Personality and College Student Subjective Wellbeing: A Domain-Specific Approach

  • Don C. ZhangEmail author
  • Tyler L. Renshaw
Research Paper


Domain-specific measures of subjective wellbeing are valuable tools for assessing the mental health of college students. In this study, we examined relations between Big Five personality traits and college students’ subjective wellbeing (SWB) using a college-specific measure: The College Student Subjective Wellbeing Questionnaire. Using a latent variable modeling approach called bifactor analysis, we found that the general college wellbeing factor was best predicted by agreeableness and extraversion whereas the specific dimensions of college SWB were differentially predicted by conscientiousness and neuroticism. Specifically, conscientiousness best predicted academic satisfaction and efficacy whereas neuroticism best predicted students’ connectedness to the university. The results suggest that the profile of a flourishing college student is extraverted and agreeable. This study illustrates the methodological advantage of using a domain-specific measure of SWB and bifactor modeling to shed light on the unique relations between personality and various aspects of college students’ mental health.


Big Five personality College subjective wellbeing Positive psychology Bifactor analysis Psychometrics 



  1. Arslan, G., & Renshaw, T. L. (2018). Student subjective wellbeing as a predictor of adolescent problem behaviors: A comparison of first-order and second-order factor effects. Child Indicators Research, 11(2), 507–521.Google Scholar
  2. Beiter, R., Nash, R., McCrady, M., Rhoades, D., Linscomb, M., Clarahan, M., et al. (2015). The prevalence and correlates of depression, anxiety, and stress in a sample of college students. Journal of Affective Disorders, 173, 90–96.Google Scholar
  3. Biglan, A., Flay, B. R., Embry, D. D., & Sandler, I. N. (2012). The critical role of nurturing environments for promoting human well-being. American Psychologist, 67(4), 257.Google Scholar
  4. Caspi, A., Roberts, B. W., & Shiner, R. L. (2005). Personality development: Stability and change. Annual Review of Psychology, 56(1), 453–484. Scholar
  5. Chen, F. F., Hayes, A., Carver, C. S., Laurenceau, J.-P., & Zhang, Z. (2012). Modeling general and specific variance in multifaceted constructs: A comparison of the bifactor model to other approaches. Journal of Personality, 80(1), 219–251.Google Scholar
  6. Chen, F. F., Jing, Y., Hayes, A., & Lee, J. M. (2013). Two concepts or two approaches? A bifactor analysis of psychological and subjective well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14(3), 1033–1068.Google Scholar
  7. Chen, F. F., West, S., & Sousa, K. (2006). A comparison of bifactor and second-order models of quality of life. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 41(2), 189–225. Scholar
  8. Costa, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. (1980). Influence of extraversion and neuroticism on subjective well-being: Happy and unhappy people. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38(4), 668–678. Scholar
  9. Costa, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. (1992). Four ways five factors are basic. Personality and Individual Differences, 13(6), 667–673. Scholar
  10. Credé, M., & Harms, P. D. (2015). 25 years of higher-order confirmatory factor analysis in the organizational sciences: A critical review and development of reporting recommendations. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 36(6), 845–872. Scholar
  11. Datu, J. A. D. (2018). Flourishing is associated with higher academic achievement and engagement in Filipino undergraduate and high school students. Journal of Happiness Studies, 19(1), 27–39. Scholar
  12. Demır, M., & Weitekamp, L. A. (2007). I am so happy’cause today I found my friend: Friendship and personality as predictors of happiness. Journal of Happiness Studies, 8(2), 181–211.Google Scholar
  13. DeNeve, K. M., & Cooper, H. (1998). The happy personality: A meta-analysis of 137 personality traits and subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 124(2), 197–229. Scholar
  14. DeSimone, J. A., Harms, P. D., & DeSimone, A. J. (2015). Best practice recommendations for data screening: Data Screening. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 36(2), 171–181. Scholar
  15. DeYoung, C. G., Peterson, J. B., Séguin, J. R., & Tremblay, R. E. (2008). Externalizing behavior and the higher order factors of the Big Five. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 117(4), 947.Google Scholar
  16. Diener, E., Scollon, C. N., & Lucas, R. E. (2009). The evolving concept of subjective well-being: The multifaceted nature of happiness. In Assessing well-being (pp. 67–100). Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  17. Diener, E., Suh, E. M., Lucas, R. E., & Smith, H. L. (1999). Subjective well-being: Three decades of progress. Psychological Bulletin, 125(2), 276–302. Scholar
  18. Dubas, J. S., Baams, L., Doornwaard, S. M., & van Aken, M. A. G. (2017). Dark personality traits and impulsivity among adolescents: Differential links to problem behaviors and family relations. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 126(7), 877–889. Scholar
  19. Friedman, H. S., Kern, M. L., & Reynolds, C. A. (2010). Personality and health, subjective well-being, and longevity. Journal of Personality, 78(1), 179–216. Scholar
  20. Furlong, M. J., You, S., Renshaw, T. L., Smith, D. C., & O’Malley, M. D. (2014). Preliminary development and validation of the social and emotional health survey for secondary school students. Social Indicators Research, 117(3), 1011–1032.Google Scholar
  21. Gilman, R., Huebner, E. S., & Laughlin, J. E. (2000). A first study of the Multidimensional Students’ Life Satisfaction Scale with adolescents. Social Indicators Research, 52(2), 135–160.Google Scholar
  22. Gray, J. A. (1970). The psychophysiological basis of introversion–extraversion. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 8(3), 249–266. Scholar
  23. Grevenstein, D., Aguilar-Raab, C., & Bluemke, M. (2018). Mindful and resilient? Incremental validity of sense of coherence over mindfulness and Big Five personality factors for quality of life outcomes. Journal of Happiness Studies, 19(7), 1883–1902.Google Scholar
  24. Gustafsson, J.-E., & Balke, G. (1993). General and specific abilities as predictors of school achievement. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 28, 407–434. Scholar
  25. Harris, K., English, T., Harms, P. D., Gross, J. J., & Jackson, J. J. (2017). Why are Extraverts more satisfied? Personality, social experiences, and subjective well-being in college: Extraverts and social experience. European Journal of Personality, 31(2), 170–186. Scholar
  26. Hentschel, S., Eid, M., & Kutscher, T. (2017). The influence of major life events and personality traits on the stability of affective well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 18(3), 719–741.Google Scholar
  27. Highhouse, S., Nye, C. D., Zhang, D. C., & Rada, T. B. (2017). Structure of the Dospert: Is there evidence for a general risk factor? Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 30(2), 400–406. Scholar
  28. Hogan, J., & Roberts, B. (1996). Issues and non-issues in the fidelity-bandwidth trade-off. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 17(6), 627–637.Google Scholar
  29. Hu, L., & Bentler, P. M. (1999). Cutoff criteria for fit indexes in covariance structure analysis: Conventional criteria versus new alternatives. Structural Equation Modeling: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 6(1), 1–55.Google Scholar
  30. James, C., Bore, M., & Zito, S. (2012). Emotional intelligence and personality as predictors of psychological well-being. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 30(4), 425–438. Scholar
  31. John, O. P., Donahue, E. M., & Kentle, R. L. (1991). The Big Five Inventory—Versions 4a and 54. Berkeley, CA: University of California, Institute of Personality and Social Research.Google Scholar
  32. Johnson, R. E. R., Rosen, C. C., & Djurdjevic, E. (2011). Assessing the impact of common method variance on higher order multidimensional constructs. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(4), 744–761. Scholar
  33. Joshanloo, M., & Afshari, S. (2011). Big Five personality traits and self-esteem as predictors of life satisfaction in Iranian Muslim university students. Journal of Happiness Studies, 12(1), 105–113. Scholar
  34. Joshanloo, M., & Nosratabadi, M. (2009). Levels of mental health continuum and personality traits. Social Indicators Research, 90(2), 211–224. Scholar
  35. Judge, T. A., & Zapata, C. P. (2015). The person-situation debate revisited: Effect of situation strength and trait activation on the validity of the Big Five personality traits in predicting job performance. Academy of Management Journal, 58(4), 1149–1179. Scholar
  36. Kern, M. L., Waters, L. E., Adler, A., & White, M. A. (2015). A multidimensional approach to measuring well-being in students: Application of the PERMA framework. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10(3), 262–271.Google Scholar
  37. Keyes, C. L., Dhingra, S. S., & Simoes, E. J. (2010). Change in level of positive mental health as a predictor of future risk of mental illness. American Journal of Public Health, 100(12), 2366–2371.Google Scholar
  38. Keyes, C. L., Eisenberg, D., Perry, G. S., Dube, S. R., Kroenke, K., & Dhingra, S. S. (2012). The relationship of level of positive mental health with current mental disorders in predicting suicidal behavior and academic impairment in college students. Journal of American College Health, 60(2), 126–133.Google Scholar
  39. Kim, E. K., Furlong, M. J., Dowdy, E., & Felix, E. D. (2014). Exploring the relative contributions of the strength and distress components of dual-factor complete mental health screening. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 29(2), 127–140.Google Scholar
  40. Lauriola, M., & Iani, L. (2017). Personality, positivity and happiness: A mediation analysis using a bifactor model. Journal of Happiness Studies, 18(6), 1659–1682. Scholar
  41. Logue, C. T., Lounsbury, J. W., Gupta, A., & Leong, F. T. L. (2007). Vocational interest themes and personality traits in relation to college major satisfaction of business students. Journal of Career Development, 33(3), 269–295. Scholar
  42. Lounsbury, J. W., Hutchens, T., & Loveland, J. M. (2005a). An investigation of Big Five personality traits and career decidedness among early and middle adolescents. Journal of Career Assessment, 13(1), 25–39. Scholar
  43. Lounsbury, J. W., Saudargas, R. A., Gibson, L. W., & Leong, F. T. (2005b). An investigation of broad and narrow personality traits in relation to general and domain-specific life satisfaction of college students. Research in Higher Education, 46(6), 707–729. Scholar
  44. Lucas, R. E., & Baird, B. M. (2004). Extraversion and emotional reactivity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86(3), 473–485. Scholar
  45. Lucas, R. E., & Diener, E. (2009). Personality and wellbeing. In E. Diener (Ed.), The science of well-being (pp. 75–102). Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  46. Marino, C., Vieno, A., Lenzi, M., Fernie, B. A., Nikčević, A. V., & Spada, M. M. (2016). Personality traits and metacognitions as predictors of positive mental health in college students. Journal of Happiness Studies. Scholar
  47. MacCallum, R. C., Browne, M. W., & Sugawara, H. M. (1996). Power analysis and determination of sample size for covariance structure modeling. Psychological methods, 1(2), 130.Google Scholar
  48. McAbee, S. T., & Oswald, F. L. (2013). The criterion-related validity of personality measures for predicting GPA: A meta-analytic validity competition. Psychological Assessment, 25(2), 532–544. Scholar
  49. McAbee, S. T., Oswald, F. L., & Connelly, B. S. (2014). Bifactor models of personality and college student performance: A broad versus narrow view. European Journal of Personality, 28, 604–619. Scholar
  50. Oishi, S., & Diener, E. (2001). Re-examining the general positivity model of subjective well-being: The discrepancy between specific and global domain satisfaction. Journal of Personality, 69(4), 641–666.Google Scholar
  51. Parker, S. L., Jimmieson, N. L., & Johnson, K. M. (2013). General self-efficacy influences affective task reactions during a work simulation: The temporal effects of changes in workload at different levels of control. Anxiety Stress and Coping, 26(2), 217–239.Google Scholar
  52. Pettit, J. W., Kline, J. P., Gencoz, T., Gencoz, F., & Joiner, T. E., Jr. (2001). Are happy people healthier? The specific role of positive affect in predicting self-reported health symptoms. Journal of Research in Personality, 35(4), 521–536.Google Scholar
  53. Podsakoff, P. P. M., MacKenzie, S. S. B., Lee, J. Y., & Podsakoff, N. P. (2003). Common method biases in behavioral research: A critical review of the literature and recommended remedies. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88(5), 879–903. Scholar
  54. Reise, S. P. (2012). The rediscovery of bifactor measurement models. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 47(5), 667–696.Google Scholar
  55. Reise, S. P., Moore, T. M., & Haviland, M. G. (2010). Bifactor models and rotations: Exploring the extent to which multidimensional data yield univocal scale scores. Journal of Personality Assessment, 92(6), 544–559. Scholar
  56. Renshaw, T. L. (2018). Psychometrics of the revised College Student Subjective Wellbeing Questionnaire. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 33(2), 136–149. Scholar
  57. Renshaw, T. L., & Bolognino, S. J. (2016). The College Student Subjective Wellbeing Questionnaire: A brief, multidimensional measure of undergraduate’s covitality. Journal of Happiness Studies, 17(2), 463–484. Scholar
  58. Renshaw, T. L., & Chenier, J. S. (2018). Further validation of the Student Subjective Wellbeing Questionnaire: Comparing first-order and second-order factor effects on actual school outcomes. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 36(4), 392–397.Google Scholar
  59. Renshaw, T. L., Long, A. C., & Cook, C. R. (2015). Assessing adolescents’ positive psychological functioning at school: Development and validation of the Student Subjective Wellbeing Questionnaire. School Psychology Quarterly, 30(4), 534.Google Scholar
  60. Reyes-García, V., Angelsen, A., Shively, G. E., & Minkin, D. (2018). Does income inequality influence subjective wellbeing? Evidence from 21 developing countries. Journal of Happiness Studies. Scholar
  61. Ryff, C. D., & Keyes, C. L. M. (1995). The structure of psychological well-being revisited. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(4), 719.Google Scholar
  62. Schmitt, N., & Bradburn, J. C. (2018). An Ideal Student Factor and the validity of noncognitive measures of student potential. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 26(2–4), 109–123.Google Scholar
  63. Seligman, M. (2012). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and wellbeing. Simon and Schuster. Retrieved from
  64. Seligman, M., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). Positive psychology: An introduction. In Flow and the foundations of positive psychology (pp. 279–298). Springer.Google Scholar
  65. Singh, S., & Aggarwal, Y. (2018). Happiness at work scale: Construction and psychometric validation of a measure using mixed method approach. Journal of Happiness Studies, 19(5), 1439–1463.Google Scholar
  66. Smillie, L. D., Cooper, A. J., Wilt, J., & Revelle, W. (2012). Do extraverts get more bang for the buck? Refining the affective-reactivity hypothesis of extraversion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103(2), 306–326. Scholar
  67. Smyth, J. M., Zawadzki, M. J., Juth, V., & Sciamanna, C. N. (2017). Global life satisfaction predicts ambulatory affect, stress, and cortisol in daily life in working adults. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 40(2), 320–331.Google Scholar
  68. Steel, P., Schmidt, J., & Shultz, J. (2008). Refining the relationship between personality and subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 134, 138. Scholar
  69. Steiger, J. H. (1990). Structural model evaluation and modification: An interval estimation approach. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 25(2), 173–180.Google Scholar
  70. Takebayashi, Y., Tanaka, K., Sugiura, Y., & Sugiura, T. (2018). Well-being and generalized anxiety in Japanese undergraduates: A prospective cohort study. Journal of Happiness Studies, 19(3), 917–937. Scholar
  71. Tellegen, A., Lykken, D. T., Bouchard, T. J., Wilcox, K. J., Segal, N. L., & Rich, S. (1988). Personality similarity in twins reared apart and together. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(6), 1031–1039. Scholar
  72. Tett, R. P., & Guterman, H. A. (2000). Situation trait relevance, trait expression, and cross-situational consistency: Testing a principle of trait activation. Journal of Research in Personality, 34(4), 397–423. Scholar
  73. Twenge, J. M., Joiner, T. E., Rogers, M. L., & Martin, G. N. (2018). Increases in depressive symptoms, suicide-related outcomes, and suicide rates among US adolescents after 2010 and links to increased new media screen time. Clinical Psychological Science, 6(1), 3–17.Google Scholar
  74. Vandenberg, R. J., & Lance, C. E. (2000). A review and synthesis of the measurement invariance literature: Suggestions, practices, and recommendations for organizational research. Organizational Research Methods, 3(1), 4–70. Scholar
  75. Weissman, M. M., Prusoff, B. A., & Klerman, G. L. (1978). Personality and the prediction of long-term outcome of depression. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 135, 797.Google Scholar
  76. Wilson, W. R. (1967). Correlates of avowed happiness. Psychological Bulletin, 67(4), 294–306. Scholar
  77. Zhang, D. C., Highhouse, S., & Nye, C. D. (2018). Development and validation of the General Risk Propensity Scale (GRiPS). Journal of Behavioral Decision Making. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Louisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  2. 2.Utah State UniversityLoganUSA

Personalised recommendations