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31.2: The Five-Factor Model Of Personality

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    Research that used the lexical approach showed that many of the personality descriptors found in the dictionary do indeed overlap. In other words, many of the words that we use to describe people are synonyms. Thus, if we want to know what a person is like, we do not necessarily need to ask how sociable they are, how friendly they are, and how gregarious they are. Instead, because sociable people tend to be friendly and gregarious, we can summarize this personality dimension with a single term. Someone who is sociable, friendly, and gregarious would typically be described as an “Extravert.” Once we know she is an extravert, we can assume that she is sociable, friendly, and gregarious.

    Statistical methods (specifically, a technique called factor analysis) helped to determine whether a small number of dimensions underlie the diversity of words that people like Allport and Odbert identified. The most widely accepted system to emerge from this approach was “The Big Five” or “Five-Factor Model” (Goldberg, 1990; McCrae & Costa, 1987; McCrae & John, 1992). The Big Five comprises five major traits shown in Table \(\PageIndex{1}\). A way to remember these five is with the acronym OCEAN (O is for Openness; C is for Conscientiousness; E is for Extraversion; A is for Agreeableness; N is for Neuroticism). Table \(\PageIndex{2}\) provides descriptions of people who would score high and low on each of these traits.

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): Descriptions of the Big Five Personality Traits

    Big Five Trait



    The tendency to appreciate new art, ideas, values, feelings, and behaviors


    The tendency to be careful, to be on-time for appointments, to follow rules, and to be hardworking


    The tendency to be talkative, to be sociable, and to enjoy others; the tendency to have a dominant style


    The tendency to agree and go along with others rather than to assert one’s own opinions and choices


    The tendency to frequently experience negative emotions such as anger, worry, and sadness; the tendency to be interpersonally sensitive

    Table \(\PageIndex{2}\):Example Behaviors for Those Scoring low and High for the Big Five Traits

    Big Five Trait

    Example Behavior for LOW Scorers

    Example Behavior for HIGH Scorers


    Prefers not to be exposed to alternative moral systems; narrow interests; inartistic; not analytical; down-to-earth

    Enjoys seeing people with new types of haircuts and body piercing; curious; imaginative; untraditional


    Prefers spur-of-the-moment action to planning; unreliable; hedonistic; careless; lax

    Never late for a date; organized; hardworking; neat; persevering; punctual; self-disciplined


    Prefers a quiet evening reading to a loud party; sober; aloof; unenthusiastic

    Is the life of the party; active; optimistic; fun-loving; affectionate


    Quickly and confidently asserts own rights; irritable; manipulative; uncooperative; rude

    Agrees with others about political opinions; good- natured; forgiving; gullible; helpful


    Not irritated by small annoyances; calm; unemotional; hardy; secure; self-satisfied

    Constantly worries about little things; insecure; hypochondriacal; feels inadequate

    Scores on the Big Five traits are mostly independent. That means that a person’s standing on one trait tells very little about their standing on the other traits of the Big Five. For example, a person can be extremely high in Extraversion and be either high or low on Neuroticism. Similarly, a person can be low in Agreeableness and be either high or low in Conscientiousness. Thus, in the Five-Factor Model, you need five scores to describe most of an individual’s personality.

    In the Appendix to this reading, we present a short scale to assess the Five-Factor Model of personality (Donnellan et al., 2006). You can take this test to see where you stand in terms of your Big Five scores. John Johnson has also created a helpful website that has personality scales that can be used and taken by the general public:

    After seeing your scores, you can judge for yourself whether you think such tests are valid.

    Traits are important and interesting because they describe stable patterns of behavior that persist for long periods of time (Caspi et al., 2005). Importantly, these stable patterns can have broad-ranging consequences for many areas of our life (Roberts et al., 2007). For instance, think about the factors that determine success in college. If you were asked to guess what factors predict good grades in college, you might guess something like intelligence. This guess would be correct, but we know much more about who is likely to do well. Specifically, personality researchers have also found that personality traits like Conscientiousness play an important role in college and beyond, probably because highly conscientious individuals study hard, get their work done on time, and are less distracted by nonessential activities that take time away from school work. In addition, highly conscientious people are often healthier than people low in conscientiousness because they are more likely to maintain healthy diets, to exercise, and to follow basic safety procedures like wearing seat belts or bicycle helmets. Over the long term, this consistent pattern of behaviors can add up to meaningful differences in health and longevity. Thus, personality traits are not just a useful way to describe people you know; they actually help psychologists predict how good a worker someone will be, how long he or she will live, and the types of jobs and activities the person will enjoy. Thus, there is growing interest in personality psychology among psychologists who work in applied settings, such as health psychology or organizational psychology.

    This page titled 31.2: The Five-Factor Model Of Personality is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Kate Votaw.

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