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The Big Five: openness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, and conscientiousness

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A basic introduction to the Big Five personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

Introduction: The Big Five

You’ve probably heard of them before: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

But how much do you really know about the so-called Big Five personality traits? This post is for anyone who wants a basic introduction to the Big Five.

In this article, we’ll take a brief look at each of the five main traits, their strengths and weaknesses, and what they mean in practice. If you’re only just dipping your toes into the world of personality psychology, then this is the place to start!

Big Five personality traits: definition

If you were to ask someone to name the five most important personality traits, they’d likely mentions things like “confidence” or “shyness.”

While these are certainly good guesses, they’re not actually part of the Big Five — a set of five personality traits that have been identified as the most important in influencing human behavior.

These five dimensions describe human personality and temperament, and they also direct our thoughts and actions.

These are broad constructs that group several related personality traits under a single heading. They were identified through a statistical procedure called factor analysis over the last several decades, and represent the largest dataset in personality psychology to date.

Understanding the Big Five traits of yourself and those around you is crucial for effective communication and teamwork. And if you want a better understanding of yourself or your friends or family members, knowing about each trait can be valuable.

So here they are, in no particular order:

1. Openness

Openness (also known as Openness to Experience) is one of the five dimensions of personality. It means, perhaps unsurprisingly, the tendency to be open to new things and new idea.

Openness to experience means a person’s dispositional tendency to use his or her senses to derive pleasure from engaging in novel, complex, or out-of-the-ordinary activities.

People who score high in openness tend to be more creative and curious. They tend to prefer variety and novelty over routine and are more likely to embrace new ideas and experiences. People high in openness to experience tend to have more intellectual interests, like classical music, abstract art, and complex books.

Being open-minded allows them to carry on a number of discussions simultaneously, even about highly controversial topics. They’re good at innovating and seeing novel ideas, or adapting an idea from one area to another when more creativity is required.

When an idea is unexpected, a person high in openness to experience is more likely to try it out and provide constructive feedback. Those high in openness seem to have a lot of energy to explore the world around them. They excel at making creative connections and evaluating new ideas.

Being open requires a willingness to examine the premises of a problem, and propose a hypothesis about what may be needed to solve it.

Examples of being open to experience:

  • You probably get energized by, and are interested, in new experiences.
  • You’re interested in things. You don’t spend time thinking about how life was so much better back when dinosaurs ruled.
  • You’re interested in ideas, new cultures, new foods, new ideas, new places, new technologies, and you care about how the world works.
  • So you’re very curious and you always look for new things to learn.
  • In fact, you’ve probably thought to yourself “This new crazy technology is going to change everything.”
  • You’re interested in ideas and how people interpret them, and you’re eager to find out why people think what they think.
  • You like learning new things and new ideas. You like learning about new ideas and ways of life.
  • You like talking about new things and new places.
  • You often like trying new things, new foods, new drinks, new stories, and new activities.
  • Because of this, you’re often more interested in what others are doing, where they’re going, and what their hopes and dreams are.

2. Conscientiousness

Conscientiousness is the tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement.

Conscientiousness is an overall tendency to be persistent, organized, and responsible for work or work performance. With good reason, people who score high on this dimension tend to demonstrate the highest levels of achievement in their jobs.

Conscientiousness is also the ability to pay attention to details and follow directions.

Conscientious people tend to be dependable and responsible. They are thorough in their work, organized and planful.

Examples of being conscientious:

  • You’re very concerned with what’s right and what’s wrong, and you tend to hold yourself accountable for what you do.
  • You tend to take responsibility for yourself.
  • You may ask yourself “What did I do wrong?” but you don’t blame yourself or anyone else.
  • You’re careful, organized, and goal-oriented.
  • You like routine, order, and things that are straightforward and predictable.
  • You’re often driven and motivated by rules and structure.
  • You like planning your life. You like following plans.
  • People often find you to be direct and to the point.
  • you take responsibility for your actions and you tend to think about yourself.
  • You want to be in charge of things and get things done right.
  • You’re a very productive person who likes to plan out what needs to get done and make sure that it gets done.
  • You like being organized and keeping things on a schedule.
  • You hate having a mess or making mistakes.
  • People tend to think that you are sensible and responsible.

3. Extroversion

Extroversion (sometimes spelled “extraversion”) means the quality of wanting to meet lots of people and networking as much as possible.

Extroversion is an outgoing, gregarious, and chatty personality style characterized by a preference for activities that bring the individual pleasure or thrill.

People generally fall into two camps when it comes to how they interact with the outside world. There are extroverts, who gain energy from being around people and reflect inwardly from spending time alone. Then there are introverts, who gain energy from time alone and reflect inwardly by interacting with people.

Introversion and extroversion is a spectrum, not a dichotomy — most people fall somewhere in the middle of the two ends.

There’s also an assumption that introverts are shy, socially awkward, and don’t like people. However, introversion is not the same as social awkwardness or shyness.

Extroversion goes hand in hand with its opposite, introversion. Extroverts and introverts don’t like the same things. As an extrovert, you like people and fun, engaging things. As an introvert, you like quiet and reflective time.

Examples of being an extrovert:

  • You enjoy other people. You’re outgoing and you like people
  • Likewise, people feel comfortable around you.
  • You like to spend time with people and do things with them.
  • You also like to talk a lot.
  • People say you’re fun to be around.
  • You’re easily entertained. You also find life very interesting and exciting.
  • You have a good time in social situations. You’re outgoing and willing to try new things.
  • You get energy from being around people, whereas introverts are people whose energy is gained from being alone, and they often feel drained after spending time around other people, and then need “alone time” to recharge.

4. Agreeableness

The Big Five personality trait of agreeableness means a person’s tendency to be compassionate and cooperative, rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others.

Agreeable people tend to be good-natured, cooperative, and trusting. They are also usually considerate, generous, and willing to compromise their own interests for those of others.

Agreeable people tend to have more empathy for others, and will display generosity towards others.

More generally, agreeableness is an interpersonal style characterized by a desire to work toward harmony and social cooperation.

Examples of being agreeable:

  • You’re generous and caring towards other people.
  • You’re friendly and you tend to be open-minded and willing to give people a chance.
  • You like to help other people, even if they’re not necessarily helpful or reasonable.
  • People feel comfortable being around you. You’re easy to get along with.
  • People tend to think you’re kind, caring, and friendly.
  • You’re pleasant to be around, especially if you’re with friends.
  • You tend to be good at making friends.
  • You tend to think about others first.
  • You want to make sure that people are happy and that you don’t hurt anyone’s feelings.
  • You’re happy to be part of a group.
  • You’re good at finding ways to make people feel better about themselves.
  • You’re concerned about your reputation and how people see you.
  • You tend to want to please other people.
  • You often care about other people’s feelings. You take other people’s feelings into account before yours.
  • You like making people feel good.

4. Neuroticism

Neuroticism is the tendency to experience negative emotions and stress in response to things that others might not experience as stressful.

It goes hand in hand with its opposite, known as “emotional stability”; in fact, the term “emotional stability” is gradually replacing neuroticism as the preferred way to describe this Big Five dimension.

Examples of being neurotic:

  • You tend to have a low tolerance for stress and a relatively low degree of self-control.
  • You tend to get nervous, even if you’re not afraid of things.
  • You are likely to experience anxiety about things.
  • If something goes wrong, you tend to lose control and experience emotional turmoil.
  • You tend to be sensitive to stress and not able to be in control of it.
  • Even if you’re confident, you can’t predict how you’ll respond to something that’s stressful.
  • You’re likely to be more upset by things that could be easily managed or avoided.
  • You’re emotional and often experience feelings of frustration, irritation, fear, and anxiety.
  • You worry too much about things.
  • You’re quick to (over) react, which means you make mistakes.
  • People often think that you’re sensitive.
  • You can be moody and stressed out.

Conclusion: learning more about the Big Five

If you want a better understanding of someone you know, or even yourself, the Big Five personality traits can make it easier to understand why people behave the way they do.

Knowing about these traits can also be very useful when creating marketing strategies and making decisions in your business and life.

Moreover, understanding others can lead to stronger relationships and more fulfilling interactions with one another, while understanding yourself can help you feel better about who you are as a person and achieve your potential!

Examples of the Big Five in recent personality research:

  • A new study shows that our brain can identify people who are high in agreeableness (collaborative, generous, altruistic, and caring).
  • Research finds finds that results on a dog personality test tend to change as dogs get older: they grow less curious, but also more attached.
  • A new study shows horror fans had more psychological resilience during the pandemic. Fans of “prepper” movies were also more prepared.
  • People who hoarded during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic tend to score high in the traits of extraversion and neuroticism.
  • A new study has found that people low in neuroticism and high in openness are less likely to follow shelter in place rules.
  • Study shows that a distinct psychological profile known as the “frontier mentality” is still widespread in the western United States.
  • Thinking and behaving optimistically are the latest personality traits tat an MRI scanner can reveal, according to a new study.
  • A new study finds that healthy narcissism relates to more voting, more law-abidingness, and more involvement in the community.

Photo: by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

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