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The Big Five

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The Big Five

How would you describe your personality? Are you neurotic? Agreeable? How extroverted are you? Maybe you wouldn't use any of these terms to describe yourself. Using the Big Five approach to describing personality, you will only have five terms to pick from.

  • What is the Big Five trait theory of personality?
  • What are the Big Five personality traits?
  • How is the Big Five trait theory of personality applied in real life?
  • How are the Big Five traits measured?
  • What are some criticisms and limitations of the Big Five trait theory?

The Big Five Trait Theory of Personality

The Big Five trait theory of personality is a model of five primary personality dimensions: extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness.

So many psychology research articles have included the Big Five personality theory. Personality is a big topic, but the Big Five makes it easier to understand and measure. This theory combines all possible personality traits under five categories, making personality theory more universal and applicable. Each trait is measured on a continuum.

So even though there are only five traits, these continuums turn the five traits into ten. It is important to remember that the Big Five is a trait approach to personality and not a typology approach. You won't be able to figure out your personality type by taking a Big Five assessment. Instead, you will find out more about your personality based on how high or low you score on the Big Five traits.

This personality theory is one of the most cited psychology topics. Over the years, it has been through many revisions, and many psychologists have helped refine the theory. Some of the main contributors to The Big Five theory are psychologists Paul Costa, Donald McRae, Warren Norman, Lewis Goldberg, and Ann Arbor. The earliest version of the theory was created by D. W. Fiske (1949).

Definitions of The Big Five Traits

The Big Five, a graph of the Big Five trait approach to psychology, StudySmarterThe Big Five traits, pixabay.com

So what is neuroticism? How about extraversion? What does it mean if you score low on agreeableness or openness? How conscientious are you?

The Big Five: Openness

Openness to experience is the willingness to engage in new social interactions, cultures, and perspectives. If you score low on openness, you are more hesitant to try new things. You might choose to go to a familiar place rather than somewhere new. If you score high, you love exploring, trying new things, and experiencing other cultures.

Low ScoreHigh Score
  • Predictability
  • Fond of routines
  • Reluctant to change
  • Selective
  • Chooses comfort over discomfort
  • Exploration
  • Curiosity
  • Adventurous
  • Likes to try new things
  • Changes opinions more easily

The Big Five: Conscientiousness

Conscientiousness is all about responsibility, intrinsic motivation, and self-control. If you score high in this trait, you are driven to achieve goals, determined, organized, and take life seriously. You care a lot about doing your best and handling your responsibilities well. If you score low in this trait, you struggle with being disciplined and self-controlled. Duties are optional to you; you put little pressure on yourself to do your best in everything.

The Big Five clip art of a person thinking about his responsibilities StudySmarter
Conscientiousness, flaticon.com
Low ScoreHigh Score
  • Impulsive
  • Disorganized
  • Procrastinator
  • Unmotivated
  • Easy-going
  • Disciplined
  • Controlled
  • Responsible
  • Goal-oriented
  • Organized

The Big Five: Extraversion

Do you feel energized after interacting with the world and other people? If yes, you would probably score high on extraversion. Highly extroverted people enjoy engaging socially with others and are usually outgoing and friendly. Do you feel drained and depleted after talking to lots of people? Those who score low on extraversion are considered introverted. Introversion means you need time alone to re-energize and be ready to socialize again.

Low Score (Introversion)High Score (Extraversion)
  • Reserved
  • Quiet
  • Exhausted by people
  • Recharges alone
  • Needs to balance time spent alone and with others
  • Enjoys a busy social life
  • Outgoing
  • Expressive
  • Talkative
  • Time with others is often energizing

The Big Five: Agreeableness

Scoring high in agreeableness means that you are generally positive, cooperative, and kindhearted. You may be so agreeable that you often put the needs of others above your own. What if you score low in agreeableness? This means you are harder to get along with. You like things a certain way, and you get frustrated having to work on a team. You are likely to argue with others or confront them.

Low ScoreHigh Score
  • Confrontational
  • Negative
  • Highly independent
  • Likes to argue
  • Aggressive
  • Compliant
  • Empathetic
  • Pleasant
  • Positive
  • Helpful

The Big Five: Neuroticism

This trait sounds bad, doesn't it? Neuroticism just means being highly emotional. If you score low on neuroticism, you are emotionally stable and tend to be pretty serious or unaffected. If you score high, you go through many emotional highs and lows. Moodiness is pretty typical for you, and sometimes you feel distressed or out of control emotionally.

Low ScoreHigh Score
  • Adaptable
  • Consistent
  • Stable
  • Content
  • Unemotional about many things
  • Irritable
  • Moody
  • Anxious
  • Depressed
  • Dramatic

Here's a trick for remembering The Big Five traits: use the acronym OCEAN! Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism!

The Big Five Aspects Scale

The Big Five, an image of a paper survey with a person checking a box with an ink pen, StudySmarterParticipant survey, Pixabay.com

After reading through the Big Five traits, you might be wondering how you would score. An official Big Five test measures how you score on each trait based on self-report questions. Tests like this are very useful in psychology research, and some of history's most famous psychologists helped develop it. The Big Five Aspects Scale contains 100 questions with a 5-point Likert scale for responses. The most recent version of the test was revised by Peterson et al. (2022).

One item on the scale looks like this:

“I often feel blue.” strongly agree agree neutral disagree strongly disagree

A Likert scale is a style of question response that gives the participant a range of possible answers. The responses usually range from 0-3, 0-4, 1-4, or 1-5. Likert scales are particularly useful for measuring concepts based on a continuum or a spectrum.

Criticisms and Limitations of the Big Five Personality Theory

Even though the Big Five personality theory has been widely-supported and used in psychology research, the theory still has some limitations and criticisms. One of the big ones is that it only contains five traits to describe every single person in the world. Some researchers believe that five traits are just too few to accurately describe personality, even though the traits are continuums.

One study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that this theory isn't applicable in specific geographic regions. A small tribe in South America took the test, and their results were confusing and contradictory. The responses seemed inconsistent since some reported being “reserved” but also marked “talkative”. This could be due to cultural differences or language barriers, but it may also mean that the theory doesn't work well for all cultures.

Another criticism is that The Big Five theory is static or fails to account for the growth and development of personality over time. Humans are constantly learning and changing, but the Big Five traits only tell us what we are like when we take the test. You could retake the test in a few years and compare your new results to your old ones, but that still doesn't take into account all the time in between. This means that The Big Five may not be reliable or generalizable.

Think about it. Are you the same person you were five years ago? Have you changed? If so, to what extent? Can any personality theory be accurate for you at all points in time?

The Big Five - Key takeaways

  • The Big Five trait theory of personality is a model of five primary personality dimensions: extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness.
  • The Big Five is a trait approach to personality and not a typology approach. You won't be able to figure out your personality type by taking a Big Five assessment.
  • Here's a trick for remembering The Big Five traits: use the acronym OCEAN! Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism!
    • Openness to experience is the willingness to engage in new social interactions, cultures, and perspectives.
    • Conscientiousness is all about responsibility, intrinsic motivation, and self-control.
    • Highly extroverted people are energized by engaging socially with others.
    • Agreeableness means that you are generally positive, cooperative, and kindhearted.
    • Neuroticism just means being highly emotional.
  • Two criticisms of the Big Five theory are that it only contains five traits and is a static measure of personality.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Big Five

The big five in psychology is a theory of personality that focuses on five main points: extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness. 

A limitation of the big five is that the theory only has five traits to describe everyone (which is limiting) and that it does not account for personality growth over time. 

The big five personality test was initially created by D. W. Fiske. 

The purpose of the big five is to help the person figure out their personality. 

The big five is important because it helps people understand their personality in a tangible way. 

Final The Big Five Quiz

Question

What is the big five in psychology?

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Answer

It is a model of the primary personality dimensions

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Question

Name the big five personalities

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Answer

Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, and Neuroticism

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Question

Describe Openness

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Answer

 one’s willingness to engage in new social interactions, cultures, and perspectives.

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Question

Describe Conscientiousness

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Answer

 to which degree a person is goal-driven, determined, organized, and self-aware.



Show question

Question

Describe extroversion

Show answer

Answer

relative to an individual’s energy toward outer interactions with the world and people. 

Show question

Question

Describe agreeableness

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Answer

The extent to which someone acts in a positive, cooperative, and kind manner. 

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Question

Describe neuroticism

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Answer

 the emotional stability or lack thereof in an individual. 

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Question

What acronym can be helpful to memorize the big five personalities?

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Answer

OCEAN. Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, and Neuroticism

Show question

Question

What is used to measure personality?

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Answer

The Big Five aspects scale

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Question

There is only one version of the big five personality tests. True or False?

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Answer

False.

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Question

The big five personality theory states that personality exists on a spectrum. True or False?

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Answer

True.

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Question

Name two criticisms of the big five theory.

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Answer

The main criticisms concern the universality and relativity of the theory.



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Question

Select the personality that concerns the degree of emotional instability in an individual.

  1. Openness
  2. Conscientiousness
  3. Extroversion
  4. Neuroticism

Show answer

Answer

d. Neuroticism

Show question

Question

Select the personality that if someone scores low on they would be considered undetermined, unorganized, and carefree.

  1. Openness
  2. Conscientiousness
  3. Neuroticism
  4. Agreeableness

Show answer

Answer

b. Conscientiousness

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Question

Someone that scores high in extroversion is reserved, quiet, and fatigued easily after socializing. True or False?

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Answer

False.

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Question

You won't be able to figure out your personality type by taking a Big Five assessment. 

Show answer

Answer

True

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Question

Which of the following psychologists contributed to The Big Five theory? 

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Answer

Paul Costa 

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Question

Which of the following psychologists did NOT contribute to The Big Five Theory? 

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Answer

John Watson 

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Question

Select the group of psychologists that contributed to The Big Five Theory: 

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Answer

Paul Costa, Donald McRae, Warren Norman, Lewis Goldberg, and Ann Arbor. 

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Question

Who created the earliest version of The Big Five Theory? 

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Answer

D.W. Fiske 

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Question

In what year was the earliest version of The Big Five theory published? 

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Answer

1949

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Question

Although there are only five traits in The Big Five theory, how many are there in total (take into account the continuums). 

Show answer

Answer

10

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: 

Each trait is measured on a ____________. 

Show answer

Answer

"continuum" 

Show question

Question

If someone scores low on openness, what can we say about their personality?  

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Answer

They are hesitant to try new things. 

Show question

Question

Which of the following does NOT describe someone who scores high on openness? 

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Answer

They are hesitant in trying new things. 

Show question

Question

Violet's friends describe her as predictable because she always sticks to a specific routine. 

If Violet took a Big Five assessment, would she score high or low in openness? 

Show answer

Answer

Violet would score low in openness. 

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Question

Sarah is very adventurous and she enjoys traveling to different countries. 

If Sarah took a Big Five assessment, would she score high or low in openness? 

Show answer

Answer

Sarah would score high in openness. 

Show question

Question

Which of the following characteristics does NOT describe someone who scores high in conscientiousness? 


Show answer

Answer

They lack self-discipline 

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Question

If you score low in this trait, you struggle with being disciplined and self-controlled.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Jake's girlfriend enjoys his easy-going attitude, but she doesn't like that he tends to procrastinate when doing work. 

If Jake took a Big Assessment, would he score high or low in conscientiousness? 

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Answer

Jake would score low in conscientiousness. 

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Question

Holly is goal-oriented and believes that staying organized is vital to her success. 

If Holly were to take a Big Five assessment, would she score low or high in conscientiousness? 

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Answer

Holly would score high in conscientiousness. 

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Question

Mark enjoys spending time with friends and family, but he often feels drained after social gatherings. 

Knowing this, which Big Five personality trait does Mark posses? 

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Answer

Mark is introverted. 

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Question

Max is very outgoing and enjoys meeting new people. His friends say that he can start a conversation with anyone! 

Which Big Five personality trait does Max show signs of in this description? 

Show answer

Answer

Extraversion 

Show question

Question

A Likert scale is a style of question response that gives the participant a range of possible answers. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

The Big Five Aspects Scale contains 100 questions with a 5-point Likert scale for responses.

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

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