Five pe­r­son­al­ity traits widely thought to be uni­ver­sal across cul­tures might not be, ac­cord­ing to a study of an iso­lat­ed so­ci­e­ty.

Psy­chol­o­gists who spent two years work­ing with 1,062 mem­bers of the Tsi­mane cul­ture of Bo­liv­ia found that they did­n’t nec­es­sarily ex­hib­it the five broad di­men­sions of pe­r­son­al­ity – open­ness, con­sci­en­tious­ness, ex­tra­ver­sion, agree­a­ble­ness and neu­rot­i­cism – al­so known as the “Big Five.” 

The Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal As­socia­t­ion’s Jour­nal of Per­son­al­ity and So­cial Psy­chol­o­gy pub­lished the study on­line Dec. 17.

Pre­vi­ous re­search has found strong sup­port for the Big Five traits in more de­vel­oped coun­tries and across some cul­tures, but these re­search­ers found more ev­i­dence of a Tsi­mane “Big Two:” so­cially ben­e­fi­cial be­hav­ior, al­so known as proso­cial­ity, and in­dus­tri­ous­. These Big Two com­bine el­e­ments of the tra­di­tion­al Big Five, and may rep­re­sent un­ique as­pects of highly so­cial, sub­sist­ence so­ci­eties, the re­search­ers said.

“Si­m­i­lar to the con­sci­en­tiousness por­tion of the Big Five, sev­er­al traits that bun­dle to­geth­er among the Tsi­mane in­clud­ed ef­fi­cien­cy, pe­r­se­ver­ance and thor­ough­ness. These traits re­flect the in­dus­tri­ous­ of a so­ci­e­ty of sub­sist­ence farm­ers,” said the stu­dy’s lead au­thor, Mi­chael Gur­ven of the Uni­vers­ity of Cal­i­for­nia, San­ta Bar­ba­ra. 

“How­ever, oth­er in­dus­tri­ous traits in­clud­ed be­ing en­er­get­ic, re­laxed and help­ful. In small-scale so­ci­eties, in­di­vid­u­als have few­er choices for so­cial or sex­u­al part­ners and lim­it­ed do­mains of op­por­tun­i­ties for cul­tur­al suc­cess and pro­fi­cien­cy. This may re­quire abil­i­ties that link as­pects of dif­fer­ent traits, re­sult­ing in a trait struc­ture oth­er than the Big Five.”

The Tsi­mane are forager-farm­ers who live in com­mun­i­ties of roughly 30 to 500 peo­ple, dis­pe­rsed among about 90 vil­lages. Since the mid-1900s, they have come in­to great­er con­tact with the mod­ern world, but mor­tal­ity rates re­main high (a­bout one in five ba­bies nev­er reach age five) and fer­til­ity is very high (a­round nine births per wom­an), the study said. Few Tsi­mane are for­mally ed­u­cat­ed; lit­er­a­cy is about 25 pe­rcent. Some 40 pe­rcent speak Span­ish in ad­di­tion to their na­tive lan­guage. They live in ex­tend­ed family clus­ters that share food and la­bor and lim­it con­tact with out­siders un­less ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary, ac­cord­ing to the au­thors.