Big Five personality traits

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In psychology, the Big Five personality factors are five broad factors or dimensions of personality traits discovered through empirical research (Goldberg, 1993). These factors are Neuroticism, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness to Experience. Each factor consists of a number of more specific traits. The Big Five are a descriptive model of personality, not a theory, although psychologists have developed theories to account for the Big Five.


[edit] Overview

The Big Five factors and their constituent traits can be summarized as follows (see details below):

Openness to Experience - Appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas; imagination and curiosity.

Conscientiousness - A tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement (spontaneousness vs planned behaviour).

Extraversion - Energy, surgency, and the tendency to seek stimulation and the company of others.

Agreeableness - A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others (individualism vs cooperative solutions).

Neuroticism - A tendency to easily experience unpleasant emotions such as anger, anxiety, depression, or vulnerability (emotional stability to stimuli).

Some scholarly works refer to the Big Five as the Five-Factor Model. These factors are sometimes referred to informally as the OCEAN or CANOE models of personality because of their acronym composed of their initial letters. When scored for individual feedback, they are often presented as percentile scores, with the median at 50%; so for example, a Conscientiousness rating in the 80th percentile indicates a relatively strong sense of responsibility and orderliness, while an Extraversion rating in the 5th percentile indicates an exceptional need for solitude and quiet.

[edit] History and scientific origins

[edit] Early trait research

Sir Francis Galton (1884) may have been the first scientist to recognize explicitly the fundamental lexical hypothesis which in 1936 Gordon Allport and H. S. Odbert expresses as:

Those individual differences that are most salient and socially relevant in people’s lives will eventually become encoded into their language; the more important such a difference, the more likely is it to become expressed as a single word.

This statement has become known as the Lexical Hypothesis.

Allport and Odbert had worked through two of the most comprehensive dictionaries of the English language available at the time, and extracted 18,000 personality-describing words. From this gigantic list they extracted 4500 personality-describing adjectives which they considered to describe observable and relatively permanent traits.

In 1946 Raymond Cattell used the emerging technology of computers to analyse the Allport-Odbert list. He organized the list into 181 clusters and asked subjects to rate people whom they knew by the adjectives on the list. Using factor analysis Cattell generated twelve factors, and then included four factors which he thought ought to appear. The result was the hypothesis that individuals describe themselves and each other according to sixteen different, independent factors.

With these sixteen factors as a basis, Cattell went on to construct the 16PF Personality Questionnaire, which remains in use by universities and businesses for research, personnel selection and the like. Although subsequent research has failed to replicate his results, and it has been shown that he retained too many factors, the current 16PF takes these findings into account and is considered to be a very good test. In 1963, W.T. Norman replicated Cattell’s work and suggested that five factors would be sufficient.

[edit] Hiatus in research

For the next seventeen years, the changing zeitgeist made the publication of personality research difficult. Social psychologists argued that behavior is not stable, but varies with context, so that predicting behavior by personality test was impossible. They further argued that character, or personality, is something humans impose on people in order to maintain an illusion of consistency in the world[citation needed]. Furthermore, Walter Mischel in his 1968 book Psychological Assessment asserted that personality tests could not predict behavior with a correlation of more than 0.3.

Around 1980, two methodological developments brought personality research into the modern era: personal computers and statistical aggregation. Both of these developments facilitated empirical research that led to the emerging consensus on the Big Five.

Personal computers. Before the advent of personal computers, psychologists wishing to conduct large scale statistical analysis needed to rent access to a mainframe. However, once personal computers become widely available, they could do this work on their desktops. Therefore anybody could easily re-examine the Allport-Odbert list. The question remained as to why they would do so, given that it had seemingly already been established that personality was an illusion.

Statistical aggregation. It was argued that personality psychologists had considered behavior from the wrong perspective. Instead of trying to predict single instances of behavior, which was unreliable, it was thought that researchers should try to predict patterns of behavior. As a result correlations soared from .3 to .8 and it seemed that “personality” did in fact exist. Social psychologists still argue that we impose consistency on the world, but with statistical aggregation it could be shown that there was in fact more consistency than was once thought.

[edit] Consensus on the Big Five

In 1981 in a 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, and decided that most of the tests which held any promise seemed to measure a subset of five common factors, just as Norman had discovered in 1963.

Following the discovery of the convergence of the Lexical Hypothesis with the findings of theoretical research, a model was developed which states that personality can be described in terms of five aggregate-level trait descriptors.

Although many personality researchers have built their own models, when they talk to each other they often use the Big Five as a common basis for making comparisons. 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, and the natural system that people use to understand one another. Language itself provides the structure with which we frame and understand the world around us, so it seems a natural place to start. The traditional paradigm for research with the five factor model has been to ask subjects to rate themselves or someone else using lists of trait adjective that can be used to describer personality. Statistics are then used to uncover the factors to which the adjectives seem to belong.

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. For example, as an extremely heterogeneous collection of traits, research had found that "personality" (i.e., any of a large number of hypothesized personality traits) was not consistently predictive of important criteria. However, using the five-factor model as a taxonomy to group the vast numbers of unlike personality traits, psychologists Barrick and Mount used meta-analysis of previous research to show that in fact there were many significant correlations between the personality traits of the five-factor model and job performance in many jobs. Their strongest finding was that psychometric Conscientiousness was predictive of performance in all the job families studied, whereas other traits were predictive of performance in more specific fields (such as Extraversion predicting performance among salespeople).

[edit] The factors

The following descriptions of the five factors were adapted from the writings of Dr. John A. Johnson.

A good way to really understand what a personality scale measures is to read the items on the scale. Goldberg's 10-item marker scales from the IPIP website are ideal for this purpose because they have been carefully developed according to the current state of the art as documented on the IPIP website and are in the public domain. The IPIP site contains many other scales and a large pool of items. The items are statements written to be consistent with one of the poles. Items marked as "(reversed)" indicate the opposite pole. For example, a very extraverted respondent would tend to endorse items like "I am the life of the party" and "I don't mind being the center of attention" and tend to disavow items like "I am quiet around strangers" and "I don't like to draw attention to myself". Introverted respondents would have an opposite pattern of endorsements.

[edit] Extraversion

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.

[edit] 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)

[edit] Biology of Extraversion

Extraversion has been linked to increased sensitivity of the mesolimbic dopamine system to potentially rewarding stimuli (Depue & Collins, 1999). This in part explains the high levels of positive affect found in Extraverts, since they will more intensely feel the excitement of a potential reward. One consequence of this is that Extraverts can more easily learn the contingencies for positive reinforcement, since the reward itself is experienced as greater.

[edit] Agreeableness

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.

There is some criticism on the use of the terms altruïsm-egoïsm in this context. Evolutionary Biology has extensively researched the mechanisms of altruism and concluded that 'agreeableness' differs fundamentally from 'altruïsm'.

[edit] 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)

[edit] Conscientiousness

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).

[edit] 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)

[edit] Neuroticism or (inversely) Emotional Stability

Neuroticism refers to the tendency to experience negative feelings. 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.

[edit] 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)

[edit] 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.

[edit] 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)

[edit] 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) education.

[edit] 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 O and 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.

[edit] 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)

[edit] 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).

[edit] Heritability studies

All five factors show an influence from both heredity and environment. Twin studies such as those of Kerry Jang (Journal of Personality, 64, 577-591) suggest that these effects contribute in roughly equal proportion.

[edit] Change and development

A person's ratings on the five factors has been found to change with time, with mean levels of Agreeableness and Conscientiousness increasing, while Extraversion, Neuroticism, and Openness generally decrease as a person ages. Rank-order stability (stability of trait levels relative to agemates) generally increases across adulthood but never reaches complete stability.

[edit] Gender differences

Men and women show differences in Big Five scores across cultures, with women scoring higher in both the Agreeableness and Neuroticism domains. (The mere fact that sex differences have been found does not by itself demonstrate that the sexes are innately different in personality, although that is a possibility.)

[edit] Birth order

Individuals also differ when viewed by the order of their births; Frank J. Sulloway has mounted evidence that birth order is correlated with personality traits: firstborns are statistically more conscientious, more socially dominant, less agreeable, and less open to new ideas compared to laterborns. Note that this effect is very small and confounds family size with birth order.

[edit] 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.

[edit] Criticisms

Much research has been conducted into the Big Five. However relatively little of the research has been published in a collated form; most of it appears relatively uncompiled in research journals. For the best understanding of the Big Five, one must be up to date on the literature, which may tend to limit a complete understanding by laypeople.

Block (1995) gave a detailed critique of the Big Five in A contrarian view of the five-factor approach to personality description. Costa and McCrae (1995) answered this paper in Solid ground in the wetlands of personality: A reply to Block.

There are a number of frequently cited criticisms of the Big Five. Some of these are acknowledged by its proponents of the system; others have been disputed in various ways.

[edit] Limited scope

One common criticism is that the Big Five do not explain all of human personality. Some psychologists have dissented from the model precisely because they feel it neglects other domains of personality, such as Religiosity, Manipulativeness/Machiavellianism, Honesty, Thriftiness, Conservativeness, Masculinity/Femininity, Snobbishness, Sense of humour, Identity, Self-concept, and Motivation. Correlations have been found between some of these variables and the Big Five, such as the inverse relationship between political conservatism and Openness (see McCrae, 1996), although variation in these traits is not entirely explained by the Five Factors themselves. McAdams (1995) has called the Big Five a "psychology of the stranger," because they refer to traits that are relatively easy to observe in a stranger; other aspects of personality that are more privately held or more context-dependent are excluded from the Big Five.

Many researchers and practitioners have criticisized these five factors as being far too broad for applied work. In unpublished research, Goldberg (the researcher who coined the term "Big Five") found that Cattell's 16 factor solution has greater predictive power than five factors[verification needed], even when the number of predictors is controlled by using a cross-validation sample to assess the prediction of competing regression models (16 versus 5 variables). This criticism (sometimes termed the bandwidth-fidelity tradeoff) is acknowledged by a wide variety personality researchers, and is part of the motivation for Costa and McCrae's creation of more specific "facet" scales in the NEO PI-R.

In many studies, the five factors are not fully orthogonal to one another; that is, the five factors are not independent. Negative correlations often appear between Neuroticism and Extraversion, for instance, indicating that those who are more prone to experiencing negative emotions tend to be less talkative and outgoing. Orthogonality is viewed as desirable by some researchers because it minimizes redundancy between the dimensions. This is particularly important when the goal of a study is to provide a comprehensive description of personality with as few variables as possible.

[edit] Methodological issues

The methodology used to identify the dimensional structure of personality traits, factor analysis, is often challenged for not having a universally-recognized basis for choosing among solutions with different numbers of factors. That is, a five factor solution depends on some degree of interpretation by the analyst. A larger number of factors may, in fact, underlie these five factors. This has lead to disputes about the "true" number of factors. Big Five proponents have responded that although other solutions may be viable in a single dataset, only the five factor structure consistently replicates across different studies.

A methodological criticism often directed at the Big Five is that much of the evidence relies on self report questionnaires; self report bias and falsification of responses is impossible to deal with completely. This becomes especially important when considering why scores may differ between individuals or groups of people - differences in scores may represent genuine underlying personality differences, or they may simply be an artifact of the way the subjects answered the questions. The five factor structure has been replicated in peer reports (e.g., Goldberg, 1990); however, many of the substantive findings rely on self-reports.

[edit] Theoretical status

A frequent criticism is that the Big Five is not based on any underlying theory; it is merely an empirical finding that certain descriptors cluster together under factor analysis. While this does not mean that these five factors don't exist, the underlying causes behind them are unknown. There is no theoretical justification for why sensation seeking and gregariousness are predictive of general Extraversion, for instance; this is an area for future research to investigate. Several overarching theoretical models have been proposed to cover all of the Big Five, such as Five-Factor Theory and Social Investment Theory. Other theoretical models target individual factors; Extraversion has probably been the subject of the most research and theorizing.

[edit] Further research

Current research concentrates on a number of areas. One important question is: Are the five factors the right ones? Attempts to replicate the Big Five in other countries with local dictionaries have succeeded in some countries but not in others. Apparently, for instance, Hungarians don’t have a single Agreeableness factor (Szirmak, & De Raad, 1994). Of course they do, others say, the problem is that the language does not provide enough variance of the related terms for proper statistical analysis (CITE). Other researchers (De Fruyt, McCrae, Szirmák & Nagy, 2004) find evidence for Agreeableness but not for other factors. Some have found seven factors, some only three (CITE).

A second question is: Which factors predict what? Job outcomes for leaders and salespeople have already been measured, and research is currently being done in expanding the list of careers. There are also a variety of life outcomes which preliminary research indicates are affected by personality, such as smoking (predicted by high scores in Neuroticism and low scores in Agreeableness and Conscientiousness) and interest in different kinds of music (largely mediated by Openness).

A third area of investigation is to make a model of personality. The Big Five personality traits are empirical observations, not a theory; the observations of personality research remain to be explained. Costa and McCrae have built what they call the Five Factor Theory of Personality as an attempt to explain personality from the cradle to the grave. They don't follow the lexical hypothesis, though, but favor a theory-driven approach but inspired by the same sources as the sources of the Big Five.

[edit] References

  • Barrick, M. R., & Mount M. K. (1991). The Big Five Personality Dimensions and Job Performance: A Meta-Analysis. Personnel Psychology, 44(1), 1-26.
  • De Fruyt, F., McCrae, R. R., Szirmák, Z., & Nagy, J. (2004). The Five-Factor personality inventory as a measure of the Five-Factor Model: Belgian, American, and Hungarian comparisons with the NEO-PI-R. Assessment, 11(3), 207-215.
  • Depue, R. A., & Collins, P. F. (1999). Neurobiology of the structure of personality: Dopamine, facilitation of incentive motivation, and extraversion. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 22, 491-517.
  • DeYoung, C. G., Peterson, J. B., & Higgins, D. M. (2005). Sources of Openness/Intellect: Cognitive and Neuropsychological Correlates of the Fifth Factor of Personality. Journal of Research in Personality, 73, 825-858.
  • Digman, J. M. (1997). Higher-order factors of the Big Five. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 1246-1256.
  • Goldberg, L. R. (1990). An Alternative “Description of Personality”: The Big-Five Factor Structure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 1216-1229.
  • Goldberg, L. R. (1993). The structure of phenotypic personality traits. American Psychologist, 48, 26-34.
  • John, O. P. (1990). The "Big Five" factor taxonomy: Dimensions of personality in the natural language and in questionnaires. In L. A. Pervin (Ed.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (pp. 66-100). New York: Guilford.
  • McAdams, D. P. (1995). What do we know when we know a person? Journal of Personality, 63, 365-396.
  • McCrae, R. R. (1996). Social consequences of experiential openness. Psychological Bulletin pp. 323-337
  • Szirmak, Z., & De Raad, B. (1994). Taxonomy and structure of Hungarian personality traits. European Journal of Personality, 8, 95-117.
  • Tyler, G., Newcombe, P. & Barrett, P. (2005). The Chinese challenge to the Big-5. Selection & Development Review, 21(6), 10-14. Leicester, UK: The British Psychological Society.
  • Tyler, G. and Newcombe, P. (2006). Relationship between work performance and personality traits in Hong Kong organisational settings. International Journal of Selection & Assessment, 14, 37-50.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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Big Five personality traits

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