Cattell 16PF Profile

The Cattell 16PF (16 Personality Factor) model is probably the most-widely used system for categorising and defining personality.  Other similar systems exist and may be preferred by certain organisations and professionals, but it's the 16PF in its various forms that is universally understood.

Unlike other common personal profiling tools such as Myers Briggs or Belbin, the 16PF defines our basic, underlying personality, without regard to how we apply it or the environment in which we apply it.  A simple analogy would be to think of the human being as a personal computer.  Personality profiles such as 16PF measure the basic features of the PC such as the size of the hard disk, RAM, processing speed and so on.  They're relatively unchanging features of the PC that strongly influence its performance, but which we don't normally see.  Intelligence Quotient (IQ) is a indication of the breadth and complexity of the software loaded on the PC, which it uses to process ideas and information.  But the way in which the PC performs is mainly influenced by its environment - as represented by the user who gives it information and asks it to perform tasks.

So our underlying personality is there all the time, but the way we see it is affected by our intelligence, and by our upbringing and education, which may have taught us either to emphasise or suppress aspects of our personality.  However, if you can understand what your personality is, you can then make better use of the strengths it gives you, and make allowances for the resultant weaknesses.  Because personality is relatively unchanging through adult life, this understanding will be of long-term value to you.


Each factor can be measured on a scale, determined by completing a questionnaire, and the word pairs below indicate the extremes of each scale.  The letter codes were ascribed to each scale as a shorthand notation.


A Warmth Reserved Outgoing
B Reasoning Less Intelligent More Intelligent
C Emotional Stability Affected by feelings Emotionally stable
E Dominance Humble Assertive
F Liveliness Sober Happy-go-lucky
G Rule Consciousness Expedient Conscientious
H Social Boldness Shy Venturesome
I Sensitivity Tough-minded Tender-minded
L Vigilance Trusting Suspicious
M Abstractedness Practical Imaginative
N Privateness Straightforward Shrewd
O Apprehension Self-Assured Apprehensive
Q1 Openness to Change Conservative Experimenting
Q2 Self-Reliance Group-dependent Self-sufficient
Q3 Perfectionism Self-conflict Self-control
Q4 Tension Relaxed Tense

Using all 16 Factors, and a more comprehensive set of descriptions than we've given here, you can create a pretty accurate picture of someone's personality.  Combinations of factors also give a more detailed picture, and with the help of a competent adviser, you can begin to recognise the "real you" that lies beneath the outward self created by your upbringing and environment.

However, absorbing the data from all 16 factors can get complicated, and in recent years a variation of 16PF called 16PF5 has become more commonplace.



16PF5 takes the 16 Factors of 16PF and groups them together into 5 overall themes (hence the name).  Clearly there is some overlap between the 16 Factors, but narrowing them down to 5 Factors give a much sharper picture of the underlying personality.  If you want to know what's behind any one of the 5 Factors you can "zoom in" on the relevant 16 Factors to see what the drivers are.  Some of the 16 appear in more than one of the 5 themes, by the way.

The Five Factors are:


EXTRAVERSION Introverted, socially inhibited Extroverted, socially participative
ANXIETY Low anxiety, unperturbed Easily worried and generally tense
WILL Open minded, receptive to ideas Resolute and determined
INDEPENDENCE Accommodating and selfless Independent and persuasive
SELF CONTROL Free-thinking and impulsive Structured and inhibited


Using a personality profile is a tricky process.  You can buy basic self-assessment questionnaires, but they only give a flavour of the information you can get from a properly-conducted assessment with a competent professional adviser.  But used in this way, the 16PF and its variants give a powerful interpretation of your personality which you can use to great personal benefit.  It doesn't matter at all what your profile is: the real benefit comes from understanding what it means for your personal and professional life, and play to your strengths.


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