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The H Factor of Personality

Why Some People are Manipulative, Self-Entitled, Materialistic, and Exploitive—And Why It Matters for Everyone

By Kibeom Lee & Michael C. Ashton
Subjects Psychology
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Paperback : 9781554588343, 212 pages, November 2012
Ebook (EPUB) : 9781554588657, 212 pages, May 2013
Audiobook : 9781554589784, 212 pages, August 2020

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Excerpt from The H Factor: Why Some People are Manipulative, Self-Entitled, Materialistic, and Exploitive—And Why It Matters for Everyone by Kibeom Lee and Michael C. Ashton

Chapter One: Meet the H Factor

Mary and Jane have a lot in common. Both are young women in their last year of study at the same law school. Each grew up in a two-parent family in a middle-class neighbourhood. Yet in some crucial ways they could hardly be more different.

To Mary, the law is like a martial art—a way to defeat opponents by mastering many complex manoeuvres. She chose law as a career because she wanted to make a lot of money, and with that aim in mind she has mainly studied the more lucrative legal specialties, such as corporate law and litigation. To achieve her career goals, Mary has made a point of skilfully ingratiating herself to certain influential professors. By applying just the right amount of flattery, she hopes to make the connections she needs for a good position after completing her degree.

Jane’s approach to the law is much more idealistic. She views the law as a means of achieving justice, and her goals in studying law are “to help people” and “to make a difference. ” She’s trying to decide whether to work in the criminal justice system as a prosecutor or public defender, or to work for a not-for-profit organization. Jane has had some contact with her professors, chiefly when she has asked them to explain some of the finer points of the law. She tries to be pleasant and polite with her professors, but she would be uncomfortable trying to curry favour with them.

Mary and Jane are both single, but both plan to marry someday. For Mary, any prospective husband must hold some prestigious position in society; besides being wealthy, he should carry the trappings and the appearance of a very important man. Anything less just wouldn’t be worthy of her. For Jane, these considerations of money and status don’t really matter. She’s much more concerned with finding a man she can love, and although she might not realize it, this will probably mean a man who shares her values.


As with Mary and Jane, Bill and Dave are similar in some ways. They’re both middle-aged men, and both own small automobile repair shops in towns just an hour’s drive apart. But again, in some ways they are opposites of each other.

Bill and Dave have entirely different outlooks on how to run a business. Bill’s motto could be summed up as “Let the buyer beware”: when customers come to his shop, he’ll often recommend repairs that aren’t really necessary, and he’ll often save money by substituting lower-quality parts for those that are intended for a given vehicle. Often, if Bill judges that a customer will take the deal, he offers to do the work for cash, so that no receipts are kept and no taxes are paid.

Dave, by contrast, never deceives his customers or the tax authorities. He recommends only the repairs that are really required, which often means that his customers have less repair work done than they thought they would need. The parts he uses are always as stated on the invoice to the customer. Every transaction is recorded for tax purposes.

Both Bill and Dave are active in their local communities, but here again their styles are a study in contrasts. Bill was recently elected president of his town’s minor sports association, and since assuming office he has been quite impressed with his own importance. He’s very generous to himself in claiming expenses associated with his duties, and he likes to have his name on many plaques and newspaper articles. Dave, on the other hand, has done a lot of volunteer work for his local sports association, but he often pays out of his own pocket, and he certainly doesn’t look for special recognition.

Finally, Bill and Dave differ in their married lives. Over the years, Bill has carried on a series of affairs; from his perspective, a virile and successful man such as himself is entitled to some extramarital excitement. (His wife wouldn’t share this point of view, so he must be crafty enough to conceal these adventures from her— and also from any husbands of his mistresses. ) Dave, by contrast, has never cheated on his wife. He finds other women attractive, and he could likely find a willing partner rather easily, but he simply couldn’t bring himself to betray his wife’s trust.

The above vignettes illustrate the opposite extremes of a dimension of personality: Mary and Bill are at one end, Jane and Dave at the other. We call this personality dimension the H factor. The “H” stands for Honesty-Humility, and it’s one of only six basic dimensions of personality. In this book, we’ll tell you about all six of those dimensions—the HEXACO personality factors—but the H factor will be our main focus.

The H factor hadn’t been recognized by psychologists until about the year 2000. Back then, most of them believed that people’s personalities could best be summarized in terms of exactly five dimensions. Those five personality dimensions, known collectively as the Big Five, don’t fully capture the H factor, and therefore they can only partly capture the differences between Mary and Jane and between Bill and Dave.

Research in the past decade has shown how the H factor matters in many aspects of people’s lives: It underlies their approaches toward money, power, and sex. It governs their inclination to commit crimes or obey the law. It orients them toward certain attitudes about society, politics, and religion. It influences their choice of friends and spouse. Throughout this book, we’ll be explaining the role of the H factor in these various domains of life.

Considering the importance of the H factor, you might wonder why it had gone missing for such a long time—and how psychologists finally did recognize it as one of the basic dimensions of personality. We’ll begin with the story of how we happened to find the H factor—largely by accident—back during our days as graduate students.

Table of contents

Table of Contents for The H Factor of Personality: Why Some People are Manipulative, Self-Entitled, Materialistic, and Exploitve-And Why It Matters for Everyone by Kibeom Lee and Michael C. Ashton

List of Boxes


1 Meet the H Factor

2 The Missing Link of Personality Psychology

The "Big Five" Personality Factors

Six Personality Factors

3 HEXACO: The Six Dimensions of Personality

Engagement and Endeavour: Openness to Experience (O), Conscientiousness (C), and Extraversion (X)

Altruism versus Antagonism: Honesty-Humility (H), Agreeableness (A), and Emotionality (E)

4 A Field Guide to Low-H People

Low H, Low E: Greed without Fear-or Pity

Low H, High E: Weaseling and Whining

Low H, High X: Narcissism Run Wild

Low H, Low X: The Smug Silent Types

Low H, Low A: Just Plain Nasty

Low H, High A: Inoffensive but Insincere

Low H, Low C: An Employer's Worst Nightmare

Low H, High C: Selfish Ambition

Low H, Low O: Shallow and Narrow

Low H, High O: Sophisticated Snobbery

5 Can You Tell Someone's Level of H?

Personality in Strangers

Self-Reports of H: Are They Honest?

Knowing Someone's Personality: H Is Among the Last Things You Learn

H in the Workplace: Hard to Tell

6 Do High-H People Flock Together?

Similarity Beyond Personality

Similarity-and Perceived Similarity-in Friends

Personality, Values, and Relationships

7 Politics

Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) and Social Dominance Orientation (SDO)

O and Right-Wing Authoritarianism

H and Social Dominance Orientation

Personality and Political Party Support

8 Religion

Personality and Religious Beliefs

Traditional Religion versus Mystical Spirituality: The Role of O

Reasons for Religious Observance: The Role of H

Do Religions Promote High H?

9 Money, Power, and Sex




10 How to Identify Low-H People-and How to Live Around Them

Not-So-Valid Signs of High H

Respectability / Anti-conformity / Religious Piety / Championing the Underdog / Blunt Criticism / Publicly Displayed Generosity

Valid Signs of Low H

Beating the System / Instrumental Ingratiation / Gambling and Financial Speculation / Sexual Infidelity / Conspicuous Consumption (and Name Dropping) / "Above the Law" Mentality / Contempt of Other Groups

Living Around Low-H People

Epilogue: On Becoming a High-H Person

Appendix: The HEXACO Personality Inventory-Revised

HEXACO Personality Inventory-Revised (Self-Report Form)

HEXACO Personality Inventory-Revised (Observer Report Form)

HEXACO-PI-R Scoring and Interpretation




People who have high levels of H are sincere and modest; people who have low levels are deceitful and pretentious. The “H” in the H factor stands for “Honesty-Humility,” one of the six basic dimensions of the human personality.  

 It isn’t intuitively obvious that traits of honesty and humility go hand in hand, and until very recently the H factor hadn’t been recognized as a basic dimension of personality. But scientific evidence shows that traits of honesty and humility form a unified group of personality traits, separate from those of the other five groups identified several decades ago.

This book, written by the discoverers of the H factor, explores the scientific findings that show the importance of this personality dimension in various aspects of people’s lives: their approaches to money, power, and sex; their inclination to commit crimes or obey the law; their attitudes about society, politics, and religion; and their choice of friends and spouse. Finally, the book provides ways of identifying people who are low in the H factor, as well as advice on how to raise one’s own level of H.


``A timely addition to the growing volume of literature that aims to present a more thorough picture of human behaviour. With its focus on the newly discovered Honesty-Humility (H) factor of personality, as subsumed by the HEXACO model and defined by traits such as deceitfulness, pretentiousness, and boastfulness at the low end, it tackles the complex theme of sub-clinical social malevolence in a manner that is ultimately accessible to most readers. By blending narrative and anecdotal content with summaries of statistical methodology, the authors deliver a comprehensive yet concise introduction to personality's latest newcomer—the H factor. ... [The presentation] proves helpful for researchers interested in the breadth of influence of the new H factor, as well as for laypeople curious about the impact and expression of the H-factor tendencies in their own lives. ... An indispensable resource for those looking for a comprehensive introduction to the HEXACO model, those curious about the direction of personality research, or those seeking a meaningful dissection of antisocial behaviour. In contrast to the depth and sometimes gravity of the subject matter discussed, the authors' familiar tone and casual style allow for an effortless learning experience. As a result, the book is a refreshing and welcome addition to the ongoing debate regarding universal language in the study of human personality. ''

- Livia Veselka, Personality and Individual Differences, 2013

``The H Factor is a tour de force. Anchored in solid scientific research, it offers fascinating insights into how previously neglected aspects of personality influence people's strategies about power, social hierarchies, money, and sex. And it offers sound practical advice for navigating the social world of some unsavory characters. It's a ‘must-read. ’''

- David M. Buss, author of The Evolution of Desire and Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind

``Kibeom Lee and Michael Ashton, two leading figures in the science of personality, reveal some surprising facts about Honesty-Humility, a profound but misunderstood aspect of personality. Everyone from the sincere and scrupulous to the sly and duplicitous will look at themselves—and most certainly at other people—in a new light. ''

- Paul Silvia, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, author of How to Write A Lot