Extreme Personalities at Work and in Life

Nathan T. Carter, Joshua D. Miller, Thomas A. Widiger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Contemporary personality taxonomies cast personality traits as ranging from the maladaptive (e.g., low conscientiousness) to adaptive (e.g., high conscientiousness) levels. Despite philosophical and conventional wisdom dating back to the ancients, researchers have only recently begun to uncover evidence that extreme standing on “normal” or “desirable” personality traits might be maladaptive. Here, we present an emerging perspective on why and how extreme standing on “desirable” trait continua translates into maladaptive behavior and undesirable outcomes at work and in life. An overview of the literature on the topic is presented for each trait within the five-factor model. We suggest two reasons for the lack of clarity in the empirical literature: (a) problems with statistical tests resulting from measurement error and (b) lack of breadth in the conceptualization and measurement of personality traits. We suggest that a solution to this problem is to extend trait continua to reflect maladaptive levels at both ends. We close by pointing out that a major implication of this emerging perspective indicates that many more people possess optimal personality-trait levels than previously thought and that future research needs to examine whether the question is consistent with evolutionary and neurophysiological accounts of personality science.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)429-436
Number of pages8
JournalCurrent Directions in Psychological Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This material is based on work conducted by N. T. Carter, who is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant SES-1561070. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2018.


  • curvilinearity
  • inverted U
  • nonlinearity
  • personality
  • personality disorders

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology (all)


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