This research identifies a broad and inclusive set of personality-related problems and examines their empirical associations with both the high and low poles of the five-factor model of personality (FFM). McCrae, Widiger, and colleagues (e.g., McCrae, 1994; McCrae, Löckenhoff, & Costa, 2005; Widiger, Costa, & McCrae, 2002, 2012) have proposed that individuals with particular personality traits may be predisposed to particular kinds of problems in life, and suggested that the FFM serve as a basis for identifying personality-related problems. The existing empirical literature has documented a range of problems, symptoms, and impairments associated with the FFM, but these associations are largely confined to the socially undesirable poles. Widiger and colleagues (e.g., Haigler & Widiger, 2001; Widiger, 2011) argue that problem behaviors are also associated with both poles of the FFM, but that normal-range FFM measures may be limited in covering maladaptive variants of socially desirable traits.
A list of 310 behaviorally-specific personality problems was developed and administered to a large college student sample. The International Personality Item Pool Representation of the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (IPIP NEO-PI-R; Goldberg, 1999) and an experimental manipulation of the NEO-PI-R items (EXP NEO-PI-R; Haigler & Widiger, 2001) were also administered. The most prevalent problems of college students included difficulties with sustaining motivation, negativistic attitudes about oneself, and impaired functioning in social and intimate relationships. Numerous problem behaviors were associated with both poles of each trait domain and facet of the FFM, as measured by the IPIP NEO-PI-R and EXP NEO-PI-R. Patterns of problem reporting are consistent with dynamic theories of psychosocial development as well as recently emerging research on maladaptive behaviors and trait continua. Future research should evaluate the generality of the current list of personality problems against other representations of problem behavior, examine base rates of problem occurrence in non-student samples, and consider the perceptions of self and others.