How much the 5 personality traits composing the Big Five contribute to social outcomes? Many studies examined the question but only a few also considered IQ. This article will only cover the studies which evaluate the Big Five while controlling for IQ.

A quick summary reads as follows: conscientiousness is associated with better income and health, extraversion inversely predicts delayed rewards, neuroticism negatively predicts health, perhaps none of these traits are related to academic achievement or occupation status and, finally, publication bias is a problem.

Big Five

Each dimension is sufficiently different from one another that a general factor of personality would not have much meaning. Here’s a description of each trait:

Extraversion is linked to the tendency to experience positive emotions, which typically stem from experiences of reward or the promise of reward. It encompasses an array of traits, such as assertiveness, sociability, and talkativeness, that appear to be linked to the approach tendencies that accompany sensitivity to reward.

Neuroticism is linked to the tendency to experience negative emotions such as anxiety, self-consciousness, and irritability. This variable is sometimes reverse coded, so as to produce the emotional stability measure.

Agreeableness is linked to altruism-related traits such as one’s concern for the needs, desires, and rights of others. It describes prosocial traits, such as cooperation, compassion, and politeness.

Conscientiousness is linked to the ability and tendency of individuals to inhibit or constrain impulses in order to follow rules or pursue non-immediate goals.

Openness (to experience) is linked to the tendency to process abstract and perceptual information flexibly and effectively, and includes traits such as imagination, intellectual engagement, and aesthetic interest.

Economic Success (income and occupation)

Alderotti et al. (2023) conducted a series of meta-regression (i.e., a meta-analytic technique) on studies evaluating the effect of personality, along with IQ, on earnings. As one would expect, controlling for either SES or IQ substantially reduced the impact of each personality trait on earnings. More importantly though, gender and anglophone country were strong moderators. In female samples, only openness and neuroticism were related (moderately) to earnings while in male samples, only openness was related (strongly) to earnings. The earnings premium (and penalty) associated with conscientiousness and extraversion (and agreeableness) are relatively higher in Australia, the UK, the US than in other countries. Another big issue is that studies published in leading journals report a markedly stronger positive association between earnings and conscientiousness. The authors indeed report mild publication bias.

Judge et al. (1999) used multiple regression to predict extrinsic career success (measured with income and occupational status) with childhood IQ and all five personality traits. Except for openness, they all had some independent relationship with the outcome variable, especially for conscientiousness (0.44) and IQ (0.41). When the outcome was the intrinsic career success (job satisfaction), only conscientiousness had a good beta weights (0.34).

Damian et al. (2015, Table 5) performed a moderated polynomial regression to predict occupational prestige using IQ, parental SES, the z-scores of the 5 personality traits (one variable at a time for each separate regression). Data come from Project Talent (N=81,000). After controlling for SES, IQ, gender and age cohort, the coefficients for 1SD gain in extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, openness were respectively 1.93, 1.61, 2.01, 1.15, 2.02. But even a coefficient of 2, given the prestige scale score (see Table 8), is very low. To illustrate, mail handler is associated with a score of 26, receptionist with 29, inspectors with 30.8, legal secretaries with 34.7, managers and administrators with 40.1, sales representatives with 47.3 (the mean), high school teachers with 51.6, airplane pilots with 68.6, and dentists with 89.6 (the highest score).

Academic performance

A meta-analysis by Poropat (2009) showed that only conscientiousness (r=0.22) and openness (r=0.12) correlated with academic performance when adjusting for scale reliability, but only conscientiousness was still related to academic performance (r=0.24) after controlling for IQ. When controlling for secondary GPA, the partial correlations of the personality measures were reduced to nothing except for conscientiousness (r=0.17). There were strong moderators overall. Except for conscientiousness, the effect of the other personality dimensions decreased as education increases before and after controlling for IQ. Additionally, the impact of these personality measures on work performance was often weak (r=0.13) except for conscientiousness (r=0.27).

Bergold & Steinmayr (2018) found in a first study a modest main effect of conscientiousness (β=-0.25) as well as interaction with IQ (β=-0.10) on grade point average (GPA) while openness had weak correlation with GPA (β=-0.13) and other dimensions were not correlated with GPA. They report in second study that openness (β=-0.16) and conscientiousness (β=-0.19) both predicted GPA when controlling for IQ and confirmed again an IQ*conscientiousness interaction. All betas were negative because GPA score was reverse coded in Germany.

Meyer et al. (2022) use an integrative approach by analyzing four large scale data of upper secondary school students in Germany and then pooling the results. They use grade, exam and standardized test across three subjects (math; english; and german, which had GPA instead of standardized test) as the dependent variable. All predictors were corrected for measurement error. Gender and track were used as controls. The fixed effects meta-analytic approach shows that only IQ and conscientiousness consistently predicted grade, exam or standardized test in all subjects. Openness predicted each dependent variable but only in the English and German subjects. The size of interaction between conscientiousness and IQ varies from weak to modest.

Bardach et al. (2022) investigated the longitudinal association between personality, intelligence and academic achievement among German secondary school students. Unlike prior research, this analysis using random intercept cross-lagged models did not find evidence of either main effect for each personality trait of the Big Five, or even an interaction with intelligence, on achievement.

Likewise, Brandt & Lechner (2022) found no main effect of conscientiousness and no interaction with fluid intelligence on either math or reading achievement in a longitudinal German sample. This was true in both analyses investigating the prediction from grade 4 to 7 and grade 7 to 9.

Delay discounting (preference for immediate reward)

Hirsh et al. (2008) found that scholastic test scores (r=-0.21) and extraversion (r=0.20) but not emotional stability (r=-0.06) were related to delay discounting, in a sample of 97 undergraduate students. Both extraversion and emotional stability showed modest interaction with scholastic test, both positively correlating with delay discounting among low ability persons.

Rustichini et al. (2016) used delayed and immediate payments as an index of time preference to evaluate the independent effect of cognitive skills, personality, when controlling for age, marital status and education. Higher IQ is related to patience but the personality traits aren’t. Interestingly, even education wasn’t related to time preference.

Health Measures

Pesta et al. (2012) investigated the relationship between the 50 US state IQ and neuroticism levels and health measures. They found a strong positive relationship between neuroticism and chronic disease as well as metabolic syndrome, after controlling for state IQ. The regression coefficients after controlling for health behaviors (activity, healthy eating, smoking, alcohol) were lower: β=-0.22 and β=-0.28 for IQ, β=0.33 and β=0.40 for neuroticism with respect to chronic disease and metabolic syndrome, respectively.

Weiss et al. (2009) analyzed the VES data and found that high neuroticism and low IQ were associated with increased mortality risk factors among men. Adding SES and physical health reduced the effect of IQ but not neuroticism. Phillips et al. (2010) analyzed the VES using logistic regression and found that neuroticism, after controlling for IQ, is weakly correlated with metabolic syndrome (OR=1.08).

Friedman et al. (1993) used data from the Terman Life-Cycle Study, in which the sample is fairly homogeneous on intelligence and social class. The Stanford-Binet IQ of this sample was at least 135. Results from Cox Proportional Hazard Regression and logistic regression (see footnote 3) showed that conscientiousness was negatively related to mortality rate.

Israel et al. (2014, Table 8) used Poisson regression to evaluate the independent effect of personality on physical health (measured at age 38) after controlling for IQ. The Incident rate ratios were all very small for each dimension of the Big Five. The strongest effect was for conscientiousness (IRR=0.93).

Rammstedt et al. (2017) use multiple regression to predict self reported health and found that only emotional stability (β=0.20) and numeracy (β=0.10) and age (β=-0.31) predicted health, among German adults aged 16-65 years.

Murray et al. (2011) examined the impact of IQ (at age 70) and personality (at age 70) on Health literacy (measured at age 72) in the LBC1936 data. Because childhood IQ at age 11 was controlled, IQ at age 70 reflects IQ change. Three measures of health literacy were the REALM, S-TOFHLA, and NVS. Linear regression with NVS shows that IQ change was associated with positive NVS scores for g (β=0.24) and g speed (β=0.19). Regardless of whether g, g speed or observed IQ is used, none of the personality traits were related to NVS. Results from a zero-inflated Poisson regression for the REALM and S-TOFHLA showed that personality traits had no consistent relationship with these outcome variables at either mastery or less than mastery category. Only Conscientiousness had good correlation with less-than-mastery REALM. IQ change using either observed IQ, g or g speed was related to S-TOFHLA but not REALM, whereas childhood IQ was related to all outcome variables except for mastery REALM.


Generally the association between personality and social outcomes is complex because of the seemingly publication bias, strong moderating effect of gender, sometimes multiple interactions and, importantly, study design (with longitudinal and cross-sectional studies producing different results). On a relative scale, conscientiousness seems to be the most prominent trait, the most cited one as influencing outcomes. Yet even the modest effect of conscientiousness is probably overestimated. Kepes et al. (2011) indeed reported publication bias in the effect of conscientiousness on job performance. The estimated mean correlations were overestimated by 0.11-0.18. This important paper was only cited 8 times in Google Scholar.

(Update: Emil pointed out that self-reported (the usual measurement) must have lower validity than other-reported personality measures.)


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