Dr. Keith and Corey discuss “the H Factor” — a variation of the Big 5 personality types that adds a critical sixth trait, honesty and humility. Watch as we take a deep dive into the psychological benefits of honest self-reporting, of cultivating a healthy epistemic humility, and the sorts of “reality distortion fields” that seem to emanate from certain personalities.
The H Factor
by Dr. Keith Witt
The HEXACO six factor system is a variant of the Big 5 personality factors. The Big 5 emerged from studies in the 70s from thousands of people describing themselves and others from long lists of adjectives. The computing systems of the day kept finding five categories of personality factors—the Big 5. In late 1990s Kibeom Lee and Michael Ashton found a sixth factor, honesty and humility. They summarized their research in their book The H Factor.
Their acronym is for their six factors (all of which are continua with high or low tendencies) is HEXACO, meaning:
O—openness to new experience.
In the HEXACO 6-factor personality system, the “H factor” reflects how humble/honest or arrogant/dishonest a person is. The H factor is determinative of goodness. People with low H are generally more untrustworthy, selfish, arrogant, duplicitous, and unreliable.
On the other hand, the more humble/honest you are—the higher your H factor—the happier, healthier, and more successful you are likely to be, no matter what end of the other 5 continua you tend to be.
The original five factors—the Big 5—all have healthy versions at each end of their continua. For instance, you can be a healthy introvert or extravert, a healthy openness to new experience or settled in your ways person, etc. The H factor is discriminative. High on the honesty/humility scale means more likelihood of being good, trustable person. Low on the honesty/humility scale means more likelihood of being a dangerous and creepy person. H is a discriminative variable for all the other variables.
So, in therapy, the only continuum of the 6 factors where you don’t encourage your client to be a healthy version of whomever they are — introvert or extrovert, open to new experience or set in their ways, highly emotional or emotionally unreactive — is the H factor. With the H factor, you want to help clients be less selfish and unreliable, and more honest and humble, if only for self-serving reasons. I can think of no healthy version of selfish and arrogant, except maybe for a military general who’s been tasked to do vast damage and not count the cost.
When researchers discover some seminal new phenomena, they usually dedicate years, even their professional lifetimes, to exploring, expanding, and integrating emerging discoveries with their field—and that’s what Lee and Ashton have done. For instance, their findings of 6 factors hold true cross culturally and with western and eastern populations, and their hypothesis of the H factor being discriminative of healthy vs unhealthy versions of both poles of the other factors has been demonstrated in many studies.
I find all this fascinating, with a lot of potential ramifications for other types and worldviews, not to mention how we influence each other (as in reality distortion fields).