The Big Five Personality Test

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In psychology, the Big Five personality traits are five broad factor analysis|factors or dimensions of personality|personality discovered through empirical research (Goldberg, 1993). These factors are Neuroticism, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness to experience|Openness to Experience. Each factor consists of a number of more specific traits. For example, extraversion includes such related qualities as sociability, excitement seeking, and positive emotions.

The Big Five are a description|descriptive model of personality, and psychologists have developed theories to account for the Big Five.



The Big Five factors and their constituent traits can be summarized as follows. For additional details, go to this Big Five personality traits#The Factors|section below.

  • Openness to Experience - appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, imagination, and curiosity.
  • Conscientiousness - a tendency to show self-discipline, act duty|dutifully, and aim for achievement; planned rather than spontaneous behaviour.
  • Extraversion - energy, positive emotions, surgency, and the tendency to seek stimulation and the company of others.
  • Agreeableness - a tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than paranoia|suspicious and antagonistic towards others.
  • Neuroticism - a tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression (mood)|depression, or vulnerability; sometimes called emotional instability.

Some scholarly works refer to the Big Five as the Five-Factor Model. These factors are also referred to as the OCEAN or CANOE models of personality. When scored for individual feedback, they are frequently presented as percentile scores, with the median at 50%. For example, a Conscientiousness rating in the 80th percentile indicates a relatively strong sense of Moral responsibility|responsibility and orderliness, whereas an Extraversion rating in the 5th percentile indicates an exceptional need for solitude and quiet.

It is important to note that these trait clusters are statistical aggregates. Exceptions may exist on individual personality profiles. On average, people high in Openness are intellectually curious, open to emotion, interested in art, and willing to try new things. A particular individual, however, may have a high overall Openness score and be interested in learning and exploring new cultures. Yet he might have no great interest in art or poetry. Situational influences also exist, as even extraverts may occasionally need time away from people.

Consensus on the Big Five

In a 1981 symposium in Honolulu, four prominent researchers, Lewis Goldberg, Naomi Takemoto-Chock, Andrew Comrey, and John M. Digman, reviewed the available personality tests of the day. They concluded that the tests which held the most promise measured a subset of five common factors, just as Norman had discovered in 1963. This event was followed by widespread acceptance of the five factor model among personality researchers during the 1980s, as well as the publication of the NEO PI-R five-factor personality inventory by Costa and McCrae in 1985.

One of the most significant advances of the five-factor model was the establishment of a common taxonomy that demonstrates order in a previously scattered and disorganized field. What separates the five-factor model of personality from all others is that it is not based on the theory of any one particular psychologist, but rather on language, the natural system that people use to understand one another.

A number of meta-analysis|meta-analyses have confirmed the predictive value of the Big Five across a wide range of behaviors. Saulsman and Page (2004) examined the relationships between the Big Five personality dimensions and each of the 10 personality disorder categories in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). Across 15 independent samples, the researchers found that each disorder displayed a unique and predictable five-factor profile. The most prominent and consistent personality predictors underlying the disorders were positive associations with Neuroticism and negative associations with Agreeableness.

In the area of job performance, Barrick and Mount (1991, 1998) reviewed 117 studies utilizing 162 samples with 23,994 participants. They found that conscientiousness showed consistent relations with all performance criteria for all occupational groups. Extraversion was a valid predictor for occupations involving social interaction (e.g. management and sales). Furthermore, extraversion and openness to experience were valid predictors of training proficiency criteria.


Extraversion (also "extroversion") is marked by pronounced engagement with the external world. Extraverts enjoy being with people, are full of energy, and often experience positive emotions. They tend to be enthusiastic, action-oriented individuals who are likely to say "Yes!" or "Let's go!" to opportunities for excitement. In groups they like to talk, assert themselves, and draw attention to themselves.

Introverts lack the exuberance, energy, and activity levels of extraverts. They tend to be quiet, low-key, deliberate, and less dependent on the social world. Their lack of social involvement should not be interpreted as shyness or depression; the introvert simply needs less stimulation than an extravert and more time alone to re-charge their batteries.

Sample Extraversion items

  • I am the life of the party.
  • I don't mind being the center of attention.
  • I feel comfortable around people.
  • I start conversations.
  • I talk to a lot of different people at parties.
  • I am quiet around strangers. (reversed)
  • I don't like to draw attention to myself. (reversed)
  • I don't talk a lot. (reversed)
  • I have little to say. (reversed)
  • I keep in the background. (reversed) [1]


Agreeableness reflects individual differences in concern with cooperation and social harmony. Agreeable individuals value getting along with others. They are therefore considerate, friendly, generous, helpful, and willing to compromise their interests with others’. Agreeable people also have an optimistic view of human nature. They believe people are basically honest, decent, and trustworthy.

Disagreeable individuals place self-interest above getting along with others. They are generally unconcerned with others’ well-being, and therefore are unlikely to extend themselves for other people. Sometimes their skepticism about others’ motives causes them to be suspicious, unfriendly, and uncooperative.

Agreeableness is obviously advantageous for attaining and maintaining popularity. Agreeable people are better liked than disagreeable people. On the other hand, agreeableness is not useful in situations that require tough or absolute objective decisions. Disagreeable people can make excellent scientists, critics, or soldiers.

Sample Agreeableness items

  • I am interested in people.
  • I feel others’ emotions.
  • I have a soft heart.
  • I make people feel at ease.
  • I sympathize with others’ feelings.
  • I take time out for others.
  • I am not interested in other people’s problems. (reversed)
  • I am not really interested in others. (reversed)
  • I feel little concern for others. (reversed)
  • I insult people. (reversed) [2]


Conscientiousness concerns the way in which we control, regulate, and direct our impulses. Impulses are not inherently bad; occasionally time constraints require a snap decision, and acting on our first impulse can be an effective response. Also, in times of play rather than work, acting spontaneously and impulsively can be fun. Impulsive individuals can be seen by others as colorful, fun-to-be-with, and zany. Conscientiousness includes the factor known as Need for Achievement (NAch).

The benefits of high conscientiousness are obvious. Conscientious individuals avoid trouble and achieve high levels of success through purposeful planning and persistence. They are also positively regarded by others as intelligent and reliable. On the negative side, they can be compulsive perfectionists and workaholics. Furthermore, extremely conscientious individuals might be regarded as stuffy and boring. Unconscientious people may be criticized for their unreliability, lack of ambition, and failure to stay within the lines, but they will experience many short-lived pleasures and they will never be called stuffy (i.e. dull, boring, unimaginative).

Sample Conscientiousness items

  • I am always prepared.
  • I am exacting in my work.
  • I follow a schedule.
  • I get chores done right away.
  • I like order.
  • I pay attention to details.
  • I leave my belongings around. (reversed)
  • I make a mess of things. (reversed)
  • I often forget to put things back in their proper place. (reversed)
  • I shirk my duties. (reversed) [3]


Neuroticism, also known inversely as Emotional Stability, refers to the tendency to experience negative emotions. Those who score high on Neuroticism may experience primarily one specific negative feeling such as anxiety, anger, or depression, but are likely to experience several of these emotions. People high in Neuroticism are emotionally reactive. They respond emotionally to events that would not affect most people, and their reactions tend to be more intense than normal. They are more likely to interpret ordinary situations as threatening, and minor frustrations as hopelessly difficult. Their negative emotional reactions tend to persist for unusually long periods of time, which means they are often in a bad mood. These problems in emotional regulation can diminish a neurotic's ability to think clearly, make decisions, and cope effectively with stress.

At the other end of the scale, individuals who score low in Neuroticism are less easily upset and are less emotionally reactive. They tend to be calm, emotionally stable, and free from persistent negative feelings. Freedom from negative feelings does not mean that low scorers experience a lot of positive feelings; frequency of positive emotions is a component of the Extraversion domain.

Sample Neuroticism items

  • I am easily disturbed.
  • I change my mood a lot.
  • I get irritated easily.
  • I get stressed out easily.
  • I get upset easily.
  • I have frequent mood swings.
  • I often feel blue.
  • I worry about things.
  • I am relaxed most of the time. (reversed)
  • I seldom feel blue. (reversed) [4]

Openness to Experience

Openness to experience|Openness to Experience describes a dimension of personality that distinguishes imaginative, creative people from down-to-earth, conventional people. Open people are intellectually curious, appreciative of art, and sensitive to beauty. They tend to be, compared to closed people, more aware of their feelings. They therefore tend to hold unconventional and individualistic beliefs, although their actions may be conforming (see agreeableness). People with low scores on openness to experience tend to have narrow, common interests. They prefer the plain, straightforward, and obvious over the complex, ambiguous, and subtle. They may regard the arts and sciences with suspicion, regarding these endeavors as abstruse or of no practical use. Closed people prefer familiarity over novelty; they are conservative and resistant to change.

Sample Openness items

  • I am full of ideas.
  • I am quick to understand things.
  • I have a rich vocabulary.
  • I have a vivid imagination.
  • I have excellent ideas.
  • I spend time reflecting on things.
  • I use difficult words.
  • I am not interested in abstract ideas. (reversed)
  • I do not have a good imagination. (reversed)
  • I have difficulty understanding abstract ideas. (reversed) [5]

Causes of Openness

Openness is heritable, like all of the major personality dimensions, with estimates clustering around 0.4. One environmental cause of increased openness appears to be exposure to tertiary (College US / University Brit.) education.

Correlates of Openness

Openness is correlated weakly (≤.3) with measures of creativity, and with intelligence test scores. Current analyses suggest that the correlation with IQ is due to a subset of Openness measures acting as self-report IQ measures. It is possible that openness is a mechanism facilitating access to novel thoughts — this would explain the correlation of openness (O) to responses on creativity measures such as imagining different uses for common objects.

Openness is often presented as healthier or more mature by psychologists. However, open and closed styles of thinking are useful in different environments. The intellectual style of the open person may serve a professor well, but research has shown that closed thinking is related to superior job performance in police work, sales, and a number of service occupations.

Biology of Openness

Higher levels of Openness have been linked to activity in the ascending dopaminergic system and the functions of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Openness is the only personality trait that correlates with neuropsychological tests of dorsolateral prefrontal cortical function, supporting the link between Openness and IQ (DeYoung, Peterson, & Higgins, 2005)

Selected scientific findings

Ever since the 1990s when the consensus of psychologists gradually came to support the Big Five, there has been a growing body of research surrounding these personality traits (see for instance, Robert Hogan's edited book "Handbook of Personality Psychology" (Academic Press, 1997).

Heritability studies

All five factors show an influence from both heredity and environment. Twin studies suggest that these effects contribute in roughly equal proportion (Jang, Livesley & Vernon, 1996).

Change and development

During young adulthood, a person's ratings on the five factors may change, with average levels of Agreeableness and Conscientiousness typically increasing, and with Extraversion, Neuroticism, and Openness generally decreasing. However, after age 30, researchers have found that stability, not change is the general rule. Both longitudinal data, which correlate people's test scores over time, and cross-sectional data, which compare personality levels across different age groups, show remarkable stability in adulthood (McCrae & Costa, 1990). This is not to say that personality as measured on the Big Five cannot change, given life altering circumstances or efforts to do so. It does indicate, however, that after age 30, people generally do not change their personalities very much.

Gender differences

Men and women show differences in Big Five scores across cultures, with women scoring higher in both the Agreeableness and Neuroticism domains. These findings may indicate innate gender differences in personality, but are not conclusive.

Birth order

The suggestion has often been made that individuals differ by the order of their births. Frank J. Sulloway argues that birth order is correlated with personality traits. He claims that firstborns are more conscientious, more socially dominant, less agreeable, and less open to new ideas compared to laterborns.

However, Sulloway’s case has been discredited because his data confound family size with birth order. Subsequent analyses have shown that birth order effects are only found in studies where the subjects’ personality traits are rated by family members (such as siblings or parents) or by acquaintances familiar with the subjects’ birth order. Large scale studies using random samples and self-report personality tests like the NEO PI-R have found no significant effect of birth order on personality (Harris, 2006; Jefferson, Herbst, & McCrae, 1998).

Cultural differences

Recent work has also found relationships between Geert Hofstede’s cultural factors, Individualism, Power Distance, Masculinity, and Uncertainty Avoidance, with the average Big Five scores in a country. For instance, the degree to which a country values individualism correlates with its average Extraversion, while people living in cultures which are accepting of large inequalities in their power structures tend to score somewhat higher on Conscientiousness. The reasons for these differences are as yet unknown; this is an active area of research.



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