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The ‘Big Five’ Personality Traits According to Psychologists

The ‘Big Five’ Personality Traits According to Psychologists Image

In the scientific world of psychology, ‘Big Five’ personality trait models such as OCEAN and FFM (five-factor model) is a cluster of personality characteristics that have been assembled and were formulated in the 1980s.

Many psychologists believe that there are 5 basic dimensions to personality, commonly referred to as the ‘Big Five’. The traits included in the Big Five Theory are extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness.

How are the Big Five Personality Traits assessed?

Multiple questionnaires are used to assess each individual’s personality ‘type’ and are scored from high to low; for example, someone might be ‘high’ in extraversion but ‘low’ in openness. Extraversion (the opposite to introversion), agreeableness and conscientiousness, openness to experiencing new things (or just openness) and neuroticism (emotional stability).

In more recent tests, individuals are assessed by answering a series of statements about themselves such as:

  • ‘’Is moody and suffers mood swings’’ (neuroticism)
  • ‘’Is empathetic towards others’’ (agreeableness)
  • ‘’Is sociable and loves being around others’’ (extraversion)
  • ‘’Is organized and likes things to be in check’’ (conscientiousness)
  • ‘’Is interested and curious about surroundings and new experiences’’ (Openness)


The scores are based on an overall average and are then calculated for each of the 5 personality traits.

What do the Big Five scores reveal about you?

The scores revealed on Big Five questionnaires are rated on a spectrum of high to low. This offers a comparable insight (along with other testers) into how extraverted, open, agreeable, neurotic and conscientious you might be.

What do psychologists think?

Raymond Catell, a British and American psychologist, developed the ‘factor analysis’ approach to psychometric testing. Factor Analysis is a method used to find correlations in large quantities of data. Catell also developed ‘’The 16 Primary Traits of Personality Theory model’’ which was based on questionnaires ranging from three data types; life data, experimental data and questionnaire data. 

Similar to the Big Five Theory, the Primary Traits Model aimed to ascertain whether people scored ‘high’ or ‘low’ when asked questions about their values and lifestyles. 

Robert McCrae and Paul Costa developed the Five-factor Model (FFM) which outlines personality as having five broad factors and it was psychologist Lewis Goldberg, who later referred to the FFM model as the ‘Big Five’ factors of personality.

OCEAN is a widely used acronym for the Big Five Inventory and stands for:

Openness

Conscientiousness

Extroversion

Agreeableness

Neuroticism

Hans Eysenck, a German-born psychologist, developed the ‘PEN model’ which focuses on three broad personality factors: Psychoticism, Extraversion and Neuroticism. 

Similar to Raymond Catell, Eysenck also used Factor Analysis to develop his theory where he was able to identify the three types of personality. Each personality type has a bipolar dimension (meaning the exact opposite) such as psychoticism v’s self-control and extravert v’s introvert. 
Personality psychologists tend to fall into two categories: Nomothetic and Idiographic.

Nomothetic

The Nomothetic method tends to look for similarities in people and the approach can be viewed as having quite a generalistic view on human development. For example, Sigmund Freud’s Psychosexual Dynamic Theory is a nomothetic theory and is based on the assumption that all humans go through several stages of development including oral, anal, phallic and latency.

Carl Jung’s ‘psychological types’ is also nomothetic, as is Han’s Eysenck’s PEN model theory. Irrespective of the type of representational samples that are used, the nomothetic approach takes the view that all humans have similar traits and can be assessed similarly to formulate an understanding of human motivation and behaviour.

Idiographic

The Idiographic approach focuses on the subjective experiences of an individual, rather than studying numerical and statistical data as is the case with the nomothetic approach. Idiograph’s use of qualitative research methods to draw conclusions based on individual traits. 

Humanistic psychologists use the idiographic approach as their practice is based on the uniqueness of a person rather than a collective generalisation. Interestingly, Sigmund Freud used the idiographic method when conducting his infamous study on Little Hans.

What are the Big Five Personality Traits?

Openness

Being open signifies that a person can easily embrace new experiences and is excited at the prospect of trying out new things. People who score high for openness tend to be intellectually enthralled, more creative and oftentimes, unconventional. Those with lower scores may struggle with abstract thinking and are usually averse to change.

Conscientious

Those that are conscientious are often considered as acting in a thoughtful and structured way. People who score high on conscientiousness tend to be detailed, are often perfectionists and extremely organized. Those who score low are often procrastinators and tend to be disorganized.

Extraversion

These individuals often seek stimulation from the external world, those with high scores enjoy being sociable and being the centre of attention doesn’t phase them. People who scored low are usually quiet and reflective types who prefer their own company (introverted).

Agreeableness

Agreeableness tends to be synonymous with compassion and co-operativeness. People who score high on agreeableness often display sensitivity and are nurturing towards others and those who score low tend to be unsympathetic and often demonstrate a disinterest towards others.

Neuroticism

People with higher scores in neuroticism tend to be worriers and are hypersensitive to their surroundings. Neuroticism signifies emotional sensitivity, especially when it comes to situational or environmental factors. People with high scores are easily upset or stressed and those with lower scores tend to be laid back and emotionally grounded.

Interestingly, the Big Five test has been used by employers to gain a clearer insight into potential employees. Big Five is also a useful tool when it comes to initiating marketing strategies as it’s been known to help businesses examine consumer habits, preferences and motivations.

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Adam Nesenoff

Adam Nesenoff has been working in recovery for over ten years.

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