The H Factor

In General by Dr. Keith Witt


In the HEXACO 6-factor personality system, the H factor reflects how humble/honest or arrogant/dishonest a person is. The H factor is determinative of goodness. People with low H and high or low any of the other 5 factors are generally more untrustworthy, selfish, arrogant, duplicitous, and unreliable.

On the other hand, the more humble/honest you are—the higher your H factor—the happier, healthier, and more successful you are likely to be, no matter what end of the other 5 continua you tend to be.

Lee and Ashton’s acronym is for their six factors (all of which are continua with high or low tendencies) is HEXACO, meaning:


E—emotional resonance/empathy.




O—openness to new experience.

The original five factors—the Big 5—all have healthy versions at each end of their continua. For instance, you can be a healthy introvert or extravert, a healthy openness to new experience or settled in your ways person, etc. The H factor is discriminative. High on the honesty/humility scale means more likelihood of being good, trustable person. Low on the honesty/humility scale means more likelihood of being a dangerous and creepy person. H is a discriminative variable for all the other variables.

So, in therapy, the only continuum of the 6 factors where you don’t encourage your client to be a healthy version of whomever they are—introvert or extrovert, open to new experience or set in their ways, highly emotional or emotionally unreactive—is the H factor. With the H factor, you want to help clients be less selfish and unreliable, and more honest and humble, if only for self-serving reasons. I can think of no healthy version of selfish and arrogant except for a general who’s been tasked to do vast damage and not count the cost.

The HEXACO six factor system is a variant of the Big 5 personality factors. The Big 5 emerged from studies in the 70s from thousands of people describing themselves and others from long lists of adjectives. The computing systems of the day kept finding five categories of personality factors—the Big 5. In late 1990s Kibeom Lee and Michael Ashton found a sixth factor, honesty and humility. They summarized their research in their book The H Factor.

Unlike other personality systems, “The Big 5" factors emerged exclusively from data. Lee and Ashton found the H factor with modern computing in a study they did in Korea, testing the East/West validity of the Big 5. They essentially said, “What the Hell? Let’s analyze the data for more than 5 factors.” The analysis came back with a sixth factor—honesty/humility. Excited, they went back to original data sets from other researchers, and there it was in the old data, revealed through modern computing power! Not 7 factors, not 9 factors, but 6 factors.

When scientists discover some seminal new phenomena, they usually dedicate years, even their professional lifetimes, to exploring, expanding, and integrating their emerging discoveries with their field—and that’s what Lee and Ashton have done. For instance, their findings of 6 factors hold true cross culturally and with western and eastern populations, and their hypothesis of the H factor being discriminative of healthy vs unhealthy versions of both poles of the other factors has been demonstrated in many studies.

I find this fascinating, with a lot of potential ramifications for other types and worldviews.

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