SAPI History



There is a growing interest in the measurement of personality variables in applied settings, such as in selection, placement,  therapeutic intervention and counseling in South Africa. In particular “personality in the workplace” has been widely studied in the last decade. Personality variables and issues related to their use, especially in work settings have generated a vast amount of interest, research and publications. The importance of personality to industrial, work and organizational psychology is now apparent with meaningful relationships between personality variables and criteria, such as job satisfaction, supervisory ratings, the development of job-specific criteria, counterproductive behavior, and organizational citizenship. Criterion-related validities for predicting work-related constructs reveal the importance of personality variables in understanding and predicting work performance.  A further important  issue relates to the fair application of personality measures to diverse groups. It is of interest to note that Anglo-Saxon studies show that  personality variables show little or no adverse impact when applied in high–stake decision making where diverse groups are involved. Currently, none of the available personality questionnaires used in South Africa have been  found to provide a reliable and valid picture of personality  for all cultural (language) groups in South Africa, despite the obvious societal need for such an instrument. The currently used instruments have been imported from elsewhere (often Anglo-Saxon countries). Little effort has been invested in making these instruments suitable for South Africa. The study to what extent South African personality shows both universal and culturally specific factors has never been studied systematically.  A new South African personality inventory, to be developed in the proposed project, should be applicable in a fair, equitable manner and should show predictive validity in various applied settings, and should show as little adverse impact as possible.

Project Aims

Overall aim and research objectives

  • The proposed project aims to developing a single, unified personality inventory for South Africa that takes into consideration both universal and unique personality factors to be found across the various culture groups in South Africa.
  • This personality inventory will be developed, standardized and  submitted for classification to the Psychometrics Committee of the Professional Board for Psychology (Health Professions Council of South Africa - HPCSA)

Main research question

  • How can we develop a new personality inventory inr the South African context that can be applied fairly to all language (cultural) groups.
  • In addition, the instrument should be applicable in all domains of assessment of normal (i.e., non-clinical) personality, such as job selection and counselling. Personality has been shown to be able to predict relevant psychological outcomes of work and personal performance.

Specific research objectives

  • The project aims to develop a comprehensive questionnaire to assess personality among all South-African language groups. Comprehensiveness of the measure should be interpreted as covering all major aspects of personality as deemed relevant in a South-African context.
  • Practically speaking this means that the project does not start from well-known conceptualizations of personality such as Costa and McCrae’s Big-Five (Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Neuroticism, Extraversion, and Openness) or Eysenck’s “Giant Three” (Extraversion, Neuroticism, and Psychoticism); rather, the project tries to start from everyday conceptualizations of personality as found in South-African  language groups.
  •  On the one hand, we are interested to see to what extent the personality structure found in Western studies is applicable in the various South African groups.

Motivation for this study

The study by Meiring, Van de Vijver, Rothman and Barrick (2005) clearly demonstrated that psychological instruments imported from abroad could have a limited suitability for South Africa. It was only after a series of item adaptations that acceptable psychometric properties were found. Similarly, the study by Boeyens and Taylor (1991) showed that even an instrument that was developed specifically for South Africa (the South African Personality Questionnaire), showed shortcomings in various items. In addition, there is a pressing societal need to develop more culture-sensitive psychological instruments. This development is in line with developments in other countries. For example, in the USA test standards are becoming increasingly important in the acceptance and usage of instruments (APA/AERA/NCME, 2000). Fairness to all cultural (language) groups is an important standard. In addition, test takers become more vocal about their rights and individual psychologists or psychology as a profession will be held accountable for the (im)proper usage of instruments. The Employment Equity Act creates a daunting task for psychology as a profession as it loads the burden of the proof in the profession.

An additional reason for undertaking the study is that the development of such a personality inventory might contribute to the development of an indigenous personality psychology. It is expected that the personality inventory might become a useful research tool in the South African context.

There is a considerable amount of experience in assessing personality in South Africa, both in a professional context (e.g., the assessment of applicants and clients) and in a research context. In most cases the assessment procedures use imported instruments,that are either used in their original (English) form (e.g., 15 FQ+, Tyler, 2002), or in an adapted form (e.g., Meiring et al., 2005). Only in a few instances locally developed instruments were employed (South-African Personality Questionnaire, by Boeyens and Taylor (1991). In most cases the suitability of the instrument for the various language (cultural) groups was not addressed; equivalence of instrument with the structure obtained in the countries in which the instrument was developed was assumed. In recent years more attention has been paid to the issue of equivalence of tests for the multicultural South-African context (e.g., Boeyens, 1991; Meiring et al., 2005). The results of the examinations were not unequivocally positive. Boeyens found that there was no structural equivalence of the personality factors across cultural groups, while Meiring et al. reported very low internal consistencies for the 15FQ in all South-African language groups.

For some instruments there is considerable international evidence to support the structural equivalence in a wide variety of cultures, such as the NEO-PI-R (McCrae & Allik, 2002) and the EPQ (Barrett, Petrides, Eysenck ,& Eysenck, 1998). although there is no evidence to the effect that these measures shows equivalence across all South-African language groups, there is no a priori reason to assume that the equivalence would be challenged when applied here.

The current situation with regard to personality testing in South Africa seems to suffer from two problems:

  1. Almost no questionnaires that have been shown to be adequate for the multicultural and multilingual South-African context.
  2. It is not at all clear whether the “imported” instruments are adequate to cover all aspects of personality that are relevant in South Africa.

Since the first democratic elections in 1994, South Africa has had a new constitution and stronger demands for the cultural appropriateness of psychological tests culminated in the promulgation of the new Employment Equity Act 55 of 1998, Section 8 (Government Gazette, 1998), which stipulates the following:

Psychological testing and other similar assessments are prohibited unless the test or assessment being used (a) has been scientifically shown to be valid and reliable, (b) can be applied fairly to all employees; and (c) is not biased against any employee or group. (d) has been certified by the Health Professions Council of South Africa established under the Health Professions Act, 56 of 1974 or any other body appointed or delegated by the Health Professions Council of South Africa to certify such tests or assessments.”

The onus of proof has shifted to psychologists using these instruments, who now have to indicate that they adhere to the regulations of the Employment Equity Act. Given the transformation of the South African society, the integration of schools, universities, the work place, and life in general since 1994, there is an urgent need for measuring instruments that can be used for all the cultural and language groups in South Africa that meet the Employment Equity Act requirements. It is important for the development of psychology as a science that it is able to cope with the challenges implied in the Employment Equity Act. Many instruments currently employed in South Africa have been imported from other, typically Anglo-Saxon countries. These instruments have not been validated for the various South-African language groups. It is important for South Africa to develop its own psychological instruments, with sound psychometric properties.

The South African constitution, which refers to the basic human rights of equality, and Acts  such as the Labour Relations Act, Employment Equity Act, and Health Profession Act, have a bearing on psychological assessment. Current psychological instruments have not necessarily been developed with a view toward complying with these Acts. The current project will bring personality assessment more in line with current legislation by developing a culturally appropriate instrument.   

Project Plan

The project has several stages. Fanny Cheung and co-workers from the Chinese University of Hong Kong have carried out a similar study, which was aimed at the development of a personality questionnaire in China (Cheung, Cheung, & Fan (2013). The approach used in this project will be adapted by the current project team so as to maximize its adequacy for the South African context. The first stage is conceptual in that current literature will be reviewed and a number of field studies of personality will be conducted in the various language groups. The information obtained from these studies will be integrated so as to develop a single instrument. The psychometric properties of this instrument will then be investigated in the second stage of the project. In a final stage we will develop a test manual, submit the instrument for classification to the Psychometrics Committee.

Research methodology

The overall structure of the project involves six stages:

  1. The establishment of implicit perspectives of personality in all South-African language groups by  analysing  interviews;
  2. The synthesis of all these perspectives and the development of  a single instrument that has a core of items that are common for all groups and, if needed, a set of culture-specific items;
  3. The administration of the instrument in all language groups and the establishment of equivalence of the instruments across these groups.
  4. The refinement of the instrument to a suitable instrument that can be used in the South African context.
  5. Validation of the instrument in the South African society by conducting validation studies in various institutions and business organizations.
  6. Submit the instrument to the Psychometrics Committee of the Professional Board for Psychology of the Health Professions Council of South Africa for classification.

The project spanned two stages: a qualitative stage of conceptual model development and a quantitative stage of instrument development.

Stage 1:

The qualitative stage aimed to uncover the implicit personality conceptions in all 11 languages, as manifested in free personality descriptions. Interviews were conducted with native speakers of the 11 languages, in their own language, asking participants to describe target persons they know well. The responses were transcribed, translated into English and content-analyzed in iterative steps (details can be found in Nel, et al., 2012). The conceptual model included nine broad personality clusters, 37 mid-level sub-clusters, and 188 narrow facets. The nine clusters (Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability, Extraversion, Facilitating, Integrity, Intellect, Openness, Relationship Harmony, and Soft-Heartedness) had a broad correspondence to the Big Five, but showed a richer representation of social-relational functioning (Nel et al., 2012).

Stage 2:

Quantitative Instrument Development

Items were generated in English with input from the content of the free descriptions obtained by Nel et al. (2012). On average, at least 10 items were developed for each of the 188 facets; there were 117 to 482 items per cluster, and the total number of items was 2,574. The item generation rules were similar to those used for the FFPI (Hendriks et al., 1999). Items were formulated in the first person singular, used simple language and no negations, and specified concrete behaviors expressed with an object whenever possible (e.g., “I care for others” and “I help others cope with their problems”). The decision to use concrete behaviors was based on the finding that concrete expressions were favored by Blacks (Valchev et al., 2013) and on literature pointing to improved cross-cultural replicability of psychological constructs when concrete behavior manifestations are used (Hendriks et al., 2002; Ramsay et al., 2008; see Hill et al., 2013, for further details on the item development).  The item selection was performed in pilot studies, where questionnaires for each cluster were administered separately to students (samples included 439 to 1,023 participants per cluster; see Hill et al., 2013). Both psychometric and substantive criteria were used in iterative steps. Items were removed if they had extreme mean values (below 1.50 or above 4.50 on a 5-point Likert scale from 1 to 5), skewness (absolute value above 2), or kurtosis (above 4). Principal component analysis was conducted separately on facet and cluster level, focusing on the first component to construct homogeneous scales, Items were then subjected to hierarchical factor analysis with Schmid-Leiman transformation (Schmid & Leiman, 1957). In all analyses, items with loadings of at least .30 on both the higher and lower level factors were retained; where that value did not yield sufficient distinction, .40 was used as a cutoff point. With respect to the substantive criteria, we selected items that (a) maximized construct representation, (b) minimized content overlap within and across clusters, and (c) were most in line with the formulation rules of behavior focus, simple language, and translatability.  Applying these criteria separately per cluster, the item set was reduced to 571.

These 571 items were translated by professional translators from English into all 10 other languages, and the translations were checked by independent language experts. The translators provided comments on the linguistic and cultural adequacy of the items for their respective language group; only a few items appeared hard to translate and were discarded. Finally, an attempt was made to avoid complex items; items longer than 10 words in any language and items employing abstract trait terms were removed, leading to a reduced set of 250 items.  The 250 items were administered to a large, multiethnic sample (Valchev, Meiring & Van de Vijver 2014).  Factor and internal-consistency reliability analyses were performed separately on the items from each cluster. Items that reduced reliability were removed in iterative steps, and only items with loadings over .30 (or .40) were retained. The factor structure was compared across groups, and items were replaced to obtain optimal factor replicability. The final item set contained 146 items  grouped in 18 facet scales and a additional12 social desirability items. In total the SAPI questionnaire consisted of 156 items. The final factor structure consisted of a six-dimensional structure (comprising a positive and a negative Social-Relational factor, Neuroticism, Extraversion, Conscientiousness, and Openness) (Valchev, Meiring & Van de Vijver 2014). 


AERA/APA/NCME. (2000). Standards for educational and psychological testing. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Barrett, P. T., Petrides, K. V., Eysenck, S. B. G. & Eysenck, H. J. (1998). The Eysenck Personality Questionnaire: An examination of the factorial similarity of P, E, N, and L across 34 countries. Personality and Individual Differences, 25, 805-819.

Government Gazette, Republic of South Africa, Vol. 400, no. 19370. Cape Town, 19 October 1998.

Hendriks, A. A. J., Hofstee, W. K. B., & De Raad, B. (1999). The Five-Factor Personality Inventory (FFPI). Personality and Individual Differences, 27, 307-325. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(98)00245-1

Hill, C., Nel, J. A., Van de Vijver, F. J. R., Meiring, D., Valchev, V. H., Adams, B. G., & De Bruin, G. P. (2013). Developing and testing items for the South African Personality Inventory (SAPI). SA Journal of Industrial Psychology, 39, 1-13. doi:10.4102/sajip.v39i1.1122

McCrae, R. R., & Allik, J. (2002) (Eds.). The five –factor model of personality across cultures. New York: Kluwer Academic / Plenum Publishers.

Nel, J. A., Valchev, V. H., Rothmann, S., Van de Vijver, F. J. R., Meiring, D., & De Bruin, G. P. (2012). Exploring the personality structure in the 11 languages of South Africa. Journal of Personality, 80, 915-948. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2011.00751.x

Meiring, D. Van de Vijver, F.J. R., Rothmann. S., Barrick. M (2005). Construct, Item, and Method Bias of Cognitive and Personality Tests in South Africa, Accepted for publication in the South African Journal for Industrial Psychology.

Ramsay, L. J., Taylor, N., De Bruin, G. P., & Meiring, D. (2008). The Big Five personality factors at work: A South African validation study. In J. Deller (Ed.), Research contributions to personality at work (pp. 99-114). Munich, Germany: Rainer Hampp Verlag.

Schmid, J., & Leiman, J. M. (1957). The development of hierarchical factor solutions. Psychometrika, 22, 53-61. doi:10.1007/BF02289209

Taylor, T. R., & Boeyens, J. C. A. (1991). A comparison of black and white responses to the South African Personality Questionnaire. Pretoria: Human Sciences Research Council.

Tyler, G. (2002). A review of the 15FQ+ Personality Questionnaire. Pulloxhill, UK: Psychometrics Limited.

Valchev, V. H., Van de Vijver, F. J. R., Nel, J. A., Rothmann, S., & Meiring, D. (2013). The use of traits and contextual information in free personality descriptions across ethnocultural groups in South Africa. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104, 1077–1091. doi:10.1037/a0032276

Valchev, V. H., Van de Vijver, F. J. R., Meiring, D., Nel, J. A., Laher, S., Hill, C., & Adams, B. (2014). Beyond Agreeableness: Social-relational personality concepts from an indigenous and cross-cultural perspective. Journal of Research in Personality, 48, 17–32. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2013.10.003

Valchev, V. H., Meiring, D., & Van de Vijver, F. J. R. (2014). The South African Personality Inventory (SAPI): An Indigenous Personality Tool for the Country’s Main Ethno-cultural Groups. (in progress).

Factorial Structure of SAPI

Social Relational Positive

  • Facilitating
  • Interpersonal relatedness
  • Warm heartedness
  • Social intelligence

Social Relational Negative

  • Conflict seeking
  • Deceitfulness
  • Hostile egoism


  • Playfulness
  • Sociability


  • Integrity
  • Orderliness
  • Emotional maturity
  • Achievement orientation
  • Traditionalism-Religiosity


  • Negative emotionality


  • Intellect
  • Epistemic curiosity
  • Broad mindedness


Request for SAPI for Research Use

In order to build up the research base of the SAPI, a data archive has been set up to collect information on uses of the SAPI inventories. Permission will be granted to researchers to use the items of the SAPI inventories for their studies under the conditions stated in the Request Form, which could be downloaded at the bottom of the page.

Researchers who would like to use the SAPI in their researches should prepare the following:

  1. a completed Request Form; and
  2. a research proposal, which includes the following:
    1. the research objectives,
    2. research methods,
    3. target sample,
    4. target sample size,
    5. explanations of how the Scales scales will be used,
    6. explanations of how the copyright of the SAPI and its items will be protected,
    7. other measures to be used, and
    8. how personal data will be protected.

For requesters from South Africa or for International requesters, either the hard copies or the soft copies of the Request From and Research Proposal should be sent to:

Prof. Deon Meiring
Department of Human Resource Management
University of Pretoria
Lynwood Road, Hatfield, 0028
South Africa


+27 (0)12 420 3846

To download the Request Form, please click here.

Latest News

The ECP 2015, 14th European Congress of Psychology, will take place in Milan on 7-10 July 2015, under the auspices of EFPA

Invited Symposia Combined emic-etic approach to culture-sensitive personality assessment Convenor: Fanny M. Cheung (China) Presenters: Jianxin Zhang, Weiqiao Fan, Qian Wang, Fons van de Vijver, Velichko Valchev -Personality structure in South Africa: An emic—etic approach -Traits and daily behavior in different cultural groups in South Africa  

New Book Chapter: The Big Five of Personality, Universality of

Fetvadjiev, V.H., van de Vijver, F.J.R., 2015. Five Factor Model of Personality, Universality of. In: James D. Wright (editor-in-chief), International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 2nd edition, Vol 9. Oxford: Elsevier. pp. 249–253. ISBN: 9780080970868          

Symposium Submission for International Convention of Psychological Science, 12–14 March 2015 , Amsterdam, The Netherlands:

Symposium: Personality across Cultures: Trait Meanings, Situational Consistency, and Predictive Value  Predictive Value of Personality for Daily Behavior across Ethnic Groups in South Africa V. H. Fetvadjiev, University of Pretoria,, Deon Meiring, University of Pretoria, Fons J. R. van de Vijver, Tilburg University  

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