The 16PF Personality Questionnaire

The Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF) is a multiple-choice, comprehensive measure of normal range personality found to be effective in a variety of settings where an in-depth assessment of the whole person is needed. Developed over several decades, Raymond Cattell began to work on it in the 1920s when he shifted from the physical sciences to psychology and was shocked at the lack of empirical research available to enquire into the psychological nature of human beings. He wanted to develop a psychological test based on a list generated by Gordon Allport and H.S. Odbert, who had methodically gone through two comprehensive dictionaries to come up with around 18,000 words to describe personality.

Allport and Odbert (in a second round) reduced their list to 4500 adjectives which they believed described observable, permanent personality traits. Cattell got hold of the list, added some terms known from psychological research, and eliminated synonyms, reducing the total to 171. He used the then-new techniques of factor analysis combined with emergent computer technology to discover and measure the fundamental traits of human personality (Wikipedia, 2012d; Cattell and Mead, 2008).

The primary, second-order, and third-order factors

Cattell proposed a multi-level, hierarchical structure of personality. He found:

  • Five second-order global measures which describe personality at a broader, conceptual level. These are related to the five factors of the Big Five models of personality;
  • 16 more precise primary factors (developed earlier) which reveal the fine details and nuances that make each person unique. The latter, believed Cattell, are more powerful in predicting actual behaviour;
  • In addition, the factor analysis revealed a set of third-order factors: Superfactors I and II.

The primary factors

Here are the 16 primary factors whose levels the 16PF Questionnaire assesses:

  1. Warmth
  2. Reasoning
  3. Emotional Stability
  4. Dominance
  5. Liveliness
  6. Rule-Consciousness
  7. Social Boldness
  8. Sensitivity
  9. Vigilance
  10. Abstractedness
  11. Privateness
  12. Apprehensiveness
  13. Openness to Change
  14. Self-Reliance
  15. Perfectionism
  16. Tension

The second-order, Global Factors

When the 16 primary traits were factor-analysed, they revealed five so-called Global Factors, which describe personality at a broader level. These Global Factors, which help to show the degree of relationships among the 16 primary scales, are:

  1. Extraversion
  2. Anxiety
  3. Tough-Mindedness
  4. Independence
  5. Self-Control (IPAT, 2012)

The third-order Superfactors

Third-order Superfactor I encompasses tendencies to move assertively outward into the world toward both social connection and mastery of the environment, and might be called active outward engagement. Third-order Superfactor II involves internal types of processes and events, including impulsivity versus self-restraint (global Self-Control or Conscientiousness), but also the dimensions of sensitivity, reactivity, and creativity: openness to feelings, imagination, aesthetics, and new ideas (global Receptivity/Openness versus Tough-Mindedness) (Cattell and Mead, 2008).

The 16PF Questionnaire was first published in 1949, and the most recent edition, released in 1993, is the fifth edition of the original test. The goal of the fifth edition revision was to update and simplify the language and answer format and develop new reliability and validity data. Also, a new standardisation sample (of 10,000 people) was developed for the fifth edition to reflect the current U.S. Census population.

The 16PF Fifth Edition contains 185 multiple-choice items, written at a fifth-grade reading level. Of these items, 76% were from the four previous 16PF editions, some re-written. The items ask simple questions about daily behaviour, interests, and opinions. The measure tends to sample a broad range of actual behaviour by asking questions about daily, concrete situations, rather than asking the test-taker to simply make a self-assessment of their own personality traits as some tests do. Such simple, self-rating type questions tend to be highly related to the person’s self-image, and dependent on their view of themselves, their level of self-awareness, and their defensiveness about their actual traits. Instead, most 16PF questions tend to ask about actual behavioural situations, for example:

When I find myself in a boring situation, I usually “tune out” and daydream about other things. True/False.
When a bit of tact and convincing is needed to get people moving, I’m usually the one who does it. True/False.

Administration of the test takes about 35–50 minutes for the paper-and-pencil version and about 30 minutes by computer. The test is un-timed; thus it is generally self-administrable and can be used in either an individual or a group setting. The 16PF test was designed for adults at least age 16 and older, but there are also parallel tests for various younger age ranges (e.g., the 16PF Adolescent Personality Questionnaire) (Wikipedia, 2012d).


Because of its strong scientific background, the 16PF Questionnaire is used in a diverse range of contexts, including industrial and organisational, research, educational, and medical settings. In addition, psychologists and counsellors can use it to:

  • Provide information for vocational guidance, helping individuals determine occupations for which they are best suited, including as part of outplacement counselling;
  • Assist with personnel selection, promotion, coaching, and career development through measurement of five primary management dimensions (which predict management potential and style);
  • Supplement clinical diagnosis, prognosis and therapy planning, as the 16PF instrument helps provide clinicians with a normal-range measurement of anxiety, adjustment, and behavioral problems; in fact, the 16PF Questionnaire gives an in-depth integrated picture of the whole person;
  • Identify personality factors that may predict marital compatibility and satisfaction and highlight existing or potential problem areas;
  • Help identify students with potential academic, emotional, and social problems (Pearson Educ., Inc., n.d.; Cattell and Mead, 2008).

Sample items

The actual 16PF Questionnaire needs to be ordered from IPAT (see below), but it is possible to complete “clone” versions – tests purporting to measure the same aspects of personality – online. Here are sample items from two of them; the test-taker is asked to rate each statement on a five-point scale from either “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree” or from “very inaccurate” to “very accurate”:

  • I take time out for others.
  • I know that I am not a special person.
  • I take charge of things.
  • I try to forgive and forget
  • I keep in the background.
  • I can’t do without the company of others
  • I trust others.
  • I am not easily frustrated.
  • I cheer people up.
  • I often feel uncomfortable around others.
  • I seldom feel blue.
  • I dislike myself.
  • I believe in the importance of art.
  • I swim against the current
  • I believe in one true religion.
  • Disorder unsettles me.
  • I like to stand during the national anthem.
  • I am open to using recreational drugs
  • I am extremely sentimental.
  • My thoughtfulness and charitable nature are my foundation.
  • I prefer strange films.
  • I like to solve complex problems.
  • I continue until everything is perfect.
  • I am not especially interested in abstract ideas.

Criticisms and limitations

Cattell’s revolutionary contribution to psychology in using factor analysis and computer technology is widely appreciated. Notwithstanding, his theory has been frequently criticised on the grounds that, although there have been many attempts to replicate his theory, none have entirely succeeded in doing so. One study found that ten factors failed to relate to items in the present questionnaire. The researchers concluded that the 16 PF Questionnaire does not measure the factors which it purports to measure at a primary level (Eysenck and Eysenck, 1987, in Fehriinger, 2004). Also, the reliability of Cattell’s self-report data has been challenged by researchers (Schuerger, Zarrella, & Hotz, 1989, in Fehriinger, 2004).

Cattell and his colleagues responded to the criticism by saying that the lack of replicability was due to the fact that the researchers had not used his methodology. Kline and Barrett, however (1983, in Fehriinger, 2004), used Cattell’s exact methodology, and were only able to verify four of the 16 primary factors. Moreover, Cattell published the results of his own factor analysis of the 16PF instrument, and also failed to verify the primary factors that he himself had hypothesised (Eysenck, 1987, in Fehriinger, 2004).

It is possible that the amount of computation which needed to be done by hand in those days is responsible for skewed data, which made findings unable to be replicated. What modern computers can do in seconds without error hugely eclipses the lengthy, error-prone calculations performed by hand in Cattell’s day; thus, errors may have occurred, preventing replication.

Despite that problem, psychologists acknowledge the huge role Cattell’s work played in paving the way for discovery of the Big Five (Five-Factor-Model) personality tests which dominate the landscape of personality testing today (Wikipedia, 2012a; Fehriinger, 2004).

For more information or to order the 16PF Questionnaire

As noted above, the “real” 16PF Questionnaire can be obtained from IPAT, the company Cattell set up to distribute his personality measures. IPAT can be contacted through their website Two free online tests claiming to measure the same personality traits can be found here: Test 1, Test 2.


  • Cattell, H. and Mead, A. (2008). The Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF). The Sage handbook of personality theory and assessment. Retrieved on 20 December, 2012, from: hyperlink.
  • Fehriinger, H. (2004). Contributions and limitations of Cattell’s 16 Personality Factor model. Retrieved on 20 December, 2012, from: hyperlink.
  • IPAT (2012). IPAT: The 16PF Questionnaire. IPAT: People insights. Retrieved on 17 December, 2012, from: hyperlink.
  • Pearson Education, Inc. (n.d.). 16pf fifth edition: Clinical assessment. Retrieved 20 December, 2012 from: hyperlink.
  • Wikipedia (2012d). 16PF Questionnaire. Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. Retrieved on 20 December, 2012, from: hyperlink.

This article is an extract of the upcoming Mental Health Academy “Overview of the Principal Personality Tests” CPD course. This short course aims to give you an overview of the most common personality test types used today, the applications of their usage, and a sample of the types of questions they ask.  The discussion of each test includes a short section outlining some of the major criticisms or limitations of the test. Click here for more information.