An Overview of the Big 5 Model

05.11.2019 |

Episode #3 of the course Introduction to personality psychology: The Big 5 traits by Dr. Daniel McGrath


Welcome back! In today’s lesson, I want to introduce you to the Big 5 model of personality. Without a doubt, the Big 5 has become the dominant theory of personality, so much so, that it is widely accepted that the traits in this model are what make up human personality.

Unlike other personality theories, such as Freud’s, the Big 5 was developed using the scientific method. Specifically, personality researchers used a technique called the Lexical Approach to first identify likely traits. The Lexical Approach is actually quite simple to understand—it basically means that personality traits can most easily be identified by examining the words we use in our day-to-day language. For example, some people could be labeled as happy, gregarious, outgoing, or fun-loving. Other people might be seen as being anxious, worried, or glum. The question is this: Are each of these adjectives unique traits, or are they actually describing some kind of common element?

Next, using a statistical technique called Factor Analysis, researchers were able to reduce thousands of adjectives down to their common elements. These were grouped together with other similar words to create categories, and these categories were eventually described as being traits. The result of this work was the identification of five core traits. The model was first described and refined by psychologists Lewis Goldberg, as well as Paul Costa and Robert McCrae, beginning in the 1980s.

The Big 5 traits, also commonly known as the Five Factor Model, are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. An easy way to remember them is to use the acronym, O.C.E.A.N. Each of the traits is measured on a scale from low to high. Let’s take a quick look at each trait now. We will examine each trait separately with its own lesson starting tomorrow.

Openness (to experience): As a personality trait, openness describes the extent to which someone is willing to try new and novel experiences, embrace creativity, and enjoy intellectual pursuits.

Conscientiousness: People who are high on conscientiousness are seen by others as being hardworking, industrious, and organized. The trait is often associated with achievement and working toward a goal.

Extraversion: Sometimes also referred to as surgency, extraversion is a trait that is at the core of a number of personality models. It describes the desire to engage in social activities. People high in extraversion are often labeled as talkative, outgoing, and outspoken.

Agreeableness: The trait of agreeableness is best described by adjectives such as being kind, sincere, empathetic, and understanding. High agreeableness is often seen among people who place a high level of importance on getting along with others.

Neuroticism: Also referred to as emotional stability vs. instability, neuroticism is associated with consistent worrying, high anxiety, and feeling insecure in friendships and relationships.

These traits are most often measured using sophisticated questionnaires that have high validity and reliability. In other words, they are good at measuring what they are supposed to measure and provide consistent ratings over time. Psychologists can use the results of these questionnaires to then study how personality traits are associated with specific behaviors, and ultimately gain a better understanding of how Big 5 traits can help predict actions.

Today’s Task: If you are interested in learning more about your own scores on the Big 5 before we move on to each of the individual traits, I recommend that you take a quick online test. There are several available, but I suggest trying the Big 5 test on, which can be found here. The basic scoring and analysis of the test is free, and it takes roughly ten minutes to complete. Based on your results, you will be able to assess whether you are “high,” “average,” or “low” on each trait.

In tomorrow’s lesson, we are going to delve deeper into the Big 5 model by examining openness in more detail.


Recommended book

The Big Five Personality Factors by Boele De Raad


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