Cattell’s 16 Personality Factors (16 PF test)

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16 PF test: this article provides a practical explanation of the Cattell’s 16 personality factors theory / 16 PF test. After reading, you will have a basic understanding of this extensive personality theory.

What Is The Cattell’s 16 personality factors or 16 PF test?

The 16 pf test, Cattell’s 16 Personality Factors or Cattell 16 personality traits theory is an assessment tool used to establish a person’s personality, usually in the form of a test consisting of a questionnaire. By means of filling in the questions, various personality characteristics are identified and subsequently, the combination of characteristics is provided overarching name.

According to several personality theories, the human personality consists of a number of broad characteristics or dispositions. The founders of such theories attempted to describe each possible characteristic. Psychologist Gordon Allport is an example of this.

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He identified over 4,500 words, from the English dictionary, that could be used to describe personality traits. Later, Raymond Cattell analysed this list and reduced it to 171 characteristics, mainly by removing terms that were redundant, double or unusual from his list.

He used factor analysis; developed by Charles Spearman, to identify characteristics that were related to each other and to see which elements were most influential or important. By means of this technique, he was able to create a list of the 16 most important personality factors.

According to Cattell, personality traits exist on a continuum. That is, each person possesses each of these 16 characteristics up to a certain degree, but some are more applicable than others. For example, where some people have a rich imagination, others can be very practical and realistic.

Raymond Cattell published the 16 personality factors, also known as the Cattell’s 16 Personality Factors and 16 PF test, in 1949.

Factor Analysis

Introduced and founded by Pearson in 1901 and further developed by Spearman in 1904, factor analysis is a method to identify relationships between variables.

This type of analysis is still frequently used nowadays. Large clusters and groups of data can be replaced and represented by a factor in the equation. Because the clusters and groups of, in this case, personality traits are reduced to a few descriptions, the definitions that represent these clusters slowly begin to take shape and become an accurate description.

In the early stages of this process, the method wasn’t used much, probably because of the huge number of manual calculations needed to determine accurate results. Later, a mathematical basis would be developed that contributed to simplifying the process and therefore to the popularity of the method.

Nowadays, the use of super computers makes factor analysis much easier than it was in the 1990s. Only dedicated researchers were able to realise precise results. When conducting a factor analysis, the most relevant factor is the selection of variables that belong to a single domain. The use of a single personality trait results in the highest accuracy, but the more representative characteristics are added, the more accurate the description of the personality trait becomes. In terms of variables, various personality traits from the dictionary, it’s unlikely that more than 50 variables are used under the various domains.

According to a study by Goldberg and Digman, the standard sample size for such character descriptions is between 500 and 1,000 participants. Cattell collected the majority of the data from assessments of peers.

Self-assessment questionnaires, also known as Q-data, collected data by asking their participants to assess their own behaviour. The other method for collecting this data was creating a situation in which participants weren’t aware of the fact that a certain personality trait was being observed and recorded.

Due to the immense reduction of information, the Cattell 16 personality traits theory was representative for various age groups, such as adolescents, adults and children. The theory also represented various countries, including France, Germany, India, Japan and the United States.

16 PF test Factors

The characteristics below represent broad personality fields of the Cattell 16 personality traits theory / 16 PF test. The various groups of personality traits occur in a lot of people. People who have a high need for social contact, for instance, tend to be more talkative and more open. However, these don’t always occur together in a certain individual. Personality is complex and each individual can display behaviour in conformity with these different characteristics. Furthermore, behaviour is an interaction between personal and situational variables. The situation a person is in plays a large role. The Cattell 16 personality traits theory identifies the following personality traits:

Emotional engagement

The desire to develop intimate relationships with others: outgoing versus reserved

Emotional stability

How calmly people respond to what life brings or what happens in life: calm versus stressed


How free and spontaneous a person expresses themselves: spontaneous versus restrained

Socially secure

The extent to which a person feels at ease in social situations: uninhibited versus shy


The extent to which someone is cautious with regard to the intentions and motivations of others: suspicious versus trusting


The extent to which someone wishes to keep personal information to themselves: discreet versus openness

Openness to change

The extent to which a person enjoys new situations and experiences: Flexible versus connected to the familiar


The need someone feels to trust in structure rather than leaving things to chance: controlled versus undisciplined

Reasoning ability

The extent to which a person is able to identify and solve numerical and verbal problems and connections: abstract versus concrete


The tendency to have influence and control over others: powerful versus submissive

Rule aware

The extent to which a person values rules: conforming versus non-conforming


The extent to which emotions and feelings of others affect a person: tender versus tough


The amount of attention that someone pays to abstract rather than concrete observations: imaginative versus practical


A person’s tendency to self-criticism: self-critical versus self-assured


The extent to which a person trusts in his own judgements and capacities and opts to work solo: self-reliant versus dependant


The extent to which a person may be frustrated by different situations: impatient versus relaxed

For simplicity’s sake, the characteristics can be reduced to five global factors: extraversion, anxiety, toughness, independence and self-control.

Cattell’s 16 personality factors Applied

Because of the scientific background of Cattell and his 16FP theory, this is used in a wide range of contexts. The test is taken and used in various industrial, organisational, research, educational and medical environments. Additionally, (company) psychologists use it to:

  • Provide information during career counselling
  • Assist in personnel selection: promotion, coaching and career development
  • Set additional clinical diagnoses, prognosis and therapy plans
  • Identify personality factors that predict the compatibility and satisfaction of a marriage
  • Provide help in identifying academic, emotional and social problems in students and adults

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Now It’s Your Turn

What do you think? Are you familiar with the explanation of the 16 personality factors of Cattell? Do you recognise certain characteristics in yourself or others? To what extent do you think you can use this information to create a more complete self-image?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

More information

  1. Cattell, R. B., Eber, H. W., & Tatsuoka, M. M. (1970). Handbook for the sixteen personality factor questionnaire (16 PF): In clinical, educational, industrial, and research psychology, for use with all forms of the test. Institute for Personality and Ability Testing.
  2. Cattell, R. B., & Chevrier, J. M. (1994). The 16 PF Fifth Edition. Institute for Personality and Ability Testing Incorporated.
  3. Matthews, G., Deary, I. J., & Whiteman, M. C. (2003). Personality traits. Cambridge University Press.

How to cite this article:
Janse, B. (2018). Cattell’s 16 personality factors. Retrieved [insert date] from Toolshero:

Published on: 02/11/2018 | Last update: 04/05/2022

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Ben Janse
Article by:

Ben Janse

Ben Janse is a young professional working at ToolsHero as Content Manager. He is also an International Business student at Rotterdam Business School where he focusses on analyzing and developing management models. Thanks to his theoretical and practical knowledge, he knows how to distinguish main- and side issues and to make the essence of each article clearly visible.


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