Home » Psychobabble! » The Big 5 of Personality Psychology

The Big 5 of Personality Psychology

The number five is coming up again in this post (see 5 component of liking for other things broken up into five parts!!) but this time we are looking into personality psychology. Personality psychology has been gaining more and more momentum over time. A lot of other models for personality have been around, but the Big Five is probably one of my favorites.

If we look back to behaviorism, personality was seen in a pretty bland way. Here is the typical behaviorist perspective: “An organism will adopt a set of behaviors that are the most reinforced and least punished that require the least amount of work to maintain. After the traits are reinforced for a long enough period, they will become what observers may call ‘personality.'”

So this behavioral definition really misses the point of personality. Will different sets of behavior which are consistent over time (personality traits) do better in different situations? That is, are some personalities better fit for certain tasks than other personalities? That seems like a very useful question. Well let’s look at one more person’s view.

The Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI) is a favorite far and wide. It breaks down people into 16 different categories. For example, in tests I have scored INTJ, and ENTJ. INTJ means Introverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging – basically means I am not as social as some others (introverted), I prefer working with theoretical information (intuitive), I tend to use logic with my decisions (thinking), and I prefer to use logic over a theoretical hunch (judging).

Let’s look at my polar opposite – the ESFP

My opposite would be extroverted, sensing, feeling, perceiving. So this person would be more likely to be more social (extrovert), typically prefer tangible information to theory (sensing), they use emotion to guide their choices (feeling) and they tend to use emotional information over tangible information when making a choice (perceiving)

So for the sake of clarity one is introvert/extrovert, iNtuitive/sensing, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving. So you could be an INTP, ESFJ, and so on.

As I said earlier, I tend to score either introverted or extroverted when I have taken the test. This is quite common because the test-retest reliability is not 100%. The fact of the matter is, I normally score as just barely an introvert, or just barely an extrovert, and these inconsistencies are common for people who are on the fence with one of their traits.

Now we will move on to the Big Five. The origin of the Big Five came from a method entitled  “lexical review.” This is a strange method, but it was effective. Researchers searched through languages looking for any words that described a persons personality. Over time they have 17 factors pinned down. A few years later, 12 factors, then ten, and as we move closer to the 80s, researchers are pretty sure there are only five qualities that can describe a human’s personality.

O C E A N – the Big Five Acronym

Openness to experience – This is how willing someone is to take on a new challenge, try a new food, experience a new type of art, or read a new book. People who are very open to experience want to try anything an everything. They also tend to find the mundane quite dull. This personality trait encompasses one’s intelligence as well.

Conscientiousness – This is how physically and mentally organized someone is. Some people can’t stand it when something does not make sense to them. Other people can’t stand it when their office is cluttered.

Extroversion – Sorry introverts, you no longer exist! According to the big five, there are high scoring extroverts, or low scoring extroverts. It’s pretty strange, but this measure posits that the people’s social behavior is not much different in quality – just quantity. So low scoring extroverts need get the same benefit with a tight group of friends that an high extrovert gets from a large group of friends. Also, people who are higher scoring tend to engage in riskier behaviors. This could lead to bad decisions, binge behaviors, and a loads more fun!

Agreeableness – People who are highly agreeable seek to keep conflicts to a minimum. They also tend to pay very close attention to the social impact of actions. This is very important to note – just because someone is extroverted does not mean they pay close attention to other’s peoples needs. Also, an introvert (low scoring extrovert) can care about the needs of others, but simply find being around others causes them too much stress.

Neuroticism -This is the final catch-all trait for two big problems. First, any mental disorder that a person may have falls under this category. Second is the person’s ability to handle stressors. If someone is really bad at handing  stress, they will be highly neurotic. It’s important to note that having excessively low levels of neuroticism is a bad thing. You should be motivated to remove stressors from you life, because if one lets them continue to irritate them without action, it leads to a higher incidence rate of illness. Obviously, too much neuroticism is quite bad as well.

Now that we have discussed a little bit about personality, the next post will talk about the practical applications of personality research. For anyone interested, you can see how you measure up on the Big Five. It does not give you a label, like the MBTI, but it shows you how you rank versus the rested of the tested population. It’s quite interesting, and it’s only about 45 simple questions which takes a few minutes in total.



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