We each have our own personality traits that are unique to us. These personality differences can be broken down into five major traits. These traits are known as the Big 5. Each trait gives insight into how a person feels, thinks, and behaves.
The Big 5 Personality traits are:
- Openness to experience – Curiosity/Creative imagination
- Conscientiousness – Organized, Responsible, Productive
- Extroversion – Sociable, Assertive
- Agreeableness – Compassionate, Respectful, Trusting
- Neuroticism – Anxiety and Depression tendencies
Each person is thought to have some degree of each of these personality traits. Some people have higher degrees of a personality trait over another. For example, a person might be more agreeable but less conscientious than others. Our traits remain stable throughout our adult lives. People may also differ on certain aspects of the Big 5 personality traits. An extroverted person might be extremely sociable, but not very assertive.
Personality researchers often use the Big 5 personality trait model. However, another model known as HEXACO that includes six factors is also used. HEXACO is similar but adds honesty-humility as another primary personality trait.
The Big 5 personality traits are commonly assessed through a series of questionnaires. These tests vary in nature and in the terms used for each trait but cover the same aspects of the Big 5 by providing high-to-low scores on each individual personality trait. The Big 5 Inventory asks how much a person agrees or disagrees with various statements such as:
- “Is curious about many different things” (Openness)
- “Is systematic, likes to keep things in order” (Conscientiousness)
- “Is outgoing, sociable” (Extroversion)
- “Is compassionate, has a soft heart” (Agreeableness)
- “Is moody, has up and down mood swings” (Neuroticism)
From a person’s ratings on each statement, an average score is calculated for each trait. The scores on the Big 5 questionnaire can give a general overview of how high or low a person rates on each personality trait. When comparing scores to a large sample of test-takers, we can get a bigger picture of how the person rates on a continuum for each personality trait compared to others.
The Big 5 personality traits were originally developed by researchers using statistical analysis to identify themes in related characteristics that were identified. The small number of personality traits identified were taken from a large population sample. The development comes from various researchers going back to the 1930s. While some Big 5 questionnaires break each personality trait down into sub-components that are related to one another but can be independently measured. FOr example, sociability and assertiveness are sub-components of extroversion, and responsibility and organization are sub-components of conscientiousness.
By understanding how we compare to others, we can put names to our own characteristics. This can be used to explore relationships between areas of our life and our personality. This might be professional or academic success or even physical health. Associations between how people rate on certain personality traits and how they feel on average are considered reliable associations. Research has down that extroversion is usually associated with subjective wellbeing and neuroticism with lower work commitment. Agreeableness has been associated with being more religious than others. These associations don’t mean that a personality trait will necessarily cause any certain outcome, but patterns have been identified.
Outside of traditional psychology, other tests such as Myers-Briggs/MBTI and the Enneagram are popular tests that aim to identify personality traits. The Big 5 model is different in that is has empirical evidence backing it that other personality tests lack. Because of this, most personality psychologists favor the Big 5 tests over others, such as Myers-Briggs. This is primarily due to the reliability and validity of other tests, although overlap often exists between some personality tests and the Big 5.
What the Big 5 tests do not do is capture a specific personality type that can be categorized. Instead, everyone simply falls on a continuum for each personality trait. Some people may identify themselves as being extroverted, but there are many different levels of being an extrovert and most of us would likely score somewhere in the middle. Personality tests are an interesting and fun way to learn more about ourselves or to begin to understand others. Which traits do you feel that you most identify with?