Improving the Predictive Ability of Personality Traits

Topic(s): performance, personality
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2012)
Article: Implicit motives, explicit traits, and task and contextual performance at work
Authors: J.W.B. Lang, I. Zettler, C. Ewen, U.R. Hulsheger
Reviewed by: Neil Morelli

In the world of selection, personality has often been looked at as a useful predictor of job performance. But what if current personality measures are missing an important part of someone’s personality and an opportunity to be a better predictor of performance? Some research suggests that the missing piece of the personality pie is our implicit motives, or our wishes and desires, which are typically boiled down to three main areas: affiliation, power, and achievement.


When we look at how these inner motives are expressed¬† – or “channeled” – by the explicit personality traits, such as extraversion or agreeableness, we are able to get a more complete picture of how personality shapes behavior. The researchers (Lang et al., 2012) tested whether considering this channeling approach when measuring personality would increase its usefulness as a predictor of work performance.

For example, extroverted people with a high inner motive for affiliation might have increased work performance through the building of strong working relationships and the desire to meet expectations. In other words, their extroverted personality channels their motive in a way that results in a beneficial outcome at work.

Along with supervisor ratings of task and contextual performance, the researchers gathered explicit worker personality traits and used an advanced statistical method (IRT) to determine implicit motives from coded responses to free response narratives. They discovered that inner motives worked together with explicit personality traits to explain 8% more variance in performance ratings.


The researchers understand that there are practical measurement issues for practitioners when they consider the channeling effects of inner motives. However, as measurement methods improve, it should be more feasible to use these methods to increase the predictable ability of personality traits.


Lang, J. W. B., Zettler, I., Ewen, C., & Hulsheger, U. R. (2012). Implicit motives, explicit traits, and task and contextual performance at work. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(6), 1201-17.

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