Sixteen Personality Questionnaire (16PF)

Sixteen Personality Questionnaire (16PF)The Sixteen Personality Questionnaire (16PF) is one of the oldest commercially available measures of normal adult personality. It is used in a variety of settings, including personnel selection, counseling, career development, and outplacement consulting. The inventory has also been utilized extensively in academic settings to advance the understanding of personality structure, its roots, and predictive power. Over 1,200 articles and book chapters involving the 16PF have been published to date, and many new studies are under way.

The 16PF was created by Raymond B. Cattell who, at the time, was a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois. Cattell’s main research interest was to identify the primary elements of human personality. He called those elements traits—entities whose organization and dynamic interrelationships lead to the behaviors one can observe or wishes to predict. Rather than adhering to some a priori theory, Cattell used a mathematical technique called factor analysis to identify basic traits among a large set of behavioral observations. He started with the list of approximately 4,500 adjectives describing human behavior that was developed in 1936 by Gordon W. Allport and Henry S. Odbert. Cattell then successively reduced this list to 171 terms representing synonym groups, 35 surface-trait variables, and finally, 16 primary traits that formed the basis of his future personality questionnaire. Specifically, Cattell factor analyzed empirical data from two sources, peer ratings (observations of people in everyday situations) and self-reports (questionnaire responses to a large number of behavioral statements), in an attempt to determine which primary traits would be identified similarly from the respective sources. The results generally converged to a 16-dimensional structure that was used as the basis for the first edition of the 16PF questionnaire published in 1949. Since then, four revisions have been conducted to improve and refine the instrument, which is now copyrighted and distributed by the Institute of Personality and Ability Testing (IPAT).

Psychometric Structure of the 16PF

In 1993 the 16PF was revised to produce the fifth edition. The best items from the five forms of the fourth edition (Forms A, B, C, D, and CAQ Part 1), as well as a number of new items, were combined to create an improved form. The items were designed to meet criteria, such as a lowered reading requirement (fifth grade), increased item-scale correlations, and the elimination of items with overt gender, race, or social desirability biases.

The fifth edition 16PF contains 185 items, which can be completed in 35-50 minutes in the paper and pencil mode, and 20-35 minutes when administered via computer. The first 170 items utilize a three-option response format (endorse, cannot decide, and not endorse) and ask a respondent to decide whether each statement is true of his or her behavior. Each item is designed to measure 1 of 15 primary personality traits or to detect socially desirable responding (aka impression management or faking). Consequently, the items can be divided into 16 relatively homogeneous scales that are traditionally labeled by a word descriptor and by a capital letter from the English alphabet: Warmth (A, 11 items), Emotional Stability (C, 10 items), Dominance (E, 10 items), Liveliness (F, 10 items), Rule-Consciousness (G, 11 items), Social Boldness (H, 10 items), Sensitivity (I, 11 items), Vigilance (L, 10 items), Abstractedness (M, 11 items), Privateness (N, 10 items), Apprehension (O, 10 items), Openness to Change (Q1, 14 items), Self-Reliance (Q2, 10 items), Perfectionism (Q3, 10 items), Tension (Q4, 10 items), and Impression Management (IM, 12 items). Note that the IM scale is not part of the 15 personality factors but was added to the inventory as a check on response distortion. Respondents receiving high scores on the IM scale would be flagged as possibly attempting to enhance their scores.

The last 15 items in the inventory utilize a multiple-choice format (verbal or math question stem followed by several response options) and measure a factor called Reasoning (designated by the letter B). The inclusion of this factor, which essentially represents cognitive ability, differentiates the 16PF from most other personality questionnaires. Whereas developers of subsequent personality inventories viewed Reasoning as something conceptually distinct from personality (i.e., part of a separate cognitive ability domain), Cattell’s decision to include the Reasoning scale in the 16PF actually makes the inventory more useful for career development, because most occupational counseling applications require knowledge of one’s general cognitive ability as well as one’s vocational preferences. It is recognized that this unique feature of the 16PF can cause confusion among test users and students regarding the number of personality factors the inventory actually assesses. In accordance with the current perspective that personality and cognitive ability are indeed conceptually distinct domains, the 185 items of the 16PF fifth edition actually assesses 1 general cognitive ability factor, 15 personality factors, and 1 impression management/social desirability factor.

Recent psychometric studies of responses to the fifth edition 16PF items have shown that the 15 personality scales (commonly referred to as Primary Factors) are unidimensional and can be combined, if desired, to form five second-order factors (i.e., Global Factors). These five Global Factors closely correspond to the Big Five personality dimensions, which are relatively stable traits describing one’s behavior over a wide range of social and work situations. Because the Big Five taxonomy is now effectively the dominant view of normal adult personality, it is used in many selection, counseling, and career development applications. The ability of the 16PF to estimate Big Five’s scores is thus advantageous for current and future applications.

Reliability and Validity

The psychometric properties of the fifth edition of the 16PF are well documented in its technical manual. The mean test-retest reliability (aka coefficient of stability) for the Primary Factor scales over a two-week and two-month period are 0.80 and 0.70 respectively. The internal consistency-reliability (aka coefficient alpha) averages 0.76. Reliability coefficients for the Global Factor scales are higher, because they are aggregates of several positively correlated Primary Factors. Given the length and breadth of the scales, the reliability estimates are considered sufficiently high to provide meaningful personnel and career guidance.

Validity studies reported in the technical manual and in the research literature provide a considerable amount of evidence regarding the construct and criterion-related validity of the primary and global 16PF scales. Many studies have found high correlations between trait scores for 16PF scales and those of other well-known personality inventories (i.e., the Personality Research Form, the California Psychological Inventory, and the NEO Personality Inventory). This suggests that the 16PF scales do indeed assess the traits they are purported to measure. Occupational and social psychologists have also found 16PF scales to be good predictors of a number of important social outcomes, ranging from leadership effectiveness to drug use to creative achievement. As indicated by a recent comparative study of several major personality instruments, the 16PF was among the best in predicting a number of behavioral acts.

Measuring Interests with the 16PF

A majority of theoretical and empirical writings view basic and vocational interests as conceptually distinct from personality and cognitive ability traits. In essence, it is believed that interests primarily influence the motivation to attempt an activity, while ability and personality determine the likelihood of effectively completing an activity. Yet despite this distinction, there is usually a moderate degree of correspondence between interests, abilities, and personality. Thus because the 16PF already measures both personality and ability, it is possible to generate interest scores from responses to the 16PF Primary scales by way of multiple regression.

Several research projects have been conducted in an effort to develop 16PF prediction equations for a variety of vocational preference indicators. Two studies warrant specific attention. In the first study, 233 adults were given the 16PF fifth edition along with the Campbell Interest and Skills Survey (CISS) and measures of leadership qualities and preferences for structured environments. The CISS is one of the most widely used tools in career development programs, and it is therefore natural that it was used as the initial basis for the 16PF’s career development applications. The main outputs from the CISS are its seven Orientation Scales depicting broad areas of one’s interests (i.e., influencing, organizing, helping, analyzing, etc.), 29 Basic Scales reflecting interests in broad categories of work fields (i.e., Management, Sales, or Social Service), and 58 Occupational Scales representing the most narrow aspect of vocational interests (i.e., Architect, Musician, or Psychologist). Using scores on the 16PF Primary Factor scales, researchers were able to predict with a relatively high degree of accuracy the following: 7 CISS Orientation Scales, 17 CISS Basic Scales, and 57 CISS Occupational Scales. Scores on all these scales are reported in the Personal Career Development Profile (PCDP), which is a computer-generated report based on responses to the 16PF. To avoid duplicating the CISS terminology, the Orientation, Basic, and Occupational scales are referred in PCDP as Career Activity Interest, Career Field Interest, and the Occupational Interest scales respectively. In addition, the PCDP also contains scores on Broad Patterns scales and Leadership-Subordinate Patterns scales that were derived from other measures administered in the study.

A second notable multiple regression project involved the Strong Interest Inventory (SII) and was aimed at augmenting the 16PF’s ability to predict broad behavioral patterns as well as career and occupational interests. This study involved 385 adults who were administered the SII together with the 16PF Fifth Edition. Using 16PF Primary Factor scores, researchers were able to predict the following: 4 SII Personal Style scales, which in the PCDP classification are placed into the Broad Patterns section of the report, 22 SII Basic Interest scales, and 69 female-normed, and 66 male-normed SII Occupational scales. Note that because 12 of the 22 SII Basic scales had content very similar to the CISS Basic scales, only 10 non-overlapping SII Basic scales were actually added in the PCDP report.

In sum, the results of various research projects have shown that the 16PF fifth edition reasonably predicts many criterion scale scores of the CISS, SII, and other instruments used to measure vocational interests. These predicted scale scores are organized into 10 Broad Patterns Scores, 10 Leadership-Subordinate Role Patterns, 7 Career Activity Interests, 27 Career Field Interests, and 98 Occupational Interests. Predicted scores on Occupational Interests are reported in reference to three different norms: males and females, obtained from the SII, and combined gender, based on the CISS. Further details of these studies are described in the 16PF’s technical manual and in the Personal Career Development Profile manual.

Uses of the 16PF in Career Development Applications

The 16PF Basic Interpretive Report and the 16PF Personal Career Development Profile Report provide information that can be used in career development applications. Specifically, the Basic Interpretive Report generates scores on the Primary and Global Personality Factors, six Holland Theme scores (these are generated from equations developed by regressing scores from the Self-Directed Search onto 16PF Primary Factors), and several predicted criterion scores, such as leadership and creative potential. The Holland types on which the respondent scores highest are discussed in several interpretative paragraphs and are accompanied by a brief list of relevant occupations.

The Personal Career Development Profile Report first presents an extended narrative that describes a respondent’s problem-solving, stress-coping and interpersonal interaction styles, work settings preferences, and career/lifestyle activity interests in a user-friendly, nontechnical manner. The narrative is followed by several detailed score reporting pages, which discuss one’s standing on the Primary and Global Factor scales, Broad Pattern scales, Leadership-Subordinate Role Pattern scales, Career Activity Interest scales, Career Field Interest scales, and Occupational Interest scales. This information is reported numerically and graphically (horizontal bar graph). The wealth of information provided has proven helpful to both professional counselors and individual test takers. According to the technical manual, the main uses of the PCDP report are the following:

  • Selection and placement (finding the right person for the right job)
  • Assessment centers (identifying hidden talents of employees and training them to further their careers)
  • University-, company-, and consultant-sponsored career development and management programs
  • Outplacement consulting programs (assisting displaced persons in undertaking career transitions and job searches)
  • Career and personal development counseling (providing career guidance and advice for selecting specific educational or training programs)


In the past two decades, the workplace environment has changed from largely “manufacturing-style” organizations, characterized by hierarchical structures and well-defined jobs, into “service-style” organizations with flat structures, fluid jobs, and the extensive use of teams. The development of new technologies and increased global competition have added additional layers of uncertainty to what is already an unstable job market. It is reasonable, therefore, to assume that many of today’s workers will experience a career-related crisis or transition at some point in their work lives and that a large proportion of workers will encounter prolonged periods of unemployment or find it necessary to change careers more than once. To deal with these potential pressures in advance, organizations and employees are increasingly turning toward career development programs that use personality, cognitive ability, and interest information to provide career advice. In this regard, the 16PF is a highly useful instrument because of its unique capacity to provide information regarding all three of these individual difference variables in a single test administration. To our knowledge, no other instrument currently provides such an integrative approach to psychological assessment.

See also:


  1. Ackerman, P. L. and Heggestad, E. D. 1997. “Intelligence, Personality, and Interests: Evidence for Overlapping Traits.” Psychological Bulletin 121:219-245.
  2. Cattell, H. E. P. and Schuerger, J. M. 2003. Essentials of 16PF Assessment. San Francisco, CA: Wiley.
  3. Cattell, R. B. 1946. The Description and Measurement of Personality. Yonkers-on-Hudson, NY: World Book.
  4. Cattell, R. B.   1965. The Scientific Analysis of Personality. Baltimore, MD: Penguin.
  5. Chernyshenko, O. S., Stark, S. E. and Chan, K. Y. 2001. “Investigating the Hierarchical Factor Structure of the Fifth Edition of the 16PF: An Application of the Schmid-Leiman Orthogonalization Procedure.” Educational and Psycho­logical Measurement 61:290-302.
  6. Conn, S. and Rieke, M. L. 1994. The 16PF Fifth Edition Technical Manual. Champaign, IL: Institute for Personality and Ability Testing.
  7. Goldberg, L. R. 2005. “The Comparative Validity of Adult Personality Inventories: Applications of a Consumer-testing Framework.” University of Oregon and Oregon Research Institute. Retrieved August 8, 2014 (
  8. Schuerger, J. M. 1995. “Career Assessment and the Sixteen Personality Questionnaire.” Journal of Career Assessment 3:157-175.
  9. Walter, V. 2000. 16PF Personal Career Development Profile: Technical and Interpretive Manual. Champaign, IL: Institute for Personality and Ability Testing.