Concurrent and Prospective Relations of the Big Five With Subjective Well-Being: A Summary and Review
by Morgan Thompson, Kenyon ’17
What is the relationship between an individual’s subjective level of wellbeing and the traits they exhibit? Most people at some point have wondered whether there is a formula of personality, carefully whittled by natural selection, that consistently produces happier people. Christopher J. Soto in his article has attempted to determine which traits are more likely to produce a state of subjective wellbeing, and which traits a state of wellbeing is most likely to produce. Is one association stronger than the other? How much can these relationships reasonably tell us about how happy we will be? The relationship between the different combinations of the Big 5 personality traits and an individual’s wellbeing is currently a popular subject of study, but Soto’s effort is set apart due to it’s specific and thorough analysis of trait effects versus wellbeing effects. Indeed, there are quite a few potentially impressive implications that one can draw from Soto’s work here.
Most studies orbiting this subject typically find that high levels of extraversion and agreeableness and conscientiousness predict high levels of life satisfaction. Before saying anything else it’s necessary to emphasise that Soto’s results more or less confirmed this finding. Soto came to the definitive conclusion that personality traits affect wellbeing and vice versa. An individual high in life satisfaction will exhibit a certain trajectory in their trait levels of the Big 5 while certain trait trajectories will make an individual higher in life satisfaction. The two are most certainly interconnected. That being said, Soto found that subjective wellbeing is responsible for personality change to a greater degree than personality traits are responsible for changes in well being (although this may have been due to the biases of the design of the experiment). Individuals high in extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and emotional stability are likely to increase in life satisfaction and positive affect. Conversely individuals who initially experience high life satisfaction are likely to develop those same traits and, surprisingly, increase in neuroticism. Indeed, an increase or decrease in these traits usually will predict a similar fluctuation in wellbeing.
Soto concluded that life satisfaction, positive affect, and negative affect can all be added to the growing list of factors that predict and help explain personality. This is perhaps the greatest result of Soto’s research. The relationship between trait effects and wellbeing effects is fragile, mutable, and fickle. The confirmation of life satisfaction, positive affect, and negative affect as statistically proven predictors of personality is quite significant and perhaps the most concrete and supported product of Soto’s research. These three predictors may sound self evident, but it’s critically important for the science of psychology to have researchers like Soto to consolidate the statistical backing for such a claim for it to have any merit whatsoever.
While in this case life satisfaction is relatively simple S data, positive and negative affect demand a little more attention. Affect is essentially how an individual interprets stimuli on the basis of valence, arousal, and motivational intensity. Soto is mostly concerned with valence–the positive or negative way an individual appropriates stimuli. In the context of this study and the Big 5, this is relevant in how an individual interprets stimuli based on the degree to which they are high or low in the Big 5. As Soto proves in his research, that how an individual interprets stimuli–based on their relationship with the Big 5–will have major implications for their happiness.
Soto found that research up to this point had not yet confronted the need for a study that did three things in one comprehensive study: addressed each of the Big 5 personality traits in their relationship to wellbeing and trait effect, assessed all three core aspects of subjective well being (life satisfaction, positive affect, and negative affect), or tested for both trait and wellbeing effects. Furthermore Soto wished to test for four specific types of relationships between personality and subjective wellbeing: concurrent correlations, change correlations, prospective trait effects, and prospective wellbeing.While Soto did share his results on the first two types of relationships, he spend the majority of the article discussing the second two. Soto is one of the first to study specifically the relationship between trait effects and wellbeing effects. It’s for this reason that Soto’s research isn’t as strong as it might otherwise be. Soto doesn’t have the support or foundation of years of research and data to verify his findings. A common problem to the relatively new field of personality psychology.
The implication of this study and the findings Soto’s statistical models have produced are quite significant. Towards the end of the article Soto offers an example of two individuals who are exactly the same in life satisfaction (50th percentile) but differ greatly in conscientiousness (one individual is in the 90th percentile while the other is in the 10th). After four years, according to Soto’s projections, these two individuals will now be in the 53rd and 47th percentiles respectively. Over time this gap is exacerbated into a crevasse. Any number of factors and variables prevent any such instance from occurring realistically, but this information is powerful. Soto’s has shown proof for a relatively strong connection between wellbeing and trait effects that he exhaustively confirmed with two statistical models. There are, of course, several significant limitations to this study. Firstly, the models Soto offer limited analysis of the relationship between trait effects and wellbeing effects. Though the sample is nationally representative, there isn’t sufficient data to make truly confident assertions about this relationship. The models Soto used need a large amount of data gathered specifically on trait effects and wellbeing effects over a long period of time. This data simply does not exist. While Soto’s statistical work is still quite valuable, his findings aren’t nearly as strong as they could be and are subject to be discredited in the future with better and more focused data. As was discussed earlier, this shortcoming is not as detrimental to the study as it may seem. Soto set out to test if there was a relationship between trait effects and wellbeing effects. He confirmed that relationship. In addition he proved that life satisfaction, positive affect, and negative affect could all be used to predict happiness and, to a smaller degree, personality.
Soto, C. J. (2015), Is happiness good for your personality? Concurrent and prospective relations of the Big Five with subjective wellbeing. Journal of Personality, 83, 45–55. doi: 10.1111/jopy.12081