Big 5 Personality Traits

What Are the Big 5?

Psychological researchers often use a five-factor model to evaluate what are believed to be five core aspects, or traits, of an individual’s personality. Commonly referred to as the “Big 5,” these traits include openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion-introversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. (They are sometimes referred to by the acronyms OCEAN or CANOE.) Using questionnaire-based testing, psychologists measure the degree to which each of these traits is individually expressed.

The five-factor model is used to help understand and predict relationships between personality traits and success in social, academic, and professional circumstances. The model has been criticized for its limitations with respect to the number of personality traits evaluated and for the fact that it is a data-driven model and not based on a psychological theory. Proponents of the five-factor model argue that it delivers consistent results and that such a description of personality must come before, not after, a theory of personality. A more recently introduced six-factor model known as HEXACO adds the factor of honesty-humility to the original five traits to incorporate a measure of ethical behavior into the mix when this trait is relevant to the research.

A Map of Personality

Many ways of representing major traits have been proposed, and personality researchers continue to disagree on the number of distinctive characteristics that can be measured. The five-factor model dominates these organizational schemes, though multiple types of assessments are still used to measure the five traits in question. The results of these tests estimate how high or low one is on each trait relative to other people. When many individuals take such tests, as is the case in research on personality, their scores collectively shed light on questions such as whether personality differs between groups or how a particular trait tends to correspond with an outcome, such as success in a particular career.

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