25th Trillium Award

On Writing, with Michael C. Ashton

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Michael C. Ashton

Have you ever wondered why people act the way they do? Michael C. Ashton is a professor of psychology at Brock University in St. Catharines who studies personality. His latest book, The H Factor of Personality (Wilfrid Laurier University Press), was published this fall, and it's filled with fascinating insight into human interactions. Co-authored with Kibeom Lee, also a professor of psychology, this book focuses on the H factor, which is one of the six dimensions of human personality. Today, Michael tells us about how he and Kibeom discovered the H factor as grad students at the University of Western Ontario, how the H factor plays a role in many aspects of people?s lives and what the most important thing is that readers will learn from The H Factor of Personality. Read on to learn about this newly discovered personality dimension.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book, The H Factor of Personality.

Michael C. Ashton:

Our book focuses on a dimension of personality called Honesty-Humility (or ?H? for short). People with higher levels of H are sincere and unassuming, and people with lower levels are deceitful and conceited. The H factor is involved in many aspects of people?s lives, including their tendency to obey or break the law, their approach to sex, money, and power, their religious and political views, and their choice of friends and spouse.


How did you discover the ?H factor??


Back in the late 1990s, my co-author (Kibeom Lee) and I were grad students in psychology at the University of Western Ontario. We did some cross-cultural research to find out whether the ?Big Five? personality dimensions found in North America could be recovered in other cultures. Using our own work and that of other researchers, we found that there were actually six personality dimensions. The ?new? one was the H factor, and we then began to study it in depth.


What was it that drew you to specialize in this area of research?


Both Kibeom and I were interested in the field of ?individual differences? — the ways that people vary in their psychological traits. We were lucky to be studying in this field at UWO, where much of the pioneering early work on personality assessment had been done. And the questions of what are the basic ways that people differ — and of why do people differ in these ways — were fascinating ones that were only just starting to be answered. So, we had a chance to do research in a new and exciting field.


How does your understanding of the H factor affect your interactions with people in your day-to-day life?


The main influence is that we now have a better understanding of which traits tend to go together. It isn?t intuitively obvious to most people, but the tendency to exploit others and to commit crimes often goes along with certain other tendencies, such as being ostentatious and materialistic, having an attitude of superiority and entitlement, or using flattery and smooth charm. So, when we meet someone (or when we see someone in the news) who shows the latter tendencies, it lets us know that this person is at higher risk for exploitive or criminal behavior. It isn?t a sure thing (other aspects of personality are also involved), but it does affect the odds.


What audience is The H Factor of Personality directed towards, and how did you ensure that this book would connect with your readers?


We were writing the book for general readers who are curious about scientific findings in personality psychology. We wanted to let people know about our research, which examines some really fundamental questions about personality, but at the same time we wanted to avoid using a lot of jargon or going into too much technical detail. One interesting feature of the book (or at least we hope) is that we try to fit our work into the broad context of society and everyday life. We relate some of our findings to historical figures and even a couple of fictional characters.


What is the most important thing that your readers will learn from the H Factor of Personality?


The most important general ideas are that people?s personalities can be measured and that we can broadly describe people?s personalities in terms of just six broad dimensions. These ideas might come as a surprise to readers, because many people naturally assume that personality is too intangible to be measured or too amorphous to be divided up. In addition, there are some important things that readers will learn about how the H factor in particular makes itself felt in everyday life.


What are you working on now?


Lately I was working on the second edition of a university textbook that I had written several years ago. Otherwise, Kibeom and I don?t have any new book plans just yet, but we have lots of interesting new research projects on the go. Maybe in another five or ten years we?ll want to write another book about the H factor, but we?ll see.

Michael C. Ashton is a professor of psychology at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Western Ontario. He is the author of the textbook Individual Differences and Personality and of many scientific articles on personality psychology.

For more information about The H Factor of Personality please visit the Wilfrid Laurier University Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online from the publisher or at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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