Blog Post

Using OCEAN to Interview

       A strong, valid framework in psychology is the Big-5, a long established set of personality traits known by the acronym CANOE or OCEAN:

  • Openness (to experience)
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extroversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

     IQ, more sure ground in psychology, loads heavily onto “Openness”, and IQ and conscientiousness are the best predictors of lifelong success in life. Most of the negative emotions load on “Neuroticism”.  Another pair of traits under consideration for inclusion is honesty and humility, as a possible sixth trait1.

     Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, specifies that we know some things exist in psychology: IQ and the Big-5 personality traits. Maybe other things exist but (as of now) there is no credible evidence to support their sure existence; much of life is faith. No one has ever challenged the weak hypothesis or weak claim of the Big-5 theorists:

“Insofar as you can measure personality with language, you are going to measure one or more of the Big-5 traits well or badly.2”

This means that the only thing that any survey ever measures, well or badly, is one or more of the Big-5 personality traits. An interview is a type of survey, and intrinsic motivation is the most important trait of a prospective employee.

     Intrinsic motivation or engagement in the classroom is particularly important because it works “as a behavioral pathway through which students’ motivational processes contribute to their subsequent learning and development” including the development of skills and the grades they obtain (588). In an engaged classroom, “there is almost always some aspect of the teacher’s behavior that plays a role in the initiation and regulation of the engagement” (588)3. Brain research adds a secondary perspective on intrinsic motivation, making it “more real” or further validating the construct, an application of the multi-method of construct (measurement) validation.

     fMRI results confirm previous research findings showing that the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) is more activated in the extrinsic motivation condition. Breaking new ground in neural research, the FMRI results also showed that the insular cortex was more activated in the intrinsic motivation condition4.

    The general function of the insular cortex is emotional processing. Studies on addiction and craving suggest that the insular cortex relates to hedonic feelings generated by bodily need satisfactions. Intrinsic motivation uses “gut-felt” decision making, whereas the choice of extrinsic motivation calculates cost-benefit analyses. The neural evidence from one fMRI study supports the assumptions of intrinsic motivation theorists who propose that human motivation is not singular; they argue that qualitatively different types of motivation exist. These theorists define intrinsic motivation as that which arises from the satisfaction of inherent psychological needs (for autonomy and competence)4.

     Lastly, although most psychological research has only looked at the place or setting insofar as it influences intrinsic motivation, a study by Japanese researchers included the people-side, the intrinsic motivation that a worker may bring to a situation5. Both sides obviously affect intrinsic motivation, and in an employee intrinsic motivation presents an obvious asset. The authors state the key finding as follows: “both personality and job content factors are strongly correlated with intrinsic motivation”. In the past, most research focused simply on job content (the environment) and not on the personality traits of the people in the study. Watanabe and Kanazawa, seeing the wisdom of looking at intrinsic motivation from both the people-side and the environmental-side, have contributed a new path of research, a helpful, more balanced view of the intrinsic motivational theory5.

Scores on conscientiousness and openness did not correlate, which indicates that these constructs are dissimilar. Age, positively linked to intrinsic motivation in past studies, did not reach statistical significance. This study demonstrates that stable personality traits that are “inside” of the person could also be significant sources of intrinsic motivation. A theme of this study is the notion that motivation is a function of both person and situation factors; this point was proven empirically5.

     A practical implication from this research by Watanabe and Kanazawa is that one way to increase the levels of people’s intrinsic motivation in the organization is to hire people who are high on openness and conscientiousness. Twelve measures from McCrae and Costa’s (1985) eighty bipolar adjectives scale were selected to measure personality traits. Six measures applied to conscientiousness (negligent-conscientious, careless-careful, undependable-reliable, lazy-hardworking, disorganized-organized, and lax-scrupulous). The other six measures applied to openness to experience (conventional-original, down to earth-imaginative, uncreative-creative, narrow interests-broad interests, unadventurous-daring, and prefer routine-prefer variety)5.

    For use in an interview, these bipolar adjectival scales have been cast into statements, to be evaluated with a Likert scale.

1)      “I organize my space and work to keep things running smoothly.” (5 is best)

2)      “I avoid hard work; I prefer to take it easy, doing only the bare minimum.” (1 is best)

3)      “I am not very demanding or careful as a teacher.” (1 is best)


strongly disagree                                               strongly agree

                     1            2            3            4            5


4)      “When doing something, I almost always pay attention to the details”.  (5 is best)

5)      “At work, I always do what I say I will do or what is reasonably demanded of me.” (5 is best)

6)      “I like to do things as fast as possible, even carelessly.” (1 is best)

7)      “I am down to earth not very imaginative.” (1 is best)

8)      “My interests are narrow not wide.” (1 is best)

9)      “I see myself as a highly creative person.” (5 is best)


strongly disagree                                               strongly agree

                     1            2            3            4            5


10) “I like to do the same things all the time; I dislike variety and change.” (1 is best)

11) “I often come up with original ideas by disregarding generally believed ideas”. (5 is best)

12) “I am daring, an experimenter who always likes trying new things.” (5 is best)


Works Cited

1Nahai, Nathalie. “The Big 5 Personality Traits.” YouTube. 19 February 2014. Web. 12 December 2015.

2Peterson, Jordan B. “Personality: 14 Existentialism: Solzhenitsyn / Intro to Biology & Psychometrics.” YouTube. University of Toronto PSY230. 4 March 2015. 1:19 to 1:22:44. Web. 12 December 2015.

3Jang, Hyungshim; Johnmarshall Reeve; and Edward L. Deci. Journal of Educational Psychology. “Engaging Students in Learning Activities: It is Not Autonomy Support or Structure but Autonomy Support and Structure.” American Psychological Association: 2010, Vol. 102, No. 3, 588–600. Web. 20 October 2015.

4Lee, Woogul; Johnmarshall Reeve; Yiqun Xue and Jinhu Xiong. Neuroscience Research. “Neural differences between intrinsic reasons for doing versus extrinsic reasons for doing: An fMRI study.” Elsevier Ireland Ltd and the Japan Neuroscience Society: 1 March 2012, 73, 68–72. Web. 20 October 2015.

5Watanabe, Shinichiro; and Yuichiro Kanazawa. Japanese Journal of Administrative Science. “A Test of Personality-Based View of Intrinsic Motivation” Volume 22, No. 2, 2009, 117-130.


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