Study: Agreeableness a Helpful Trait for General Success in Life

Michael Wilmot, University of Arkansas.
Photo by University of Arkansas

Michael Wilmot, University of Arkansas.

Following a major study of the effects of personality on job performance, researchers zoomed in on one personality trait – agreeableness – and found that it has a desirable effect on hundreds of physical, psychological and occupational metrics that impact not only job performance but general life success.

Michael Wilmot, assistant professor of management at the U of A, and Deniz Ones, professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota, examined a wide range of variables, from psychological and physical health to interpersonal relationships, and from leadership effectiveness to performance in academic and organizational settings.

To better understand the impact of agreeableness, the researchers summarized results from 142 meta-analyses reporting effects for 275 variables. In all, the results comprised more than 1.9 million participants from roughly 3,900 studies. Meta-analysis is a process used to systematically merge multiple independent findings using statistical methods to calculate an overall effect.

Wilmot and Ones found that agreeableness had a desirable effect on 93 percent of variables and outcomes.

“We wanted to do a quantitative summary and synthesis of what we have learned about relations between agreeableness, one of the so-called Big Five personality traits, and its consequences,” Wilmot said. “We know this is important – perhaps now more than ever – because agreeableness is the personality trait primarily concerned with helping people and building positive relationships, which is not lost on organizational leaders.”

In their previous study, Wilmot and Ones combined multiple meta-analyses of the five big personality traits — conscientiousness, extraversion, openness and neuroticism, in addition to agreeableness — and examined their effect on job performance. They found that relationships between personality traits and performance varied greatly across nine major occupational groups.

To clarify and emphasize the importance of agreeableness, the researchers organized the 275 variables into broader conceptual categories. These included physical and psychological health, performance, motivation and success.

Wilmot and Ones also synthesized eight themes that captured the characteristic functioning of agreeableness across all variables and categories. The themes illustrated the essence of how agreeableness is helpful to both individuals and organizations. The themes were:

  • Self-transcendence – Having aspirations for self-directed growth and motivation to show care and concern for others.
  • Contentment – Accepting life as it is, and an ability to successfully adjust to new contexts and institutions.
  • Relational investment – Motivation to cultivate and maintain positive relationships with others.
  • Teamworking – Empathetic capacity to coordinate goals with others and ability to cooperate effectively, regardless of role, to accomplish collective objectives.
  • Work investment – Willingness to expend effort on tasks, do quality work and show a responsiveness to the work environment.
  • Lower results emphasis – A generally lower emphasis on setting goals and producing individual results and a tendency to rate others’ performance with greater leniency.
  • Social norm orientation – Greater sensitivity to and respect for  behavioral compliance with social norms and rules and avoidance of rule-breaking and wrongdoing.
  • Social integration – Capacity for successful integration into social roles and institutions and a reduced likelihood of delinquency, antisocial behavior and turnover.

“Taken altogether, the interaction among the themes became clear,” Wilmot said. “Agreeableness was marked by work investment, but this energy was best directed at helping or cooperating with others. In other words, teamwork.”

The researchers’ findings have been published in the Spring issue of Personality and Social Psychology Review.

About the University of Arkansas: As Arkansas’ flagship institution, the U of A provides an internationally competitive education in more than 200 academic programs. Founded in 1871, the U of A contributes more than $2.2 billion to Arkansas’ economy through the teaching of new knowledge and skills, entrepreneurship and job development, discovery through research and creative activity while also providing training for professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the U of A among the top 3% of U.S. colleges and universities with the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the U of A among the top public universities in the nation. See how the U of A works to build a better world at Arkansas Research News.

Contacts

Michael Wilmot, assistant professor, management
Sam M. Walton College of Business
479-575-2912, mpwilmot@uark.edu

Matt McGowan, science and research communications officer
University Relations
479-575-4246, dmcgowa@uark.edu

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