Paul Costa and Robert McCrae

Paul T. Costa, Jr., and Robert R. (Jeff) McCrae are an extraordinarily productive research team that has worked together since they first met in Boston in 1975. Their more than 250 publications on personality traits and the Five Factor model have had a profound effect on personality assessment, theory, and research.

Costa was born in 1942 in Franklin, New Hampshire. After completing undergraduate work at Clark University (1964), he went to graduate school at the University of Chicago (1966-1970), where he studied human development. He taught for 2 years at Harvard and 5 years at the University of Massachusetts, Boston (1973-1978), before moving to the National Institute of Aging in Baltimore, where he and McCrae have been ever since. He is a fellow of the Gerontological Society of America and the American Psychological Association, and a past president of the International Society for the Study of Individual Differences.

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McCrae was born in 1949 in Maryville, Missouri. He studied philosophy at Michigan State University (1967-1971), but switched to psychology for his graduate work at Boston University (1971-1976). He gravitated to personality measurement and psychometrics because of his interest in mathematics and the works of

Raymond Cattell. He met Paul Costa while still in graduate school, and they worked together for 2 years in Boston before moving their research team to Baltimore. He is a fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Psychological Society, and the Gerontological Society of America.

Costa and McCrae’s research reflects their enduring interest in the scientific study of personality and of the ways in which people differ from one another. Hans Eysenck had theorized that the important dimensions underlying differences among people were neuroticism and extraversion. Costa and McCrae added Openness as a primary dimension of personality and developed the NEO (i.e., neuroticism, extraversion, openness) personality inventory for use in their research on the stability of the adult personality. They later revised the inventory to add Agreeableness and Conscientiousness and named the revised instrument the NEO-PI-R. This instrument is somewhat time consuming because it assesses multiple facets for each broad trait domain, so Costa and McCrae also developed a shorter form, the Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI), for quick assessment at the broad domain level.

Their work at NIA has focused primarily on a longitudinal sample of aging adults in Baltimore. They have been able to demonstrate striking consistency, long-time stability, and important consequences of the traits measured by the NEO and NEO-PI-R. This was a controversial finding in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Many in psychology (particularly social psychology) had dismissed the importance or even the existence of traits. The Five Factor model has become a consensus representation in personality assessment and theory partly because of the consistency of Costa and McCrae’s findings, and the agreement of their findings with results from investigations of the lexical hypothesis (e.g., Lewis R. Goldberg).


  1. Costa, P. T., Jr., & McCrae, R. R. (1988). Personality in adulthood: A six-year longitudinal study of self-report and spouse ratings on the NEO Personality Inventory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 853-863.
  2. Goldberg, L. R. (1981). Language and individual differences: The search for universals in personality lexicons. In L. Wheeler (Ed.), Review of personality and social psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 141-165). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
  3. McCrae R. R., & Costa, P. T., Jr. (1996). Toward a new generation of personality theories: Theoretical contexts for the five-factor model. In J. S. Wiggins (Ed.), The five-factor model of personality: Theoretical perspectives (pp. 51-87). New York: Guilford Press.

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