Public sector motivation ad fonts: Personality traits as antecedents of the motivation to serve the public interest

Arjen Van Witteloostuijn, Marc Esteve*, George Boyne

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Public Service Motivation (PSM) is a topic that has generated considerable interest among Public Administration scholars. Research on PSM has mainly focused on either defining what PSM is and how this construct can be measured or on testing how PSM affects individual and organizational variables. However, very little is known about how the motivation to serve the public interest is influenced by personality. We evaluate the psychological antecedents of PSM by distinguishing two classes of motives behind PSM: affective versus nonaffective motives. Our analysis of data from responses to two independent questionnaires by 320 undergraduate students reveals that PSM is strongly influenced by core personality traits. Our results suggest that affective motives of PSM - Compassion (COM) and Self-Sacrifice (SS) - are positively influenced by the personality traits of Honesty-Humility, Emotionality, and Agreeableness, and negatively by Conscientiousness. In contrast, nonaffective PSM motives - Attraction to Policy-Making (APM) and Commitment to the Public Interest (CPI) - are positively associated with the Openness to Experience trait.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-35
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Public Administration Research and Theory
Issue number1
Early online date27 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017

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