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Personality traits differ depending on the context in which they are measured

Press release: "Comparing job applicants to non-applicants using an item-level bifactor model on the HEXACO personality inventory"

In their study, Jeromy Anglim, Gavin Morse, Reinout de Vries, Carolyn MacCann, and Andrew Marty demonstrate that job applicants respond more in ways that make them look good, known as socially desirable responding, than do non-applicants. Moreover, they show that responding to personality items is influenced by people’s actual personalities and the extent to which they want to look good. These findings have implications for both employee selection settings, as well as the way researchers conceptualize socially desirable responding. The paper is published in the November/December issue of the European Journal of Personality.

In their study, Anglim and colleagues examined how people report on their personality in a job applicant context, when compared to a non-applicant context using an instrument called the HEXACO PI-R personality inventory. Their results show that in a job applicant context, people are more prone to socially desirable responding, scoring substantially higher on honesty-humility, extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Moreover, participants in the job-applicant condition were also more alike in their answers than were the participants in the non-applicant condition, suggesting that the applicant responses may compress toward an ideal. These results demonstrate the importance of taking socially desirable responding into account when selecting employees, as people’s scores on a personality test might be less reflective of their actual personality. It also highlights the importance of using different norms for job-applicant contexts.

This study may also contribute to the current way we think about social desirability. It proposes that people’s responses on a personality test are influenced by one’s personality on the one hand, and then a second factor which is concerned with how much one adapts his or her responses to look good – their social desirability. Interestingly, this study also illuminates the issue that socially desirable responding may differ depending on the question being asked. This division between differences produced by one’s personality and differences produced by socially desirable responding has the potential to change the way researchers now think about and approach people responding in a way that makes them look good, rather than how they actually think, feel, and behave.

Correspondence may be addressed to Dr. Jeromy Anglim, the first author, at the School of Psychology, Deakin University, Locked Bag 20000, Geelong, 3220 Australia. He can be contacted via email on The article is freely available until 17th of January, 2018 and can be accessed here.

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