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Big 5 Personality Traits

The big 5 personality traits are five broad categories of personality traits present in humans that governs their behavior. The personality traits include openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

What Are The Big 5 Personality Traits?

In 1936, it was first hypothesized that Gordon Allport and H.S Odbert that individual differences that are most salient and socially relevant in people’s lives will eventually become encoded into their language and personality. However, experts believe that there are mainly five core personality traits that govern an individual’s personality. The big 5 personality traits, also known as the OCEAN model is a categorization of five personality traits. It is important to take into account that these traits are a representation of a range between two extremes. In reality, most people lie between the two extremes of each dimension or traits. The big 5 personality traits are abbreviated as OCEAN –

  • O stands for openness
  • C stands for conscientiousness
  • E stands for extraversion
  • A stands for agreeableness
  • N stands for neuroticism


Understanding the science of personality is the key to optimize behavior and getting to know one’s self. These traits are used in common language to define human personality and psyche. Even though personality traits cannot specifically predict behavior, it can help to understand why people react the way they do, behave differently, and how they see things differently in similar situations.

Understanding The OCEAN Model

This model 1 was developed to demonstrate the relationship between personality and academic behaviors. Researchers used factor analysis of verbal descriptors to understand human behavior. By studying relationships between a large number of verbal descriptors related to personality traits they reduced the list of these descriptors by 5-10 folds and grouped the remaining traits using factor analysis in order to find the underlying factors of personality. The personality model, OCEAN, is a widely accepted personality theory in the scientific community. In this model, people are found to have varying degrees of key personality factors that govern their thoughts and behavior. Some research 2 demonstrates that conscientiousness, extraversion, openness to experience, and neuroticism are stable from childhood to adulthood. A 2012 study 3 demonstrated that people from more than 50 different cultures found that the five dimensions could be accurately used to define personality. Reports 4 found relative stability of the big 5 personality traits across the human lifespan, at least from preschool age through adulthood. There is very little evidence that suggests that adverse life events can have a significant impact on the personality of the individuals.

Understanding and knowing people and their personalities is the key to improve communication and make better decisions associated with the situation. It is also believed that our face reveals our personality as well. Hence it can also help to determine the personality of the individual. When an individual understands their own personality, they are able to ask for their own needs, connect more easily and optimize their behavior accordingly.

Big 5 Personality Traits At A Glance

  1. The big 5 personality traits, also known as the OCEAN model is a categorization of five personality traits.
  2. The personality traits include openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.
  3. The stability of the big 5 personality traits remains consistent throughout the individual’s life with some minimal changes from childhood to adulthood.
  4. This model was developed to demonstrate the relationship between personality and academic behaviors.
  5. Understanding and knowing people and their personalities is the key to improve communication and make better decisions.

Big 5 Personality Traits

The big 5 personality traits are categorized below:

1. Openness

This personality trait consists of characteristics such as imagination, insight, or creativity. People with a high level of openness display a broad range of interests. They are curious individuals and are eager to learn new things and enjoy new experiences. People with high levels of openness tend to be more adventurous and creative. On the other hand, people with low levels of openness are more traditional and struggle with creativity.

A. Characteristics of high levels of openness:

  • Extremely creative
  • Trying new things
  • Extremely focused on handling new challenges
  • Thinks about abstract concepts

B. Characteristics of low levels of openness:

  • Doesn’t like change
  • Not interested in new things
  • Doesn’t welcome new ideas
  • Isn’t very imaginative
  • Dislikes abstract or theoretical concepts

Read More About Openness Here

2. Conscientiousness

This big 5 personality trait involves high levels of thoughtfulness, great impulse control, and goal-oriented behaviors. People who are highly conscientiousness are more organized and detail oriented. They are people who like to plan ahead, think about how their behavior will influence or impact others, and are more mindful of deadlines. Conscientiousness is associated with frontal lobe activity. This part of the brain is responsible for the execution, moderation, and regulation of the animal and instinctual impulses from other areas of the brain.

A. Characteristics of high levels of conscientiousness:

  • Spends more time preparing
  • Focuses and finishes important tasks on time
  • Pays extra attention to details
  • Likes having a set-out schedule

B. Characteristics of low levels of conscientiousness:

  • Doesn’t like structures and scheduling
  • Doesn’t like to take care of things
  • Fails to complete important or assigned tasks
  • Unable to return things or put things back in their place

Read More About Conscientiousness Here

3. Extraversion

One of the big 5 personality traits that humans are governed by is extraversion.This trait is characterized by excitability, sociability, talkativeness, assertiveness, and high amounts of emotional expressiveness. Extraversion involves engaging with the external world as people with this trait love being the center of attention. Extraverts enjoy conversing with people and are full of energy. They are often active and enthusiastic individuals. Extraverted people are more dominant in social settings when compared to introverted people. People with high levels of extraversion are more outgoing and are full of energy in social situations. They feel more energized and excited when they are around people. In the case of low levels of extraversion, people are more reserved and introverted and usually have low energy levels in social situations. They usually feel drained in social events. Thus they require a period of solitude to recharge their energy levels.

A. Characteristics of high levels of extraversion:

  • Loves being the center of attention
  • Conversation starter
  • Enjoys meeting new people
  • Has a huge social circle of friends and acquaintances
  • Naturally being able to make new friends
  • Has a lot of energy around other people
  • Tends to say things without giving it a lot of thought

B. Characteristics of low levels of extraversion:

  • Chooses solitude over company
  • Feels drained when they have to socialize with other people
  • Unable to start conversations
  • Doesn’t like making small talks
  • Thinks a lot before speaking
  • Doesn’t like being the center of attention
  • Less involved in social settings

4. Agreeableness

This personality trait includes attributes such as trust, altruism, kindness, affection, generosity, or help. Agreeable people have an optimistic outlook on human nature. Disagreeable people are keener on self-interest than getting along with others. These individuals are usually not concerned with the well being of others. They are more suspicious, unfriendly, manipulative, competitive, or uncooperative.

A. Characteristics for high levels of agreeableness:

  • Shows a lot of interest in other people
  • Usually cares about others
  • Feels empathetic towards other people
  • Loves helping and contributing to other people’s happiness
  • Loves to assist other people

B. Characteristics for low levels of agreeableness:

  • Shows less interest in other people
  • Has low interest in other people’s problems
  • Doesn’t care about how other people feels
  • Are suspicious, unfriendly, or manipulative
  • Insults other people

Read More About Agreeableness Here.

5. Neuroticism

Neuroticism is one of the big 5 personality traits characterized by sadness, moodiness, or emotional instability. This trait is linked with a low tolerance for stress. People with high levels of neuroticism experience mood swings, anxiety, irritability, and sadness. They are more emotionally reactive and vulnerable to anxiety or stress. People with low levels of neuroticism are more emotionally stable and resilient. They are less emotionally reactive and don’t usually get upset. They are calmer, emotionally stable, and can handle stress well.

Correlation with high levels of neuroticism can be found when a person isn’t content about their achievements that can increase the likelihood of clinical depression. A 2014 study 5 suggested that people with high levels of neuroticism tend to experience more negative life events but also change them in response to positive and negative life events. A 2017 study 6 demonstrated that people with higher levels of neuroticism have worse psychological well being.

A. Characteristics of high levels of neuroticism:

  • Tends to experience a great deal of stress
  • Tends to get extremely worried about various things
  • Gets upset often
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Feeling anxious
  • Finding it difficult to bounce back from stressful situations

B. Characteristics of low levels of neuroticism:

  • Very emotionally stable
  • Handles stress well
  • Rarely feels upset or depressed
  • Less anxious
  • Very relaxed

Factors Impacting The Big 5 Personality Traits

Experts believe that biological and environmental factors are largely responsible for influencing our personalities. A 1996 twin study 7 demonstrated that nature and nurture are both responsible for the development of the big 5 personality traits. This study attempted to understand the genetic and environmental influences of the five personality traits in 123 pairs of identical twins and 127 pairs of fraternal twins. The findings demonstrated that the heritability of each trait was 53% for extraversion, 41% of agreeableness, 44% of conscientiousness, 41% for neuroticism, and 61% for openness.

Other studies 8 suggest that the big 5 personality traits tend to be relatively stable over the course of adulthood. A 2016 study 9 demonstrated that working-age adults were found to be stable for a period of 4 years and displayed little change as a result of adverse life experiences. A 2014 scientific study 10 has also shown that age and maturity have an impact on the big 5 personality traits. With age, people tend to become less extraverted, less neurotic, and less open to experiencing new things. On the other hand, agreeableness and conscientiousness tend to grow when people get older.

Stability Of The Big 5 Personality Traits

The stability of the big 5 personality traits remains consistent throughout the individual’s life with some minimal changes from childhood to adulthood. A 2012 study 11 attempted to track the developmental trends of the big five personality traits. It was found that overall agreeableness and conscientiousness increased with age. There was no significant change for extraversion. Openness to experience and neuroticism decreased slightly from adolescence to middle childhood. The researchers also found that there were more significant trends in specific facets of personality rather than the big 5 personality traits overall.

References:
  1. Poropat, A. E. (2009). A meta-analysis of the five-factor model of personality and academic performance. Psychological Bulletin135(2), 322-338. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0014996 []
  2. Leon GR, Gillum B, Gillum R, Gouze M. Personality stability and change over a 30-year period–middle age to old age. J Consult Clin Psychol. 1979 Jun;47(3):517-24. doi: 10.1037//0022-006x.47.3.517. PMID: 528720. []
  3. Gurven, M., von Rueden, C., Massenkoff, M., Kaplan, H., & Lero Vie, M. (2013). How universal is the Big Five? Testing the five-factor model of personality variation among forager-farmers in the Bolivian Amazon. Journal of personality and social psychology104(2), 354–370. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0030841 []
  4. Markey, P. M., Markey, C. N., & Tinsley, B. J. (2004). Children’s behavioral manifestations of the five-factor model of personality. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin30(4), 423-432. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167203261886 []
  5. Jeronimus BF, Riese H, Sanderman R, Ormel J. Mutual reinforcement between neuroticism and life experiences: a five-wave, 16-year study to test reciprocal causation. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2014 Oct;107(4):751-64. doi: 10.1037/a0037009. Epub 2014 Aug 11. PMID: 25111305. []
  6. Dwan, T., & Ownsworth, T. (2017). The Big Five personality factors and psychological well-being following stroke: A systematic review. Disability and Rehabilitation41(10), 1119-1130. https://doi.org/10.1080/09638288.2017.1419382 []
  7. Jang KL, Livesley WJ, Vernon PA. Heritability of the big five personality dimensions and their facets: a twin study. J Pers. 1996 Sep;64(3):577-91. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.1996.tb00522.x. PMID: 8776880. []
  8. Donnellan, M. B., & Lucas, R. E. (2008). Age differences in the Big Five across the life span: evidence from two national samples. Psychology and aging23(3), 558–566. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0012897 []
  9. Harris, M. A., Brett, C. E., Johnson, W., & Deary, I. J. (2016). Personality stability from age 14 to age 77 years. Psychology and aging31(8), 862–874. https://doi.org/10.1037/pag0000133 []
  10. Curtis, R. G., Windsor, T. D., & Soubelet, A. (2014). The relationship between big-5 personality traits and cognitive ability in older adults – a review. Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition22(1), 42-71. https://doi.org/10.1080/13825585.2014.888392 []
  11. Soto CJ, John OP. Development of big five domains and facets in adulthood: mean-level age trends and broadly versus narrowly acting mechanisms. J Pers. 2012 Aug;80(4):881-914. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2011.00752.x. Epub 2012 Jun 29. PMID: 22091969. []