Many contemporary personality psychologists believe that there are five basic dimensions of personality, often referred to as the “Big 5” personality traits. The five broad personality traits described by the theory are extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism.
Trait theories of personality have long attempted to pin down exactly how many personality traits exist. Earlier theories have suggested a various number of possible traits, including Gordon Allport’s list of 4,000 personality traits, Raymond Cattell’s 16 personality factors, and Hans Eysenck’s three-factor theory. However, many researchers felt that Cattell’s theory was too complicated and Eysenck’s was too limited in scope. As a result, the five-factor theory emerged to describe the essential traits that serve as the building blocks of personality.
The “big five” are broad categories of personality traits. While there is a significant body of literature supporting this five-factor model of personality, researchers don’t always agree on the exact labels for each dimension. You might find it helpful to use the acronym OCEAN (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) when trying to remember the big five traits.
It is important to note that each of the five personality factors represents a range between two extremes. For example, extraversion represents a continuum between extreme extraversion and extreme introversion. In the real world, most people lie somewhere in between the two polar ends of each dimension.
These five categories are usually described as follows.
This trait features characteristics such as imagination and insight, and those high in this trait also tend to have a broad range of interests. People who are high in this trait tend to be more adventurous and creative. People low in this trait are often much more traditional and may struggle with abstract thinking.
People who are high on the openness continuum are typically:
- Very creative
- Open to trying new things
- Focused on tackling new challenges
- Happy to think about abstract concepts
Those who are low on this trait:
- Dislike change
- Do not enjoy new things
- Resist new ideas
- Not very imaginative
- Dislikes abstract or theoretical concepts
Standard features of this dimension include high levels of thoughtfulness, with good impulse control and goal-directed behaviors. Highly conscientiousness tend to be organized and mindful of details.
Those who are high on the conscientiousness continuum also tend to:
- Spend time preparing
- Finish important tasks right away
- Pay attention to details
- Enjoy having a set schedule
People who are low in this trait tend to:
- Dislike structure and schedules
- Make messes and not take care of things
- Fail to return things or put them back where they belong
- Procrastinate important tasks
- Fail to complete the things they are supposed to do
Extraversion is characterized by excitability, sociability, talkativeness, assertiveness, and high amounts of emotional expressiveness. People who are high in extraversion are outgoing and tend to gain energy in social situations. People who are low in extraversion (or introverted) tend to be more reserved and have to expend energy in social settings.
People who rate high on extraversion tend to:
- Enjoy being the center of attention
- Like to start conversations
- Enjoy meeting new people
- Have a wide social circle of friends and acquaintances
- Find it easy to make new friends
- Feel energized when they are around other people
- Say things before they think about them
People who rate low on extraversion tend to:
- Prefer solitude
- Feel exhausted when they have to socialize a lot
- Find it difficult to start conversations
- Dislike making small talk
- Carefully think things through before they speak
- Dislike being the center of attention
This personality dimension includes attributes such as trust, altruism, kindness, affection, and other prosocial behaviors. People who are high in agreeableness tend to be more cooperative while those low in this trait tend to be more competitive and even manipulative.
People who are high in the trait of agreeableness tend to:
- Have a great deal of interest in other people
- Care about others
- Feel empathy and concern for other people
- Enjoy helping and contributing to the happiness of other people
Those who are low in this trait tend to:
- Take little interest in others
- Don’t care about how other people feel
- Have little interest in other people’s problems
- Insult and belittle others
Neuroticism is a trait characterized by sadness, moodiness, and emotional instability. Individuals who are high in this trait tend to experience mood swings, anxiety, irritability and sadness. Those low in this trait tend to be more stable and emotionally resilient.
Individuals who are high in neuroticism tend to:
- Experience a lot of stress
- Worry about many different things
- Get upset easily
- Experience dramatic shifts in mood
- Feel anxious
Those who are low in this trait are typically:
- Emotionally stable
- Deal well with stress
- Rarely feel sad or depressed
- Don’t worry much
- Very relaxed
One study that looked at people from more than 50 different cultures found that the five dimensions could be accurately used to describe personality. Based on this research, many psychologists now believe that the five personality dimensions are not only universal; they also have biological origins. Psychologist David Buss has proposed that an evolutionary explanation for these five core personality traits, suggesting that these personality traits represent the most important qualities that shape our social landscape.
Always remember that behavior involves an interaction between a person’s underlying personality and situational variables. The situation that a person finds himself or herself in plays a major role in how the person reacts. However, in most cases, people offer responses that are consistent with their underlying personality traits.
These dimensions represent broad areas of personality. Research has demonstrated that these groupings of characteristics tend to occur together in many people. For example, individuals who are sociable tend to be talkative. However, these traits do not always occur together. Personality is a complex and varied and each person may display behaviors across several of these dimensions. But best to understand what your traits are seek others to complement you in your team.
Check out my related post: 9 Signs That You’re An Ambivert