What Are the Big Five Personality Traits?

Personality changes

There are many different ways to assess personalities from the lighthearted and meaningless BuzzFeed quiz that tells you what type of citrus fruit you are to the horoscope which assesses you based on the circumstances of your birth to more serious and methodological approaches like the highly popular Myers-Briggs test.

Yet most people outside of the psychological profession haven’t heard of one of the most scientifically popular models, the Big Five personality traits, otherwise called the OCEAN model.

In this article, we’ll tell you all about this model and what the big five traits are, as well as explain how it might be useful (or not useful) to you personally to examine yourself using this schema.

History of the Big Five Personality Traits

The first Big Five personality model was developed in the 1960s as a way to understand the relationship between human personality and academic behavior, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that it started to really draw attention and the 1990s that it was solidified as the model that it is today.

Interestingly, the same big five personality traits have been independently identified by at least four different sets of researchers, although with slight differences in names and definitions. However, this is definitely compelling evidence of the accuracy of the Big Five model as a way to describe the human personality.

How the Big Five Model Works

As you can imagine based on the name, the Big Five personality model points to five different traits as being the main underlying factors of personality. Each of these exists on a continuum or spectrum with most people falling somewhere in the middle of the range.

The five traits were identified by lexical modeling, which basically means that the researchers used language as a tool, collecting thousands of adjectives that are used to describe people, grouping them into related categories and narrowing them down further and further until landing at the five following traits that make up the Big Five today.

Big Five Personality Traits

The Big Five Traits

So what are these much-talked-about Big Five traits? Here’s a rundown.

Openness to Experience

The first of the Big Five traits is openness to experience. This involves things like imagination, curiosity, adventurousness, sensitivity, and willingness to try new things. People high in this trait are more likely to appreciate art, to want to have as many new experiences as possible, to be creative, to be aware of their feelings, to take risks, and to seek out intense experiences.

In contrast, people who are low in this trait are more consistent and cautious. They’re more realistic, pragmatic, and data-driven, with a tendency to think before they act and resist change or new ideas. They’ll appreciate concrete numbers and facts more than abstract concepts.


The next Big Five personality trait is conscientiousness, which refers to qualities like self-discipline, achievement, impulse control, focus, and even stubbornness. People high in conscientiousness are always prepared, see things through to the end, are detail-oriented, can stick to schedules and meet deadlines, and prefer to plan rather than be spontaneous.

On the other hand, people low in conscientiousness are more likely to procrastinate, to get distracted, to be flexible, to be harder to rely on, to lose things, and to be perceived as sloppy or forgetful.


The third Big Five personality trait is extraversion, which refers to outgoingness, engagement with the outside world, enthusiasm, high energy, assertiveness, and dominance in social situations. A person high in extraversion is somebody who might be described as the life of the party, who gets energy from being around many people, who feels comfortable around others and likes being the center of attention, and who tends to start conversations with and enjoy talking to people.

On the other side of the extraversion spectrum are the introverts, who are more quiet, deliberate, and prefer their alone time. These people are more independent, needing less social stimulation and more alone time. They can be reserved, not talk too much, avoid drawing attention to themselves, and are quiet around strangers.


The next Big Five personality trait is agreeableness, which you can think of as desiring social harmony, getting along well with others, and being good at cooperating. Agreeable people are seen as kind, considerate, generous, trustworthy, helpful, optimistic, affectionate, and altruistic. They care about people, like to help out, want to keep everybody happy, and are very sympathetic.

People who are less agreeable tend to be more focused on themselves than they are on others. They’re less likely to offer help to somebody, they don’t take as much of an interest in others, and they don’t care quite as much how other people feel. They might be perceived as selfish, manipulative, competitive, and unfriendly.


The final Big Five personality trait is neuroticism. This is associated with negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, anger, and emotional instability. People high in neuroticism experience more stress and sadness, they are more irritable and have more mood swings, they’re easier to upset, and they often worry about many different things.

On the other hand, people who are low in neuroticism are more stable emotionally. They aren’t as reactive and don’t get upset as easily. They take things in stride, remain calm, feel relaxed more often than they feel anxious, and are less likely to experience negative feelings on a regular basis.

What affects your personality

What Affects Your Personality?

As you can see, there are a lot of different combinations of Big Five traits that you might have that make you who you are. But why are some people extroverted while others prefer to be alone? Why do some people feel sad and anxious often while others are more emotionally stable?

Well, there are several factors that play a role in which of the Big Five personality traits you score high or low in.

When it comes to the question of nature or nurture, you may be interested to know that based on twin studies, it appears that both heritability and environmental factors play about an equal role in all five of the Big Five traits, ranging from about 40% to 60% genetic influence on each of the different traits.

That means that you’re already born with about half of your personality pre-decided for you by your DNA. In fact, just by being born a girl, you’re more likely to be neurotic and agreeable. Interesting, huh?

But that does leave another half of your personality to be decided by factors such as how you’re raised, your family life, your age, and your culture. For example, as you age, you generally tend to become more agreeable and conscientious, and less neurotic. Factors like disease can also change your personality, with Alzheimer’s patients’ Big Five scores typically descreasing in conscientiousness, extraversion, and agreeableness and increasing in neuroticism.

What Does It All Mean?

It can be a lot of fun to take personality quizzes and assess yourself based on various personality models, but what is the implication of all of this? Are your Big Five personality traits significant to your life, mental health, and well-being?

As you can imagine, this question has been interesting to a lot of people, with many researchers studying it in depth. And the findings of these studies have certainly been fascinating.

For example, based on a few studies on the connection between Big Five personality traits and health, it was concluded that:

⦁ Neuroticism significantly predicted chronic illness
⦁ Optimism was related to physical injuries caused by accidents
⦁ High conscientiousness could add as much as five year’s to a person’s life
⦁ Higher conscientiousness was associated with a lower risk of obesity

Other studies have had such interesting outcomes as:

⦁ Personality contributing to 14% of GPA
⦁ Neuroticism being negatively related to academic success
⦁ A link between innovation and openness to experience and conscientiousness
⦁ High agreeableness being linked to lower salary
⦁ High conscientiousness being linked to right-wing political identification, and high openness to experience to a left-leaning ideology

However, as interesting as this all is, even a personality model as highly supported and researched as the Big Five traits cannot predict how individuals are going to behave or how somebody’s life is going to turn out. The exact relationship between personality traits, life outcomes, temperaments, and social context is still, to put it simply, a mystery.

So if you’re curious about Big Five personality traits and want to assess yourself accordingly, you may have a lot of fun exploring your results and what they might mean about you. But take everything you learn with a grain of salt. At the end of the day, personality is not an exact, perfect science and who you are as an individual human being is more complicated than any personality test can fully capture.

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