The Hexaco Model of personality: What it says about who we are

In 2004 a new personality measure was formally introduced.*  It is called the HEXACO Model with hex for its six factors and the letters standing for Honesty-Humility, Emotionality, eXtraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness. The major difference is the finding of the sixth factor (Honesty-humility).**  The Five Factor Model (FFM) or Big Five, had been careening toward incredible success throughout the 1980s-2000s, with the psychology profession basically adopting this as the appropriate instrument for personality study.  As noted in a recent blog, it has also been accepted as an appropriate instrument to give to all clients in psychotherapy, as an addition to formal diagnosis.  The FFM was supposed to be it, and many publications noted that five factors were the maximum number that would ever be found.

Upstart HEXACO approached the situation in an interesting way.  Both the FFM and the Hexaco model were derived by first finding all or most of the terms in a given language that describe personality characteristics.  The assumption that this would cover all the individual differences that people perceive in one another, is known as the “lexical hypothesis”.  So far this has stood the test of time pretty well.  What the authors of the HEXACO model did, however, was to look first at these descriptive terms in languages other than English (English being the original source for FFM descriptive terms.)  What they found, in seven different languages ranging from French and German to Korean, was a six factor structure, with Honesty-humility as the sixth factor.  This factor does not appear using the original lexical list of terms that was used for the FFM, but has been found in an expanded English list.  More recent findings show that most languages can yield terms that generate five factors, but some–notably Turkish–do not.

So what do we have?  Do languages that cannot be used to generate the sixth factor not see those qualities as important in their people?  Or just somehow use other words?  Or is it factor analysis itself, which can be slippery at best?  (You have a substantial number of choices in any factor analysis, from the type of analysis itself, the type of rotation, and the criteria for selecting the number of viable factors).  Unless you have played with this statistical process, a term like “rotation” is pretty much a blank, but the programs look at the strength of relationship of every item (item to item) as answered by every person who took the questionnaire, and then, in effect, spin them around (rotate them) to find patterns where individual items cluster together to form a factor.  (Pretty awful description, but that is sort of the idea).  It is possible, where the outcome doesn’t seem quite right, to rotate further, looking for a better pattern.

That actually happened in the HEXACO work, where with repeated rotation, anxiety and fearfulness (part of FFM Neuroticism) became part of a slightly different HEXACO factor called “Emotionality” where they share space with being sentimental and being dependent on others.  Meanwhile, bravery and toughness, related to Extraversion in FFM, became part of the unemotional side of Emotionality.  Thus they did not disappear, but were rotated. This doesn’t mean that FFM and HEXACO are not equally valid, but it does show that factor results are not set in stone.   I have tried to summarize some of this in a table at the end of this blog.

The HEXACO Honesty-Humility scale seems to have proven to be very useful.  Negative answers on this have been shown to be predictive of behaviors ranging from selfish or unethical to clearly criminal.  In this, it apparently does a much clearer job of pointing out the bad guys than similar items distributed throughout the FFM.

However, in reading about the HEXACO facets and perusing their items,  questions that I have had to some degree about the FFM came to sharper focus for me.  If these scales are truly the offspring of all the terms we use to describe one another (and not abstract theories about human behavior) then it seems to me that some are sorely missing.  Our Agreeable person is gentle, flexible, patient and forgiving most of the time, answering positively to “I rarely hold a grudge, even against people who have badly wronged me.” and “I generally accept people’s faults without complaining about them.” and, heaven forbid, a reverse disagreeable item that says “If someone has cheated on my once, I will always feel suspicious of that person”.  Answer these in the wrong way and you are simply disagreeable.  Where is character? Where is standing up for yourself?  Where is having the courage of your convictions?  When you look at the Tea Party movement on the far right, and the Occupy Wall Street movement on the far left, I guess these groups are both full of highly disagreeable people, based on some pretty tough inflexible signage.  No doubt some are, but no doubt others are exhibiting “the courage of their convictions”.  Flexible, gentle, forgiving, and patient–I don’t think so. In the FMM the Agreeable people are Trusting, Straightforward, Altruistic, Compliant, Modest and Tender-Minded.  I see no place in either the FFM or the HEXACO where persons of strong convictions could appear as solid and healthy human examples.

The other area that seems totally lacking to me (referring now just to HEXACO questions) is what we traditionally think of as “love” and therefore the trait of being “loving”. My Oxford dictionary tells me that love is a “profoundly passionate affection for another person” and “a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for parent, child or friend.”  When I look for the equivalent here I find three possibiliies.  One is under “Emotionality” where I can be “dependent” by agreeing that “Whenever I feel worried about something, I want to share my concern with another person”, or “I rarely discuss my problems with other people”.  Similarly you can show some sort of feeling toward others in the Sentimentality facet, by saying that “I feel strong emotions when someone close to me is going away for a long time” (more dependency?)  or “I feel like crying when I see other people crying”.  (this sounds closer to empathy than traditional definitions of love.)   However, these are both signs of emotionality, and not especially admirable.  But–then again we might look under Extraversion and the Sociability facet.  Here, about as passionate as it gets is “I enjoy having lots of people around to talk to.”  Finally, there is the little four-question Interstitial scale which seems to be tapping altruism, with questions like “I fee sympathy for people who are less fortunate than I am”, and “I try to give generously to those in need”.  Strikes me that it is positive to like to be with lots of people, and to give to the needy, but not good to be so attached that you might cry when someone left.  As far as taking delight in the existence of another person–my idea of love–it just doesn’t seem to be here.

All this leaves me nostalgic for the MBTI, where there seems to be something good about all types, as well as something lacking.  Thinkers may be cool in their relationships, but strong and effective in their convictions.  Feelers may be a little wishy-washy in standing up for their convictions, but strong in their attachments.  And, now that I think about it, Introverts get a much better deal in the MBTI than the HEXACO where they are simply defined by what they are not and so–quiet, withdrawn, uninterested in conversation with others, with no indication that they are reflective, have more focused interests and may love conversation with close friends, on things they care about.

And I wonder–not a very scientific idea, but still–whether the origins of the items for these different types of scales is more meaningful than we might imagine.  Carl Jung began the long road to the MBTI by watching and reflecting on a lifetime with patients and friends.  Over time he believed that he saw patterns of thought and behavior that went together.  Katherine Briggs and Isabel Myers picked up these threads and went on from there.  Again, Myers spent a great deal of time observing friends and family and generating items based on what she perceived.  Her work was certainly linked to Jung’s theories, but at least both Jung and Myers were looking at whole people. By contrast, the five and six factor scales began with dictionary lists and progressed to fairly complex statistical analysis.  Since these scales measure traits without trying to create whole types, it seems very possible that essential parts of whole persons just are not in there.  The authors of the HEXACO model have admitted that “analyses of questionnaire scales suffer from the fatal shortcoming that the variable sets cannot be claimed to be representative of the personality domain;  instead, the composition of those variable sets will tend to reflect the preferences of the personality psychologists who constructed them.”***  And so, if words like loving, courageous, holding strong convictions, passionate, etc., do not fall easily into a factor, it may be tempting to just discard them.

*  Lee, Kibeom & Ashton, Michael (2004).  Psychometric properties of the HEXACO personality inventory.  Multivariate Behavioral Research 39 (2) 329-358.

** The questionnaire for the HEXACO is considered to be in the public domain.  It is possible to find the questionnaire and scoring sheets on the internet.

***Ashton, M. C. & Lee, K, (2007).  Empirical, theoretical and practical advantages of the HEXACO model of personality structure.  Personality and Social Psychology Review  11, 150-166.

Five Factor Model (FFM) Hexaco

No 6th scale


Honesty-humility scale

Sincerity, Fairness, Greed avoidance, Modesty

Neuroticism/emotional stability

Anxiety, Angry Hostility, Depression, Self-consciousness, Impulsiveness, Vulnerability


Fearfulness, Anxiety, Dependence, Sentimentality

(Bravery and toughness are here collectively as the low ends of all of these facets.  That is, the tough and brave are evidently relatively fearless, independent and unsentimental about others.


Warmth, Gregariousness, Assertiveness, Activity, Excitement Seeking, Positive Emotions


Social self-esteem, Social Boldness, Sociability, Liveliness. (Although there is social boldness, it only extends to being comfortable speaking or taking the lead in a group, so less strong than Assertiveness in FFM). Bravery would seem to be in Emotionality (above here) for this scale, but is in FFM Extraversion as liking risk and excitement.


Trust, Straightforwardness, Altruism, Compliance, Modesty, Tender-Mindedness.  (These facets seem to be similar to Sincerity and Modesty in Hexaco’s Honesty-Humility scale.


Forgivingness, Gentleness, Flexibility, Patience

Patience includes easily losing temper as a negative that is not directly present in FFM


Competence, Order, Dutifulness, Achievement Striving, Self-Discipline, Deliberation


Organization, Diligence, Perfectionism, Prudence

Authors say this is very similar to Big Five


Fantasy, Aesthetics, Feelings, Actions, Ideas, Values. Though this is intended to exclude pure intelligence, Openness here does have some items in Ideas, that may tap IQ competency—liking mind-games, philosophy, etc.  and Hexaco does not.

Openness to Experience

 Aesthetic appreciation, Inquisitiveness, Creativity, Unconventionality. Hexaco strove to keep items tapping intelligence out of this scale.  It is there as a behavioral tendency in inquisitiveness but not as an intellectual competency   Also, there is no equivalent of the Big Five Feelings facet in Hexaco’s Openness, and nothing direct about Fantasy.

No exact equivalent in the Big Five  (Nearest equivalent would seem to be the Altruism facet in Agreeableness.)

Interstitial scale (This consists of four questions  tapping a specific tendency to be sympathetic and soft-hearted toward others.

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6 Responses to The Hexaco Model of personality: What it says about who we are

  1. I’ve taken all of these tests. I’ve researched quite a bit about most of these tests.

    Not one test yet however has actually given me the option to be who I really am.

    If I say to myself, “I am both. I cannot choose between these.” Then I know the people who created the test actually are either a)inhuman or b)possess a mental disorder themselves.

    Thinking and Feeling are not opposed to each other.

    But neither do Honesty and Humility oppose each other.

    The reason why the MBTI does not capture me fully is because I can fully relate to every single description for every single personality type. I relate most to the ENTP and the INFJ descriptions, and if you wanted to have a more clear understanding of “me”, then I might refer you to both of those descriptions.

    As well, the Five/Hex model is pretty useless to me. There are many contradictions in the instrument. Yay.

    The really silly “scientists” that have developed these tests leave absolutely little room for people to respond to all situations.

    One simply may not say, “I would never do that.”

    One might say, “I hope I would not believe that it is ever a necessity to do that.”

    But how far can people go?

    You see, another thing I have noticed about human behavior is something that I think is so simple, I cannot believe so many people miss it so easily.

    The reason why so many people are so judgmental OR so blindly accepting : For very many people, the majority even, their principles are very strong, but only until those principles interfere with their convenience.

    And people will believe themselves when they say, “I care.” Then it comes time to care and… no, they really don’t.

    We have all found ourselves in that situation and most of us fail that test.

    And so few even recognize they failed the test because they know how to excuse themselves.

    “Me first or you first?”

    What? What is the particular situation? Can you fit every detail of even the simplest situation into a format that doesn’t require a thesis at any rate? How many assumptions are made?

    When I am in the moment, in reality, and I am faced with circumstances, I have the luxury of being able to notice every detail, understand much of the back story, and to be able to make much better decisions in my life. AND YET I STILL FAIL SOMETIMES. Wait. Nope. All the time. What is success anyway? I die everyday, unless Jesus comes. And in that case, shall I live?

    Therefore how can any answer be determined to be accurate in any way when a test question asks of you, “Are you lazy or hard working?”

    How many times have I taken a test and the response I get is some landing page that says, “I’m sorry, that’s impossible. Answer the questions honestly.”

    Is that a good or a bad thing?

    I’ll go ahead and call myself, “The Impossible.”

    What’s your type?

    – Tarzan J. Hedgepeth

    • INTJ says:


      I enjoyed your comment. Myself I would be strongly in the direction of N and T, wishywashy on E/I and slightly but not greatly a J. I think that this type categorizing fits and feels right when you are strongly in one direction on some of the preferences. If you are, in truth, more middle of the road, it just doesn’t say much to you.

      Nancy Harkey

  2. Mark says:

    1) The HEXACO *is* essentially the MBTI, along with Honesty-Humility and Agreeableness vs Anger which the MBTI lacks. I have a dataset comprised of ~50 college students answering a variety of questions selected from the MBTI and HEXACO; factor analysis finds MBTI “N vs S” questions align with HEXACO “O+ vs O-,” while HEXACO “E+ vs E-” and MBTI “F vs T” factor tightly together. Jungian, FFM, and HEXACO descriptions of personality are all perfectly valid for the dimensions they describe, although the Big Five do perhaps appear to be a rather awkward rotation of the other two.

    2) People with “the courage of their convictions” are easily described by the HEXACO model: they have high H and low A. They’re generally people I don’t like to meet.

    3) Emotionality and Extraversion are probably both predictors of “lovingness,” as you pointed out. Dopaminergic processes provide a likely link between eXtraversion and falling in / being in love, while the attachment and sentimentality of Emotionality should promote staying in love and maintaining a loving relationship.

  3. Pingback: BIG SIX statt BIG FIVE? Das Hexaco-Modell der Persönlichkeit | Blog

  4. Lars says:

    Thanks for that interesting and good summed-up article. I agree that “factor results are not set in stone” and therefore appreciate new takes on the concept.

    I’ve read myself further into the Hexaco material and it is indeed a good supplement and clarifying some issues the FFM has.
    I like the Emotionality factor instead of Neuroticism, especially because it doesn’t sound as negative as the latter does.
    Relating Openness to Experience more to inquisitiveness than intelligence makes much sense to me. I think high raters in this factor are more inquisitive than others and therefore often become more intelligent because of this, but it doesn’t mean that high raters per se are more intelligent and low raters are not. They are just not as inquisitive.
    Honesty-Humility is also an interesting expansion, but here we have a scale that doesn’t leave any room for a positive interpretation of its bad side. This also leaves the question if someone not in a scientific enviroment, for example when he takes a test at his employer, would be honest about his dishonesty? If one knows he is judged by the test, he surely wants to present himself in better light. So we can assume a dishonest person would try to display itself as honest.

    As for love, i think this can’t be meassured, because its dependent of at least two persons, and so it can’t be tested in one person only seen for itself.

    Good point with the strong convictions. I think both disagreeable and agreeable people can have strong convictions. But agreeable people don’t force them on other people as much, and they give more easily way if they see their convictions are unpleseant or harming for other people. Of course you could argue that they have no strong convictions if they do these things.
    We must also take into account that strong convictions themselves can be a good or a bad thing, depending on what these convictions are.

    • INTJ says:

      I’ve been thinking about your comment that love is not something that can be measured. I am not sure that I agree–or at least, I hope not. The VIA-IS scale that I mentioned in my last blog, does attempt to do this. They have nine items in a “Capacity to love” scale that do seem, to me, to tap something more than extraversion or altruism. For example: Am willing to take risks to establish a relationship; Can express love to someone else. The items seem uneven and I am sure need more work, but I think they are a first try that may be worthwhile. No doubt the reason that the FFM and Hexaco, etc., don’t include this is because it is very tough to find items that work, but still?

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