A 101 on the Big Five personality theory

The ‘Big Five’ are the five overarching domains of personality traits, identified by researchers as encompassing most known personality traits. 

The first letters of the factors spell OCEAN, which can help you to remember them:

  • Openness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

Like MBTI and the Enneagram, the Big Five can help improve your self-knowledge and awareness, which as I’ve discussed on this blog before here and here, is inherently difficult to come by. It can also help you to know where to target your personal growth efforts.

If you’re into personality psychology, then you’ll want to know what the Big Five are, and how you rank in each factor.

1. Openness

Hallmarks of those who score high in openness to experience are things like willingness to try to new things, to be vulnerable and to think outside the box. 

Such individuals also tend to have a wide variety of interests, are imaginative, insightful, prefer variety, are creative, complex and perceptive.

People that score high in openness should capitalize on that by exploring the world, themselves and their passions.

If you’re high in openness, then you probably love learning. Having this trait gives you an orientation towards personal growth. 

If you’re low in openness on the other hand, you probably prefer routine over variety, and stick to what you know.

Apparently this is the trait that changes the least over time (but really, any personality trait can be cultivated with a little effort.)

2. Conscientiousness

Those who are highly conscientious are better at controlling their impulses and acting in socially acceptable ways. Conscientious people are those most able to delay gratification, work within the rules, and plan and organize effectively.

Associated traits include being ambitious and persistent, thorough, self-disciplined, consistent, reliable, predictable, resourceful and hard working.

Someone who is high in conscientiousness is likely to be successful in life, depending on their other traits. A person who is low in conscientiousness is much more likely to procrastinate, to be flighty and impulsive.

If you score high on conscientiousness, be grateful for your capacities for achievement and be aware of unhelpful perfectionism.

If you score high in this naturally, you may have an advantage over others when it comes to becoming successful – so long as you don’t fall prey to exaggerated perfectionism.

3. Extraversion

Extraverts are outgoing and energetic, talkative, articulate, affectionate, friendly and socially confident.

People high in extraversion are prone to action, rather than contemplation. Those low in extraversion however tend to be more quiet, introspective, reserved, and thoughtful.

If you score high in extraversion, ensure you get plenty of interaction with others but grow your ability for introspection to ensure your decisions reflect thoughtfulness and care.

Those who score high in extroversion are likely to make friends easily and enjoy interacting with others. Depending on how they rank in agreeableness, they may want to pay extra attention to thinking before acting and considering the needs of others.

4. Agreeableness

While extraversion pertains to the pursuit of interaction with others, agreeableness concerns your orientation to others.

People who score high in agreeableness tend to be altruistic, trusting, modest, humble, patient, moderate, tactful, polite, kind and loyal. They’re also relatively unselfish, sensitive and considerate.

People on the low end of the agreeableness spectrum however tend to be blunt, antagonistic and sarcastic.

If you score high on agreeableness, make sure your tendency to put others ahead of yourself doesn’t lead you to miss out on opportunities for success, learning, and development.

Individuals high in agreeableness tend to enjoy excellent relationships with those around them, but they’re in danger of bending over backwards too much, missing out on opportunities for themselves. 

Those who are friendly and agreeable to others can leverage their strengths by turning to their social support network for help when needed, and finding fulfillment in positive engagement with their community.

5. Neuroticism

Those high in neuroticism are generally given to emotional instability, anxiety, sadness, worry, and low self-esteem. They may be moody and easily angered.

Individuals who score on the low end of neuroticism are more likely to feel confident, sure of themselves, and adventurous. They may also be less plagued by worry or self-doubt.

If you score high in neuroticism, invest in improving self-confidence and esteem.

Overall, high neuroticism is related to added difficulties in life. If you do score high in this, invest in growing your inner resources. Learn to like and love yourself, build your confidence, and seek to improve your self esteem

Assessing the Big Five

If you want a free test, I suggest you do this one, which will give you your percentiles for each category.

If you don’t mind paying, then try doing  Jordan Peterson’s test. (This guy seems pretty pleased with it).

General comments on how to use this

Once you learn more about your strengths and weaknesses, and if you aren’t happy with what you found out, you need to design your own self-interventions. Otherwise it’s useless knowledge!

Once you learn about how you rank and if you aren’t happy with the scores, then design your own self-interventions.

For instance, upon learning of my middling score in conscientiousness, I’ve been thinking on what I can do to improve on this. I haven’t decided on any specific actions yet, but they are brewing. 

I really encourage you to learn about the Big Five alongside Myers Briggs, the Enneagram and the Graves model (see related articles). Between them, they offer a detailed map of the terrain of you. 

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