Big Five Personality Traits is a five dimension classification system that illuminates the vast experience of being human. Trait theory reduces human diversity by narrowing personality to five basic groupings.
Gordon Allport and Henry Odbert formed a list of 4,500 personality traits in 1936. Psychologists and researchers slowly reduced the primary traits to sixteen and eventually settled on the Big Five. Lengthy lists make identifying and researching impossible because of the endless variables. Eventually, the psychology recognized the five trait model as the “Big Five.” In brief, the versatility of five general traits has led to diverse testing across populations and cultures.
The Five Factors
The theory identifies five factors:
- extraversion (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved)
- agreeableness (friendly/compassionate vs. critical/rational)
- openness to experience (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious)
- conscientiousness (efficient/organized vs. extravagant/careless)
- neuroticism (sensitive/nervous vs. resilient/confident)
Many remember the five factors using the acronyms “OCEAN” or “CANOE.”
The Big Five traits are dimensions along which all people can be placed, with most falling in the middle regions and a few falling along the full range of scores. Then, clinicians place the scores of each dimension on a continuum between the two extreme ends.
For example, when measuring the trait of Extraversion, one would not be classified as purely extroverted or introverted, but placed on a continuum determining a level of extraversion. henceforth, by measuring individuals on each of the five traits, research can effectively examine individual differences in personality based upon rankings.
For research purposes, personality traits are measured through standardized testing or inventories. Tests such as the Myers-Briggs lacks reliability and consistency. Consequently, results are mostly for personal reflection and entertainment.
The gold standard and most comprehensive personality inventory is NEO PI-R. Researchers published this revised version of the NEO PI in 1992. The NEO PI-R consists of 240 items that provide a detail score for each of the Big Five personality trait categories, along with six subcategories of each Big Five personality trait.
Biology and the Big Five Personality Traits
Like most aspects of our human existence, we are an intricate mixture of biological propensities and environmental interaction with the genetic givens. Brian R. Little PhD., an internationally acclaimed scholar and speaker in the field of personality and motivational psychology, states that “there is clear evidence that each of these dimensions of personality has a genetic component accounting for roughly 50 percent of the variation between people on each trait” (2016, location 598).
A recent study on sensory processing sensitivity (SPS) found a correlation between SPS, largely a biological condition, and the Big Five personality trait of Neuroticism (Yano, Kase, & Oishi, 2021). Perhaps, we may never no the complete picture to accurately assess percentages of nature and nurture impact. We should all agree that both biology and environment significantly impact our personality.
Little, B. R. (2016). Me, Myself, and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being. PublicAffairs; Reprint edition
Yano, K., Kase, T., & Oishi, K. (2021). The Associations Between Sensory Processing Sensitivity and the Big Five Personality Traits in a Japanese Sample. Journal of Individual Differences, 42(2), 84-90.