Original Research

Using exploratory factor analysis in personality research: Best-practice recommendations

Sumaya Laher
SA Journal of Industrial Psychology | Vol 36, No 1 | a873 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajip.v36i1.873 | © 2010 Sumaya Laher | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 25 October 2009 | Published: 23 November 2010

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Sumaya Laher, Discipline of Psychology, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

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Orientation: Exploratory factor analysis is the method of choice with objective personality instruments, particularly to establish the construct validity and construct equivalence of trait-based instruments.

Research purpose: This article presents more objective methods to determine the number of factors, most notably parallel analysis and Velicer’s minimum average partial (MAP). The benefits of rotation are also discussed. The article argues for more consistent use of Procrustes rotation and congruence coefficients in factor analytic studies.

Motivation for the study: Exploratory factor analysis is often criticised for not being rigorous and objective enough in terms of the methods used to determine the number of factors, the rotations to be used and ultimately the validity of the factor structure.

Research design, approach and method: The article adopts a theoretical stance to discuss the best-practice recommendations for factor analytic research in the field of psychology. Following this, an example located within personality assessment and using the NEO-PI-R specifically is presented. A total of 425 students at the University of the Witwatersrand completed the NEO-PI-R. These responses were subjected to a principal components analysis using varimax rotation. The rotated solution was subjected to a Procrustes rotation with Costa and McCrae’s (1992) matrix as the target matrix. Congruence coefficients were also computed.

Main findings: The example indicates the use of the methods recommended in the article and demonstrates an objective way of determining the number of factors. It also provides an example of Procrustes rotation with coefficients of agreement as an indication of how factor analytic results may be presented more rigorously in local research.

Practical/managerial implications: It is hoped that the recommendations in this article will have best-practice implications for both researchers and practitioners in the field who employ factor analysis regularly.

Contribution/value-add: This article will prove useful to all researchers employing factor analysis and has the potential to set the trend for better use of factor analysis in the South African context.


congruence coefficients; factor analysis; NEO-PI-R; parallel analysis; Procrustes rotation; varimax rotation; Velicer’s MAP


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