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Conscientiousness is one of the big five personality traits characterized by the tendency to be responsible, organized, goal-oriented, and reliable.

What Is Conscientiousness?

Conscientiousness is a personality trait that is characterized by the ability to exercise self-control and discipline, the tendency to be responsible and organized, and the inclination to adhere to rules and regulations. A conscientious individual is good at controlling their impulses and is proactive while making decisions. People with this personality trait often do well in jobs that require attention to detail. “Conscientiousness is defined as individual differences in the propensity to follow socially prescribed norms for impulse control, to be goal-directed, planful, able to delay gratification, and to follow norms and rules,” states a 2010 study 1 .

In addition to this trait, the other major dimensions of the big five personality traits are openness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. The acronym OCEAN is used by psychologists to remember all the traits. Someone with this personality trait possesses the ability to exercise discipline in order to achieve their goals. People who score high in this trait are determined, organized, and reliable. People with low levels are unreliable and irresponsible.

Read More About Big 5 Personality Traits Here

Understanding Conscientiousness

People with high levels of this trait do well in jobs that require attention to detail such as surgeons and pilots. They are planners and tend to abide by the preplanned schedules. They don’t miss out on bills, take notes on important tasks, keep their promises, and are always punctual. People with conscientiousness engage in self-care practices that include regular exercising, proper sleep, and a healthy diet. They are less likely to engage in risky behaviors such as smoking or acute drinking. Some people choose to do what’s good or fun but people with this trait often opt for working diligently to achieve their goals. For instance, people with this trait tend to score better grades and are more likely to be better employees in the workforce. They often have good reputations in terms of commitment, reliability, and productivity. They are more rule-abiding and reliant. For instance, they are more likely to drive at the speed limit and take responsibility for other issues that may come up.

Even though a high level of this trait may be beneficial, there may also be a potential downfall to it. For instance, they are often found to be more serious and may need someone to tell them to lighten up and have some fun. They may also experience burnout by overworking themselves and may struggle to be spontaneous. In extreme cases, they may also suffer from mental health conditions such as obsessive compulsive disorder. They may also be at risk of developing perfectionism and workaholism.

People with low levels of conscientiousness tend to prioritize fun above all. They are often casual, laid back, or relaxed. They don’t believe in scheduling and extensive planning. People who lack this trait are viewed as irresponsible and unpredictable. These people are more likely to step outside the box and respond well to last-minute demands.

Related Studies Of Conscientiousness

A 2008 study 2 found that conscientious people live longer and have greater career success. A 2017 study 3 suggested that people with high levels of this trait often lead to higher incomes. Another 2011 study 4 reported that this trait is associated with better health, lower criminal activity, and better economic, interpersonal, and workplace outcomes. This personality trait is also related to a variety of emotion-related outcomes. A 1998 meta-analysis 5 that included 148 studies reported that conscientiousness was moderately related to both positive and negative affect, and even more strongly related to life satisfaction and happiness. A 2010 study 6 also reported that people with this trait are more susceptible to unipolar mood disorders including major depression as well as anxiety disorders. A 2014 report 7 found behavioral links that are half attributable to genetics while the other half to environmental influences.

Common Characteristics Of Conscientiousness

Common Characteristics Of Conscientiousness

Some of the common characteristics of this trait are as follows:

  • Ability to exercise self-control and discipline
  • Organized and determined
  • Goal-oriented
  • Reliable
  • Responsible
  • Hard-working
  • Pays attention to details
  • Productive
  • Forward-thinking
  • Persistent

Measure Of Conscientiousness

The degree of conscientiousness prevalent in an individual can be measured by a self-report questionnaire. Self-report questionnaires refer to a psychological test used to measure the prevalence of personality traits. These tests contain statements wherein the individual taking the test decides whether they agree, disagree or fall somewhere in between, with the statements laid out in the questionnaire. Since it is considered a personality dimension and not a diagnosis, it is difficult to determine the prevalence of this trait among the general population.

It is important to note that every individual has some degree of this trait as it exists in a continuum. So some people tend to be high, low, or in-between the degree of conscientiousness.

The Influence Of Conscientiousness On Behavior

The Influence Of Conscientiousness On Behavior

When an individual has a high degree of this trait they are more likely to be very responsible and dependable. They tend to have greater control over their impulses. A study reported that having this trait can lead to better overall health and higher productivity. For instance, people who score high in this trait are often found to smoke, drink and use drugs less than other people.

This trait can be subcategorized into six facets that can further help to analyze a person’s personality. They include:

  • Achievement-oriented
  • Cautious
  • Dutiful
  • Self-discipline
  • Orderly
  • Self-efficacy

The overview of each traits are as follows:

1. Achievement Oriented

People who score high in this trait tend to be overachievers. They always strive to be excellent at what they do. These individuals are extremely ambitious and have sky-high goals. On the other hand, people who score lower are often lazy. They are more fulfilled with doing minimal work or are found to avoid responsibility.

2. Cautious

Someone who scores high is more likely to carefully consider all the facts before making decisions. They think through every aspect of the situation and the consequences associated with it. Conscientious people tend to analyze and weigh the pros and cons before making any decisions. On the other hand, people who score low tend to take greater risks and are more impulsive.

3. Dutiful

People who have a high degree of conscientiousness are very reliable because they more often than not have a strong sense of responsibility and a moral obligation to be dutiful. They tend to honor what they commit and fulfill all the promises they made.

People with low conscientiousness view rules and regulations as restricting, limiting, and confining. They do not feel responsible for anyone other than themselves. They are irresponsible and unreliable.

4. Self Disciplined

People with high levels of this trait are self-disciplined. They are focused and stick to their schedule as planned despite multiple distractions. They continue to work despite when things get difficult or unpleasant. People with low levels may fail to complete tasks that are viewed as too challenging or difficult.

5. Orderly

People with high levels of conscientiousness are extremely organized and tend to follow schedules and routines aptly. They enjoy making lists and are known for their punctuality. They are often found to be more reliable, orderly, and neat. On the other hand, people with low levels of this trait are more disorganized and scattered.

6. Self Efficacy

People with high levels of this trait believe in their ability to achieve their planned goals and be successful in whatever they set their minds to. They have complete confidence in their abilities and possess a great deal of ambition. However, people with low scores display no confidence in their future endeavors. They often feel ineffective and negative with whatever they do.

Behavioral Characteristics Of Conscientious Individuals

Behavioral Characteristics Of Conscientious Individuals

There are some common behavioral characteristics of a conscientious person. They are as follows:

  • Likes order and organizing schedules and routines
  • Plans ahead and follows through with the schedule laid out
  • Tries to always be prepared
  • Likes to get the work done promptly
  • Very precise and pays attention to details
  • Works hard and produces high-quality work
  • Likes things to be neat and organized

Impact Of Conscientiousness

It is important to note that even though this trait may be prevalent, there may be other traits present in the individual that governs their behavior. This is just one of the traits of their overall personality. Hence, understanding conscientiousness may offer some insight into why you do things the way you do. It is essential to understand that this is not your defining trait. All individuals possess some levels of all the big five personality traits.

Conscientiousness Reviewed By :

  1. Jackson, J. J., Wood, D., Bogg, T., Walton, K. E., Harms, P. D., & Roberts, B. W. (2010). What do conscientious people do? Development and validation of the Behavioral Indicators of Conscientiousness (BIC). Journal of research in personality44(4), 501–511. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2010.06.005 []
  2. Kern ML, Friedman HS. Do conscientious individuals live longer? A quantitative review. Health Psychol. 2008 Sep;27(5):505-12. doi: 10.1037/0278-6133.27.5.505. PMID: 18823176. []
  3. A. Denissen, J. J., Bleidorn, W., Hennecke, M., Luhmann, M., & And Others. (2017, November 20). Uncovering the power of personality to shape income – Jaap J. A. Denissen, Wiebke Bleidorn, Marie Hennecke, Maike Luhmann, Ulrich Orth, Jule Specht, Julia Zimmermann, 2018. SAGE Journals. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0956797617724435 []
  4. Jackson, J. J., Wood, D., Bogg, T., Walton, K. E., Harms, P. D., & Roberts, B. W. (2010). What do conscientious people do? Development and validation of the Behavioral Indicators of Conscientiousness (BIC). Journal of research in personality44(4), 501–511. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2010.06.005 []
  5. DeNeve KM, Cooper H. The happy personality: a meta-analysis of 137 personality traits and subjective well-being. Psychol Bull. 1998 Sep;124(2):197-229. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.124.2.197. PMID: 9747186. []
  6. Kotov R, Gamez W, Schmidt F, Watson D. Linking “big” personality traits to anxiety, depressive, and substance use disorders: a meta-analysis. Psychol Bull. 2010 Sep;136(5):768-821. doi: 10.1037/a0020327. PMID: 20804236. []
  7. South, S. C., & Krueger, R. F. (2014). Genetic strategies for probing conscientiousness and its relationship to aging. Developmental psychology50(5), 1362–1376. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0030725 []