Episode #5 of the course Introduction to personality psychology: The Big 5 traits by Dr. Daniel McGrath
Welcome back! Today, we’re going to focus on the trait of conscientiousness.
Sample questionnaire items on conscientiousness include:
• I make plans and stick to them.
• I get chores done right away.
• I am exacting in my work.
People who are more conscientiousness would normally agree with statements like these, while people low on this trait would usually disagree.
Conscientiousness is a personality trait most associated with descriptors like organization, discipline, order, and impulse control. This trait has been found to increase through young adulthood. Of course, this is a time when young people begin to concentrate on developing careers, relationships, and families. It makes sense that people need to become more conscientious in order to juggle all these new obligations. Studies have also found that conscientiousness will often continue to increase as we age; however, these changes tend to be quite gradual over time. Typically, studies have found few differences between men and women on overall levels of conscientiousness.
Being High on Conscientiousness
Let’s take a look at high scores on conscientiousness. People high on this trait would describe themselves as being organized, and they like to have a plan in place. They make sure all the details are covered—they “dot their I’s and cross their T’s.” They are also long-term planners and are not impulsive by nature. While this discipline can often pay off in the long term, they may also lose out on having fun in the moment.
Their high degree of self-discipline is beneficial for a number of things. For instance, highly conscientiousness people are good at learning new information and work hard at it. Not surprisingly, they are often diligent in building careers and strive for success. Many are labeled as high achievers by other people.
Unsurprisingly, they are often attracted to careers that take a great deal of intellectual effort, such as law, medicine, or government.
While in general, being highly conscientiousness can be beneficial, it does have a significant downside. Having incredibly high standards for most of what they do puts them at risk for developing perfectionism, which can often be damaging and lead to many personal and professional problems.
Being Average on Conscientiousness
Most people fall in between the two extremes on conscientiousness. For those who score in the middle, they are able to balance both long-term and short-term goals effectively. They can be spontaneous but at the same time, are responsible and can prioritize and set boundaries. Being average on this trait is associated with being reliable and organized. Career success is also important, but not the only priority.
Being Low on Conscientiousness
Let’s take a look at below-average scores on conscientiousness. People who are low on conscientiousness tend to be somewhat more disorganized. They are more likely to live in the now and often choose to act impulsively, even when that may not be in their best interests. The decisions they make are often done quickly with less deliberate thought. As such, they can come to regret decisions later on. Subsequently, they are also not very goal-focused, with fewer concrete longer-term goals overall. While highly conscientiousness people are known to be punctual, this is often not the case for those low on this trait. They are more likely to find themselves being late for appointments, work, social events, etc. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this pattern of behavior can lead to conflict with other people.
Research has found that being low on conscientiousness is associated with a higher likelihood of infidelity and divorce, especially among men. In addition, low conscientiousness can be problematic for career success. Many of the factors related to success, like being dependable, punctual, and hardworking, are more often found in higher conscientiousness individuals. Lastly, people who are low on conscientiousness also tend to be more impulsive and as a result, engage in more risk-taking and addictive behavior.
Today’s Task: So, you now have a better understanding of conscientiousness. If you are interested in increasing your conscientiousness, here are straightforward tasks you can try:
• Create a list of both short-term goals you can accomplish now and long-term goals to work on.
• Spend time today cleaning up just one room in your home.
• Before going to sleep, make a detailed to-do list for tomorrow.
That’s it for today’s lesson on conscientiousness. Tomorrow, we are going to discuss the trait of extraversion.
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