The Deep Role Model

The Mental Matrix: A model for implicit (covert) roles in groups and organizations. 

Suggesting a mytho-biological explication of 
the Big Five personality traits.

In the beginning there was the family and there was splitting

Since the early days of William McDougall (1908) the family has been seen as the first and original organization. Its psycho-biological nature can be recognized through its never-changing goal (survival), its everlasting role structure (male, female and child) and its prevalence in other mammals. My purpose here is to show that these psycho-biological family roles in a fundamental sense influence our inter-personal perceptions, and that they are implicit in our scientific models of personality. I contend that the family is an ancient organizational coping device, an organizational defense mechanism for survival. Likewise, the coping device of the defense mechanism of splitting and projection (Melanie Klein/W. Fairbairn/Otto Kernberg) stands a good chance of being agreed upon as the most fundamental ingredients in all individual defense mechanisms. From an early onset in the newborn, it creates a social environment inhabited by good and bad objects – and continues to do so in adult life. Now, when combining these two fundamental and early developmental psycho-biological landmarks – the roles of the essential family and the defense mechanism of splitting and projection – and adding two more ancient role ideations that ethologists have shown to be related to the survival of primates (Smuts et al., 1986), namely good/bad helper and winner/loser, we can present a new model of mind and organization: 


What are deep roles?

Deep roles are creations of the collective mind. They are prototypical illusions (stereotypical fantasies) of primordial origin that are projected onto persons and objects. They are archetypes of interpersonal perception that strive to be reified (incarnated) in the family, at work, and in society. People are not necessarily as we see them, but organizational members need containers for their archetypal fantasies. Some people become "sucked" into deep-roles. The 14 prototypes in Figure 1 can be observed in many cultural artifacts, from soap operas and world mythologies to organizational strides and wars between cultures. Click here for tentative examples.  

Do deep roles influence the Big Five?

Moreover, I will maintain that today's much agreed-upon models in personality psychology, the Big Five and DSM-IV personality disorders, can be traced back to a prototypical origin in the Mental Matrix. Consider the comparisons in Figure 2. Here two well-known interpretations of the Big Five are contrasted with the first five roles in the unsplit mental matrix – father, mother, son, daughter, and their wise helper. As we can see, the Big Five can quite easily be interpreted as old-fashioned family roles. Roughly stated; Big Five personality factors can be seen as internalized family role-stereotypes.

Moreover, when we look upon lists of markers for the Big Five factors, it's easy to interpret such markers as picturing core family roles. Look for instance at John's (1990) list of empirically derived markers in Figure 3. His adjectives are here listed in descending order following their factor loadings on the Big Five factors. Intuitively it seems that the markers are excellent descriptors of the stereotypical family roles and their wise helper.


Are Personality Disorders based on deep roles?

The Big Five have much in common with categories of personality disorder (see e.g. Schroeder et al., 1992). It is tempting to speculate if psychiatry's consensual classifications of personality disorders might have some basis in committee members' deep-role stereotypes. In Figure 4, the DSM Personality Disorders are allocated the Mental Matrix on a "best fit" basis. Results indicate that categories of personality disorders may originate from the the Mental Matrix. 


What´s next: The Big Seven?

Fairy tales are said to be a kind of cultural DNA – a program that governs the way we see "reality" and behave. Bottigheimer (1987) found 5 prototypical roles in the Brothers Grimm's tales ("the Big 5" of fairy tales). Propp (1928) found 7 prototypal roles in the more elaborated Russian fairy tales ("the Big 7" of hero-fairy tales). In much the same way the Big Five have become the consensus in understanding the prototypes of personality. Today's psychometricians insist on finding items fitting the Big Five model. Instead I would suggest concentrating on finding items for a Big Seven model (4 plus 3). Following the hero-fairy tale research of Propp, 7 dimensions are probably the maximum number of personality dimensions it will be possible to agree upon in factor analyses.


The Big Five probably reflect the five prototypical roles in the unsplit Mental Matrix: I Father, II Mother, III Son, IV Daughter, and V Wise man. This finding answers the "whys" of the Big Five (why 5?" why these 5?) and "solves" the naming dispute.

It is also suggested that the Personality Disorders in psychiatric manuals (DSM) are related to specific prototypes in the Mental Matrix. This implies that classification of personality disorders may have its source in shared archetypal role-fantasies.

So, the Deep Role Model gives both the Big Five and the Personality Disorders a theoretical explanation, unites personology with evolutionary biology, and bridges factor analyses and folk psychology (as in fairy tales). In short: DSM Personality Disorders might be rooted in deep roles. The Big Five personality factors are isomorphic with the core family and its helpers.



Bottigheimer, R. B. 1987 Grimms' Bad Girls & Bold Boys. London: Yale University Press. 


John, O. P. 1990 The "Big Five" taxonomy. In L. A. Pervin (Ed.): Handbook of personality. Theory and research. New York: Guilford Press. 

McDougall, W. 1908 Social Psychology. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. 

Moxnes, P. 1987 Deep roles: An archetypal model of organizational roles. Paper presented at The 3rd Conference on Organizational Symbolism and Corporate Culture, Milan, Italy


Peabody, D. & Goldberg, L. R. 1989 Some determinants of factor structures from personality-trait descriptors. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,57, 552-567. 



Propp, V. 1968 Morphology of the Folktale. 2.ed. Austin: University of Texas Press (orig.ed., 1928). 



Schroeder, M. L. et al. 1992 Dimensions of Personality Disorder and their relationships to the Big Five Dimensions of Personality. Psychological Assessment, 4, 47-53.


Smuts, B. et al. (eds.) 1986 Primate Societies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 

Deep roles  in English

  • Moxnes, P. (1996) On the deeper meaning of the Big Five and Personality Disorders. Meeting abstract. International Journal of Psychology, 31, 2804.
  • Moxnes, P. (1996) The Organizational Seven and Profitability. Meeting abstract. International Journal of Psychology, 31, 4365.
  • Moxnes, P. (1997) The Organizational Seven" and Profitability: Financial performance as a consequence of organizational culture. Poster presented at the  8th Congress of Work and Organizational Psychology, Verona, Italy. [PDF]
  • Moxnes, P. (1998) Fantasies and Fairy Tales in Groups and Organizations: Bion's basic assumptions and the deep roles. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 7(3), 283-298. [PDF]
  • Moxnes, P. (1999) Understanding Roles: A Psychodynamic Model for Role Differentiation in Groups. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice3(2), 99-113. [PDF]
  • Hare, A. Paul (1999). Understanding Paul Moxnes (1999). Group dynamics: Theory, Research, & Practice, 3, 116-117. [PDF]
  • Robison, F. F. (1999). “Understanding roles: A psychodynamic model for role differentiation in groups,” by Moxnes (1999). Group dynamics: Theory, Research, & Practice, 3, 114-115. [PDF]
  • Moxnes, P. (1999) 'Deep Roles: Twelve primordial roles of mind and organization'. Human Relations52(11), 1427-1444. [PDF]
  • Moxnes, P. (1999) Expansion or confusion? On the nature of science, Bion, the organizational unconscious, and deep roles. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 8(3), 433-443. [PDF]
  • Moxnes, P. (1999) Deep roles: Templates of the group mind. Book-insert in Y. Gabriel: Organizations in depth, pp. 131-136. London: Sage.
  • Moxnes, P. (2007) Deep-roles – a model of implicit roles in groups: First facts. Paper presented at invited symposium Small group research in Scandinavia (Convenor: Prof. Stefan Jern) at the 10th European Congress of Psychology, Prague. [PDF]
  • Moxnes, P. (2012) Deep roles – are they real? A model of positive and negative interpersonal fantasies. Poster (revised) presented at the 30th International Congress of Psychology, Cape Town, South-Africa, July22-27.  [PDF]
  • Moxnes, P. (2013) Avatars in Groups: An Examination of Deep Roles –12 Fairy-tale Roles of Mind and Organization. Paper presented at the 31st Standing Conference on Organizational Symbolism (SCOS), Warsaw, Poland, July 13th - 16th. [PDF]
  • Moxnes, P. and Moxnes, A. (2016). Are we sucked into fairy tale roles? Role archetypes in imagination and organization. Organization Studies, 37(10), 1519-1539. DOI: 10.1177/0170840616634135

Deep roles in Polish

  • Paul Moxnes (2002) Role podstawowe: Dwanascie archetypowych ról w organizacji. Gestalt Psychologia, 57(3), 3-10. (Krakow, Poland) [PDF-file]

Some Deep role book reviews in Scandinavian magazines and  newspapers