Personality dimensions emerging during adolescence and young adulthood are underpinned by a single latent trait indexing impairment in social functioning

11 Jan 2018

Background: Personality with stable behavioural traits emerges in the adolescent and young adult years. Models of putatively distinct, but correlated, personality traits have been developed to describe behavioural styles including schizotypal, narcissistic, callous-unemotional, negative emotionality, antisocial and impulsivity traits. These traits have influenced the classification of their related personality disorders. We tested if a bifactor model fits the data better than correlated-factor and orthogonal-factor models and subsequently validated the obtained factors with mental health measures and treatment history. Method: A set of self-report questionnaires measuring the above traits together with measures of mental health and service use were collected from a volunteer community sample of adolescents and young adults aged 14 to 25 years (N = 2443). Results: The bifactor model with one general and four specific factors emerged in exploratory analysis, which fit data better than models with correlated or orthogonal factors. The general factor showed high reliability and validity. Conclusions: The findings suggest that a selected range of putatively distinct personality traits is underpinned by a general latent personality trait that may be interpreted as a severity factor, with higher scores indexing more impairment in social functioning. The results are in line with ICD-11, which suggest an explicit link between personality disorders and compromised interpersonal or social function. The obtained general factor was akin to the overarching dimension of personality functioning (describing one’s relation to the self and others) proposed by DSM-5 Section III.