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The Big Five
Many contemporary psychologists specializing in the trait approach to personality agree there is a dimensional scheme that can be used to describe the complex construct of personality. This dimensional scheme consists of five traits which has been come to be known as the Big Five.
The Big Five traits include the following:
- Extroversion is characterized as outgoing, gregarious, dominant, expressive, talkative, and social. In contrast, introverts tend to be more reserved, quiet, and submissive.
- Agreeableness refers to people who are trusting, kind, cooperative, and prosocial. Individuals who are low in this trait tend to be more competitive, argumentative, and unkind.
- Conscientiousness is a trait that can be described as thoughtful and dependable. Individuals who have high levels of this trait tend to have good impulsive control and are goal directed. Individuals who have low levels of this trait tend to be more careless and unreliable.
- Neuroticism is also referred to as emotionally instability. Individual who have high levels of neuroticism tend to be moody, anxious, irritable, and downtrodden. Individuals who are low in this trait present as more emotionally stable and calm.
- Openness is a trait also known as Openness to experience, culture or intellect. This trait relates to the characteristics of imagination and insight. People who have a high level of openness tend to be more explorative, imaginative, artistic, and clever. Those who have low levels of Openness are often described as shallow, traditional, and weary of change.
The Big Five traits have been researched significantly over the past years. Researchers such as McCrae & Terracciano (2005) conducted research on the Big Five traits in over 50 countries and found that they could be used to describe personality universally. Nave, Edmonds, Hampson, Murzyn, and Sauerberger (2016) also conducted a longitudinal study and found consistency in traits from childhood through midlife. Friedman and Schustack (2012) also point out that there is reason to believe that these traits have a biological origin.
In spite of these strengths, The Big Five has received its share of criticism. Friedman & Schustack (2012) point out that the traits are the product of individual’s descriptions, tests, and categorizations. This is described as a potential problem because the raters could be wrong in their evaluations for several reasons. The first reason is due to a bias called implicit personality theory. This is a type of bias where people identify consistencies from their impressions based on limited information. These consistencies however may not actually be occurring. This is similar to stereotypes where people believe that a trait is true for the group of people when in fact the judgement was based on limited or inaccurate information and/or experience.
If this type of bias occurred in developing the Big Five, then the factor analyses that was conducted only captured implicit theories of personality and not the actual dimensions. An additionally concern relates to the possibility that the raters may overlook traits that are actually present.
In spite of these challenges, personality is irrefutably a complicated and multi-dimensional construct that continues to evoke much discussion and debate. There does appear to be some promising developments relating to the strength of the Big Five traits however more research is needed.
Friedman, H. S. & Schustack, M. W. (2012). Personality: Classic theories and modern research (5th ed.). MA: Allyn & Bacon ISBN: 0-205-05017-4.
McCrae, R. R., & Terracciano, A. (2005). Universal features of personality traits from the observer’s perspective: data from 50 cultures. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, (3), 547.
Nave, C. S., Edmonds, G. W., Hampson, S. E., Murzyn, T., & Sauerberger, K. S. (2016). From elementary school to midlife: Childhood personality predicts behavior during cognitive testing over four decades later. Journal Of Research In Personality, doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2016.10.001