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Big Five Inventory

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Big Five Inventory

In psychology, the Big Five personality traits are five broad domains or dimensions of personality that are used to describe human personality. The theory based on the Big Five factors is called the Five Factor Model (FFM).[1] The Big Five factors are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Acronyms commonly used to refer to the five traits collectively are OCEAN, NEOAC, or CANOE. Beneath each factor, a cluster of correlated specific traits is found; for example, extraversion includes such related qualities as gregariousness, assertiveness, excitement seeking, warmth, activity, and positive emotions.[2]
The Big Five has been preferably used rather than other models, because it is able to account for different traits in personality without overlapping. During studies, the Big Five personality traits show consistency in interviews, self-descriptions and observations. Moreover, this five-factor structure seems to be found across a wide range of participants of different ages and of different cultures.[3]

The five factors

A summary of the factors of the Big Five and their constituent traits:[4]

  • Openness to experience: (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious). Appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity, and variety of experience. Openness reflects the degree of intellectual curiosity, creativity and a preference for novelty and variety a person has. It is also described as the extent to which a person is imaginative or independent, and depicts a personal preference for a variety of activities over a strict routine. Some disagreement remains about how to interpret the openness factor, which is sometimes called "intellect" rather than openness to experience.
  • Conscientiousness: (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless). A tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement; planned rather than spontaneous behavior; organized, and dependable.
  • Extraversion: (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved). Energy, positive emotions, surgency, assertiveness, sociability and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others, and talkativeness.
  • Agreeableness: (friendly/compassionate vs. cold/unkind). A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others. It is also a measure of one's trusting and helpful nature, and whether a person is generally well tempered or not.
  • Neuroticism: (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident). The tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, or vulnerability. Neuroticism also refers to the degree of emotional stability and impulse control and is sometimes referred to by its low pole, "emotional stability".

The Big Five Model was discovered and defined by several independent sets of researchers.[5] These researchers began by studying known personality traits and then factor-analyzing hundreds of measures of these traits (in self-report and questionnaire data, peer ratings, and objective measures from experimental settings) in order to find the underlying factors of personality.[4][6][7][8][9] The Big five personality traits was the model to comprehend the relationship between personality and academic behaviors.[10]

The initial model was advanced by Ernest Tupes and Raymond Christal in 1961[11] but failed to reach an academic audience until the 1980s. In 1990, J.M. Digman advanced his five factor model of personality, which Lewis Goldberg extended to the highest level of organization.[12] These five overarching domains have been found to contain and subsume most known personality traits and are assumed to represent the basic structure behind all personality traits.[13] These five factors provide a rich conceptual framework for integrating all the research findings and theory in personality psychology.

At least four sets of researchers have worked independently for decades on this problem and have identified generally the same Big Five factors: Tupes and Cristal were first, followed by Goldberg at the Oregon Research Institute,[14][15][16][17][18] Cattell at the University of Illinois,[7][19][20][21] and Costa and McCrae at the National Institutes of Health.[22][23][24][25] These four sets of researchers used somewhat different methods in finding the five traits, and thus each set of five factors has somewhat different names and definitions. However, all have been found to be highly inter-correlated and factor-analytically aligned.[26][27][28][29][30]

Because the Big Five traits are broad and comprehensive, they are not nearly as powerful in predicting and explaining actual behavior as are the more numerous lower-level traits. Many studies have confirmed that in predicting actual behavior the more numerous facet or primary level traits are far more effective (e.g., Mershon & Gorsuch, 1988;[31] Paunonon & Ashton, 2001[32]).

Each of the Big Five personality traits contains two separate, but correlated, aspects reflecting a level of personality below the broad domains but above the many facet scales that also comprise the Big Five.[33] The aspects are labeled as follows: Volatility and Withdrawal for Neuroticism; Enthusiasm and Assertiveness for Extraversion; Intellect and Openness for Openness/Intellect; Industriousness and Orderliness for Conscientiousness; and Compassion and Politeness for Agreeableness.[33]

Openness to experience

Openness is a general appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, imagination, curiosity, and variety of experience. People who are open to experience are intellectually curious, appreciative of art, and sensitive to beauty. They tend to be, when compared to closed people, more creative and more aware of their feelings. They are more likely to hold unconventional beliefs. On average, people who register high in openness are intellectually curious, open to emotion, interested in art, and willing to try new things. A particular individual, however, may have a high overall openness score and be interested in learning and exploring new cultures but have no great interest in art or poetry. There is a strong connection between liberal ethics and openness to experience such as support for policies endorsing racial tolerance.[34] Another characteristic of the open cognitive style is a facility for thinking in symbols and abstractions far removed from concrete experience. People with low scores on openness tend to have more conventional, traditional interests. They prefer the plain, straightforward, and obvious over the complex, ambiguous, and subtle. They may regard the arts and sciences with suspicion or view these endeavors as uninteresting. Closed people prefer familiarity over novelty; they are conservative and resistant to change.[24]

Sample openness items

  • I have a rich vocabulary.
  • I have a vivid imagination.
  • I have excellent ideas.
  • I am quick to understand things.
  • I use difficult words.
  • I spend time reflecting on things.
  • I am full of ideas.
  • I am not interested in abstractions. (reversed)
  • I do not have a good imagination. (reversed)
  • I have difficulty understanding abstract ideas. (reversed)[35]


Conscientiousness is a tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement against measures or outside expectations. It is related to the way in which people control, regulate, and direct their impulses. High scores on conscientiousness indicate a preference for planned rather than spontaneous behavior.[36] The average level of conscientiousness rises among young adults and then declines among older adults.[37]

Sample conscientiousness items

  • I am always prepared.
  • I pay attention to details.
  • I get chores done right away.
  • I like order.
  • I follow a schedule.
  • I am exacting in my work.
  • I leave my belongings around. (reversed)
  • I make a mess of things. (reversed)
  • I often forget to put things back in their proper place. (reversed)
  • I shirk my duties. (reversed)[35]


Extraversion is characterized by breadth of activities (as opposed to depth), surgency from external activity/situations, and energy creation from external means.[38] The trait is marked by pronounced engagement with the external world. Extraverts enjoy interacting with people, and are often perceived as full of energy. They tend to be enthusiastic, action-oriented individuals. They possess high group visibility, like to talk, and assert themselves.[39]

Introverts have lower social engagement and energy levels than extraverts. They tend to seem quiet, low-key, deliberate, and less involved in the social world. Their lack of social involvement should not be interpreted as shyness or depression; instead they are more independent of their social world than extraverts. Introverts need less stimulation than extraverts and more time alone. This does not mean that they are unfriendly or antisocial; rather, they are reserved in social situations.[40]

Sample extraversion items

  • I am the life of the party.
  • I don't mind being the center of attention.
  • I feel comfortable around people.
  • I start conversations.
  • I talk to a lot of different people at parties.
  • I don't talk a lot. (reversed)
  • I keep in the background. (reversed)
  • I think a lot before I speak or act. (reversed)
  • I don't like to draw attention to myself. (reversed)
  • I am quiet around strangers. (reversed)[35]
  • I have no intention of talking in large crowds. (reversed)


Agreeableness The trait reflects individual differences in general concern for social harmony. Agreeable individuals value getting along with others. They are generally considerate, friendly, generous, helpful, and willing to compromise their interests with others.[40] Agreeable people also have an optimistic view of human nature.

Although agreeableness is positively correlated with good team-work skills, it is negatively correlated with leadership skills. Those who voice out their opinion in a team environment tend to move up the corporate rankings, whereas the ones that do not remain in the same position, usually labelled as the followers of the team.[41]

Disagreeable individuals place self-interest above getting along with others. They are generally unconcerned with others’ well-being, and are less likely to extend themselves for other people. Sometimes their skepticism about others’ motives causes them to be suspicious, unfriendly, and uncooperative.[42]

Sample agreeableness items

  • I am interested in people.
  • I sympathize with others' feelings.
  • I have a soft heart.
  • I take time out for others.
  • I feel others' emotions.
  • I make people feel at ease.
  • I am not really interested in others. (reversed)
  • I insult people. (reversed)
  • I am not interested in other people's problems. (reversed)
  • I feel little concern for others. (reversed)[35]


Neuroticism is the tendency to experience negative emotions, such as anger, anxiety, or depression. It is sometimes called emotional instability, or is reversed and referred to as emotional stability. According to Eysenck’s (1967) theory of personality, neuroticism is interlinked with low tolerance for stress or aversive stimuli.[43] Those who score high in neuroticism are emotionally reactive and vulnerable to stress. They are more likely to interpret ordinary situations as threatening, and minor frustrations as hopelessly difficult. Their negative emotional reactions tend to persist for unusually long periods of time, which means they are often in a bad mood. For instance, neuroticism is connected to a pessimistic approach toward work, confidence that work impedes with personal relationships, and apparent anxiety linked with work.[44] Furthermore, those who score high on neuroticism may display more skin conductance reactivity than those who score low on neuroticism.[43][45] These problems in emotional regulation can diminish the ability of a person scoring high on neuroticism to think clearly, make decisions, and cope effectively with stress. Lacking contentment in one's life achievements can correlate with high neuroticism scores and increase one's likelihood of falling into clinical depression.[46]

At the other end of the scale, individuals who score low in neuroticism are less easily upset and are less emotionally reactive. They tend to be calm, emotionally stable, and free from persistent negative feelings. Freedom from negative feelings does not mean that low scorers experience a lot of positive feelings.[47]

Research suggests extraversion and neuroticism are negatively correlated.[43]

Neuroticism is similar but not identical to being neurotic in the Freudian sense. Some psychologists prefer to call neuroticism by the term emotional stability to differentiate it from the term neurotic in a career test.

Sample neuroticism items

  • I am easily disturbed.
  • I change my mood a lot.
  • I get irritated easily.
  • I get stressed out easily.
  • I get upset easily.
  • I have frequent mood swings.
  • I often feel blue.
  • I worry about things.
  • I am relaxed most of the time. (reversed)
  • I seldom feel blue. (reversed)[35]
  • I am much more anxious than most people.[48]


Early trait research

Sir Francis Galton made the first major inquiry into a hypothesis that by sampling language it is possible to derive a comprehensive taxonomy of human personality traits- the lexical hypothesis.[4] In 1936 Gordon Allport and S.Odbert put Sir Francis Galton’s hypothesis into practice by extracting 4,504 adjectives which they believed were descriptive of observable and relatively permanent traits from the dictionaries at that time.[49] In 1940, Raymond Cattell obtained the adjectives, and eliminated synonyms to reduce the total to 171.[7] He constructed a personality test for the clusters of personality traits he found from the adjectives, called Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire. Then, in 1961, Ernest Tupes and Raymond Christal found five recurring factors from this 16PF Questionnaire. The recurring five factors were: "surgency", "agreeableness", "dependability", "emotional stability", and "culture”.[8] This work was replicated by Warren Norman, who also found that five major factors were sufficient to account for a large set of personality data. Norman named these factors surgency, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and culture; and these factors are through which Five Factor consensus has grown.[9]

Hiatus in research

For the next two decades, the changing zeitgeist made publication of personality research difficult. In his 1968 book Personality and Assessment, Walter Mischel asserted that personality tests could not predict behavior with a correlation of more than 0.3. Social psychologists like Mischel argued that attitudes and behavior were not stable, but varied with the situation. Predicting behavior by personality tests was considered to be impossible.

Emerging methodologies challenged this point of view during the 1980s. Instead of trying to predict single instances of behavior, which was unreliable, researchers found that they could predict patterns of behavior by aggregating large numbers of observations.[50] As a result correlations between personality and behavior increased substantially, and it was clear that "personality" did in fact exist.[51] Personality and social psychologists now generally agree that both personal and situational variables are needed to account for human behavior.[52] Trait theories became justified, and there was a resurgence of interest in this area.

By 1980, the pioneering research by Tupes, Christal, and Norman had been largely forgotten by psychologists. Lewis Goldberg started his own lexical project, independently found the five factors once again, and gradually brought them back to the attention of psychologists.[53] He later coined the term "Big Five" as a label for the factors.

Renewed attention

In a 1980 symposium in Honolulu, four prominent researchers, Lewis Goldberg, Naomi Takemoto-Chock, Andrew Comrey, and John M. Digman, reviewed the available personality tests of the day. They concluded that the tests which held the most promise measured a subset of five common factors, just as Norman had discovered in 1963.[54] This event was followed by widespread acceptance of the five factor model among personality researchers during the 1980s. Peter Saville and his team included the five-factor "Pentagon" model with the original OPQ in 1984. Pentagon was closely followed by the NEO five-factor personality inventory, published by Costa and McCrae in 1985.

Biological factors


Twin studies suggest that heritability and environmental factors equally influence all five factors to the same degree.[55] Among four recent twin studies, the mean percentage for heritability was calculated for each personality and it was concluded that heritability influenced the five factors broadly. The self-report measures were as follows: openness to experience was estimated to have a 57% genetic influence, extraversion 54%, conscientiousness 49%, neuroticism 48%, and agreeableness 42%.[56]

Age differences

Many studies of longitudinal data, which correlate people's test scores over time, and cross-sectional data, which compare personality levels across different age groups, show a high degree of stability in personality traits during adulthood.[57] It is shown that the personality stabilizes for working-age individuals within about four years after starting working. There is also little evidence that adverse life events can have any significant impact on the personality of individuals.[58] More recent research and meta-analyses of previous studies, however, indicate that change occurs in all five traits at various points in the lifespan. The new research shows evidence for a maturation effect. On average, levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness typically increase with time, whereas extraversion, neuroticism, and openness tend to decrease.[59] Research has also demonstrated that changes in Big Five personality traits depend on the individual's current stage of development. For example, levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness demonstrate a negative trend during childhood and early adolescence before trending upwards during late adolescence and into adulthood.[60] In addition to these group effects, there are individual differences: different people demonstrate unique patterns of change at all stages of life.[61]

Another area of investigation is the downward extension of Big Five theory into childhood. Studies have found Big Five personality traits to correlate with children's social and emotional adjustment and academic achievement. More recently, the Five Factor Personality Inventory – Children[62] was published extending assessment between the ages of nine and 18. Perhaps the reason for this recent publication was the controversy over the application of the Five Factor Model to children. Studies by Oliver P. John et al. with adolescent boys brought two new factors to the table: "Irritability" and "Activity". In studies of Dutch children, those same two new factors also became apparent. These new additions "suggest that the structure of personality traits may be more differentiated in childhood than in adulthood",[63] which would explain the recent research in this particular area.

In addition, some research (Fleeson, 2001) suggests that the Big Five should not be conceived of as dichotomies (such as extraversion vs. introversion) but as continua. Each individual has the capacity to move along each dimension as circumstances (social or temporal) change. He is or she is therefore not simply on one end of each trait dichotomy but is a blend of both, exhibiting some characteristics more often than others:[64]

Research regarding personality with growing age has suggested that as individuals enter their elder years (79–86), those with lower IQ see a raise in extraversion, but a decline in conscientiousness and physical well being.[65]

A research by Cobb-Clark and Schurer indicates that personality traits are generally stable among adult workers. The research done on personality also mirrors previous results on locus of control.[66]

Brain structures

Some research has been done to look into the structures of the brain and their connections to personality traits of the FFM. Two main studies were done by Sato et al. (2012)[67] and DeYoung et al. (2009).[68] Results of the two are as follows:

  • Neuroticism: negatively correlated with ratio of brain volume to remainder of intracranial volume, reduced volume in dorsomedial PFC and a segment of left medial temporal lobe including posterior hippocampus, increased volume in the mid-cingulate gryus.
  • Extraversion: positively correlated with orbitofrontal cortex metabolism, increased cerebral, volume of medial orbitofrontal cortex.
  • Agreeableness: negatively correlated with left orbitofrontal lobe volume in frontotemporal dementia patients, reduced volume in posterior left superior temporal sulcus, increased volume in posterior cingulate cortex.
  • Conscientiousness: volume of middle frontal gyrus in left lateral PFC.
  • Openness to experience: No regions large enough to be significant, although parietal cortex may be involved.

Group differences

Gender differences

Cross-cultural research has shown some patterns of gender differences on responses to the NEO-PI-R and the Big Five Inventory. For example, women consistently report higher Neuroticism, Agreeableness, warmth (an extraversion facet) and openness to feelings, and men often report higher assertiveness (a facet of extraversion) and openness to ideas as assessed by the NEO-PI-R.[69]

A study of gender differences in 55 nations using the Big Five Inventory found that women tended to be somewhat higher than men in neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. The difference in neuroticism was the most prominent and consistent, with significant differences found in 49 of the 55 nations surveyed. Gender differences in personality traits are largest in prosperous, healthy, and more gender-egalitarian cultures. Differences in the magnitude of sex differences between more or less developed world regions were due to differences between men, not women, in these respective regions. That is, men in highly developed world regions were less neurotic, extraverted, conscientious and agreeable compared to men in less developed world regions. Women, on the other hand tended not to differ in personality traits across regions.[70]
The authors of this study speculated that resource-poor environments (that is, countries with low levels of development) may inhibit the development of gender differences, whereas resource-rich environments facilitate them. This may be because males require more resources than females in order to reach their full developmental potential. The authors also argued that due to different evolutionary pressures, men may have evolved to be more risk taking and socially dominant, whereas women evolved to be more cautious and nurturing. Ancient hunter-gatherer societies may have been more egalitarian than later agriculturally oriented societies. Hence, the development of gender inequalities may have acted to constrain the development of gender differences in personality that originally evolved in hunter-gatherer societies. As modern societies have become more egalitarian, again, it may be that innate sex differences are no longer constrained and hence manifest more fully than in less-developed cultures. Currently, this hypothesis remains untested, as gender differences in modern societies have not been compared with those in hunter-gatherer societies.[70]

Birth-order differences

Main article: Birth order

Frank Sulloway argues that firstborns are more conscientious, more socially dominant, less agreeable, and less open to new ideas compared to laterborns. Large scale studies using random samples and self-report personality tests, however, have found milder effects than Sulloway claimed, or no significant effects of birth order on personality.[71][72]

Cultural differences

The Big Five have been replicated in a variety of languages and cultures, such as German,[73] Chinese,[74] Indian,[75] etc.[76] For example, Thompson has demonstrated the Big Five structure across several cultures using an international English language scale.[77] Cheung, van de Vijver, and Leong (2011) suggest, however, that the Openness factor is particularly unsupported in Asian countries and that a different fifth factor is sometimes identified.[78]

Recent work has found relationships between Geert Hofstede’s cultural factors, Individualism, Power Distance, Masculinity, and Uncertainty Avoidance, with the average Big Five scores in a country.[79] For instance, the degree to which a country values individualism correlates with its average extraversion, whereas people living in cultures which are accepting of large inequalities in their power structures tend to score somewhat higher on conscientiousness. Although this is an active area of research, the reasons for these differences are as yet unknown.

Attempts to replicate the Big Five in other countries with local dictionaries have succeeded in some countries but not in others. Apparently, for instance, Hungarians do not appear to have a single agreeableness factor.[80] Other researchers have found evidence for agreeableness but not for other factors.[81]


Big Five and personality disorders

There is a rich literature concerning the FFM as a structural model for describing and understanding disorders of personality, including those within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

As of 2002, there were over fifty published studies relating the FFM to personality disorders.[82] Since that time, quite a number of additional studies have expanded on this research base and provided further empirical support for understanding the DSM personality disorders in terms of the FFM domains.[83]

In her seminal review of the personality disorder literature published in 2007, Dr. Lee Anna Clark asserted that "the five-factor model of personality is widely accepted as representing the higher-order structure of both normal and abnormal personality traits".[84]

The Five Factor Model has been shown to significantly predict all ten personality-disorder symptoms and outperform the MMPI in the prediction of borderline, avoidant, and dependent personality disorder symptoms.[85]

Research results examining the relationships between the FFM and each of the ten DSM personality disorder diagnostic categories are widely available. For example, in a study published in 2003 titled "The five-factor model and personality disorder empirical literature: A meta-analytic review",[86] the authors analyzed data from 15 other studies to determine how personality disorders are different and similar, respectively, with regard to underlying personality traits. In terms of how personality disorders differ, the results showed that each disorder displays a FFM profile that is meaningful and predictable given its unique diagnostic criteria. With regard to their similarities, the findings revealed that the most prominent and consistent personality dimensions underlying a large number of the personality disorders are positive associations with neuroticism and negative associations with agreeableness.

Big Five and education

Academic achievement

Personality plays an important role that effects academic achievement. A study conducted with 308 undergraduates who completed the Five Factor Inventory Processes and offered their GPA suggested that conscientiousness and agreeableness have a positive relationship with all types of learning styles (synthesis analysis, methodical study, fact retention, and elaborative processing), whereas neuroticism has an inverse relationship with them all. Moreover, extraversion and openness were proportional to elaborative processing. The Big Five personality traits accounted for 14% of the variance in GPA, suggesting that personality traits make great contributions to academic performance. Furthermore, reflective learning styles (synthesis-analysis and elaborative processing) were able to mediate the relationship between openness and GPA. These results indicate that intellectual curiousness has significant enhancement in academic performance if students can combine their scholarly interest with thoughtful information processing.[87]

Studies conducted on college students have concluded that hope, which is linked to agreeableness has a positive effect of psychological well being. Individuals high in neurotic tendencies are less likely to display hopeful tendencies and are negatively associated with well-being.[88] Personality can sometimes be flexible and measuring the big five personality for individuals as they enter certain stages of life may predict their educational identity. Recent studies have suggested the likelihood of an individual's personality affecting their educational identity.[89]

Learning styles

Learning styles have been described as "enduring ways of thinking and processing information."[90]

Although there is no evidence that personality determines thinking styles, they may be intertwined in ways that link thinking styles to the Big Five personality traits.[91] There is no general consensus on the number or specifications of particular learning styles, but there have been many different proposals.

Scientists have defined four types of learning styles:

  • synthesis analysis
  • methodical study
  • fact retention
  • elaborative processing

This model adopted from Smeck, Ribicj, and Ramanaih (1997) is often used because when all four facets are implicated within the classroom, they will each likely improve academic achievement.[92] It asserts that students develop either agentic/shallow processing or reflective/deep processing. Deep processors are more often than not found to be more conscientious, intellectually open, and extraverted when compared to shallow processors. Deep processing is associated with appropriate study methods (methodical study) and a stronger ability to analyze information (synthesis analysis), whereas shallow processors prefer structured fact retention learning styles and are better suited for elaborative processing.[92] The main functions of these four specific learning styles are as follow:

Name Function
Synthesis analysis: processing information, forming categories, and organizing them into hierarchies. This is the only one of the learning styles that has explained a significant impact on academic performance.[92]
Methodical study: methodical behavior while completing academic assignments
Fact retention: focusing on the actual result instead of understanding the logic behind something
Elaborative processing: connecting and applying new ideas to existing knowledge

Openness has been linked to learning styles that often lead to academic success and higher grades like synthesis analysis and methodical study. Because conscientiousness and openness have been shown to predict all four learning styles, it suggests that individuals who possess characteristics like discipline, determination, and curiosity are more likely to engage in all of the above learning styles.[92]

According to the research carried out by Komarraju, Karau, Schmeck & Avdic (2011), conscientiousness and agreeableness are positively related with all four learning styles, whereas neuroticism was negatively related with those four. Furthermore, extraversion and openness were only positively related to elaborative processing, and openness itself correlated with higher academic achievement.[93]

Besides openness, all Big Five personality traits helped predict the educational identity of students. Based on these findings, scientists are beginning to see that there might be a large influence of the Big Five traits on academic motivation that then leads to predicting a student's academic performance[94]

Recent studies suggest that Big Five personality traits combined with learning styles can help predict some variations in the academic performance and the academic motivation of an individual which can then influence their academic achievements.[95] This may be seen because individual differences in personality represent stable approaches to information processing. For instance, conscientiousness has consistently emerged as a stable predictor of success in exam performance, largely because conscientious students experiences fewer study delays.[94] The reason conscientiousness shows a positive association with the four learning styles is because students with high levels of conscientiousness develop focused learning strategies and appear to be more disciplined and achievement-oriented.

However, the American Psychological Society recently commissioned a report whose conclusion indicates that no significant evidence exists to make the conclusion that learning-style assessments should be included in the education system. The APA also suggested in their report that all existing learning styles have not been exhausted and that there could exist learning styles that have the potential to be worthy of being included in educational practices.[96] Thus, it is premature, at best, to conclude that the evidence linking the Big Five to "learning styles" or "learning styles" to learning itself is valid.

Big Five and work success

It is believed that the Big-Five traits are predictors of future performance outcomes. Job outcome measures include: job and training proficiency and personnel data.[97] However, research demonstrating such prediction has been criticized, in part because of the apparently low correlation coefficients characterizing the relationship between personality and job performance. In a 2007 article[98] co-authored by six current or former editors of psychological journals, Dr. Kevin Murphy, Professor of Psychology at Pennsylvania State University and Editor of the Journal of Applied Psychology (1996-2002), states:

The problem with personality tests is … that the validity of personality measures as predictors of job performance is often disappointingly low.The argument for using personality tests to predict performance does not strike me as convincing in the first place.

Such criticisms were put forward by Walter Mischel[99] whose publication caused a two-decades' long crisis in personality psychometrics. However, later work demonstrated (1) that the correlations obtained by psychometric personality researchers were actually very respectable by comparative standards,[100] and (2) that the economic value of even incremental increases in prediction accuracy was exceptionally large, given the vast difference in performance by those who occupy complex job positions.[101]

There have been studies that link national innovation to openness to experience and conscientiousness. Those who express these traits have showed leadership and beneficial ideas towards the country of origin.[102]

Some businesses, organizations, and interviewers assess individuals based on the Big 5 personality traits. Research has suggested that individuals who are considered leaders typically exhibit lower amounts of neurotic traits, maintain higher levels of openness (envisioning success), balanced levels of conscientiousness (well-organized), and balanced levels of extraversion (outgoing, but not excessive).[103] Further studies have linked professional burnout to neuroticism, and extraversion to enduring positive work experience.[104] When it comes to making money, research has suggested that those who are high in agreeableness (especially men) are not as successful in accumulating income. It is possible that these individuals are too passive and do not aspire to obtain higher levels of income.[105]


The Big Five personality traits have been assessed in some non-human species. In one series of studies, human ratings of chimpanzees using the Chimpanzee Personality Questionnaire (CPQ) revealed factors of extraversion, conscientiousness and agreeableness – as well as an additional factor of dominance – across hundreds of chimpanzees in zoological parks, a large naturalistic sanctuary, and a research laboratory. Neuroticism and openness factors were found in an original zoo sample, but were not replicated in a new zoo sample or in other settings (perhaps reflecting the design of the CPQ).[106] A study review found that markers for the three dimensions extraversion, neuroticism, and agreeableness were found most consistently across different species, followed by openness; only chimpanzees showed markers for conscientious behavior.[107]

Measurements of the Big Five personality traits

Several measures of the Big Five exist:

  • NEO-PI-R
  • Self-descriptive sentence questionnaires[81]
  • Lexical questionnaires[108]
  • Self-report questionnaires[109]
  • Likert questionnaire[109]
  • Relative-scored Big 5 measure[110]

The most frequently used measures of the Big Five comprise either items that are self-descriptive sentences[81] or, in the case of lexical measures, items that are single adjectives.[108] Due to the length of sentence-based and some lexical measures, short forms have been developed and validated for use in applied research settings where questionnaire space and respondent time are limited, such as the 40-item balanced International English Big-Five Mini-Markers[77] or a very brief (10 item) measure of the Big Five domains.[111] Research has suggested that some methodologies in administering personality tests are inadequate in length and provide insufficient detail to truly evaluate personality. Usually, longer, more detailed questions will give a more accurate portrayal of personality.[112] The five factor structure has been replicated in peer reports.[113] However, many of the substantive findings rely on self-reports.

Much of the evidence on the measures of the Big 5 rely on self-report questionnaires, which makes self-report bias and falsification of responses difficult to deal with and account for.[109] It has been argued that the Big Five tests do not create an accurate personality profile because the responses given on these tests are not true in all cases. For example, questionnaires are answered by potential employees who might choose answers that paint them in the best light.[114] This becomes especially important when considering why scores may differ between individuals or groups of people– differences in scores may represent genuine underlying personality differences, or they may simply be an artifact of the way the subjects answered the questions.

Research suggests that a relative-scored Big Five measure in which respondents had to make repeated choices between equally desirable personality descriptors may be a potential alternative to traditional Big Five measures in accurately assessing personality traits, especially when lying or biased responding is present.[110] When compared with a traditional Big Five measure for its ability to predict GPA and creative achievement under both normal and “fake good”-bias response conditions, the relative-scored measure significantly and consistently predicted these outcomes under both conditions; however, the Likert questionnaire lost its predictive ability in the faking condition. Thus, the relative-scored measure proved to be less affected by biased responding than the Likert measure of the Big Five.


Much research has been conducted on the Big Five. This has resulted in criticism[115] and support[116] for the model. Critics argue that there are limitations to the scope of Big Five as an explanatory or predictive theory. It is argued that the Big Five does not explain all of human personality. The methodology used to identify the dimensional structure of personality traits, factor analysis, is often challenged for not having a universally-recognized basis for choosing among solutions with different numbers of factors. Another frequent criticism is that the Big Five is not theory-driven, it is merely a data-driven investigation of certain descriptors that tend to cluster together under factor analysis.

Limited scope

One common criticism is that the Big Five does not explain all of human personality. Some psychologists have dissented from the model precisely because they feel it neglects other domains of personality, such as Religiosity, Manipulativeness/Machiavellianism, Honesty, sexiness/seductiveness, Thriftiness, Conservativeness, Masculinity/Femininity, Snobbishness/egotism, Sense of humour, and risk-taking/thrill-seeking.[117][118]Dan P. McAdams has called the Big Five a "psychology of the stranger," because they refer to traits that are relatively easy to observe in a stranger; other aspects of personality that are more privately held or more context-dependent are excluded from the Big Five.[119]

In many studies, the five factors are not fully orthogonal to one another; that is, the five factors are not independent.[120][121] Orthogonality is viewed as desirable by some researchers because it minimizes redundancy between the dimensions. This is particularly important when the goal of a study is to provide a comprehensive description of personality with as few variables as possible.

Methodological issues

The methodology used to identify the dimensional structure of personality traits, factor analysis, is often challenged for not having a universally recognized basis for choosing among solutions with different numbers of factors.[122] That is, a five factor solution depends on some degree of interpretation by the analyst. A larger number of factors may, in fact, underlie these five factors. This has led to disputes about the "true" number of factors. Big Five proponents have responded that although other solutions may be viable in a single dataset, only the five factor structure consistently replicates across different studies.[123]

Theoretical status

A frequent criticism is that the Big Five is not based on any underlying theory; it is merely an empirical finding that certain descriptors cluster together under factor analysis.[122] Although this does not mean that these five factors do not exist, the underlying causes behind them are unknown.

Jack Block’s final published work before his death in January 2010 drew together his lifetime perspective on the five factor model.[124]

He summarized his critique of the model in terms of:

  • the atheoretical nature of the five-factors
  • their "cloudy" measurement
  • the model’s inappropriateness for studying early childhood
  • the use of factor analysis as the exclusive paradigm for conceptualizing personality
  • the continuing non-consensual understandings of the five-factors
  • the existence of unrecognized but successful efforts to specify aspects of character not subsumed by the five-factors

He went on to suggest that repeatedly observed higher order factors hierarchically above the proclaimed Big Five personality traits may promise deeper biological understanding of the origins and implications of these superfactors.

See also


External links

  • International Personality Item Pool, public domain list of items keyed to the big five personality traits.
  • Selection from the "Handbook of personality: Theory and research" for researchers

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