2012. Vol.3, No.5, 393-398
Published Online May 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 393
Response Distortion on the NEO PI-R among Candidates
Taking the Entrance Examination to the National
School of Civil Aviation (ENAC-France)
Jacques Juhel1, Sophie Brunot1, Gérard Zapata2
1Centre de Recherche en Psychologie, Cognition et Communication, Université Européenne de
Bretagne-Rennes 2, Rennes, France
2Ecole Nationale d’Aviation Civile, Toulouse, France
Received February 2nd, 2012; revised March 2nd, 2012; accepted April 6th, 2012
This study examined the effect of a selection context on the responses to a five factor personality ques-
tionnaire (Revised NEO Personality Inventory) of 974 candidates taking the entrance examination to the
ENAC (National School of Civil Aviation, France). A response distortion index was calculated using
Schinka, Kinder and Kremer (1997)’s method. The results indicate: 1) lower neuroticism scores but
higher conscientiousness, agreeableness and extraversion scores compared to standard conditions; 2) a
high estimated effect of the response distortion index on all dimensions of the NEO PI-R except for
Openness to experience; 3) substantial stability of scores at a one-year interval (N = 117). The paper dis-
cusses the conceptual and practical value of this response distortion index for measuring the dimensions
of the NEO PI-R in candidates taking the entrance examination to the ENAC.
Keywords: Five Factor Model of Personality; Presentation Management; Social Desirability; Selection for
Despite being heavily criticized, personality inventories
based on the Five Factor Model are still widely used in psy-
chological assessment in a variety of settings (Hogan, 2005),
particularly when selecting personnel or prospective candidates
for a training course. A major reason for the continued use of
such measures is the higher predictive validity associated with
the collected data (Hogan, De Fruyt, & Rolland, 2006; Mount
& Barrick, 1998). Researchers have established that Conscien-
tiousness (being dependable, organized, consistent) is both a
positive predictor (compliance with rules and procedures) and a
negative predictor (creativity in addressing new issues) of pro-
fessional performance in various occupational groups. They
have also shown that Neuroticism (vs. Emotional stability) is
negatively (vs. positively) related to job proficiency and train-
ing proficiency (Mount, Barrick, & Stewart, 1998). It has been
also found that Extraversion (sociable, energetic, active) and
above all Openness to experience (intellectual, imaginative) are
predictors of the ability to benefit from training (Barrick &
Mount, 1991). Finally, Agreeableness (cooperative, considerate,
trusting) has been shown to be a valid predictor of performance
at work where the job involves interactions with a team (Judge,
Higgins and Thoresen, 1999; Salgado, 1997).
However, the tendency of people to bias their responses to
personality items have raised some questions about the validity
of five factor personality tests (e.g., Ones, Viswesvaran, Dil-
chert, & Deller, 2006). These response biases can be defined as
systematic tendencies to respond to items tests in some basis
other than the specific items contents (i.e., what the items were
designed to measure) (Paulhus, 1991). Several bias has been
identified (e.g., acquiescence bias, central tendency bias) but
the most frequently studied refers to socially desirable re-
sponding (SDR) that is to say the tendency for participants to
present a favorable image of themselves (Paulhus, 1991). There
is indeed some research evidence available to suggest that in a
context that has significant social implications, people generally
respond according to what they perceive to be socially desirable
and useful to them. Several studies have revealed that SDR
contaminates the data collected with personality inventories.
For example, Ones, Viswesvaran and Reiss (1996) have estab-
lished, using meta-analysis methods, that SDR was mainly
related to Neuroticism (–.37), Agreeableness (.20) and Consci-
entiousness (.14). It has also be found with a more experimental
approach that subjects instructed to “fake good” in an experi-
mental situation with no social implications were generally able
to do so (up to a standard deviation of difference compared to
the control group; Viswesvaran & Ones, 1999).
Many studies have been undertaken to assess whether SDR
(i.e., social desirability) does compromise criterion-validity of
personality scale scores and represents construct irrelevant
variance. Based on current evidence, there is no obvious answer
to this question. A number of studies have suggested that SDR
adds noise and results in an increased mean score, a change in
the rank order of traits (Rosse, Stecher, Miller,& Levin, 1998),
a change in factor structure (Schmit & Ryan, 1993) and crite-
rion-related validity (Caldwell-Andrews, Baer, & Berry, 2000).
In addition, SDR could be a negative predictor of performance
in stressful conditions (Sandal, Musson, Helmreich, & Gravdal,
2005). The interpretation of this result is that a higher SDR
level is associated with a higher level of arousal in potentially
threatening situations for self-esteem and a higher probability
of implementing defense mechanisms. However, other re-
searchers have argued that the factor structure of scores remains
unchanged in a selection context (Ellingson, Smith, & Sackett,
2001) and that the correction of the bias caused by an overly
positive presentation of the self does not increase the crite-
rion-related validity of personality inventories (see for example
Piedmont, McCrae, Riemann, & Angleitner, 2000). In short,
while there is strong evidence of the SDR phenomenon (par-
ticularly in a selection context), the effect of SDR on the con-
struct validity of personality inventories is not unequivocal.
The implications of SDR in personality measurement clearly
depend on whether the bias is seen as the involuntary conse-
quence of positive self-image or a more intentional behavior
(Wiggens, 1964). In the first case, socially desirable responding
might reflect an unconscious and not deliberate bias in self
regard. According to Paulhus and Reid (1991), such bias might
refer to the extent to which individuals inadvertently exaggerate
their desirable qualities (self enhancement) or inadvertently
conceal or minimize undesirable qualities (self denial). This
so-called self-deception might represent a substantial feature of
personality (Costa & McCrae, 1997; Hogan, Hogan, & Roberts,
1996). In contrast, socially desirable responding might be a
deliberate attempt to give a positive self-image. This “propa-
gandistic” bias or Impression Management (Paulhus, 1984)
might represent a circumstantial style of response bias that may
interfere with the measurement of personality.
Despite the argument of some researchers against the devel-
opment of response distortion scales for personality inventories
(e.g., Costa & McCrae, 1997), specific scales have been pro-
posed to detect various patterns of response distortion among
applicants. Schinka, Kinder, & Kremer (1997) in particular
have developed two research validity scales to be used with the
Revised NEO Personality Inventory (Costa & McCrae, 1992): a
Positive Presentation Management scale (PPM) that was in-
tended to identify applicants who present in an overly positive
fashion and a Negative Presentation Management scale (NPM)
that was intended to identify applicants who present in an
overly negative fashion. Rather than introducing new items,
Schinka and associates exclusively selected NEO PI-R items
deviating from the mean in an extreme positive or negative
direction for inclusion in these scales. Several studies utilizing
these PPM and NPM scales have found support that they were
sensitive to impression management strategies (Ballenger,
Caldwell-Andrews, & Baer, 2001; Berry et al., 2001; Cald-
well-Andrews, Baer, & Berry, 2000; Morey, Quigley, Sanislow
et al., 2002; Reid-Seizer & Fritzsche, 2001; Young & Schinka,
This paper aims to measure the SDR phenomenon and to ex-
plore the links between SDR and the personality dimensions of
candidates taking the ENAC entrance exam. These were evalu-
ated using the French version of the NEO PI-R (ECPA, 1998,
2003), and the two Presentation Management scales developed
by Schinka et al. (1997). Since the general research hypothesis
predicts a positive response bias among candidates, a decrease
of the N scores (Bagby & Marshall, 2003) and an increase of
the E, A and C scores (McFarland, Wiechmann, & Chandler,
2001; Ones, Viswesvaran, & Reiss, 1996; Reid-Seiser &
Fritzsche, 2001) are predicted. Given the lack of consensus in
the literature, no prediction can be made about O scores (Grif-
fin, Hesketh, & Grayson, 2004; McFarland and Ryan, 2000;
Paulhus, Bruce, & Trapnell, 1995; Topping & O’Gorman,
1997). The paper also examines individual trends and average
trends in NEO PI-R scores among candidates retaking the exam
a year later. There are two possible hypothesis. The first hy-
pothesis predicts that SDR will reach a maximum threshold in
the first exam session and that the scores in the NEO PI-R fac-
ets and validity scales (PPM, NPM) will not vary significantly
between the two exam sessions (“ceiling” effect hypothesis)
(e.g., Hogan, Barrett, & Hogan, 2007). A need to be consistent
across time could also explain the lack of difference between
exam sessions. However, it is also plausible that the degree of
response bias in applicants after having been rejected in the first
exam session will be greater in the second exam session be-
cause of a more acute perception of the social implications of
the exam (“forced” trait hypothesis). It is therefore expected a
decrease of the N scores and an increase of the C, E and A
scores from one session to another.
Participants and Procedure
The NEO PI-R, an operationalization of the five-factor
model, was administered to a sample of 974 candidates (in-
cluding 862 men and 112 women aged on average in their
twenties) taking the ENAC entrance exam and to a sub-sample
of 117 candidates (including 111 men and 6 women) retaking
the exam a year later.
A French version of the NEO PI-R elaborated by Rolland
(Costa, McCrae, Rolland, 1998-2004) which appears to be
largely equivalent to the original language version (Rolland,
Parker, & Stumpf, 1998) was used in that study. The inventory
consisted of 240 items with 30 facet scales and 5 domain scores
(N: Neuroticism, E: Extraversion, O: Openness to experience,
A: Agreeableness, and C: Conscientiousness). Only the domain
scores (48 items per domain) were taken into account in the
present paper. Each validity scale consisted of 10 items of the
NEO PI-R: 2 per domain for the PPM scale (e.g., “It’s easy to
make me afraid”, “I try generally to be thoughtful and consid-
erate”, “I try to conscientiously perform all the tasks entrusted
to me”); and 2 for N, 3 for E, 3 for O, 1 for A and 1 for C for
the NPM scale (e.g., “It’s difficult for me to make a decision”,
“Over the years, I made a number of silly things”, “I do not
always assert myself as much as I should”). The validity scales
were calculated based on the method developed by Schinka et
al. (1997). A Response Distortion experimental index was
measured by subtracting the NPM score from the PPM score.
Figure 1 presents T scores (m = 50; σ = 10) obtained by the
974 candidates sitting the ENAC entrance exam and by a
French reference sample (norms level 3: baccalaureate up to 2
years of post-baccalaureate higher education studies, see Costa
et al., 1998-2004). A comparison of these scores indicates as
expected that the exam candidates were significantly (p < .001)
less likely to describe themselves as being emotionally unstable
[t(973) = –53.20], more likely to describe themselves as being
more extravert [t(973) = 23.37], more agreeable [t(973) =
14.98], and more conscientious [t(973) = 34.08]. Moreover,
they described themselves as less open to experience [t(973) =
–7.03] than the reference group did. The effect size measured
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Figure 1.
Mean T scores of the 974 candidates sitting the National School of
Civil Aviation entrance exam (T = 50 for reference sample, norms level
using Cohen’s d on adjusted means for independent samples
was significant for N (d = –1.28), large for C (d = .86), moder-
ate for E (d = .63) and low for A (d = .41) and O (d = –.20).
Since norms adapted to the sample were not available for the
validity scale scores, means for PPM and NPM were compared
to the American norms for men and women of similar ages and
educational levels (Schinka et al., 1997). The means of the
American sample were weighted for gender to have a similar
representation of men and women to that of the French sample.
Whereas no difference was found between the ENAC and the
reference samples for NPM scores (Ms = 8.96 and 8.90 and
SDs = 3.31 and 4.10 respectively), the PPM score of the ENAC
sample (M = 23.10, SD = 4.50) was significantly higher than
the one obtained for the reference sample (M = 20.67, SD =
4.10, confidence interval [13,31] at .05; Cohen’s d around .50;
score higher than the mean score of the reference sample for
74% of the experimental sample). As predicted, a bias toward
positive self-presentation was observed in the ENAC sample.
The relationships between the five personality dimensions of
the NEO PI-R and the PPM-NPM index were investigated in
the total sample (N = 974) by structural equation modeling
using Mplus version 6.1 (Muthén & Muthén, 1987, 2011). We
chose maximum likelihood parameter estimation because
scores were roughly normally distributed. Comparative Fit
Index (CFI), Non-Normed Fit Index (TLI) and root mean
square error of approximation (RMSEA) were used as good-
ness-of-fit indicators to assess the models. As suggested by Hu
and Bentler (1999), cut-off levels for determining model fit for
continuous data were CFI > .95, TLI > .95, RMSEA < .06 and
standard root mean square residual (SRMR) < .08.
The correlations between the five dimensions of the NEO
PI-R and the PPM and NPM scores are presented in Table 1.
The importance of the correlations between the five dimensions
of the NEO PI-R suggests considering first a one factor model
measured by N, C, E, A and O (χ2 = 240.704; ddl = 5; CFI
= .760; TLI = .520; RMSEA = .220). Since this last model did
not fit well the data, we estimated the parameters of a full two
factor model obtained by exploratory structural equation mod-
eling (ESEM). Inspection of the item loadings of this saturated
model led us to specify a confirmatory factor analysis (CFA)
model with only one factor measured by C, N and A and corre-
lated with E. In addition, O was allowed to be correlated with E
and to freely co-vary with residual variances of C, N and A.
This CFA model yielded acceptably high goodness of fit indi-
ces (χ2 = 2.513; ddl = 1; CFI = .998; TLI = .985; RMSEA
= .039). In the final model, E, O and the factor measured by C,
N and A were regressed on the PPM-NPM index. Results of
this last analysis revealed a sound model fit (χ2 = 11.802; ddl =
6; p = .067; CFI = .997; TLI = .993; RMSEA = .032) in which
the proportion variance explained in each observed variable
was: C (.632), N (.593), E (.359), A (.172) and O (.000).
The hypothesized model schematically represented in Figure
2 points to an interpretation of the common variance of C, N
and A in terms of a “social competence in a selection context”
that is adjustment to what is believed to be the best expected
psychological profile (i.e., efficient, conscientious, emotionally
stable, able to come into contact with others, ...) when one is a
candidate for the entrance examination at a School of Civil
Aviation. Results also highlight the specific status of E and O
Table 1.
Correlations between the five NEO PI-R domain scores and NPM and
PPM scores (N = 974).
N 1
E –.2811
O .256 .300 1
A –.302.192 .051 1
C –.611.360 –.135.333 1
NPM .359 –.546–.270–.389 –.524 1
PPM –.655.423 –.209.209 .577 –.2461
Note: N = Neuroticism; E = Extraversion; O = Openness; A = Agreeableness; C =
Conscientiousness; NPM = Negative Presentation Management; PPM = Positive
Presentation Management. All correlations are significant (p < .001) except the
one between O and A (p = .113).
Figure 2.
Final model (standardized estimations; all < .001) representing the
relationships between Response Distortion (PPM-NPM) Index and the
five personality dimensions of the NEO PI-R (Residual covariances
between O and C, N and A were modeled but are not drawn in the
figure; N = 974).
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 395
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
with respect to the dimension measured by C, N and A. Fur-
thermore, examination of estimated parameters in the model
reveals two significant structural regression paths: 1) the path
from SDR index to “social competence” (β = .870, SE = .014)
and 2) the path from SDR index to E (β = .599, SE = .020), the
latter coefficient being significantly less important than the first
one (Δχ2 = 24.641; ddl = 1; p = .000). Finally, no relationship
was observed between SDR index and O.
Table 2 presents the findings relating to the 117 candidates
observed on two separate occasions. The mean scores for N and
C varied significantly between the two exam sessions. The
mean N scores decreased while the mean C scores increased.
However, based on Hopkins’s criteria (<.60), the effect size
measured using Cohen’s d adjusted for intraclass correlation
was low. All variables displayed very good test-retest reliability:
N (.83), E (.87), O (.81), A (.83) and C (.89). An additional
analysis aimed at testing the stability of N and C scores be-
tween the two exam sessions for each individual (Reliable
Change Index; Maassen, 2004) shows that this hypothesis can
only be rejected for 7.69% of candidates (1).
In accordance with the “ceiling” effect hypothesis, there was
no significant mean difference between the two sessions: PPM:
23.02 (SD = 4.54) vs. 23.58 (SD = 4.09); NPM: 9.14 (SD =
2.74) vs. 9.33 (SD = 2.95). The two research validity scales
also displayed good reliability: NPM (.67) and PPM (.75). Fi-
nally, the PPM-NPM index displayed high reliability (.73) but
was found to be temporally slightly less stable than the N (z =
2665), E (z = 3426) and C (z = 4766) personality dimensions.
The first objective of this study was to evaluate the effect of
a selection context on NEO PI-R scores. As predicted, exam
candidates in a selection context obtained lower scores for N
compared to the reference sample but higher scores for C, E
and A. As a result, such mean score changes in NEO PI-R ren-
der necessary the construction of norms specific to candidates
taking the entrance examination to the French National School
of Civil Aviation (2). These findings are consistent with the
results of studies that compared a “motivating” context with a
standard context (Ones et al., 1996; Sandal et al., 2005). As
noted by Hogan (1991), the findings suggest that “well-adjusted
people have positively biased self-images; consequently,
well-adjusted people tend to ignore minor criticisms, discount
their failures, avoid negative thoughts and expect to succeed in
most of their undertakings”. More surprisingly, the exam can-
didates claimed to be less open to experience than individuals
in the reference sample, although the significance of this find-
ing is low given the very small effect size. However, the meas-
urement of O appears once again (Griffin, Hesketh and Grayson,
2004) to be the most reliable measurement—whether intention-
ally or not—among the dimensions of the five-factor model.
Two sets of results suggest that the findings relating to can-
didates who took the NEO PI-R twice remained stable over
time. Intraclass correlations were high (ranging from .66 to .81).
The results of the analysis of mean change combined with the
results of the analysis of individual change also point to tem-
poral stability in the five domain scores. Thus, it is logical to
think that construct validity of the personality scales remained
intact across the 2 administrations of the NEO PI-R. Therefore,
the hypothesis of a maximum-threshold SDR in the first exam
session seems more likely to account for the results obtained for
the experimental sample than the “forced” trait hypothesis of an
increase of SDR between the two exam sessions.
The final objective of this study was to assess the relation-
ships between the domains of the NEO PI-R and SDR meas-
ured by the PPM-NPM index. Two key points need to be em-
phasized. The first point concerns the significant correlations
between 4 of the 5 NEO PI-R factors. While it is not altogether
new (Reid-Seiser & Fritzsche, 2001), this finding challenges
the hypothesis of an orthogonal and invariant factor structure of
the NEO PI-R in a selection context (Schmit & Ryan, 1993;
Bernard and Walsh, 2004; see also Marshall et al., 2005). An-
other important finding concerns the value of the estimated
correlation between SDR measured by PPM-NPM and the la-
tent variable expressing the common variance of C, N and A.
This correlation (which was equally significant in both exam
sessions) indicates that the validity scales developed by Schinka
and colleagues measure a form of response bias that may be
closely linked to candidate responses in certain contexts (for
example, in this case, 63% of the variance of C and 59% of the
variance of N on the whole sample). The presence of a high
level of SDR in data collected in a selection context therefore
merits attention (McFarland, 2003), particularly since a recent
study conducted among airplane pilots indicated that it may be
a negative predictor of professional performance in stressful
situations (Sandal, Musson, Helmreich, & Gravdal, 2005).
This study demonstrates the importance of response distor-
tion on the NEO PI-R in real-world selection settings. The
Table 2.
Mean and standard deviation of raw NEO PI-R domain scores in the 1st exam session (T1) and 2nd exam session (T2); mean change, intraclass cor-
relation and effect size between T1 and T2; *: p < .05 (N = 117).
Neuroticism Extraversion Openness to
experience Agreeableness Conscientiousness
T1 60.62 (18.09) 122.21 (17.17) 110.65 (15.49) 128.26 (13.93) 133.91 (19.45)
Mean (standard deviation)
T2 56.64 (16.31) 121.76 (15.43) 108.42 (16.49) 128.43 (14.35) 136.38 (17.82)
Mean change –3.98* –0.44 –2.23 .16 2.47*
Confidence interval (95%) [–6.32; –1.65] [–2.46; 1.57] [–4.57; 0.11] [–1.82; 2.14] [.34; 4.60]
Intraclass correlation .726 .773 .682 .708 .805
Effect size (adjusted Cohen’s d) –.44 –.06 –.25 .02 .30
findings indicate that the tendency of candidates to give self-
enhancing biased responses can be assessed using the validity
scales developed by Schinka and colleagues. However, the
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for example Morey et al., 2002). Viewed as a substantial per-
sonality trait without any effect on the criterion-related validity
of the NEO PI-R (Hogan, Barrett, & Hogan, 2007), response
distortion may imply a form of context adjustment that can be
easily measured using the PPM-NPM index. If viewed as cir-
cumstantial, the PPM-NPM index may be useful for identifying
invalid approaches provided the threshold at which response
distortion biases NEO PI-R scores is determined.
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