disagree a little – 2; Neither agree nor disagree – 3; Agree a little – 4; Agree strongly – 5

I See Myself as Someone Who...
___1.  Is talkative                                                              ___23. Tends to be lazy
___2.  Tends to find fault with others                                ___24. Is emotionally stable, not easily upset
___3.  Does a thorough job                                               ___25. Is inventive
___4.  Is depressed, blue                                                  ___26. Has an assertive personality
___5.  Is original, comes up with new ideas                      ___27. Can be cold and aloof
___6.  Is reserved                                                             ___28. Perseveres until the task is finished
___7.  Is helpful and unselfish with others                        ___29. Can be moody
___8.  Can be somewhat careless                                    ___30. Values artistic, aesthetic experiences
___9.  Is relaxed, handles stress well                               ___31. Is sometimes shy, inhibited
___10. Is curious about many different things                  ___32. Is considerate and kind to almost everyone
___11. Is full of energy                                                     ___33. Does things efficiently
___12. Starts quarrels with others                                   ___34. Remains calm in tense situations
___13. Is a reliable worker                                               ___35. Prefers work that is routine
___14. Can be tense                                                        ___36. Is outgoing, sociable
___15. Is ingenious, a deep thinker                                 ___37. Is sometimes rude to others
___16. Generates a lot of enthusiasm                             ___38. Makes plans and follows through with them
___17. Has a forgiving nature                                          ___39. Gets nervous easily
___18. Tends to be disorganized                                     ___40. Likes to reflect, play with ideas
___19. Worries a lot                                                        ___41. Has few artistic interests
___20. Has an active imagination                                    ___42. Likes to cooperate with others
___21. Tends to be quiet                                                 ___43. Is easily distracted
___22. Is generally trusting                                             ___44. Is sophisticated in art, music, or literature

Please check: Did you write a number in front of each statement?

Copyright 1991 by Oliver P. John. Reprinted with permission.


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