What kind of person are you? Are you passionate? Aloof? Worried? Diligent? Artsy? Dominant? Submissive? Shy?
Personalities come in all shapes and sizes. And we all have traits that serve as the foundation for who we are and for how we uniquely approach the world.
In the past few decades, personality psychologists have found converging evidence suggesting that one’s basic personality can be boiled down to five broad trait dimensions. These Big Five traits (see McCrae & Costa, 1985) are as follows:
- Extraversion (versus introversion) — The tendency to be outgoing and high in social energy
- Emotional stability (versus neuroticism) — The tendency to be even in terms of emotions and to not experience much dispositional anxiety or sadness
- Open-mindedness (versus close-mindedness) — The tendency to be interested in new ideas, people, art, and pretty much anything
- Agreeableness (versus disagreeableness) — The tendency to agree with people and to be generally kind in dealing with others
- Conscientiousness (versus being disorganized) — The tendency to be meticulous and organized in all aspects of one’s life
Each of these traits is considered a continuous dimension, with people scoring somewhere on the continuum between the two extreme forms of each trait.
The Ten-Item Personality Inventory
Several measures of the Big Five personality traits have been developed over the years. In the research that my students and I conduct as part of the work of the New Paltz Evolutionary Psychology Lab, we tend to use a very brief measure called the Ten-Item Personality Inventory (TIPI), developed by Gosling, Rentrfrow, and Swann (2003).
Completing this inventory takes less than a minute. And research on the psychometrics of this measure has demonstrated the validity of this measure in multiple studies. In short, it is very efficient and valid. We like it!
While more in-depth tests of the Big Five traits provide a finer-tuned summary of one’s basic personality structure, the TIPI can actually provide someone with a quick snapshot of where they score on each of the five basic personality attributes.
Adapted from Sam Gosling’s website at the University of Texas, the test, along with scoring procedures, is found below:
1Here are a number of personality traits that may or may not apply to you. Please write a number next to each statement to indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with that statement. You should rate the extent to which the pair of traits applies to you, even if one characteristic applies more strongly than the other.
1 = Disagree strongly
2 = Disagree moderately
3 = Disagree a little
4 = Neither agree nor disagree
5 = Agree a little
6 = Agree moderately
7 = Agree strongly
I see myself as:
1. _____ Extraverted, enthusiastic.
2. _____ Critical, quarrelsome.
3. _____ Dependable, self-disciplined.
4. _____ Anxious, easily upset.
5. _____ Open to new experiences, complex.
6. _____ Reserved, quiet.
7. _____ Sympathetic, warm.
8. _____ Disorganized, careless.
9. _____ Calm, emotionally stable.
10. _____ Conventional, uncreative.
Scoring for the TIPI is as follows:
1. Recode the reverse-scored items (i.e., recode a 7 with a 1, a 6 with a 2, a 5 with a 3, etc.). The reverse-scored items are numbers 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10.
2. Take the average of the two items (the standard item and the recoded, reverse-scored item) that make up each scale.
TIPI scale scoring (“R” denotes reverse-scored items):
Extraversion: 1, 6R; Agreeableness: 2R, 7; Conscientiousness; 3, 8R; Emotional Stability: 4R, 9; Openness to Experiences: 5, 10R.
Example using the Extraversion scale: A participant has scores of 5 on item 1 (extraverted, enthusiastic) and 2 on item 6 (reserved, quiet). First, recode the reverse-scored item (i.e., item 6), replacing the 2 with a 6. Second, take the average of the score for item 1 and the (recoded) score for item 6. So the TIPI Extraversion scale score would be: (5 + 6)/2 = 5.51
What Do My Scores Mean?
Personality traits are often conceptualized in a relativistic manner. That is, scores are usually thought about relative to how others have scored.
In their 2003 paper, Gosling et al. provided information on the means (averages) and standard deviations (SDs)* for each of these five measures (on a sample of 1,813 adults). These results are as follows:
Mean: 4.44, SD = 1.45
Mean: 4.83, SD = 1.42
Mean: 5.38, SD = 1.07
Mean: 5.23, SD = 1.11
Mean: 5.40, SD = 1.32
So now you can compare your scores with the means. For dimensions where your score is below the mean, you’d be “low” on that dimension. For instance, you might have scored a 3 on extraversion, which would correspond to being below the mean of 4.44, thus making you somewhat of an introvert.
If you have scores that are beyond a standard deviation above or below the mean for a particular dimension, then you’re, from a statistical standpoint, pretty extreme on that dimension. For instance, if you score a 7 on emotional stability, which is more than one standard deviation above the mean of 4.83, then you are "cool as a cucumber," "even Steven" — or, as the kids say nowadays, "Just chill!"
And if you are near the mean on a dimension, then you are like most people on that particular dimension. From a statistical standpoint, this outcome for any particular dimension is, in fact, the most expected outcome there is.
Is the TIPI a perfect measuring instrument? No, it's not perfect. But I have to say that I’ve always been impressed with its ability to quickly provide a rough portrait of someone’s core personality traits.
1The entire section found between the two superscript 1s is adapted, verbatim, from Sam Gosling's website.
*A standard deviation roughly corresponds to the average amount that scores in a sample vary from the mean.
LinkedIn Image Credit: Flamingo Images/Shutterstock
Costa, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. (1985). The NEO Personality Inventory manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.
Gosling, S. D., Rentfrow, P. J., & Swann, W. B., Jr. (2003). A Very Brief Measure of the Big Five Personality Domains. Journal of Research in Personality, 37, 504-528.