Who are you? Should your identity be defined by your age and gender, background and interests, plans and aspirations? Whatever you tend to prioritize, your personality is certainly an undeniable part of who you are.
Psychologists have been theorizing about the nature of personality and its components since the 1880s. The initial 1400 personality traits identified by the 1960s were reduced to sixteen “fundamental factors” by Raymond Cattel (Berman). Later three-factor models were proposed. The most prominent theory today, however, includes 5 main factors of personality and was pioneered by McCrae, Costa, Goldberg and others in the 1980s (Cherry). It is known as “The Big Five” personality theory.
The traits are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. OCEAN is the acronym usually used to memorize these traits. Each of them tends to be conceptualized as a scale with two extremes, with most people falling somewhere in-between. The Big Five theory has survived years of extensive research in different settings and continues to be the dominant theory in the field. The recent research has been focusing on the traits’ stability over the lifespan and how they might be viewed as a spectrum rather than polarized dichotomies. The overview of the traits with some examples is provided below.
- Openness to experience
Openness as a trait is associated with the depth and complexity of one’s internal experiences, such as insight and imagination. Individuals high in this trait are typically willing to be vulnerable and try new things. Their creativity and ability to think outside of the box can be valuable in the workplace. They also find it enjoyable to think about philosophy and abstract concepts. Such people value art and aesthetics and prefer variety over routine.Those low on the openness trait tend to have a lower range of interests and be more conservative. They are also more conventional and down-to-earth. Dealing with the routines and everyday practical problems is easier for them, and they are more successful in it that their high-on-openness counterparts. They tend to stick with what they know and resist change.
Highly conscious people have a good impulse-control and ability to forgo immediate gratification for the sake of long-term goals achievement. They are thoughtful, hard-working and consistently engage in a goal-directed behaviour. Such individuals tend to be good planners and prefer to have a set schedule for themselves. These traits lead them to get ahead in diverse school and work settings and as a consequence occupy leadership positions.Those low in conscientiousness may find their lives more enjoyable because of their better capacity for relaxation, as opposed to conscious people who need to be constantly reminded to let go. On the opposite side, they are usually less productive as they spend some time procrastinating. Taking care of things and staying organized aren’t among their strengths.
The question of the source of one’s energy is also sometimes called “surgency”, but that would ruin the OCEAN acronym. Extraversion is characterized as having high levels of excitability. Such individuals light up around other people and get their energy levels restored through communication. You would find highly extraverted individuals in the spotlight, often as the life of the party. Thrill-seeking by nature, they enjoy overcoming new challenges, meeting new people and often radiate warmth and positive emotions. While being a good trait for leadership positions, it has its own downsides. For instance, extraverts tend to get bored easily in the absence of excitement. They also do not tolerate well the long periods of solitude.Introverts, on the other hand, are usually exhausted by abundant social interactions. They tend to have a smaller circle of mostly close friends. Interaction is essential for them as well, but they simply seek it out less. Solitude is what makes them recharged and ready to face the real world again.
Agreeableness is the trait associated with trust and altruism. If you are high on this trait, you have no problems trusting other people and you are compassionate towards them and their sufferings. You are willing to help others and usually straightforward in your though expression. At the same time, being agreeable as you are, you sometimes may let others take advantage of you. This happens because you prefer to preserve peace at all costs.Less agreeable people tend to get what they want more often, such as a pay raise or a prestigious position. They do not trust the outside world and people in it that much, so they do not come off to others as “warm”. They are sometimes seen as rude, selfish and even cruel, in some more extreme cases.
Neuroticism is the only one of the Big Five traits, high levels on which indicate purely negative emotivity. The trait refers to how comfortable one is in their own skin; how confident they are and their general level of emotional stability. Those high in neuroticism are usually more prone to depression and anxiety, as they are more fearful, insecure and moody. Given their low levels of resilience, highly neurotic people do not tend to be particularly happy. Low scores in neuroticism are associated with greater confidence, stability and life satisfaction. The most important thing to remember, however, is that any of Big Five traits can probably be modified within a certain biologically determined range if one puts enough work into it.
Cherry, Kendra. (2018). The Big Five Personality Traits. Very Well Mind. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/the-big-five-personality-dimensions-2795422
Ackerman, Courtney. (2017). Big Five Traits & The 5-Factor Model Explained. Positive Psychology Program. Retrieved from https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/big-five-personality-theory/
Berman, Robby. (2017) The Big Five Personality Traits and What They Mean to Psychologists. Big Think. Retrieved from http://bigthink.com/robby-berman/the-5-personality-types-and-why-you-care