Personality determinants of professional culture: evidence from astronauts, pilots and physicians

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2003

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Abstract

This dissertation proposes that similarity of personality traits among individuals is a key aspect of what may be termed professional culture. Specifically, it is hypothesized that professional groups are characterized by high achievement motivation and high conscientiousness. It is suggested that this similarity of personality results from the achievement-oriented, competitive selection process that determines entry into various professions. It is hypothesized that individual professions are further characterized by a professionspecific profile of traits. This profile is proposed to result from an initial attraction to a profession, and by profession-specific, non-academic requirements that play a role in successful entry into professional workgroups. Four studies are presented to test these hypotheses. The Helmreich Personal Characteristics Inventory (PCI) and a modified version of the NEO Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI) were used to assess personality traits in all four studies. Study 1, involving 344 undergraduate students, validated the modified NEO-FFI scales, and examined differences between students with differing career aspirations. Study 2 compared astronaut applicants (N=259) to the dataset from Study 1, and demonstrated significant differences on achievement motivation and neuroticism between astronaut applicants and a normative population. Study 3 examined active astronauts (N=66), pilots from two airlines (N=152), and three groups of physicians (N=134). All three professional groups are found to share high levels of achievement motivation and conscientiousness as well as low levels of neuroticism. Differences between subgroups within professions are also discussed. Finally, Study 4 compared active astronauts (N=66) to Antarctic research station personnel (N=111) and normative data. While some similarities were found between astronauts and Antarctic personnel, significant differences between those two groups were also identified. Two major implications from these findings are discussed. The first is that any attempt to understand and manage professional cultures must involve consideration of the shared personality characteristics of the members of those professions. The second is that generalizing psychological research findings from one profession to another may be unreliable. Specific examples discussed include the transfer of human factors training from aviation to medicine, and the use of Antarctica as a behavioral analogue for long duration spaceflight. Specific recommendations for future research are presented.

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