It Will Never Get Well If You Pick It

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It Will Never Get Well If You Pick It
It Will Never Get Well If You
Pick It: Confessions of a
Modern-Day Rum-Runner
Lewis R. Goldberg
Society for Personality and
Social Psychology
Address at the Presentation of the Jack Block Award
Memphis: January 27, 2007
Jack Block
Glancing at my title, it dawned on me that it looks like
a description of a hypochondriacal psychopath.
A better title for my talk might be: My Big Five Habits,
around which I’ll try to weave some threads of my
professional life.
Habit Number 1
Send everything that you
write to everyone whom
you know
For all of my professional career, I’ve sent preview drafts of each
of my reports to dozens of friends and colleagues, always asking
for their help in making them better. Over the years, this
particular bit of chutzpah has gained me an enormous amount of
extraordinarily useful feedback; and my published reports have all
profited from the wisdom of my peers. Indeed, one might argue
that the reason that I’m standing before you now is because many
of you taught me to think better and to write better about those
thoughts. For that, I thank you all.
I’m also tremendously grateful to those who selected me to
receive the Jack Block award for lifetime contributions to
personality research. There was only one huge problem with this
honor: With it came a request to talk to you today, and soon after
that came a request for the title of my invited address. Oh???
How would I know what I was going to talk about, all those many
months in advance?
The obvious answer was to select a title that was on the
one hand so ambiguous that I could later talk about
anything under the sun and so intriguing that it would
serve to attract throngs of listeners, thus sparing me the
humiliation of speaking only to the person roped into
introducing me. But, how to select so mysterious a title?
I did what I always do: I held a contest and asked my
GoldNet gang both what I should talk about and how best
to title an address on an unknown topic.
I received over three dozen title suggestions, a few of
which I’ll share with you now. (You might memorize a few
of them for use later in your life when you are faced with a
similar titling dilemma.)
Larry Erlbaum:
Multivariate Hierarchical
Linear Models and the
Jewish Problem
Auke Tellegen:
Tellegen’s Seminal
Contributions and
Lasting Legacy
Auke Tellegen
& Jack Block
Jan Macafee:
Crested Grebes Still
Mate in the West:
Learn How
Howard Friedman:
The King of Proc
and Troll:
My Accrued
Swayed Views
Sheldon Cohen:
The Truth About Personality:
1. It is important
2. Everyone has one
3. It is hard to measure
4. No one agrees exactly what
it is
5. Undergraduates study it
6. Many textbooks are sold
about it
7. I take it back, not everyone
has one
Bill Chaplin:
Hanging Around the
Edges of the
Empirical Dust-bowl,
and Sometimes
Falling in:
Confessions of a
Data-Driven Scientist
Eric Knowles:
Random Thoughts
and Systematic
The Sound of One
Scientist Clapping
Sam Gosling:
My Five Big Mistakes
Myron Rothbart:
Individual Differences:
Chimera, Apparition, or
Tim Goldberg
Arctic Weather
Shark Wrestling
Updates, and
The Road to
World Peace
Tim and Sister Holly
Habit Number 2
Don’t be afraid to pick up
what’s been dropped by
(I am an inveterate nit-picker.)
An Example
My very first class as a college freshman at Harvard
in 1949 was taught by Gordon Allport, who used for a
textbook his classic 1937 volume, “Personality: A
Psychological Interpretation.” Chapter 11 in that text, titled
“The theory of traits,” concluded with a section entitled “The
problem of trait names,” describing the Allport and Odbert
(1936) compendium “Trait-names: A psycho-lexical study.”
Sounding vaguely familiar?
Allport hoped to work with Odbert or others of his
students to develop a taxonomy of the nearly 18,000 trait
names that they had culled from the 1925 edition of the
unabridged Webster’s New International Dictionary of the
English Language, rather than leaving that project with
merely those four long alphabetical columns of trait terms.
But it was not to be: Allport himself was not much of an
empirically oriented scientist, and none of his students took
on this taxonomic challenge.
That remained for
Raymond B. Cattell, who
saw the wisdom of
combining the personality
dictionary provided by
Allport and Odbert with
the techniques of cluster
analysis and factor
analysis of which he was
so enamored. Although
Cattell made a heroic
beginning, he arrived on
the scene too early in
technological history,
living still in an age when
hand-calculations reigned
and computers were in
their infancy.
Raymond Cattell
That’s two dropped balls, and one to go. Warren Norman had
just obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota
when he took his first and only faculty position, starting as
an instructor in 1957 at the University of Michigan. He
wasn’t there more than a few weeks when his department
head, E. Lowell Kelly, who had just been elected President
of APA, asked him to serve on the dissertation committee
of a very balding youngster, one of whose committee
members had gone away on leave. Thus began a
friendship and intellectual collaboration that lasted until
Warren Norman’s early death in 1998.
It was Warren Norman who took up the Allportian challenge,
intending to finally provide a scientifically compelling taxonomy
of personality characteristics, based on what I later dubbed the
“lexical hypothesis.” And, it was Norman who was the first to
collect empirical data on a subset of roughly 2800 of the 18,000
terms in the Allport-Odbert compendium, and it was Norman
who persuaded Goldberg that the next great challenge of a
scientific personality psychology was to solve the riddle of
personality structure. Then, he too dropped that ball.
What makes an
extraordinarily brilliant
young scientist burn out at
an early age? If we can
answer that question, we
may come to understand
how Warren Norman
correctly identified a crucial
scientific problem,
contributed enormously to
its solution, but then
stopped in mid-tracks.
Warren Norman
In his explosive burst of brilliance and intellectual exuberance,
he infected me, and I came to believe that it was my calling to
carry on his vision. I always believed that the problem was
going to be too difficult for me to solve, but that it was important
enough to devote a lifetime to working on it.
A Second Example
Here is another example of picking
up what others have, in this case
inadvertently, dropped. From 1961
to 1965, I worked as a consultant to
the U. S. Peace Corps, serving as a
Field Selection Officer, selecting
Peace Corps trainees to serve in
various countries in Southeast Asia,
including the Philippines, Thailand,
and Malaysia. All of these projects
trained on the Big Island in Hawaii,
and in my role as a selection officer,
I met with each training group at the
beginning, middle, and end of their
three-month training period—
virtually always in beautiful Hilo,
Hawaii. A rough assignment? You
bet. How did I get so cushy an
By luck, the first full-time
director of selection for the
Peace Corps was my
dissertation advisor at
Michigan, E. Lowell Kelly.
Being in Hawaii about every six weeks, I met some
colleagues teaching at the University of Hawaii, one of
whom, Jack Digman, became one of my dearest friends.
Unknown to me at the time, during the years from 1959 to
1967 Digman had persuaded 88 elementary-school
teachers on the islands of Oahu and Kauai to describe
each of their students at the very end of the school years.
All of the teachers rank-ordered their students on each of
about 50 personality traits, originally selected by Cattell
but later augmented by Digman so as to be as
comprehensive as possible. In total, Digman obtained
personality descriptions on about 2,400 kids in the first,
second, fifth, and sixth grades. By analyzing some subsets
of this rich data pool, Digman discovered five robust
factors that generalized across subsamples, thus making
an important contribution to what I later dubbed the “BigFive” factor representation.
Jack Digman
The years went by. Digman’s wife
moved to Lorane, Oregon, where she
ran a horse ranch, and Jack followed
her. He needed something of his own
to do, and so elected to work with us
at the Oregon Research Institute in
Eugene. Our colleague, Sarah
Hampson, and others at ORI, kept
urging Jack to apply for funds to study
those elementary school children 40
years later when they were now adults.
It took awhile, but in 1998 he received
a research grant from NIMH, entitled
“Personality and Health: A
Longitudinal Study,” to locate as many
as possible from that original child
cohort. Within a few months of
receiving this grant, Jack died—
suddenly and unexpectedly. We were
all devastated.
The NIMH research grant needed a Principal
Investigator, and although I had not been part of this
project, I was asked to take over. Now, eight years later
the team which includes Sarah Hampson, Tom Vogt, and
Joan Dubanoski has located over 80% of the original
cohort; has administered a series of health-related
questionnaires to most of them; and has recruited many
of them to participate in a comprehensive physicalmedical-psychological examination at the KaiserPermanente research center in Honolulu.
Some Recent Findings: 1
Already, at this relatively early stage of a project that we
hope will follow this cohort to the end of their lives, we
have made some important discoveries:
We have found strong links between childhood
personality traits (such as Conscientiousness) and adult
health-related behaviors such as smoking, and health
outcomes such as obesity.
Some Recent Findings: 2
And, in a first study of personality-trait stability over the
40-year span between elementary school and middle
adulthood, we found substantial differences in long-term
stability between different types of traits. Traits related to
Extraversion and Conscientiousness seem to have
considerable stability, whereas traits related to Emotional
Stability (versus Neuroticism) and Agreeableness seem to
have virtually no stability at all.
Picking Up Dropped Balls
Example Number 3
As an undergraduate at Harvard, I took no courses in the
Psychology Department, which at that time included Skinner,
Boring, Stevens, and a host of other such luminaries. Yet as a
college junior faced with a decision about what to do with my
life, I decided to obtain graduate training in psychology—for
the obvious reason that psychology would teach me all about
people, and knowledge of people would be useful in any
profession I might later elect to enter. Oh, sure. Once in the
graduate program in Clinical Psychology at the University of
Michigan, which was highly psychodynamic in orientation, I
found myself skeptical about the scientific status of all that
Rorschach inkblot prognosticating to which I was being
So, I set out to test whether clinical psychologists making
predictions from projective protocols were experts or quacks,
and these early excursions into the accuracy of human
judgments remained a theme of my research for the next two
decades. After a first study examining whether brain-damaged
patients could be distinguished from psychotic ones by their
after-images from watching a rotating Archimedes spiral, I
studied clinical expertise in diagnosing brain damage using a
popular projective procedure of that era, the Bender VisualMotor Gestalt test. In my first contribution to the scientific
literature on clinical judgment, I showed that experienced
clinicians, clinical psychology graduate students, and hospital
secretaries were all equally valid diagnosticians, but that the
secretaries were more confident in their judgments than the
other two groups. Thus, I argued, for this task one should use
one’s secretaries because with no loss in accuracy they would
feel a lot better about what they were doing.
At that time, it was not common for graduate students to
publish reports of their research, but before I finished my
degree I had published two articles, the one on clinical
accuracy being widely reprinted. Among those who read that
article was Paul J. Hoffman, who was starting to achieve some
fame from a classic Psychological Bulletin article entitled “The
paramorphic representation of clinical judgment” in which he
argued that human judgments could be “captured” by multiple
regression equations linking the cues that they used to their
predictions from those cues. A few years later in my life I was
to join Hoffman in Eugene, Oregon, where he had just started a
new organization, which he called the Oregon Research
Institute. At ORI we were joined by Leonard Rorer (“the great
response-style myth”), later by Paul Slovic and Sarah
Lichtenstein, and in one of the headiest years of our young
lives by Amos Tversky and Dan Kahneman who conducted all
of their early studies of judgmental heuristics and biases with
us at ORI. But that is another story.
Paul Hoffman: ORI Founder
The First ORI Building: 1960
Now back to my penchant for picking up stuff dropped
by others. As a graduate student at Michigan, the only
clinical psychologist who made any sense to me was the
one who became my advisor and friend, Lowell Kelly,
about whom you’ve heard before. Kelly, with his student
Donald Fiske, had conducted a large-scale study of all
incoming graduate students in clinical psychology
throughout the U.S. immediately after World War II, and
their 1951 report of that study entitled “The prediction
of performance in clinical psychology” became a
milestone in the history of psychological assessment.
However, despite the title of that classic volume, Kelly
and Fiske had obtained no information about the actual
work “performance” of their graduate-student cohort,
intending to collect such criterion information in the
years ahead. Another ball was about to get dropped.
For my doctoral dissertation, I picked up this particular
ball, and began a massive detective hunt to find the
members of this graduate student cohort 10 years later
in their lives. In this my first longitudinal investigation, I
managed to locate about 95% of the original cohort, and
100% of those who had gone on to obtain their Ph.D.
degrees in psychology. I showed that the kind of work
that these individuals ended up doing (clinical practice,
academic teaching and/or research, or administration)
was predictable from their personality and interests
when they first entered graduate school. This early
research stimulated an interest in occupational choices,
an interest which lay dormant for many decades until
recently when I began developing new public-domain
measures of vocational and avocational preferences.
Habit Number 3
Don’t Be Afraid to Go
Away and Then to Stay a
Long Time
My first academic job was at Stanford University where the
faculty superstars included Leon Festinger, Richard Sears,
Jack Hilgard, Quinn McNemar, and Alex Bavelas. In the office
across from me was a youngster named Albert Bandura and a
few doors away was an even younger Jerry Wiggins, with
whom I co-taught a graduate assessment course and with
whom I outlined a textbook in assessment that would
eventually become that great Wiggins classic, “Personality
and Prediction.” I had been hired as a temporary one-year
replacement which then got renewed for a second year. When
the time came to take a permanent position, I joined the
faculty at the University of Oregon in Eugene, which has
remained my residence for almost 50 years. But, unlike most
folks I know, whenever I could take a leave, I stayed away for a
year or more at a time, and these years away from home have
been the most stimulating ones in my life.
Jerry S. Wiggins
Jack Digman and Jerry Wiggins
First was Nijmegen in The Netherlands, where as a
Fulbright Professor I got to visit the five other psychology
departments in Holland at that time and to meet most if not
all of their faculty members.
The most famous
psychologist of that era
was Adriaan de Groot
(Thought and Choice in
Chess, Perception and
Memory in Chess) whom
I invited to spend a year
with us at ORI, during
which time I helped edit
his classic volume on
Methodology which he
had translated from
Dutch to English.
But it was a young whippersnapper at the University of
Groningen, Willem Hofstee, who ended up as one of my
closest and most stimulating of colleagues. Wim Hofstee
visited us at ORI on a number of occasions, along with his
students Arend Tomas and Frank Brokken, the later whose
doctoral dissertation was an early milestone in lexical
research has now visited the United States so frequently
that he owns a truck parked in Eugene.
It is Wim Hofstee who deserves
primary credit for the
development of the Abridged
Big-Five dimensional
Circumplex (AB5C) model
integrating dimensional and
circular representations of the
Big-Five domains.
Willem K. B. Hofstee
By the end of my first European sabbatical, it had become obvious to
Jerry Wiggins and to me that my heart lay in empirical analyses, not in
textbook writing, and thus that Jerry should complete our assessment
volume on his own. When that book finally came out in 1973, it was
dedicated “To ORI: The people and the concept.”
During the 1971-1972 academic year, I got to hang out with Ravenna
Helson and Harrison Gough (the 4th and 5th Jack Block awardees) at
the Institute for Personality Assessment and Research (IPAR) at the
University of California in Berkeley, and with Jack Block himself,
usually at his home. Jack and I had met years earlier at a convention
in Honolulu, where we spent hours on a beach discussing the crazy
response-set wars of that period, ongoing discussions that culminated
in Block’s remarkable 1965 critique, “The Challenge of Response
Sets.” While spending a year with Block in Berkeley, I accompanied
him on his weekly excursions to San Francisco to pick up, each from a
different small specialty shop, his weekly assortments of wines,
pastas, cheeses, sausages, bagels, rolls, and bread-sticks. Once
through those demanding errands, it was time for our weekly dim-sum
Chinese lunch.
IPAR at UC-Berkeley
Harrison Gough
The Netherlands was cool, Berkeley was hot (especially during
these years of frenzied counter-cultural protest), but Turkey
was the cat’s meow—the very best. During a Fulbrightsupported year in Istanbul in the mid-1970’s, I got to explore a
city diametrically opposite my home in Eugene, Oregon, in so
many ways that it would take my breath away. I taught courses
at Istanbul University, the oldest university in the middle east,
and certainly the most entertaining. During the days, I walked
the streets of this ancient city, and when the sun went down I
savored the sights and sounds along the mighty Bosporus.
Roughly once a month, I wrote a raki-enfused account of our
adventures, and the collection of these unpublished “Letters
from Turkey” soon became an underground collector’s item in
the rum-running world. In my second letter, I described a
period of “Unmitigated gawking, while walking every sidestreet, sniffing every smell, visiting every mosque, riding every
ferry, bus, and dolmus I could find.” It was one hell of a ride,
and one hell of a year.
Had I not spent that year in Istanbul, would I have still devoted so
much time to studying the Turkish language of personality?
Strangely, the two periods of my life were not connected. Two
decades after my Istanbul odyssey, a young Turkish psychologist,
Oya Somer, discovered the lexical hypothesis, the Big-Five factor
structure, and me. She obtained the data; I planned the analyses;
and together we published two articles describing our many
findings from this ancient Altaic language.
But, another full year abroad was connected to my earlier
Dutch sabbatical. Probably because of my friendship with Wim
Hofstee, I was invited to spend a year as a fellow-in-residence
at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS), in
Wassenaar, near the Hague in the Netherlands.
Frank Brokken set up a computer
connection between my NIAS
office and his Groningen computer
center, which had the most
advanced academic computer
system in Holland at that time.
Where I had once I had once
learned to program in Fortran II, I
could now use SPSS to do it for
me, and so once again I could
function as my own data analyst,
which I did all day most of the days
of that wonderful year.
When not computing, I was driving—from Bielefeld in Germany
to Wassenaar in Holland with stops in Groningen along the
way—with my new graduate student, Oliver John. Oliver had
been an undergraduate at Bielefeld with Alois Angleitner, who
sent Oliver on a scouting expedition to interview Block,
Wiggins, Fiske, Jackson, Mischel, and Goldberg in search of an
ideal graduate program. Somehow I won out and Oliver came
to Oregon, and then returned to Bielefeld during my year at
NIAS. Through Angleitner, Oliver and I met Sarah Hampson,
and together John, Hampson, Chaplin, and Goldberg spent
eight heady years studying personality traits as semantic
categories, eventually discovering a basic level in personality
trait hierarchies.
Oliver P. John
John and Chaplin (& Friend)
William Chaplin &
Sarah Hampson
Sarah Hampson
Habit Number 4
Remember Good Ideas—
They Can Be Useful in
the Future
Back when I was an undergraduate at Harvard, I read
Henry Murray’s (1938) classic volume, “Explorations in
Personality.” Perhaps I didn’t get much past the Preface
of that long tome, at least at that early stage of my life,
but it was in that short preface that Murray raved about
the advantages of using the same sample of research
participants to study many different topics. He argued
that if different investigators collected data from the
same sample, the resulting data pool would be rich
enough so that one could check up on possible
explanations for one’s findings using data obtained by
others. Murray implemented this plan with Harvard
undergraduates, although that kind of sample has a
shelf life of at most four years. But, the general idea is a
More than 40 years after I first came across that idea, Gerard
Saucier and I obtained an NIMH grant, “Mapping Personality
Trait Structure,” which had elicited a high enough priority
score to win a Merit Award, thus doubling the length of our
grant. Now with eight years of guaranteed funding, the time
seemed right to solicit our own pet sample. We needed to
find individuals who would be living stably in the community
for at least the next ten years, and therefore university
students and other transients were out. Instead, we solicited
participants from lists of home-owners, asking folks if they
wanted to help science and get paid (at least modestly) for
their time. Roughly 500 men and 500 women between the
ages of 18 and 85 initially expressed an interest in the
project and completed a mini-inventory of 360 traitdescriptive adjectives, and around 850 of them then
completed our first real inventory, a set of 858 items that
became the kernel of the International Personality Item Pool
With Gerard Saucier:
The Eugene-Springfield
Community Sample
The International
Personality Item Pool
Gerard Saucier
Thus was born the Eugene-Springfield Community Sample
(ESCS), a loyal stable of research participants who have now
completed by mail 29 questionnaires covering an enormous
range of topics, including personality traits, values and
attitudes, vocational and avocational interests, possessions,
current and past activities, aspects of psychopathology and
of physical health, talents and skills, and exposure to
potentially traumatic events both in childhood and adulthood.
Remarkably, over the decade between 1994 and 2004
virtually all participant attrition was due to death or disability.
In addition to the extraordinary collection of self-report
measures we have obtained, participants wrote projective
stories to TAT pictures, and most of them have been
described by two or three individuals who knew them well.
Over the years, members of this sample have completed a wide
array of current personality inventories, including the NEO,
California Psychological Inventory, 16PF, Hogan Personality
Inventory, MPQ, Jackson Personality Inventory, TCI, and
HEXACO. The availability of so many instruments, all developed
to provide broad bandwidth assessments of normal personality
functioning, suggested the possibility of a comparative-validity
horse race. In a study conducted with Rick Grucza of
Washington University medical school in St. Louis, we used
multiple regression analyses and bootstrap resampling
procedures to provide cross-validity coefficients for 11
inventories predicting each of three kinds of criteria: (a) The
frequencies of occurrence of diverse activities; (b) personality
descriptions by knowledgeable informants; and (c) clinical
indicators known to be associated with various kinds of
emotional disorders. Perhaps the most remarkable of our many
findings is that inter-inventory differences across the entire
range of criteria were quite small, suggesting some sort of
common core of personality-trait variance measured by these
seemingly quite diverse inventories.
Data from our community sample have been provided
freely to a host of investigators throughout the world.
Yet, the many who have used ESCS data are but a tiny
fraction of those who have used the public-domain
measures available at the International Personality Item
Pool (IPIP) web-site. The same research grant that funded
our community sample has supported this international
collaboratory, which now includes around 2,500
personality items and around 250 personality scales.
English IPIP items have now been translated into more
than 25 other languages, and the IPIP web-site already
lists around 100 publications that have used IPIP scales.
It was Willem Hofstee of the University of Groningen in the
Netherlands who called attention to the fact that those
single trait-descriptive adjectives used in lexical studies of
personality structure are not ideal stimuli for use in
personality inventories because they are too broad and
abstract in their nature, and perhaps because of this it is
often difficult to find exact one-to-one translations across
languages; in many cases terms that seem descriptively
identical differ in their evaluations. Hofstee and his
students pioneered the use of short verbal phrases, which
are more contextualized than single adjectives but still
more compact than many items included in popular
inventories, and these verbal phrases are used for all IPIP
items. Examples include: “Believe in an eye for an eye.”
“Can read people like a book.” “Dislike being the center of
attention.” “Enjoy the beauty of nature.” “Forget
appointments.” “Get upset easily.” “Have gotten better
with age.”
By far my favorite IPIP item is “Am able to disregard
rules,” and that explains the reference to rum-running
in the title of my address. During the period of
prohibition in the United States, those who smuggled
alcoholic drinks into the country were referred to as
rum-runners. Although I am not a proponent of lawbreaking in general, as a booze-lover I can understand
why some folks might want to defy the blue-noses who
sought to prohibit others from drinking. More generally,
however, I like the structure of that IPIP item: Note that
it describes an ability (“am able to”), not a failing
(“can’t help”) nor a propensity (“tend to”); and it
concerns “rules” rather than “laws.” Breaking rules
can be good for you, if the rule-breaking hurts no one
else and if one knows what one is doing and why one is
doing it. If you are the kind of person who is not able to
disregard rules, perhaps you might give it a try.
Goldberg-Saucier Jam (with fireplace tools)
Actually, rule-bound conformity is better than
taking oneself too seriously. What I really
believe is that in the battle between frivolity
and ponderousness, it is better to veer to the
light-hearted. When in doubt, just remember
that old maxim from our childhood: “It will
never get well if you pick it.”
A Gang of Four
Goldberg Habit Number 5:
How to Win the Block Award
Shave Your Head, Stay
Healthy, and Outlive the
Thank you everso-much for this
Fly UP