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What are the Big Five Personality Traits?

Michael Anissimov
Updated May 21, 2024
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The "Big Five" personality traits are five empirically supported dimensions of personality -- Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (OCEAN, or CANOE if rearranged). This description is also known as the Five Factor Model (FFM). The Five Factor Model of personality traits was first presented by the president of the American Psychological Association, L.L. Thurstone, in 1933. Each factor is actually a cluster of more specific traits that are known to be statistically correlated. There is the most disagreement about the specifics of the trait of Openness.

The Five Factor Model of personality traits is meant to be descriptive (objectively presenting the data) rather than theoretical -- it does not attempt to explain why these traits are clustered and distinct. Many have attempted theories to explain it, but there is not full consensus on any one theory. To summarize what the personality traits mean:

Openness: appreciation for emotion, art, unusual ideas, adventure, curiosity, imagination, and variety of experience.

Conscientiousness: a tendency to act dutifully, show self-discipline, and aim for achievement; planned rather than spontaneous behavior.

Extraversion: positive emotions, energy, self-confidence, outgoingness, and the tendency to seek stimulation and the comfort of others.

Agreeableness: a tendency to be cooperative and compassionate rather than antagonistic and suspicious towards others.

Neuroticism: a tendency to experience negative emotions easily, such as depression, anxiety, anger, or vulnerability; sometimes called emotional stability.

When these values are scored via tests, the results are usually given in percentile format. As in, I might be in the 90th percentile for Openness, but only the 50th percentile for Conscientiousness. These personality traits are not absolute, but do persist when all else is equal.

The Five Factor Model was created using lexical analysis -- analyzing 17,953 personality-describing words, which were reduced to 4,504 adjectives, then just 171, through the elimination of synonyms and near-synonyms. In the 1940s, 16 major factors were isolated and considered the most important, and in 1961, it was trimmed down to just five. After two decades of a haitus in research, the Five Factor Model was revived in a conference in 1981 where a group of prominent personality researchers agreed that it was the most empirically accurate and predictive model available. Since the early 1980s, the Five Factor Model has been considered the most scientific of the personality tests, in contrast to, say, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), which is based on discredited typological theories of Carl Jung.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Anissimov
By Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated All The Science contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism to his articles. An avid blogger, Michael is deeply passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. His professional experience includes work with the Methuselah Foundation, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and Lifeboat Foundation, further showcasing his commitment to scientific advancement.
Discussion Comments
By davis22 — On Jun 19, 2010

@lori43 – Those kinds of people really bug me when they act that way. I know these two people, both of whom are friends. One of them is a bit of a character, and has a very ironic and unrestrained personality. This seems to rub my other friend the wrong way to the point where he will make an a** of himself just to verbally fight with my other friend. It’s uncomfortably hostile when those two are in the same room, and it’s definitely my antagonistic friend’s doing. I think most of the time though, people with antagonistic characteristics tend to focus their antagonism on certain things, like a person, animal, or a group.

By lori43 — On Jun 19, 2010

@anon72234 – According to dictionary.com, the word “antagonistic” means “acting in opposition or hostile”. Have you ever met someone who just loved to get into heated arguments about topics he or she has little to no knowledge about? Or how about someone who seemed to form an unwavering opinion on the spot for the simple sake of countering an idea or opinion that someone else proposed? I am sure at least one person you currently interact with on a regular basis acts this way. If it’s not you, I’m sure you find it rather “disagreeable”.

By anon72234 — On Mar 22, 2010

antagonistic -- meaning what?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated All The Science contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology...
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