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What Are The Big Five Traits?
The Big Five traits were created by personality psychologists to identify and categorize what brings us all together as humans and separates us as individuals with individual personalities. The original Big Five traits are also known as the OCEAN Model. OCEAN stands for Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.
This is one of many attempts by personality psychologists to narrow down the traits that define all humans. In the past, these traits have ranged from 3 to thousands! The Big Five has, in recent years, appeared to be a "happy medium" that covered a broad spectrum of traits but did not overwhelm those studying personality.
Let’s look at each trait individually.
Openness to Experience
Most of these traits are self-explanatory. The Openness to Experience trait describes people who are curious about the world around them and who feel comfortable trying new things. They tend to enjoy creative activities and are more inclined to exploring different or alternative ideas. People who score low on this scale don’t break out of their comfort zone very often. Different activities, routines, or ideas may make them feel uncomfortable.
People who are more conscientious tend to pay more attention to detail and put effort into organizing their everyday activities. They are more likely to plan every detail of a vacation itinerary or reread their work a handful of times before turning it in. People who score lower in terms of conscientiousness are more likely to let things happen without planning or organizing.
This is a good time to reiterate that a high score on all of these traits does not make you a “better” or a “worse” person. Depending on your values and culture, you may view conscientiousness as a positive or negative trait. It’s important to remember that personality tests will not tell you if you are a “good” person, just what traits you have and how they influence your decisions.
Extraverts are more likely to respond positively to stimuli in the outside world. They feel more comfortable around lots of people and lots of things happening around them. Introverts, on the other hand, prefer to eliminate outside stimuli and focus inward.
People can also find these traits in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
People who are more agreeable are more willing to take actions in order to make peace with others. Agreeable people are also more likely to be patient with others. They might sacrifice what they want for the sake of others or let go of anger. Researchers have put anger on the other side of the scale here. This trait still causes some debate in the personality psychology world; no one wants to be called a “disagreeable” person.
This the final Big Five trait and is also known as “Emotionality” by other personality theorists. People who score high for neuroticism are more likely to experience heightened feelings of anxiety, paranoia, depression, or aggression. These feelings may have a large impact on the way that a person behaves or perceives the world.
Who Developed the Five Factor Model of Personality?
Many personality psychologists (Lewis Goldberg, Costa and McCrae, etc.) have had a hand in developing the Five Factor Model and the "Big Five." This research has taken place over decades, starting in the 1940s. It didn't really catch on until the 1980s.
Are the Big Five Traits Universal?
Yes, in almost all research, the Five Factor Model of Personality has been universally credited throughout all different cultures. This is what makes it one of the best personality tests to perform further research and create accurate predictions of behavior. However, the "Big Five" has recently evolved.
Can You Change Your Big Five Score?
Many factors play into your personality and Big Five scores: age, life experience, culture, etc. Personality traits are rarely set in stone. Evidence shows that your Big Five may change over the course of your life, whether you intend it or not!
Examples of Changes in Big Five Scores
- In high school, Jess scores low on conscientiousness. She is typically an impulsive person and doesn’t spend too much time planning or going over her work. Over the years, she works closely with people who are very detail-oriented and expect the same of her. Her habits in the workplace translate over to her habits at home. Years after graduating, her conscientious score is much higher than she had expected.
- Mark grew up very sheltered. His parents cautioned him about the outside world. Strangers were threatening, new places were dangerous, and life is best lived the same way, day by day. For this reason, Mark scored very low on openness to experience. Then, his job relocated him. Away from his hometown, family, and old friends, Mark was forced to take on new experiences. He found that his new routine, new hobbies, and new life were exciting! Later, he took the Big Five test and found he scored very high on openness to experience.
- As a child, Shonda was carefree. No new situations made her anxious and she was generally optimistic. But as time went on, Shonda found that her anxiety was making more and more of an impact on her life. There was not one thing that caused the anxiety, but enough snowballed into a condition that held her back. This anxiety would cause her to score high in neuroticism.
What Is The Difference Between HEXACO and Big Five?
Personality psychology is always changing. Researchers have added a sixth trait to the Big Five model: honesty-humility. This addition has called for tweaks to the acronym. Researchers have added H, started to represent extraversion with an X, and changed Neuroticism to Emotionality. These six traits form the HEXACO model of personality.
Honesty-humility was added as the Big Five started to expand beyond American studies. Researchers began to assess whether or not the Big Five were present in languages other than English. As this research continued, they realized that all of the Big Five traits were present and honesty and humility kept appearing as an additional trait.
Some personality psychologists believe that the Honesty-Humility factor is the polar opposite of traits found in the Dark Triad. A person who is more honest and humble is less likely to be narcissistic, psychopathic, or a Machiavellian leader. Not only does the addition of honest-humility reveal a person’s tendency to tell the truth and play by the rules; it could also reveal who has a tendency to be manipulative or a seriously negative influence.
Where to Find HEXACO and Big Five Tests
Ashton and Lee, the psychologists behind HEXACO, have a test on hexaco.org where you can see where you rank for each of the HEXACO terms (and see median scores from participants.) If you want to assess a friend’s HEXACO inventory, you can choose this option before you start the test. Psychologists are still collecting data related to the HEXACO inventory, so your results will be recorded and used in further studies. When you get your results, you can see a broken down ranking of each element (and see your score for anxiety, patience, creativity, etc.) There are many other tests that measure how you relate to each of the Big Five terms online as well.
How to Use The Big Five Test (Examples)
The Big Five test, and other personality tests based on theory, are not just for contemplation. These tests have real-world applications. Consider using this test to get to know yourself, people in your life, and people all over the world!
Get To Know Yourself
The easiest way to get to know the Big Five model is to take a test! See the results for yourself. You may find that the results are right on the money, or that they reveal a truth about yourself that your friends have been trying to tell you for years! Did you think your agreeable score or neuroticism score would be as high or low as it is? You don’t have to take the test too seriously. Don’t let the results change the course of your life. But enjoy getting to know what the answers reveal about your personality and behavior through the lens of the Five Factor model.
The Big Five test is one of many frameworks that psychologists have developed to categorize and identify different personalities. If this is the first personality test you’ve taken, consider learning ore about the Myers Briggs test or even this Type A vs. Type B test. Compare your answers! What do these different approaches say about who you are as a person, how you see the world, and how you interact with others?
Get To Know Your Team
Personality tests are a common team-building tool. Tests with extensive results like the Big Five work best when discussed among smaller teams. If you work with a group of 2-5 other people, try taking this test and comparing your results.
Big Five test results not only reveal your personality traits but also how you approach certain situations at work. For example, a person who is high in conscientiousness (particularly orderliness and cautiousness) may take extra time to look over their work and make sure a project will be presented up to their standards. Someone who is not high in those areas of conscientiousness but high in areas of agreeableness may present a rougher draft, expecting their coworkers to provide feedback so the final results are the best they can be. Unless these intentions are communicated, the two team members may clash.
Send this test around to your teammates and ask them to share their results and answer the following questions:
- Which of the Big Five traits best describes you at work?
- Which of the Big Five traits best describes you outside of work?
- What traits do you appreciate most from your team members?
- Based on your results, what is one thing you want your team to know about you?
The answers may surprise you, and that’s a good thing!
Consider The Experience of Others
We so often see the world from our viewpoint that we can fail to consider the viewpoints of others. But not everyone thinks and behaves the same way. Whether nature or nurture shapes us, there is no denying that every person is unique.
Look at your results and what they say about your personality. Then, think about what it might be like to take the test and get a completely different set of results. How might someone who is not as open to experiences see the world? When a very conscientious person starts their day, how might it look different than someone who is not conscientious? How would a more or less neurotic person like to be treated, or treat other people?
This is a fun exercise, but it can also help you be aware of why someone may behave in a certain way. Thinking about the varying levels of openness, conscientiousness, etc. may also help you to avoid misunderstandings with people who are different from you. At the end of the day, most people just want to be treated with respect and kindness. And they probably deserve it, no matter what the results of their personality test say. Understanding another person’s perspective can help you meet them where they are and treat them the way they wanted to be treated.
Give these tests a try and see how what the Big Five results and HEXACO results say about you. Share these results with your friends and see if they agree. If you are surprised by your results or your peers’ assessment of your personality, then it might be time for some self-reflection and activities to get to know your true self.