Monash University

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Reason: Under embargo until January 2020. After this date a copy can be supplied under Section 51 (2) of the Australian Copyright Act 1968 by submitting a document delivery request through your library

Personality in Play: Exploring Children’s Play in Search of the Five Factor Model of Personality

posted on 2016-12-18, 22:45 authored by Laura Rose Hopkinson
The Five Factor Model (FFM) of personality has been well-established with adults, and has since found growing support as a meaningful structure for describing individual  differences in children (De Pauw & Mervielde, 2010). The FFM has strong links to adaptive and maladaptive psychosocial outcomes which has led researchers to search for developmental antecedents of personality pathology (Shiner, 2009) in order to assist early screening and intervention efforts (De Clercq, Rettew, Althoff, & De Bolle, 2012). The Hierarchical Personality Inventory for Children (HiPIC), a developmentally-relevant FFM tool, provides the empirical framework for this research. To date however, assessment of the FFM in children, including the HiPIC, has predominantly relied on parent-rated questionnaire  methods, particularly for younger children. Given the associated limitations, enhancement of this field integrating observation-based methods is highly desirable (Agnew, Carlston, Graziano, & Kelly, 2010). As children enjoy and are intrinsically motivated to play, it provides an ideal context where they are safe to express their thoughts, ideas and skills without limitations (Stagnitti, & Cooper, 2009). The child-initiated, -motivated and -directed nature of pretend play makes it a very attractive platform for the study of individual differences in children.
   Despite this, very limited research has considered exploring play in search of the Five Factor Model in children. This drove the current thesis to integrate these two fields by exploring play observations through a FFM personality lens. Both variable-centred (traits) and person-centred (profiles) approaches were undertaken to address the overarching research aim: to explore how observations of play can inform the evaluation of adaptive and maladaptive FFM personality profiles in young children.
   The sequential multi-phase mixed-methods research design combined five studies, separated into two phases of research. Phase 1, comprising three studies, first determined the suitability of the HiPIC model for an Australian sample (n = 202). This was established through comparison between the original HiPIC factor matrix and the Australian factor structure. Second, the HiPIC questionnaire was adapted to the Australian sample utilising principal component analysis (PCA) at both the facet and domain level. Third, the resulting HiPIC-A was used to identify three personality profiles in 5 to 8 year old children (n = 141; a subset of the initial n = 202) using cluster analysis and transposed PCA procedures. The identified Resilient, Overcontrolled and Undercontrolled profiles were determined as adaptive or maladaptive based on group levels of psychosocial outcomes as measured by the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ; Goodman, 1997).
   In Phase 2, a qualitative approach was utilised. The fourth study first inductively explored the play of 20 children aged 5 to 8 years during a Child-Initiated Pretend Play Assessment (ChIPPA; Stagnitti, 2007). Fifteen behaviour themes inductively emerged and were deductively grouped in line with the FFM framework. Subsequently, a Five Factor Model of Play Behaviour (FFM-PB) was proposed. In the fifth and final integrative study, a  FFM-PB observation survey was piloted by comparing the play behaviour themes among three small (n = 3) subsets of children representative of the Resilient, Overcontrolled and Undercontrolled profiles. The integrative findings indicate that while the pattern of play
theme expression discriminates between the three profile groups, only the Resilient and Overcontrolled profile groups do so in line with the expected prototypical HiPIC-A configurations. Limitations, recommendations and implications for research and practice are discussed.
   Overall, the findings of this thesis empirically demonstrate that play behaviour observations can meaningfully represent a child’s individual differences in personality. Specifically, the FFM-PB provides a novel method to inform and supplement the evaluation of adaptive and maladaptive personality in young children. While further investigation and refinement is required, this work provides future research with a foundation from which to study personality within the developmentally-appropriate context of play. As such, this work contributes to the advancement of a multi-source/multi-method approach to child personality assessment and the early identification of maladaptive personality development in young children.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

John Roodenburg

Additional supervisor 1

Wendy McKenzie

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Education