Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism make up psychology’s Big Five personality traits.
Acronymized as OCEAN or CANOE, this five-factor model of personality is the most widely used framework for describing different emotional, interpersonal, experiential, attitudinal, and motivational styles. Learning about the way you characteristically think, feel, and behave can help determine your strengths, as well as where to focus your energy and attention. Before we explore these different traits, let’s go over what personality means, the background of The Big Five, and where you can see how you score on the scale.
What Is Personality?
Humans have so much in common, but one thing that sets us apart from each other is our individual personalities. Your thoughts, feelings, interests, abilities, desires, values, and preferences are what make you, you. Personality is why people in the same situation may react differently, behave differently, and see things differently.
Not only does personality trait psychology seek to understand variation in how people feel, act, and think, and want, but it also identifies, explains, and summarizes characteristic patterns over time and space. The ABC’s (and sometimes D) of personality are:
The Big Five
Personality traits explain or summarize patterns in how we feel, how we think, and what we want as they lead to behavior. Also known as the Five-Factor Model of personality, The Big Five is a reliable way to conceptualize and measure individual differences. One of the most prominent personality psychology researchers, American psychologist Lewis Goldberg, came up with this theory back in the ’90s and it still the prevailing way to conceptualize and understand personality.
Each factor or dimension is an umbrella for related behavioral characteristics and traits. Instead of putting people in categories, this model recognizes that everyone has varying levels of each personality factor.
Big Five Test
Find out where you land on the spectrum of Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism on Truity.
The Big-Five personality traits can influence important life outcomes such as mental health, mental disorders, job success, marriage satisfaction, and even mortality. For example, one study found that neuroticism significantly predicted chronic illness. For each factor below, I will also include a prediction of life outcome for people who scored highest in that category. Without further ado, here are the Big Five dimensions of personality.
Extroversion concerns how an individual interacts with others. Extroverts are marked by their pronounced engagement with the external world and are known to seek fulfillment outside of themselves or in the community. People who score low on the extroversion scale are of course, more introverted. Generally, extroverts get their energy from others, while introverts prefer to re-charge their batteries in solitude.
Extroverts are the “life of the party.” They tend to seek out opportunities for social interaction, and don’t mind being the center of attention. These enthusiastic, action-oriented individuals enjoy interacting with others and are often perceived as full of energy. Positive Psychology states that “Extroverts are often assertive, active, and sociable, shunning self-denial in favor of excitement and pleasure.” According to The SAGE Encyclopedia of Lifespan Human Development (The SAGE), high scorers in extroversion “enjoy socializing with others, are comfortable expressing themselves in group situations, and frequently experience positive emotions such as enthusiasm and excitement.”
Highly extraverted individuals are:
- Comfortable with others
- Prone to action rather than contemplation
- Have a tendency for affection
Prediction of Life Outcome
High extroversion correlates with functioning effectively, general well-being, positive emotions, and overconfidence in task performance. The SAGE notes that “highly extraverted individuals tend to have more friends and dating partners and are seen by their peers as having a higher social status.” However, Positive Psychology says that people who score highly in extroversion “may want to pay extra attention to making well-thought-out decisions and considering the needs and sensitivities of others.” The SAGE states that extroverts “generally prefer and perform better in social and enterprising occupations, and are more likely to adopt community leadership roles.”
Has anyone ever described you as emotional or moody? If so, you may be neurotic. Neuroticism refers to one’s emotional stability and general temper. The SAGE says that “Highly neurotic individuals are prone to experiencing anxiety, sadness, and mood swings. On the opposite side of the spectrum, “emotionally stable individuals tend to remain calm and resilient, even in difficult circumstances.”
Positive Psychology adds that those high in neuroticism generally worry and have low self-esteem. They “may be temperamental or easily angered, and they tend to be self-conscious and unsure of themselves.” However, Positive Psychology also points out that neuroticism isn’t “a factor of meanness or incompetence, but one of confidence and being comfortable in one’s own skin.” People who score low in this sector are more likely to be confident, adventurous, brave, and unencumbered by worry or self-doubt.
Highly neurotic people can be:
Prediction of Life Outcome
High neuroticism predicts psychopathology and physical health problems. If you’re already in a dismal mood, this won’t help: High scores in neuroticism correlate with lack of contentment in one’s life achievements, an increased likelihood of becoming clinically depressed, and an increased risk of anxiety and mood disorders. According to Positive Psychology, “Neuroticism has been linked to poorer job performance and lower motivation, including motivation related to goal-setting and self-efficacy.” It’s also related to added difficulties in life such as addiction, and unhealthy adjustment to life’s changes.
Problems with emotional regulation can diminish one’s ability to think clearly, make decisions, and cope effectively with stress. People who identify as emotionally reactive and vulnerable to stress should work at improving their self-confidence, avoid addictive substances, and build a network of resources to draw on in times of difficulty.
Agreeableness concerns how we interact with others and reflects how much we adjust our behavior to suit others. The SAGE states that “Agreeableness captures differences in compassion, respectfulness, and acceptance of others.” Furthermore, “Agreeable individuals experience emotional concern for others’ well-being, treat others with regard for their personal rights and preferences, and hold generally positive beliefs about others.” Low scorers, or disagreeable individuals who have less regard for others (and for social norms of politeness), would fall into the “tell it like it is” category, while high-scorers are polite people pleasers.
Positive Psychology postulates that “Agreeableness may be motivated by the desire to fulfill social obligations or follow established norms, or it may spring from a genuine concern for the welfare of others.” To be sure, Agreeable folks can be characterized as having few enemies, being affectionate with friends and loved ones, and are sympathetic to the plights of strangers. Agreeableness is linked with a sense of humor, forgiveness, and gratitude, whereas people who score low in agreeableness tend to be antagonistic, blunt, callous, ill-tempered, rude, and sarcastic.
Highly Agreeable people are usually:
Prediction of Life Outcome
Because it influences interpersonal interactions, agreeableness affects many life outcomes. According to a 2006 literature review, people who score highly in agreeableness are more likely to have positive, satisfactory relationships; get the jobs they want; live long lives; and volunteer in their community. The SAGE states that highly agreeable individuals “generally prefer social occupations and are more likely to hold religious beliefs, perform volunteer work, and serve in community leadership roles.”
Individuals high in agreeableness tend to be well-liked, with stable relationships. However, “there is a slight risk of consistently putting others before themselves and missing out on opportunities for success, learning, and development” according to Positive Psychology, which recommends leaning on “social support networks for help” and “finding fulfillment in positive engagement with their communities.”
“Proper planning prevents poor performance” is the conscientious person’s life motto. The Big-Five Trait Taxonomy published by the University of California at Berkeley describes conscientiousness as “socially prescribed impulse control that facilitates task- and goal-directed behavior, such as thinking before acting, delaying gratification, following norms and rules, and planning, organizing, and prioritizing tasks.”
It’s like the opposite of hedonism. The SAGE says that “Conscientiousness represents differences in organization, productiveness, and responsibility.” Conscientiousness people value achievement and conformity. Unconscientious individuals may be messy or more comfortable with disorder. They are less motivated to complete tasks, which makes them much more likely to procrastinate. People who score low on conscientiousness may cheat others or be flighty, impetuous, and impulsive.
Highly Conscientious individuals:
- Prefer order and structure to disorder
- Work persistently to pursue their goals
- Are committed to fulfilling their duties and obligations
- Are honest and hardworking
- Tend to follow rules
- Prefer clean homes
Prediction of Life Outcome
Conscientiousness is strongly related to effective job performance, intrinsic and extrinsic career success, and post-training learning. “People high in conscientiousness are likely to be successful in school and in their careers, to excel in leadership positions, and to doggedly pursue their goals with determination and forethought” according to Positive Psychology.
The SAGE states that “Conscientiousness is an important predictor of achievement,” including better grades for students and better performance at work. However, conscientious people also have better health-related outcomes. Perhaps due to their tendency to engage in healthy behaviors such as exercise and eating healthfully and avoid risky behaviors such as smoking, highly conscientious individuals tend to live longer. Positive Psychology pontificates, “As long as the highly conscientious do not fall prey to exaggerated perfectionism, they are likely to achieve many of the traditional markers of success.”
Openness to Experience
It goes without saying that people who are open to experience are willing to try new things. Also sometimes called intellect or imagination, openness to experience describes the depth and complexity of an individual’s mental life and experiences. The SAGE explains that Openness “represents differences in intellectual curiosity, aesthetic sensitivity, and imagination.” Adding that, “Highly open individuals enjoy thinking and learning, are sensitive to art and beauty, and generate original ideas, whereas close-minded individuals tend to have a narrow range of intellectual and creative interests.”
Positive Psychology notes that people who are open to experience tend to enjoy the arts, engage in a creative career or hobby, and like meeting new people. In contrast, those who are less open to experience prefer routine to variety in an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” kind of way.
People who are highly open to new experiences may share these common traits:
- General appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, imagination, curiosity, and variety of experience
- Intellectually curious
- Love learning
- More likely to hold unconventional beliefs
- Open to emotion
- Preference for variety/Varied interests
- Seek new experiences and intellectual pursuits
- Sensitive to beauty
Prediction of Life Outcome
Openness to Experience is “most strongly associated with intellectual and creative outcomes” per The SAGE, which adds that highly open individuals tend to pursue scientific and artistic occupations. Those high in openness “make strong and creative leaders and are most likely to come up with the next big innovation” according to Positive Psychology, which states that this personality factor may be the most likely to help an individual grow, drawing a positive correlation between openness and creativity, originality, and exploration of the inner self.
Highly open people may be perceived as unpredictable or unfocused. In their effort to pursue self-actualization, they seek out intense, euphoric experiences and are more likely to engage in risky behavior or take drugs. With this in mind, individuals with high openness should explore the world, themselves, and their passions.