Civil engagement–such as through volunteering, blood donation, and participation in elections–is a cornerstone of healthy democracies. Swiss citizens are engaged in a variety of ways, but there are individual differences in the nature and extent of their engagement. Previous research has shown that gender and developmental processes can partially explain these differences. However, personality differences may play an even bigger role than these processes.
Personality is the enduring organization of a person's character, temperament, and intellect that determines their unique thoughts, feelings, and actions. The most important personality traits are the "Big Five": extraversion (assertiveness, enthusiasm), neuroticism (withdrawal, volatility), agreeableness (politeness, compassion), conscientiousness (industriousness, orderliness), and openness (curiosity, intellect). Theoretical considerations suggest that these traits are fundamental to various aspects of civic engagement, for example, enthusiasm and compassion for volunteerism and politeness and orderliness for participation in elections. These considerations are supported by empirical findings from abroad, but no data are available from Switzerland.
In this research project, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF; https://data.snf.ch/grants/grant/205026), we investigate for the first time the relationship between personality and civic engagement in Switzerland. The basis for this project is a high-quality survey of people, which covers a representative sample of the German-, French- and Italian-speaking population. Participants are invited to provide information about their personality and civic engagement five times over the course of 30 months. The representative, longitudinal survey allows us to separate the influence of gender and developmental processes from the influence of personality on civic engagement. Furthermore, it allows us to model the relationship across language boundaries as well as across the lifespan.
The Swiss population benefits from this project, as it will reveal which personality traits are particularly relevant for the development of civic engagement. These findings can be used to steer the personality development of young Swiss individuals in a favorable direction–such as at school, at university, or in the Swiss army.