Personality traits below facets: The consensual validity, longitudinal stability, heritability, and utility of personality nuances

R. Mõttus, C. Kandler, W. Bleidorn, R. Riemann, R. R. McCrae

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It  has  been  argued  that  facets  do  not  represent  the  bottom  of  the  personality  hierarchy— even  more specific personality characteristics, nuances, could be useful for describing and understanding individuals and  their  differences.  Combining  2  samples  of  German  twins,  we  assessed  the  consensual  validity (correlations  across  different  observers),  rank-order  stability,  and  heritability  of  nuances.  Personality nuances were operationalized as the 240 items of the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R).Their attributes were examined by analyzing item residuals, controlling for the variance of the facet the item  had  been  assigned  to  and  all  other  facets.  Most  nuances  demonstrated  significant  (p<.0002) cross-method agreement and rank-order stability. A substantial proportion of them (48% in self-reports,20%  in  informant  ratings,  and  50%  in  combined  ratings)  demonstrated  a  significant  (p<.0002) component of additive genetic variance, whereas evidence for environmental influences shared by twins was modest. Applying a procedure to estimate stability and heritability of true scores of item residuals yielded  estimates  comparable  with  those  of  higher-order  personality  traits,  with  median  estimates  of rank-order stability and heritability being .77 and .52, respectively. Few nuances demonstrated robust associations with age and gender, but many showed incremental, conceptually meaningful, and replicable (across methods and/or samples) predictive validity for a range of interest domains and body mass index.We  argue  that  these  narrow  personality  characteristics  constitute  a  valid  level  of  the  personality hierarchy.  They  may  be  especially  useful  for  providing  a  deep  and  contextualized  description  of  the individual, but also for the prediction of specific outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)474-490
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number3
Early online date28 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • personality hierarchy
  • nuances
  • heritability
  • stability
  • prediction


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