Off-topic: review of “The H-Factor of Personality”

As promised, below is a slightly edited Goodreads review I wrote of The H Factor of Personality: Why Some People Are Manipulative, Self-Entitled, Materialistic, and Exploitive–And Why It Matters for Everyone by Kibeom Lee and Michael C. Ashton.

The book was especially meaningful to me because prior to reading it I had spent 10 years wrangling with my school district–wrangling as a parent and, as a resident, engaging in political efforts to improve it. The review’s references to hiring decisions all have to do with district hiring.

Reading The H Factor, I realized that a core belief I held about human nature was completely wrong.


The H Factor adds a 6th personality dimension, “Honesty and humility,” to the traditional  “Big 5“:

  • Emotionality (E): emotional, oversensitive, sentimental, fearful, anxious, vulnerable versus brave, tough, independent, self-assured, stable
  • Extraversion (X): outgoing, lively, extraverted, sociable, talkative, cheerful, active versus shy, passive, withdrawn, introverted, quiet, reserved
  • Agreeableness (A): patient, tolerant, peaceful, mild, agreeable, lenient, gentle versus ill-tempered, quarrelsome, stubborn, choleric
  • Conscientiousness (C): organized, disciplined, diligent, careful, thorough, precise versus sloppy, negligent, reckless, lazy, irresponsible, absent-minded
  • Openness to Experience (O): intellectual, creative, unconventional, innovative, ironic versus shallow, unimaginative, conventional


The first 6 chapters of The H Factor are a revelation. Fantastically helpful.

The most useful points for me:

Honesty and humility (the “H” factor) track together in numerous languages and cultures: the figure of “Honest Abe is a reality everywhere. By the same token, dishonesty and arrogance also track together, which means that when you’re dealing with arrogant people you’re on reasonably safe ground assuming they are dishonest as well. I didn’t know that.

– It’s quite difficult to gauge another person’s level of honesty and humility, even after you’ve known him or her for some time, and this is especially true in the work place. This finding, in particular, explains some of the hiring fiascos I’ve witnessed over the past several years.

– High-H people – those high in honesty and humility – prefer each other’s company, and the same goes for Low-H people. Dishonest, arrogant people like to befriend, marry, and work with other dishonest, arrogant people. (This also explains the hiring fiascos I’ve witnessed over the past several years.)

– People high (or low) in “Openness to Experience” prefer each other’s company.

– The other 4 personality factors seem to mix together randomly and happily, as do the high’s and low’s of each dimension taken individually. E.g.: high-Emotionality can marry low-Emotionality, and high-Agreeable can marry low-Agreeable, but High-H can’t marry Low-H, nor is High-O happy with Low-O.

The chapter that explains what ‘low-H‘ looks like in combination with the other five personality factors is especially illuminating. As it turns out, a person can be dishonest, arrogant, and agreeable. A warm personality and warm words do not imply honesty and modesty.

That’s one mistake I won’t be making again.

If you spend much time dealing with people beyond your family and friends, Chapter 4 alone is worth the price of the book.

One caveat, and the reason for 4 stars instead of 5: the two chapters on politics and religion are weak, and conservatives in particular should steer clear of the former. Everyone else should, too.

The authors report that, in the U.S., liberals and conservatives have the same level of honesty and humility, but then devote many pages to “Right Wing Authoritarianism” and “Social Dominance Orientation,” neither of which is compatible with honesty and humility. Nor, to my knowledge, has either construct been validated by factor analysis of the everyday language people use to describe personality.

Meanwhile, the main factoid Ashton and Lee offer re: religion is that religious people are slightly higher in Agreeableness and Honesty/humility than everyone else, a difference they suggest can be chalked up to “softhearted” people hoping everyone gets to see each other again in heaven. Yes, that would certainly account for millennia of religious belief. (And what about Buddhists?)

The problem is that Lee and Ashton are experts in personality, with little exposure to political philosophy, theology, history, or even social psychology (so it appears). Their musings on politics and religion read like filler.

And see:
Broward County and the H factor 

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